Language in Society

Research Article

Down to the wire: The cultural clock of physicists and the discourse of consensus

Elinor Ochsa1 and Sally Jacobya2

a1 Department of TESL & Applied Linguistics, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1531, ochs@humnet ucla edu

a2 Department of Communication, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824-3586, swj@hopper unh edu


This study examines how deadlines and time limits for conference talks organize the discourse of consensus among collaborating experimental and theoretical physicists in a university laboratory Six months of videotaped observations, including two cycles of conference talk preparation, indicate that, as the date of an upcoming conference nears, several things happen (a)Co-authoring physicists usually have not achieved agreement on all aspects of the findings (b)They nevertheless direct their energies to constructing a hybrid presentation rhetoric that satisfies the co-authors and fits the talk to the official conference talk time limit (c) In the process of working through matters of rhetoric – what to say, what to display visually, what to leave out, and in what order the information should be presented – the physicists construct a working consensus on matters of physics theory and experimental data explaining the properties and dynamics of the physical universe (Scientific discourse, consensus, temporal organization, rhetoric )