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Crossed Words: Criticism in Scholarly Writing


Françoise Salager-Meyer and Beverly Lewin

In order for science to advance, previous research findings must be reviewed and criticized. However, conveying criticism is particularly difficult for scientists who must, at the same time, try to maintain an impersonal stance. This co-edited collection of independent studies written by scholars from many different countries addresses the thorny issue of criticism in science through discourse analysis of written scientific texts.
The research reported in this volume deals with questions such as: 1) how criticism is conveyed by various linguistic communities, such as Serbian, French, Spanish, German and English; 2) how criticism is handled in various genres, with examples drawn from book reviews, referees’ reports, research articles, editorials, and review/meta-analysis papers; 3) the extent to which criticism is influenced by academic discipline, with findings from linguistics, economics, biology, business, musicology, chemistry, literary research, medicine, and physics, and 4) the impact interpersonal considerations have on the linguistic realization of criticism.
The conclusions reached by these contributions have implications for both the academic world and society at large in the sense that a fuller understanding of how criticism is expressed will help in the education of future scholars and in the understanding of the social construction of knowledge.


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Genre Research


ESMAT BABAII Hard Science, Hard Talk? The Study of Negative Comments in Physics Book Reviews Scientific discourse in general and hard science discourse in particu- lar, are expected to be impersonal and objective. Scientific codes of conduct, implicitly or explicitly, require scientists to avoid ad homi- nem criticism and limit the evaluation to the work under scrutiny. Nevertheless, the analysis of a corpus of book reviews published in three leading physics journals (European Journal of Physics, Con- temporary Physics, and American Journal of Physics) reveals a ten- sion between the tendency for open, direct confrontation, and the academic requirement of being detached, uninvolved and disinter- ested. Contentiousness was especially noticeable in the case of the book reviews with general negative evaluation, as contrasted to the book reviews where global evaluation, despite some minor negative comments, was positive. The findings cast doubt on the uniformity of scientific/academic discourse and call for a genre-specific, con- text-dependent treatment of this concept. In a word, academic com- munication, at least in the genre of book reviews, does not seem to be thoroughly governed by the epistemological nature of the discip- line; the canon is visibly challenged by the authorial presence of the reviewers and their persuasive strategies to solicit the readers’ sup- port for their judgments. 56 Esmat Babaii 1. Introduction Logical-positivism/empiricism, which is considered as the dominant philosophical paradigm in natural/physical sciences, tends to see scien- tists as rational individuals who “can detach themselves from the world they are researching”, “abstracted individuals with...

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