Popular and academic genres of science : a comparison, with suggestions for pedagogical applications.
This thesis reports on a comparison of four genres of scientific writing: the research article, university textbook, popular science article and science books for children. The comparison is based on a functional linguistic analysis of what are taken to be exemplary texts from these genres and focuses on the levels of register (or context of situation), genre (or context of culture) and ideology (loosely used to mean power relations reflected in and achieved through discourse). The textbooks and research article examined are found to be similar in register but distinct at the level of genre. Allowing for the difference in age of the readers. the study also finds broad similarity between textbooks and science hooks for children at both the levels of register and genre. Differences between popular science texts and the other three genres are particularly marked at the interpersonal level, and can be explained in terms of the popular science texts in the study being primarily news genres. Specifically, two of the popular texts in the study are issues reports (characterised by White 1997 as 'the discoveries of some authorised source'), while one is an opinion piece. The basis of the examination of ideological differences between the four genres is from the perspective of how each genre establishes objectivity, what each regards as constituting a fact, and power relations between reader and writer. Research science achieves objectivity by universalising propositions by removing association with people, time and place (Latour and Woolgar 1979). The research article functions to persuade readers (who represent the powerful research community) to accept knowledge claims (Myers ) 989). This persuasion must be accomplished through an appearance of objectivity through removal of human participants and without the more usual interpersonal devices such as attltudinal texis. Propositions become fact when they are accepted, and cited as uncontroversial by the research community. Like the research article, textbooks appear objective by removal of association with people. However, by contrast with research articles, writers of textbooks are more powerful than their readers are. Textbook writers, in summarising all information accepted as fact by the research community, are representative and mouthpiece of that powerful community. In privileging facts (scientists' ideas) over scientists themselves, textbooks extend the power differential noted by Myers (1989) between research community and individual researcher. Textbooks reify the fact and further bury the individual, containing only generic references to scientists. Science books for children, like textbooks, contain only generic references to scientists. They do, however, try to engage readers through illustrations and by identifying readers with scientists. Popular science texts are distinct from the other three genres in establishing writer objectivity through the journalistic means of attributing ideas and utterances to authoritative human participants in the text. Popular texts, because they report on findings that the research community has not yet endorsed as fact, are distinct from research articles and textbooks in representing findings as provisional and even controversial, and thus provide an insight into science as a social activity that is absent from the other genres. This research finds little evidence that popular science represents a simpler or more accessible form than textbooks. Indeed the similarity in register and genre between textbooks and science books for children calls into question the commonly-held conception of factual texts as inherently more difficult than forms such as narrative. This research indicates that research articles and textbooks are target forms for tertiary students and students in the later years of secondary school. Motivated by this, the researcher suggests that importing features of popular science writing into textbooks would be counter-productive. Instead she suggests a greater role for popular science texts themselves at secondary and at tertiary level. In providing an insight into scientists as people and the social nature of how facts are established, popular science texts can go some way to dispelling the mystique of science as authoritative and difficult.