September 28, 2012
If you read Mood Riffs, you probably know that collective feelings of uncertainty are a trait of bear markets (click here to read Tuesday’s riff). But can you utilize times of uncertainty to advantage? It seems one author did exactly that—to huge effect. Rachel Carson published Silent Spring on September 27, 1962, 50 years ago this week. The book was widely credited with helping launch the environmental movement and, eventually, with banning the insecticide DDT in 1972 amid a 16-year bear market.
Two researchers of writing and rhetoric recently studied Carson’s drafts and found how cleverly she leveraged uncertainty. Thursday’s New York Times wrote, “Rather than downplay scientific uncertainty and gaps in understanding, she progressively amplified what was unclear about the human impacts of DDT and other synthetic compounds on humans and wildlife.” The study authors wrote that Carson used, “the uncertainty topos [line of argument] to invite the public to participate by supplying fears and values that would warrant proposals for limiting pesticide use.” Her careful positioning paid off later in the 1970s, when the social mood trend strongly favored the environmental movement. (Click here to read a socionomic study of environmentalism.)
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