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March 20, 2012 / stinaboroe

Using Anecdotes as a Means of Getting Science Out There.

Throughout the introduction of ‘Some We Love. Some We Hate. Some We Eat.’ we hear about Judith, Jim, Carolyn, Sandy, Ron, Sammy & Betty Sue and their stories of various encounters with animals. Through anecdotes the author presents a range of examples on how we deal with animals in different ways and how our attitudes towards them often fluctuate.

Talking about real people and real incidences is a neat way of introducing a subject in an approachable and interesting way. Furthermore it might help the reader relate to what the author is talking about.

Why is it that we mostly respond so well to anecdotes? And, while powerful in their ways of seeking the reader’s attention, are they appropriate for use in communicating science?

Humans respond well to storytelling as we instinctively learn by the experience of others. Telling a story about something that potentially put you in danger will act as a warning or lesson for others not to do the same thing. Throughout time, telling stories has been a good strategy to understand and survive the world and environment that we live in. After all, a big part of our evolving culture is passing on knowledge from one generation to another.

In the case of ‘Some We Love. Some We Hate. Some We Eat’ the use of anecdotes will help us to understand and relate to a concept that could otherwise be difficult to comprehend. How can we know about various attitudes towards animals unless we can hear about other people that are actually expressing these attitudes? Additionally, hearing about other people and their attitudes about animals might very well help to create awareness towards your own animal attitudes and why you have them. Anecdotes act as an encouragement for the reader to ask less obvious questions about their own private feelings regarding animals, and they do so in a less obstructive manner than what a more argumentative or straightforward scientific piece would otherwise achieve.

Positive assertions aside; anecdotes do not come without some limitations. It is important to keep in mind that anecdotes are often examples of curious, peculiar and extraordinary cases and they might not represent the typical. This means that, although they are useful in introducing a topic or presenting different angles, you should be careful of using them conclusively.

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13 Comments

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  1. kflint93 / Mar 20 2012 8:54 am

    Hey there,

    I thought the way in which you described how we, as humans, respond so well to the use of anecdotes in a text was really excellent, relating it to the historical use of stories. However there is no doubt that animals are a huge part of our lives, and I would question as to whether the stories of a few people might affect the pre-existing schemas of the audience. Perhaps anecdotes might be more effective when used to convey information about a less familiar topic? I agree with your point about the importance of establishing what lots of other people think before you make up your own mind on what is right and what is wrong, but this may be more pertinent when thinking about concepts (or animals!) that you have never had any experience or knowledge of before this point.

    I think your last paragraph completely summed up my personal point of view on the use of anecdotes. It would just be too easy for the reader to simply disregard any anecdote that conflicted greatly with their personal beliefs by telling themselves ‘that’s just one person, not me- and they’re probably not normal at all’. If you really want to confront someone’s feelings, perhaps a large study with data presented on wider range of participants would prompt the reader to think “oh, maybe what I think isn’t normal, it’s not what the everyman thinks… Why is that?’ and only then will people genuinely consider all the alternatives to their points of view.

  2. selinamj / Mar 20 2012 12:30 pm

    I completely agree that humans, as such social creatures, find a certain pleasure and entertainment in the use of anecdotes and stories to communicate information. I think anecdotes have the potential to help increase understanding of certain topics, especially as they add a human aspect to something that may be quite complex and inaccessible.
    I would disagree to an extent when you said that they may not be useful for a topic that is so familiar to us, on the contrary I feel they could help us increase our knowledge and understanding of the specifics within these broad topics with are already reasonably familiar with. The whole novelty of anecdotes is that they provide us with a short and entertaining story of someone’s experience. If done well enough we will remember these new facts because of the entertainment value of the story in which they were presented.
    The way I see it anecdotes might be a great and fun way to help us remember obscure facts. However I do agree with the fact that they may be disregarded because they are not really representative.

