Rhetorical Analysis

Popular Scientific Journals and the Preservation of Scientific Research

Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another human being.  Empathy is something that we humans feel but studies in the scientific research article “Asian Elephants reassure others in distress” by Joshua M. Plotnik and Frans B.M de Waal speak otherwise where they believe and are assured that elephants’ feel empathy towards other elephants. Their journal is written as a scientific report with an abstract, a main idea, a conclusion, a discussion, and an acknowledgement to their fellow scientists who helped them with their research and data. Their data and analysis is referenced in a popular scientific journal titled “Elephants Console Each Other” by Virginia Morell. These two pieces of writing are vastly different as they are written to appeal to their chosen crowd, one for scientific researchers and the other for the general public. The editorial board believes that popular scientific journalism does not keep the integrity of scientific research but this can be seen as false at least in terms of these two pieces of writing. Popular scientific journalism is able to keep the integrity of the scientific research while replacing jargon with simpler words and simplifying the research.

The idea that scientific research is not conveyed correctly in popular scientific journalism is false based off of the comparison between the two articles that I have identified. Morell is able to perfectly show her knowledge of the subject to the her popular audience citing from the scientific research itself “Plotnik spent 30 to 180 minutes daily watching and recording 26 captive Asian elephants. The animals ranged in age from 3 to 60 years old and lived within a 30-acre area of Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand” (Morell). To the audience this is easily readable and gets across what was done to conduct the experiment. In the scientific research paper this information was spread out in about three paragraphs but Morell was able to state the basics of the situation in a few sentences something that would appeal to the general audience while still being able to have the gist of the situation be told. This summary given by Morell can be referenced in the scientific research paper under the section Study area and subjects where the word usage in the paragraphs given are much more scientific with the words “data analysis,” “mahouts,” “managed groups” and “volatile” used to appeal to their scientific knowledgeable audience. The words used in the popular article to replace these complex words included: “recorded incidents” instead of “data analysis”, “observer” instead of “mahout”, “family groups” instead of “managed groups”, “upset” and “stressed” replacing “volatile”. We can conclude from the change in words that the popular articles still are able to give the gist of the research while being able to appeal to a more wide audience. The words that are replaced are still represented in the popular article with the same amount of meaning but are at the same time easier to understand.

Communication of the data collected in the scientific research is critical for the scientific journal to be credible to the audience and have integrity. The integrity of the article is important for the reader because without a strong backing from the research itself readers will be less inclined to listen and acknowledge the information presented to them. In an excerpt from Morell’s article she cites “Plotnik recorded 84 such stressful incidents, noting where each occurred, the time of day, weather, and what other elephants were present—and how these individuals reacted. For a control, he compared these incidents with periods with as many matching variables as possible, but when nothing stressful occurred.” (Morell). Morell uses the word “incidents” and “control” knowing her audience is able to understand these commonly used words because the readers should have a small scientific background. She uses these two sentences to help set up how the research was done. In Plotnik’s research he talks about how the data was collected using five large paragraphs but with much greater detail appealing to his scientific colleagues that would read his work. Although Morell shortens Plotnik’s passage she is still able to convey his methods without using the “fluff” that Plotnik uses, such as including the amount of acres used or the date of when the data was collected. Morell is able to convey the same imagery and findings in a shorter amount by summarizing the information that Plotnik had researched about while taking out the “fluff” that a normal reader would skim through such as the different graphs and tables that showed the correlation between elephants and their ability to show empathy. Communication of the data is still represented in the popular article without losing the integrity or the importance, the only parts taken out would be trivial to be shown to a reader without a greater background of information.

The findings of any scientific research paper are the most important information presented in a scientific article but also seen as the most misrepresented.  The reader is mainly reading a popular scientific article or scientific research paper to learn about the findings that the scientist discovered or concluded. In the popular scientific journal by Morell, she is able to cite the findings while weaving in her own words. This is clearly seen with the lines “Most significantly, the elephants seemed capable of recognizing distress in their fellows, a behavior that may require empathy. “It’s that ability to put yourself emotionally into another’s shoes,” Plotnik says.” (Morell).  Morell is able to keep the integrity of the claim that elephants are able to feel empathy because she ultimately references back to the scientific research paper. Using the phrase “most significantly” Morell is able to signify the importance of what she is going to say next so that the reader is able to immediately recognize the findings. Morell ends her article with what can be done with the findings from Plotnik using another reference in Cynthia Moss who is cited to be saying “Any good science that supports the idea that elephants are sentient beings capable of empathy is important.” This is appealing to her audience greatly because even though she gives the findings she is able to show the importance of these findings. She able to speak about what she believes can be done with the research done and put a stamp on she believes can be done to help with the conservation of elephant habitats. The research findings in Plotnik’s article are not misrepresented in the popular scientific journal Morell is able to cite the most important parts of the research while inputting her own ideas of the importance of the findings.

The integrity of popular scientific journals when referencing the scientific research is very consistent and should not be regarded as being fake in anyway shape or form. We can see from Morell’s article on Plotnik’s scientific research paper that she is able to convey the ideals of Plotnik in her own words. In every part of Plotnik’s research paper the information is represented by Morell in her article in some way, shape or form. From the very beginning she references back to Plotnik’s data to help construct the basis for her argument for why elephants show empathy. She then brings in the data that was collected from Plotnik but in a very succinct and precise way to help keep the reader enticed while still providing the essential information. Finally, she concludes her article with the findings from Plotnik including all of the essential findings Plotnik was able to retrieve from his research while being able to weave in her own ideas. Using these two different pieces of work we are able to determine that popular scientific journals preserve the integrity of scientific research papers while appealing to a greater crowd.

Sources: https://peerj.com/articles/278/

http://news.sciencemag.org/plants-animals/2014/02/elephants-console-each-other

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