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Rhetoric Society of America Biannual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.

Paper Title:
Topoi of Mathematical Statistics: The Creation of Argumentative Facts by Data Scientists

Presentation: RSA16 Topics of mathematical statistics, Lanius

Abstract: Data scientists, who frequently rely on massive amounts and varied types of social media data, create insight and value using complex mathematics and engineering methods. This paper introduces a new, rhetorically motivated, approach to understanding results as argumentative facts: results which are both technical and interpretive objects. Building from Leff’s (1983) work on systems of topical invention and Dreyfus & Eisenberg’s (1986) article On the Aesthetics of Mathematical Thought, I argue that the mathematical aesthetic principles of conciseness, simplicity, clarity, structure, power, cleverness, and surprise are not simply secondary considerations employed after a statistical analysis is performed. These principles are used by data scientists as procedural topics that connect their data to compelling claims (Toulmin, 1958). The system is demonstrated using contemporary examples from big social data analysis. Ultimately, a system of topics increases awareness of different governing logics so that data scientists can violate disciplinary norms during the inferential process to make stronger arguments.

Keywords: Data science, big social data, argumentation, interpretation, topical invention, mathematical aesthetics, procedural rhetoric