Rhetorical Analysis

In the article titled “Why Our Memory Fails Us” by Christopher F. Chabris and Daniel J. Simons, they make a compelling case against trusting the accuracy of your memory. They begin to build their argument by stating convincing studies, facts, and reliable sources that back up their position, successfully employing rational appeals [use of logos] as well as ethical appeals [use of ethos] throughout the article.

[Analyze rather than summarize.] In this article, they first set the stage by making an example of Neil Degrasse Tyson, renowned astrophysicist and TV host of “Cosmos.” They describe an incident where Dr. Tyson trusted blindly in the accuracy of his memory, leading him to wrongly quote former president George Bush’s post-9/11 speech in an attempt to prove the lack of science literacy in the United States. They also note Dr. Tyson’s reaction to his memory being called into question, as well as the public’s reaction to his misattributed quote, to further make their case. They recognize that our memories are not trustworthy, yet we defend them when challenged and accuse others of lying when their memory falters. Dr. Tyson’s situation leads the article to a much more serious consequence of the fallibility of our memory, including false convictions and even death penalty.

Throughout their piece, they layer both studies and past misrememberings from well-known politicians, such as George Bush and Hillary Clinton, to make their case in point. They rely heavily on these facts and studies [use of logos], doing little to play on the emotions of their audience or engage their sentiments. They do, however, use reliable sources, such as the National Academy of Sciences [use of ethos], a panel which Daniel J. Simons served on, and many accredited psychologists, to build their credibility. All the while, the authors maintain an informative tone with a call to action to be aware of the inaccuracies of everyone’s memory and regard the mistakes of others as just mistakes and not malice [use of pathos].

[How do the commenters use the rhetorical triangle to make their points?] In the readers’ picks section of the comments, both Keith Dow and Prometheus seem to have landed a spot in the top three because of their jabs at former president George Bush. While Keith Dow goes on to list quotes by the politician that he feels will prove his lack of intelligence, Prometheus states that he is not worth making an example of and urges the authors to use someone else. [Separate topic sentences with paragraphs.] Meanwhile, Jacob Sommers expresses agreement with the authors, touching on the main points of the article. In summary, he states that most of us do not have prodigious memories, and while it’s common for people to accuse others of wrongdoings, he recognizes that it’s far more likely to be an honest mistake. The comments made by Keith Dow and Prometheus appeal to the more sarcastic audience with a dislike for George Bush while the comment made by Jacob Sommer appeals to the audience in agreement with the article as a whole.

[How do the commenters use the rhetorical triangle to make their points?] The top three NYT picks are all well-written and add some value to the conversation. Peter C. recounts his own memory faults and urges everyone to understand and accept our memory fallibilities because they affect how we relate to one another and the world. Magicisnotreal disagrees with the article, stating people mistake their inferences for memories, which stems from being mentally lazy, not from memory problems. [Separate topic sentences with paragraphs.] Elizabeth supports the article by describing a situation where students observe the same event but remember it differently. All three comments do not simply poke fun or mildly summarize the article in the way the readers’ picks comments did. They each have something to say that hasn’t already been stated.

I believe the Times’ approach to ranking comments is effective as well as needed. Readers will not voluntarily sift through hundreds of irrelevant comments, but can easily view the top comments chosen by both other readers and the Times themselves. This eliminates valuable voices getting lost in the clamor and benefits the newspaper too.


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