A Rhetorical Analysis: Popular vs. Academic

  • You will conduct a comparative rhetorical analysis of the two sources and then write an essay to an academic audience (i.e., your instructor). In the essay, you will present the findings of your analysis and argue that the popular article either misrepresents or accurately represents the academic research study it cites. Use specific evidence (quotations) from both sources to support your argument

Within the few millennia of humans populating the earth, cancer has always been a significant cause of human deaths and has stimulated substantial interest within scientific, political and social communities. Cancer research has grown into a multibillion dollar industry that has invested time, money and resources to the betterment of public health. However, with pollution growing ever so infinitely and carcinogenic chemicals becoming more widespread, the race for the cure for cancer has been given more media coverage than before. Different treatment methods have been proposed as a cure for this notorious overgrowth of cells. Natural remedies and treatment have been claimed to be highly successful and has been getting increasing media attention on social media. Often times, the information portrayed on these social media posts and popular articles exaggerates the scientific findings and misrepresents the implications of the academic research being done on the matter. This in turn, results in a misguided understanding of the issue on a mass majority level.

In terms of looking into the costs and benefits of natural treatments for cancer, Dr. Virginia Livingston-Wheeler, chief of the Rutgers-Presbytarian Hospital for Proliferative Diseases, in her research “Microorganisms associated with Neoplasms”, she proposes an idea for potential causes for cancer and the results of different treatment methods. Simply looking at the title of her work implies that she targets the specific audience of health professionals who have had extensive training in the field of microbiology. As a result of the very specific audience, she limits the amount of people able to understand her work because not everyone has the training required to understand such complicated concepts. Due to the exclusivity of the scientific research, the mass majority requires sources, such as online blogs and educational websites, to translate the complex research into a language that the averagely educated individual can understand.

Websites such as the online non-profit organization called the “Cancer Tutors” aim to take the information from academic articles, such as that of Dr. Livingston-Wheeler, and portray them in a way that appeals to mass audiences and make it easy to understand for those with little to no scientific background. Often times, websites like these take advantage of their audience and portray the information in such a way that promotes their ideologies that were never mentioned in the academic research and produce a biased interpretation of academic findings. In their online description of the common myths about cancer, “Alternative Cancer Treatments (Don’t Underestimate Mother Nature)”, they claim that “fixing this DNA damage is neither important nor necessary!!!” (Alternative Cancer Treatments (Don’t Underestimate Mother Nature).

Referring to the Livingston’s research on the DNA damage caused by certain cancer cells, the website makes inferences and a decision for their readers that such methods of treating cancer are unimportant. However, in contrast, Livingston-Wheeler in her research simply claims that anti-cancer diets “are not intended as a treatment for cancer, but rather as a way of raising immunity and increasing the patient’s resistance to disease” (104). Though both resources claim that anti-cancer diets are ineffective as a treatment for cancer, the popular article highly exaggerates this idea, whereas the academic research proposes a theory an alternate explanation to explain it. The biased and exaggerated interpretation of Livingston’s research in the popular article inaccurately portrays her research, and inadequately maintains the prestige of academic and scientific findings.

When looking at the purposes and main arguments of both the academic and popular articles, it is clear that the arguments are different, which can have a significant impact on the understanding of the subject. Popular articles are most likely to give a biased representation and make decisions for the readers that shape their views of the subject, whereas research articles simply present academic findings and allow the reader to form their own opinions to some degree. Simply analyzing the titles of each piece clearly indicates the difference in views, though both are referring to the same topic. The popular article from the Cancer Tutor’s wesbite “Alternative Cancer Treatments (Don’t Underestimate Mother Nature)” stresses a biased and overly-exaggerated view of cancer treatments, claiming that individuals should not “underestimate mother nature”.

On the other hand Livingston-Wheeler’s academic article “Microorganisms associated with Neoplasms” seeks to present research findings and explain the observations using scientific methods. The academic research title makes no inferences, no assumptions, or any biased interpretations. It simply proposes the main focus of the study. Despite referring to cancer research, both articles reach different audiences and have different effects on their readers. The popular article reaches a broader audience, but misrepresents academic research and presents ideas that were never made in research.

Though popular and academic articles can refer to the same topics and sometimes present the same theories, popular articles often present ideas and inferences that were not proposed in research. Because popular articles oversimplify academic information in order to reach the broader population, key ideas within academic research are often lost in translation. Authors of popular articles also take advantage of their audience by using their lack of knowledge of the subject matter to promote their own theories and explanations  misrepresenting and appropriating academic research. This leads to a popular misunderstanding of the subject matter, which can be detrimental for the health of the public, especially when regarding serious issues that affect the population like cancer.

Kehr, Webster. “Alternative Cancer Treatments (Don’t Underestimate Mother Nature).” Cancer Tutor. Independent Cancer Research Foundation, 18 July 2015. Web. 06 Dec. 2015.

Livingston-Wheeler, Virginia.”Microorganisms associated with Neoplasms” CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 40.2 (1990): 103-08. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.



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