It’s been a long time since I’ve written in the style of a timed writing from high school English class, and I’m not entirely sure what compelled me to return to this format. Either way, here I am, writing a rhetorical analysis on the one comment I received in all my months of writing for The Daily Texan.
My article reported on a synthetic biology project being conducted by one of the researchers at UT (who is now my PI), which involved gene editing. Predictably, this was a topic that drew an anonymous Internet commenter out of the shadows. Here is what they said:
DNA is the Fortan program for life, where not just content, but sequence determines outcome. Playing Russian roulette with life codes will have more negative than positive outcomes....
And this is my analysis, entirely without editing, as is the style of the English class timed write:
Much of the misinformation spread on the Internet is not conveyed through text or explicit statements, but through subliminal use of pathos and ethos. FauxScienceSlayer employs subtle pathos and an ethos masking his or her anonymity to compensate for a lack of logos usage.
FauxScienceSlayer begins his or her comment with a metaphor comparing DNA code to a computer code known as Fortran, providing both credibility and appeal to the desired audience from the outset. By comparing the code of life to a computer program, the commenter is establishing him or herself as a scientist or academic and wins over the audience with a simple metaphor that outwardly appears witty and original. Additionally, the choice of computer code appeals to an older audience that is more likely to be skeptical of genetic engineering: Fortran was one of the earliest programming languages developed, meaning that most of its users are either part of the baby boomer generation or at least old enough to have many years in advanced computer science. This appeal to an older audience also gains FauxScienceSlayer more credibility in turn, as older readers are more likely to find one of their own ranks credible.
However, spelling mistake and anonymity conveys lack of credibility. However, the negative strike against ethos is ameliorated somewhat by his or her chosen username, FauxScienceSlayer. The capitalization of the three distinct words in FauxScienceSlayer’s title provides a cleaner and more professional look than all lowercase or all capital letters. The word “Faux” additionally implies that the user is combating fake or pseudoscience and that the anonymous Internet commenter is intelligent enough to differentiate between real and false scientific claims. This also subliminally discrediting the article’s subjects and author by implying they are trying to trick their readers.
FauxScienceSlayer then launches yet another statement building ethos in the next half of the first sentence. By reminding the audience that “not just content, but sequence determines outcome,” the commenter gains more credibility by reminding the audience of something they likely did not know, and thereby establishing him or herself as a person well-versed on the subject — or, at least, more than the average Internet user. This also attempts to discredit the article’s subjects even more by implying that they forgot this detail and aren’t taking it into consideration in their work. FauxScienceSlayer understands the necessity of emphasizing ethos and credibility, as most intelligent Internet users would never take the word of an anonymous commenter over the word of several PhD-holding geneticists.
FauxScienceSlayer then switches from ethos to focusing entirely on pathos in the second sentence. Firstly, the second sentence is separated from the first by a blank line, making it easy for readers to absorb and thereby convincing them that FauxScienceSlayer is professional. FauxScienceSlayer then includes an analogy to Russian roulette, implying a randomness where the outcome of a negative result is indeed certain death and a positive result is absolutely no gain whatsoever. This is an appeal purely to pathos, as Russian roulette is widely known as a dangerous game with horrible consequences and no appeal besides the thrill of danger it provides to drunk daredevils. The following sentence drives this home by ominously stating that even if there are positive benefits to genetic engineering, they will be far outweighed by the negative consequences. This entire sentence masterfully disguises itself as logos, or logic and reasoning, without needing to provide concrete facts that would have likely bored the audience and made the comment too long to be appealing. The commenter sees the necessity of using fear tactics on an audience and displaying them as a voice of reason, as FauxScienceSlayer still has less credibility than both the author and the article’s scientists and cannot provide more concrete facts than the longer article above the comment. Finally, FauxScienceSlayer ends his or her comment with a set of ellipses, doubly evoking the images of an ominous warning and an unknown. Both the drama and the lack of information provided by the ellipses reminds the audience of unheeded omens of the past so that they will associate FauxScienceSlayer with a well-meaning whistle-blower being ignored by a willfully-ignorant public. And, once again, this provides a small amount of ethos, as well, by telling readers that FauxScienceSlayer is taking the issue seriously, unlike most Internet trolls.
In conclusion, FauxScienceSlayer deftly interweaves both ethos and pathos in two short sentences to effectively counter the superior facts and reasoning provided by the article. While FauxScienceSlayer falls short of winning credibility over the article’s writer and interviewees, he or she recognizes the importance of still gaining some ethos so as not to seem like the average anonymous, raving lunatic on the Internet. Finally, FauxScienceSlayer dedicates a significant amount of his or her argument to pathos, which has proven the most effective tool against scientists’ credibility and logic over the course of human history. By appealing to the fear of the unknown and the conservative caution that exists in all human beings, FauxScienceSlayer provides a well-crafted argument that many audience members will unfortunately, not recognize as complete bullshit.