In “The Role of Pathos,” (reprinted in Harris’ Landmark Essays on Rhetoric of Science Case Studies, 1997), Craig Waddell explores the 1976 debate surrounding whether or not recombinant DNA (rDNA) research should be allowed in Cambridge, MA. In particular, Waddell focuses on the city-formed Cambridge Experimentation Research Board (CERB) and a meeting it had with researchers from Harvard and MIT and concerned citizens. Waddell determined that though our culture in general and the post-hoc reflections of CERB meeting attendees tend to privilege the role of logos in policy decision making, that, instead, the arguments presented at the meeting involved a sophisticated coordination of logical, pathetic, and ethetic arguments. In follow-up interviews CERB members reported that emotional arguments such as appeals to the sanctity of human germ plasm and the tragedy of children with congenital illness were prominent and in some cases particularly persuasive. Furthermore Waddell explores how ad hominem attacks became the primary mode of argumentation in some parts of the discourse.
Ultimately Waddell argues that this data suggest that scientists interested in influencing policy and rhetoricians studying the science-policy interface need to pay attention not only to the logical appeals, but also the role of pathos and ethos in that discourse. And while these were important conclusions in 1990 and they still ring true today, subsequent research in the science-policy interface has rendered these findings somewhat obvious to rhetorical scholars. Nevertheless, I think it is important to continue to remind ourselves that the scientists who participate in policy discourse and those making policy decisions often think of those decisions as exclusively logical, if well made.