Individual Assignment 1: Rhetorical Analysis of a New York Times’ Article and Commentary

(Thesis): The overarching phenomenon of “erroneous memory” affects us all. It has been well-studied up to this point in time, yet most people still fall prey to its fatal grasp in their everyday lives, forcing them to live out the consequences that might arise in its presence. Christopher F. Chabris, a psychology professor at Union College, and Daniel J. Simons, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois, attempt to address this issue, all the while providing insight into its possible causes.

Throughout the very first paragraphs in the article, Chabris and Simons heavily rely on pure facts to start off the article. They reinforce their argument over Dr. Tyson’s inaccurate remembering of a specific quote said by former President Bush in response to the 9/11 attacks by writing that what might have caused that misremembering was in fact another quote said by Bush prior to his 9/11 speech [make sentence more concise or break up into two sentences]. Said quote was comparable to the one Dr. Tyson claimed to remember which, according to Chabris and Simons, was what Tyson could have been remembering instead.

Later, in the ninth paragraph, the authors appealed to the reader’s ethos and established their credibility on the topic by mentioning (in parentheses, no less) [parenthetical statement not needed] that one of them – Daniel Simons, to be specific [make more concise: just write Daniel Simons]– served in an “expert panel” convened by the National Academy of Sciences to “review the state of research on the topic [of erroneous memory recollection].”

Two paragraphs down, they include a small section on a study conducted by cognitive psychologists Henry L. Roediger III and K. Andrew DeSoto that explored the link between false memories and on overconfidence (when recalling a memory erroneously) – once again appealing to the reader’s logos. Also, their reliance on a single anecdote – the one of Dr. Tyson and former President Bush – throughout the article arguably strengthened their positioning on the subject. They began the article with the anecdote, then later returned to it near the end to reinforce their prior statements.

Throughout most of the article, the authors reiterate the fact that we constantly rely on our confidence of a memory to believe that said memory is true – even when that memory is most likely a false one. A curious lack of absolutes in the article lends more credibility to the authors. There are exceptions near the very beginning (“That is how we all usually respond…”) and at the very last sentence (“We are all fabulists, and we must all get used to it.”). It can be argued, however, that the presence of those absolutes in the last sentence serve as a final reinforcement, if you will [not needed], of the authors’ POV [spell-out] on the subject: that no one is perfect; that we all construct false memories (be it subconsciously or not) to fit out realities and perceptions – and we must cease in doing so [improper punctuation of sentence, just break it up into separate sentences and keep it simple].

The top three comments in the “Readers’ Picks” weren’t necessarily convincing but rather they were meaningful and contributed to the topic that the article was addressing. Dr. Tyson’s comment, for instance, included links to two Facebook “Notes” in which he discussed “these matters more fully.” [invaluable quote] His comment also included more than a modicum of comedy, which conveyed his openness to discussing the topic further. The second comment, honestly, was more of a “troll” comment than anything, as it seemed that the commentor went out of his/her way to portray Bush as a… [eliminate ellipsis] less than intelligent person, to say the least. The third comment proved to be a rare example of a comment that added something meaningful to the article. The gentleman who posted this comment acknowledged the fact that people “make honest mistakes” and that people “should learn to let the smaller [mistakes] slide” instead of assuming that the person who committed the mistake meant to cause any harm.

As for the top three comments in the “NYT Picks” section: these were slightly more “constructive” in nature. The first comment points out just how fallible our memory is (again, reinforcing the authors’ argument) and notes how we must be “trained and educated in understanding and accepting these fallibilities.” The second comment serves as the dissenting opinion, arguing that the “problem is not human memory” but rather that “we no longer teach people the importance of objectivity and reason… it is a mental laziness issue” (personally, this was a rather weak counter-argument to the article). The third comment provided a nice, concise, and relatable example of the practical, real-life application of the concepts discussed in the article, which was likely why it was, well, an “NYT Pick.”

One must always remember that [Eliminate unnecessary wording. Sentence starts here] there is no perfect approach to “ranking comments” – any overbearing regulations will simply spark uproars from the community and worsen the situation. Now, that isn’t to say that the method that the NYT has implemented is bad by any means – it’s actually rather refreshing compared to some other websites – but there will invariably be “toxic” or “controversial” comments that float their way to the top, regardless of the method of ranking that is in place. Now, is that “ranking system” needed? That’s a topic for (serious) [parenthesis not needed] debate, but, as history has always proven: any form of regulation or restriction of free speech can and will be met will fierce resistance, no matter how “benevolent” the intentions of such regulations might be.

