The meaning of computer simulations : rhetorical analyses of ad hoc programming
Kendall, Aimee Janine
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This textual analysis examines computer simulations as rhetorical objects and acts. In particular, this work examines scientific simulations from organic chemistry and astrophysics in order to expose how rhetorical and social aspects influence the ad hoc decisions (e.g., setting initial parameters, excluding and adding arbitrary elements, and making other choices) that comprise simulations. Prior works in philosophy, critical theory and technical communication underscore fictional and formal features of simulation. In contrast, this dissertation dissects multiple levels of documents surrounding actual simulations—not only drafts of published articles but also software and code interiors, e-mail and letter correspondence, newsletters and white paper reports—in order to discuss the relational (rather than purely formal) meaning of the simulations. This work also compares simulation to other modes of the scientific imagination—paradox, thought experiments and metaphor, in particular. My findings suggest that simulations hinge upon abductive (rather than deductive or inductive) reasoning and qualify as virtual evidence. Also, while published drafts of simulation articles tidy the ad hoc twists and turns necessary for creating simulations, prior drafts and peripheral documents attest to the fact that organizational affiliations, earlier projects, and rhetorical strategies help establish the scope and meaning of simulation projects. Further, meaning-making takes place well before and long after the article drafting process—in prior incarnations of the work for presentation, in correspondence between article writers and reviewers, and in citations in others’ writing.