Scientific Argument: Then and Now

William Harvey (1578-1657) anatomist/physiologist/physician is best known for his discovery of the circulation of the blood. He published his findings on the motion of the heart and blood in animals, Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus, in 1628. Although his findings and his methods were radical for the time–going against the paradigm that had been established for over 1000 years–his ideas were quickly accepted by all. Many have suggested that the rapid acceptance of this radical theory was due to Harvey’s brilliant rhetoric.

In this exercise, you are asked to compare the structure and argument of William Harvey’s On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals to that of a modern scientific journal article. Do not read Harvey’s entire text; read the introductory note and the opening letters, then choose portions of each chapter to read.

Instructor’s Notes for Scientific Argument Exercise

One of Harvey’s major contributions to medical research, and science in general, is his use of experimentation. He was the first medical researcher and one of the first scientists to use experimentation and mathematics to support his claims as well as one of the first to use the scientific method. As you are analyzing the text, keep in mind that these features are unprecedented in medical research.

Elements to look for

  • overall structure of the text/organization
  • content (Hint: They may not be organized the same, but do you see similarities in the information given?)
  • argument/rhetoric (Are there similarities or differences in the tactics Harvey used to persuade compared to those tactics scientists use today?)