[Keep word count requirements in mind]


Rhetorical Analysis (Hunter Harmon)

The human brain is one of the most powerful tools in the world, understanding how it works is a separate challenge that humans try to master day in and day out [unnecessary commentary]. Chabris and Simons’ article, “Why Our Memory Fails Us”, in my eyes was leaning between the readers appeal to logic (Logos) and the readers appeal to ethics (Ethos). Throughout the entirety of this article the authors relied on facts and studies to prove their theory about the human mind. The reason I believe this about the use of Logos is because throughout the entire column there were many examples of how our memory is not always as correct as we think. One example is about how the film “Rashomon” portrays the idea that our memory is not the best example of past events. The way Ethos is involved is by the way Chabris and Simons involved the expertise of well known [well-known] psychologist to explain to the intended readers the way the human mind works. If the New York Times used football coaches to make points towards the way the mind works instead of world class psychologists this whole argument would not be ethical. The most recent comments were interesting and quite comical. The first comment said by Toh246 stood behind the strength of the article in a humorous tone by saying “I forgot what I was going to say…” [though humorous, not one of the top comments]. Even though this may not be a professional comment, it sure did back the argument of Chabris and Simons. What I think is interesting about the readers comments and the New York Times comments for this article is that both comment sections show both sides of the argument. I feel like this is a needed option for the New York Times website so that the reader gets to see the arguments from previous readers ,and then they have the ability to read over the article and decide which side of the argument appeals to them the most. I love the idea of being able to express your side of the argument and letting other people agree or disagree with your side. Makes this whole idea interesting to be involved with in the future! [What techniques did they (the top comments) use to make their points so effectively?]

Rhetorical Analysis of NYT Article

In “Why Our Memory Fails Us”, Christopher F. Chabris and Daniel J. Simons successfully used ethos, pathos, and logos to connect to their audience.

In “Why Our Memory Fails Us”, Christopher F. Chabris and Daniel J. Simons are attempting to convey their message of understanding when an individual misremembers out to the readers of the New York times. They begin to develop their issue by describing political figures and how they tell their falsely remembered memories. The idea, that the act of telling false memories occurs to everyone and that it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re lying, is developed all the way through the article until the end.

The authors do a great job in delivering a logical appeal to the audience. There are several references to cases which occurred to largely watched political figures and TV hosts. The authors mention a TV host, named Niel Tyson, which is a respected speaker and scientist. One of his “staple stories hinges on a line from President George W. Bush’s speech to Congress after the 9/11 terrorist attacks” (Chabris and Simons). The authors quoted something that Dr. Tyson had said about President Bush. They explained how Dr. Tyson was trying to make it seem that the President [lowercase p] was being prejudiced against the Muslim community. The authors then claimed the actual quote by the president, which wasn’t even near the claim. The issue that was explained is a perfect logical example to how people’s memories can fail them.

Chabris and Simons further successfully develop their claim by connecting to the audience’s emotions. The authors affect what the readers are thinking by comparing their points to mistakes of the readers themselves and to major events. They mention the incident where “Mr. Bush himself misremembered what he had seen on 9/11” (Chabris and Simons) in order to have the audience recall their own memory of 9/11. I feel the authors brought in information from incidents that happened at high controversial levels so that many people could relate.

Both of the authors needed to build the credibility of themselves as well as their argument. They built up their own reputation by using high vocabulary and keeping a correct tone. Since they are psychology professors, it plays a role in their trustworthiness as well. As [a] reader, when the authors stated that “erroneous witness recollections have become so concerning that the National Academy of Sciences convened an expert panel to review the state of research on the topic” (Chabris and Simons), I felt more inclined to believe their claims since it was reviewed by an expert panel of a national academy [redundant]. The incident that they recalled can be fact checked as well.

Chabris and Simons did a good job developing their claim while backing it, with logic, emotion, and credibility. The authors brought to attention major controversies and settled them with their thoughts well. Though, they could have created a better counter-argument. Overall the authors successfully used rhetoric to prove their point. As far as the comments afterward; the NYT picks were great but only sided with the article. It would have been great if they had assents and dissents of the article.

Why Our Memory Fails Us

Although individuals believe and have relied on their memory, memory has been shown to fail us at times.

