Not everyone has a background in the sciences or medicine, but everyone at some point will need to interpret medical information and use it to make decisions that will significantly impact their own life or the life of a loved one. Understanding who to trust when seeking medical advice can seem daunting in an age of instant access to a nearly limitless number of online sources and the constantly evolving presence of social media. Through the rhetorical concept of ethos, broken into phronesis (practical wisdom), arête (virtue), and eunoia (good will), we can analyze methods used by different rhetors to determine how they build authority and earn their audience's trust, thereby influencing the audience's beliefs and actions. Vaccines are a salient topic to analyze for ethos building, as there is an ongoing and passionate debate from various rhetors vying to influence patients and parents to vaccinate according to different beliefs surrounding public health, safety, and individual liberty. Analyzing public-facing information from opposite sides of the debate, specifically from healthcare professionals, government organizations, and lay people, can help us see different methods utilized when creating an ethos about the same topic. Understanding how rhetors build ethos may help us understand what those rhetors consider important and may help us reach them as an audience more effectively. It was found that when ethos-building, professionals and government organizations focused more on building expertise and goodwill towards the general population while anti-vaccination lay rhetors focused more on individual connections and goodwill towards small groups perceived as vulnerable. Through studies such as this focused on the rhetoric of medicine, we can learn to create better communications and documents about vaccines and healthcare that earn trust and that influence members of the community towards safeguarding public health.
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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
College of Arts and Humanities
Texts and Technology
Length of Campus-only Access
Doctoral Dissertation (Campus-only Access)
Glasshoff, Carolyn, "The Ethos of Vaccine-Related Discussions in Online Public Spaces" (2021). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 508.