How big is Rhetoric of Science and Medicine?

Pop quiz! Which journal in rhetorical studies published the most articles in rhetorics of science and medicine between 2005 and 2010? If you had asked me that question two days ago, I would’ve said: “I don’t know. Probably TCQ or RSQ.” Turns out I would have been half right and half wrong. (It’s TCQ, by the way, but RSQ is making a run for the title—more on that later.) So, as you can tell, I wanted a real answer to this question, and, as such, I spent the better part of four days pouring through every single article published in five flag ship journals in rhetorical studies to find out the answer. The data’s below, but first a few notes on methods.

Disciplinary Gerrymandering and R(S)STE2M2

What counts as rhetoric of science and medicine? That’s a very good question—without an easy answer. In order to tackle this assessment, I had to come up with some sort of rubric. I have no doubt—as is the case with any disciplinary gerrymandering—that my rubric will piss someone off. I’m sorry. It’s certainly not my goal to offend anyone by “erroneously” including or excluding them from my taxonomy.

Obviously, I had a few possible titles available to me for the (sub)discipline I’m trying to define: rhetoric of science and rhetoric of science and technology are probably the most popular, but it bothers me that they don’t include rhetoric of medicine. Rhetoric of science and medicine might be a good option, but where’s the technology? Of course, I style myself a rhetorician of technoscience and medicine, but that implies a certain critical stance that not all rhetoric of science has to share in order to be rhetoric of science. The good folks at the University of Iowa are fond of rhetoric of inquiry, but that’s too broad for my tastes. Certainly, that would include rhetorics of philosophy, literary studies, and history. Great disciplines? Yes. Worthy of rhetorical study? Yes. But, still not what I’m going for here. But I am interested in rhetorics of mathematics, having presented on them in the past.

So what about RSTEM—rhetorics of science technology, engineering, and mathematics? (It includes the added benefit of being politically appropriate given today’s higher education funding priorities.) Damn it! I still don’t have medicine in there. I also want social sciences and environmental rhetorics. And here we have now arrived at my absolutely absurd title: R(S)STE2M2….Rhetorics of (social) science, technology, engineering, the environment, mathematics, and medicine. I happen to like R(S)STE2M2 even though it’s slightly unreasonable. I’ll probably stick with RSTEM for the time being. Just know that when I do, I intend S, E, and M polyphony.

I should mention that I have left one very important allied area of inquiry out of my schema—new media studies. The large umbrella of new media studies obviously overlaps in important was with rhetorics of technology. Indeed, when it comes to some studies, it’s hard to tell the difference. Because of this difficulty, I made the hard decision to leave all media out. This means I excluded not only studies of websites and YouTube from R(S)STE2M2, but also inquiries into the history of photography and the printing press. I’m not happy about this. I’m sure others might be incensed by it. (Again, I’m sorry.) I ultimately decided that since finding the line between rhetoric of technology and new media was an impossible task, that I would exclude it all.

Journal Selection

Now that you know which types of articles, I was looking for, the question of which journals arises. I confined my study to five first rate journals in rhetorical studies—major journals from both the English and Speech/Communications traditions:

My goal was to find out the prevalence of rhetoric of science and medicine in the field. So I left out some obvious contenders like POROI and Health Communication. Great journals, but obviously, the percentage of R(S)STE2M2 articles in likely to be quite high—too high to tell me anything about prevalence. (Note: “Articles” includes articles, introduction, review essays, and interviews, but not book reviews.)

Alright, enough blathering and hedging. Here’s the data:

Journal Total RSTEM Percent
RSQ 112 13 12
WC 97 22 23
JBTC 103 20 19
QJS 111 17 15
TCQ 121 40 33
TOTAL 544 112 21

Table 1: Total number of articles, number of R(S)STE2M2 articles, and percent by journal.

RSTEM Articles Over Time
Figure 1: Number of R(S)STE2M2 articles per journal per year. (Isn’t it interesting how there are significant shifts which correspond to changes in editorship–specifically RSQ and JBTC?)

This entry was posted in Miscellaneous, Musings. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Posted April 11, 2011 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    I love short, efficient, interesting, and useful articles like this. Honestly, it would be great if this brief and data driven approach would become a genre. Not sure what to call it, but still…

    This is the kind of information I like to see and read. Do you plan on doing more work like this, or was this a one-off?

    BTW, your Twitter profile mentions you practice martial arts, but there’s no such information here on your blog. Pankration, perhaps?


  2. Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:46 am | Permalink

    Glad you like it. I hope to roll out one or two more blog posts with this dataset. I may even scale it up into a full-fledged article some day. Of course, all of this is dependent on time.

    No Pankration–had to look it up, actually. I’ve got a degree black belt in taekwondo, but mostly I do hapkido these days.

  3. George
    Posted April 1, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    Did you exclude the Journal of Medical Humanities due to it’s broad scope?

  4. Posted April 2, 2012 at 2:02 am | Permalink

    JoMH is a great journal, with a lot of great rhetorical work in it. But since it includes literature scholars, sociologists, philosophers, etc, it didn’t really seem right for this study. I’d love to re-tackle these questions much a much broader survey of the field and allied journals like JoMH. However, I suspect this is a project that will always be on the back burner. So much to do, so little time.

One Trackback

  • […] historiographic epistemology. Of course those of you with an extensive reading knowledge of STS and STEM rhetorics will note that this argument has been made for sometime—prominently by Latour and Woolgar’s […]