After reading this article, it has been brought to my attention that relying on one’s memory can cause many problems. The writers [writers’] purpose is to reveal that sometimes we make mistakes in our memory but that we also need to be more understanding of it in those situations. Chabris and Simons bring back a very vivid memory that we can all remember and still honor to this day, which is 911. I think using this example was a great idea because that day was extremely traumatic to all Americans in the United States. The citizens of New York most probably all have different viewpoints of what happened on September 11th, 2001. I am sure if they were put under a court of law, they would all have a different story of what they saw and heard. Another great example of how memory can fail us is the Amanda Knox case [not relevant to this assignment]. Amanda Knox was grilled with question for hours by policemen in regards to her roommates death. It came to the point where she could no longer remember what was true and what was a false reality. Her memory failed her and lead her to being put in jail even though they did not have any evidence of her committing the crime [Keep in mind that this assignment requires an analysis of rhetoric as opposed to a summary]. This was all because her story did not add up. Educated individuals are not perfect and are prone to making mistakes because of their confidence in their memory. Within this article, the authors explain that overconfidence appears from our daily experiences. “We recall events easily and often, at least if they are important to us, but only rarely do we find our memories contradicted by evidence, much less take the initiative to check if they are right. We then rely on confidence as a signal of accuracy — in ourselves and in others” (Chabris, Simons). When memories are challenged by others, we tend to react emotionally rather than relying on the facts and studies. We are quick in acting as if everyone else is wrong and we are immediately right without knowing undoubtedly. It would be wise for people to refer back to actual facts rather than assuming they are right based on their own distorted memory. I would say Chabris and Simons are trying to set a serious tone in this article. I say this because they use examples such as 9/11 with Mr. Bush and Dr. Tyson, to explain that our twisted memory does not mean we are dishonest or incompetent. The top three comments are convincing because there are actual facts and quotes that are verifiable. They used techniques such as displaying certainty in their attitude along with logical explanations to get their point across. Between the readers’ and NYT top three picks, I can see that NYT preferred opinions rather than actual facts. Ranking comments is most definitely effective and needed because readers want to engage with educated individuals. The Times makes it easier for readers to see how others are reacting to the article. [Break up large blocks of text into separate paragraphs]

Rhetorical Analysis: Pathos, Logos and Ethos


Neil deGrasse Tyson

New York City December 2, 2014

Tyson’s comment shows effective use of ethos. He opens his comment by showing the audience who he is, he does so by saying ” ‘ improper punctuation] It’s not often somebody’s OpEd begins with your name. Usually means you did something really good or really bad.’” His word choice and way he phrased this introduces the reader to the idea that he/she will be further introduced [repetitive] to what the author is saying and grasp the essence of who the author is. His comment is effective because it is quick, to the point and shows that Tyson is confident in his stance on the issue [.]

Keith Dow

Folsom December 2, 2014

Keith Dow’s comment appeals to pathos because he presents quotes to the audience that are likely to get an emotional response out of them. Dow’s first quote in fact, brings racism [Not true. Google an image of Michael Brown. He called him “Brownie” because of his last name.] into play ” ‘Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.’ –to FEMA director Michael Brown.” By depicting President Bush as a racist, the likelihood of making somebody emotionally react to such a comment is a pathological way of presenting an argument. Also his opening phrase being ‘I think your memory of Bush being an intelligent person is faulty.’[improper punctuation] is a dead give away that the following arguments are likely to appeal to pathos [Not pathos] or logos in forms of argument and will especially cause a reaction from the person whom the comment is directed to as well the audience.

Jacob Sommer

Medford, MA December 2, 2014

Sommer’s comment appeals to logos and ethos. His opening phrase; “We do have the rare counter-example of people with prodigious memories, such as Marilu Henner, but they should be considered outliers instead of representative.” is great because it makes a statement and is backed up by an example and establishes his credibility with the audience. He follows this with “I don’t remember every event of every day, and this is probably for the best.” which shows the audience that he is very much human and relatable.


Peter C

Ottawa, Canada December 2, 2014

Peter C’s argument successfully uses a combination of logos with a slight touch of pathos. The opening line appeals to pathos when he states that “Even more frightening is the fact that if we do not remember something, we vehemently deny it ever happened.” This brief use of pathos in his argument provokes a minimal response in the audience because the word frightening triggers an emotional reaction from anybody who reads it. Peter’s choice of using this word allows his comment to play with the emotions of the audience. The rest of the comment is followed by logical reasoning when he begins talking about the way memory works during movies and how his reasoning  tells his mind how things are not what they seem. Ethos comes into play as well because he establishes credibility [What credibility?] towards the subject in the way he presents his argument, allowing the audience to believe what Peter is saying.


earth December 2, 2014

This comment is strong and effective because it presents an argument, raises a question [What question?] and answers it all in the same paragraph. It is quick to the point, and appeals to logos by presenting logical answers to the problem stated in the beginning and calling for action in a subtle way.


Washington, D.C. December 2, 2014

This comment appeals to logos. It is quick, to the point and offers a logical explanation and example that shows how our memory fails us. Elizabeth’s example is a perfect use of logos coming into play because it is provided from a logical point of view, and is based off fact.


Where’s the rhetorical analysis on Chabris and Simons? Is the ranking system for comments effective?