Why Our Memory Fails Us: A Rhetorical Analysis

The OpEd by Chabris and Simons on our memory and its failings makes its argument borrowing from elements of ethos and logos, forming a sound and nonpartisan piece free of bias. The top comments on said piece do not follow suit, and are mainly driven by the most reactionary of rhetorical appeals, pathos. [good summary of your argument. Cite examples of their use and use those keywords — ethos, logos and pathos.]

[Analyze rather than summarize.] Chabris and Simons demonstrate their credibility in a surprising subtle manner. They begin with a story on Neil Degrasse Tyson, propping him up as the intelligent, educated, and successful man that he is. Then they reveal that even someone as credible as Tyson can have serious lapses in memory and judgement. He mistakenly attributed a culturally insensitive, possibly Islamophobic quote to President George W. Bush, and denied his error shortly thereafter. This tactic is mirrored in the latter half of their article when Bush, whose reputation had just been defended, has a similar mistake exposed. The just representation of memory lapses by both liberal and conservative authorities (in a manner which still allows them to “save face”) leaves the reader feeling they can trust Chabris and Simons.

The anecdotes on Tyson and Bush are both backed up by dates, times, and verified quotes. The broader message, that of human memory, its inconsistency, and our over-confidence, is continuously linked back to relevant studies. Erroneous witness recollections are explained with research from the National Academy of Science, and the phenomenon of over-confidence in weak memories is corroborated by a cognitive psychology paper (Roediger and DeSoto). The abundance of evidence, statistics, and verifiable research supplied by the author dispels any doubts that may remain on the legitimacy of their argument. [How is this a use of ethos and logos?]

[Analyze rather than summarize. How do the commenters use the rhetorical triangle to make their points?] Examining the NYT picks for top comments reveals a microcosm of the original arguments. Most of these comments seem to summarize the content of the piece, while occasionally adding a relevant personal anecdote, such as remembering scenes in a movie. Some comments disagree with the article, such as user magicisnotreal, who places the focus not on memory but on a lack of objectivity in our inferences. All of these comments however, retain a professional tone, devoid of emotional outburst or attacks and written with excellent grammar. [Separate topic sentences with paragraphs.] The NYT picks are respectable, reasonable comments; presumably because someone is being paid for this, and as such are equipped with a practical guideline for identifying useful commentary. [Separate topic sentences with paragraphs.] By contrast, the top reader picks are largely dependent on strategies of pathos. These comments contain snarky attacks on Bush (backed only by links to “politicalhumor.com”), written in a vaguely offended tone. Some top comments contain no recognizable rhetorical arguments at all, relying solely on the power of a run-on sentence. The disparity in quality of writing leads to a newfound appreciation for the effectiveness of NYT picks, and a desire for a similar system to filter the dialogue (or rather, turn-based monologues) of the real world.


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