Beginnings of Science Writing in America: The Declaration of Independence as a Report of Experimental Research

By Joyce P. Johnston.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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While the political antecedents of the American Declaration of Independence have been extensively analyzed, to date there has been little to no exploration of its connection to the evolution of science education and publication standards. Upon closer examination, author Thomas Jefferson’s own academic career closely mirrors the educational sequence from undergraduate student to graduate student to postdoctoral fellow experienced by today’s promising young scientists. Following the IMRAD format most commonly used to report the results of independent research, the Declaration satisfies all major requirements for modern scientific publication. Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion are separated visually by typography in the Dunlap broadside printing and grammatically by the use of varying forms of parallel structure. Recital of the colonies’ actions and Britain’s responses form a body of primary evidence, directly observed and sequentially recorded. The document’s appearance, beginning July 5, 1776, marked its first disclosure. It was validly published by order of the Second Continental Congress, which required that it be printed as a broadside, read aloud in every colony, and distributed widely using the thirteen colonies’ thirty-plus newspapers. Public readings and broadsides made the Declaration available without restriction, while newspaper editions placed it into the public information retrieval system. While the striking parallels between Jefferson’s academic training and publication practice and twenty-first century ones may be adventitious, this article suggests that further exploration of Jefferson’s letters and papers is needed to establish his thought on the Declaration’s relationship to scientific objectivity, professional vetting procedures and standards of publication. The article further implies that the same form of academic expression can appear spontaneously in different time periods because it is most conducive to the advancement of sequential investigation, objective reporting and efficient articulation in science writing.

Keywords: Political Science, Independence, Experimental Research, Eighteenth Century, IMRAD, First Disclosure, Thomas Jefferson, Declaration

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.55-66. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.642MB).

Joyce P. Johnston

Adjunct Professor, English Department, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, USA

Twenty-two years with the Advanced Composition program at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, USA, have led to specialization in copyright and intellectual property as well as computer-assisted instruction. Online writing courses have focused on humanities and social science as well as on hard sciences, medicine and technology. As well as training others to teach online, conducting sessions on intellectual property, most time goes into piloting experimental formats for online instruction.