Communicating Science: The Scientific Article from the 17th Century to the Present
- Kennedy, Meegan
- Date of entry: Feb-23-2007
The authors analyze developments in the scientific article in Europe from the seventeenth century to the present. They devote a chapter to "style and presentation" in each century, and a separate chapter to "argument" more specifically in each century, in French, German, and English examples. They find a remarkable similarity of style already evident in seventeenth-century examples, demonstrating that scientific authors were already addressing an international audience. Seventeenth-century articles show an "impression of objectivity" and "a movement toward a more impersonal style" (47), although the English examples were somewhat more personal, less quantitative, and less interested in explanation than were the French examples, and the prose overall is hardly what we would currently expect from a scientific article.
Although the eighteenth-century examples should, perhaps, be considered part of a larger period that included the seventeenth century, Gross et al do track a movement from impersonal to personal style, nominal to verbal style, and minimal presentation to more elaborate presentation during this period. Also, the French examples continue to approximate more closely to twentieth-century norms of scientific style, reflecting their more professionalized community. Overall, the authors characterize much of the eighteenth century as a period of "consolidation and altered emphasis," with "relative stability" of style (116), although the last quarter of the eighteenth century showed a sharp rise in standardization and standards for accuracy and precision.
Gross et al note that nineteenth-century prose still addresses amateurs as well as professionals, and they comment on its persistent difference from "the highly compressed, neutral, monotonal prose" of late-twentieth-century science(137). However, the English and German examples do become more professional in their use of impersonal style, and examples demonstrate a consolidation toward a more "homogeneous communicative style" (138). They also note that the nineteenth century exhibits a "master presentation system approaching maturity," with "title and author credits, headings, equations segregated from text, visuals provided with legends, and citations standardized as to format and position," as well as standardized introductions and conclusions (138).
They find that the combination of an increasing "passion for factual precision" and systematization produces more careful theorizing generally in science during this period, even as individual sciences specialize and diverge (158). Increased attention is given to the process by which facts are linked to theory, and to the role of evidence, governed by an "overriding need for explicitness" (160).
Twentieth-century examples include shorter sentences with more information packed into each by way of "complex noun phrases with multiple modifications in the subject position, noun strings, abbreviations, mathematical expressions, and citations" (186). The scientific article is now generally marked by high incidence of passive voice and low incidence of personal reference, along with a "master finding system" made up of "headings, graphic legends, numbered citations, numbered equations, and so on" (186). They argue that the current state of the scientific article reflects an evolutionary process whereby "current practices are a consequence of the selective survival of practices that were, persistently, better adapted to the changing environments of the various scientific disciplines over time" (212).
Oxford Univ. Press
Oxford and New York