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).



This book both charts and performs a narrative of the increasing dominance of the scientific method of information-gathering, analysis, and communication. The authors’ introduction reviews earlier work on scientific writing, including that of Gross himself, and finds it lacking in method and rigor. They propose and defend a new model of research based on their methodology in this book: they gathered "a representative sample" (strictly defined) of articles in English, French, and German (the "three most important languages of science") and applied the same questions about syntax, presentation, implied audience, etc. to each sample (4).

It is perhaps not surprising that the introduction opens with a scene of exclusion, in which a paper presented by Gross was critiqued by a historian as inadequate history of science, by a sociologist as inadequate sociology of science, and a philosopher perhaps considered it inadequate as philosophy of science. This is to say that this book is not only a useful and comprehensive resource for scholars of the history of scientific writing, but it is also a manifesto arguing that a new field, "studies in the communication and the argumentation of science," should be considered on its own merits. The methodology and narrative style adopted by Gross et al interestingly and ironically replicates many aspects of the style and argument of their object of inquiry, scientific writing.

While the authors do not focus on the shift in medicine from a more personal, patient-centered style of practice to a more impersonal, physician-centered one, this book offers valuable insights into some of the pressures from developing norms and ideals of "science" that led to these changes in medical practice and writing.


Parts of this book can also be found in the Scientist ("What's Right about Scientific Writing," vol. 13, p. 20, 1999) and in Social Studies of Science ("Scientific Argument in the 17th Century: A Rhetorical Analysis with Sociological Implications," vol. 30, pp. 371-396, 2000).


Oxford Univ. Press

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Oxford and New York

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