, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 175-184
Date: 14 Jul 2009

A Rhetorical Analysis of Apologies for Scientific Misconduct: Do They Really Mean It?

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Abstract

Since published acknowledgements of scientific misconduct are a species of image restoration, common strategies for responding publicly to accusations can be expected: from sincere apologies to ritualistic apologies. This study is a rhetorical examination of these strategies as they are reflected in choices in language: it compares the published retractions and letters of apology with the letters that charge misconduct. The letters are examined for any shifts in language between the charge of misconduct and the response to the charge in order to assess whether the apology was sincere or ritualistic. The results indicate that although most authors’ published acknowledgments of scientific misconduct seem to minimize culpability by means of the strategic use of language, their resulting ritualistic apologies often still satisfy in some way the accusers’ (and thus their community’s) concerns.