Experiment as rhetoric in the cold fusion controversy

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Virginia Tech

An examination of the role of experiment in the cold fusion controversy is offered. It is argued that experimental results served as rhetorical tools in the service of actors in the controversy. Discourse analysis informed by actor network theory is employed to analyze the verbal and textual discourse of scientists involved in the construction of experimentally-based scientific knowledge. The practices actors employed to structure their discourse for rhetorical effectiveness are investigated. I conclude that if experiments are to retain their traditional role as arbiters of knowledge claims, the unit of analysis pertaining to "experiment" must be broadened to include not only experimental practices within the laboratory, but also the multitude of practices scientists perform outside the laboratory walls in order to increase the likelihood that their knowledge claims will be adopted by their disciplinary matrix.