  3. caitiedunlap / Mar 22 2012 8:25 am

    Firstly I have to say I was interested in the post because I have wanted to read the book of ‘Some We Love. Some We Hate. Some We Eat.’. It seems like an amusing discussion on the attitudes of humans to animals between cultures and countries. I must make sure I pick up a copy at some stage.

    You have done a good job discussing anecdotes and their effectiveness in spreading knowledge. I think anecdotes are an integral part of society and conversation as they assist us in learning and furthering our knowledge in every area of life. I think you put it well stating that ‘a big part of our evolving culture is passing on knowledge from one generation to another.’ because without this story telling between generations, there would be no advancements made and every generation would have to start from scratch and learn by themselves. However when advancements in society and technology are seen to be very important, passing on information is a simple and effective tool of helping future generations become successful.

    I do have to agree with selinamj in the fact that even when topics are well known, anecdotes still allow people to further their knowledge. They are unlikely to know everything about a certain topic, however there is obviously a level of interest in the topic so furthering their knowledge will most likely be enjoyed.

    Overall good job on a very interesting topic!

  4. noelynn / Mar 22 2012 10:11 pm

    The simplified version of anecdote was done well with ease.

    I agree to what Selina had expressed that as humans, we are sociable and that the use of anecdote as a means of communicating information. We experience a wide range of approaches to getting a message across people.

    Would using an anecdote be a good way to explain abstract ideas? Maybe or not, it depends on a personal choice, with reference to Flint’s comment. The point is, clear coding and decoding of messages should be our utmost goal in communication.

    Overall, the post was thoroughly put across well. Good effort!

  5. keikok / Mar 23 2012 5:27 am

    It is first time for me to hear about the book “Some We Love. Some We Hate. Some We Eat” and you successed to make me feel like reading the book!! Anecdotes give not only kids but also adults the surprise of science.
    Do you remember in the class of Science Writing done by Mooza on the other day, talking about “the fact” and “the story”? The fact is easy to remember in short time but the story is better for long term consequence. I think most anecdotes are ‘wow’ stories so that we can remember as well as feel like to talk someone else to spread the stories.

    Overall, your post was easy to understand. It would be even better if you could put references and a picture to grab the attention of readers. Well done 🙂

  6. jesspacka / Mar 23 2012 2:27 pm

    It is also the first time I have heard about the book ‘Some We Love. Some we Hate. Some We Eat’. Your explanation of the usage of anecdotes in the book was very clear and so easy to read. I read a few blogs and tried to find one I actually understood myself as obviously I felt stupid commenting on something I did not understand! Yours was, in my opinion, was very easy to get the drift and understant the concept.
    The only thing I would possibly criticize is the ending. I feel I was left thinking, have I missed a line? I think it could have been summed up a little better.

    Overall though, I think you did a great job!

  7. priscillalyf / Mar 28 2012 4:36 am

    I like your comments about the use of anecdotes. I find when using anecdotes it is easier to understand the concept or experience. Most of the things we do, we learn from other people, so telling a story about that particular subject can make it easier to remember as well. But in saying that, we shouldn’t believe what everything people tell us. As you said in your last paragraph, we should be careful using them, because they can be more similar to a story rather than the facts. I think it is appropriate for use in communicating science to a certain point, because not all scientific information can be presented to us through anecdotes, for example, like what was said in class about learning equations or chemical formulas, we do have to take them as facts and anecdotes would be very hard to use in this case. But other information could be easier to learn as stories, especially for a long period of time; stories are easier to remember than facts, like what Keiko said.

    Overall it was a good interpretation of the use of anecdotes for communicating science. Anecdotes are useful to remember certain information and we do respond better to anecdotes because we like storytelling and find it more amusing rather than remember facts all the time.

  8. stinaboroe / Mar 28 2012 5:02 am

    Dear all,

    Thank you for such constructive feedback, it has been very helpful to get a new angle on my own writing. Also, it has been great to get further insight in your knowledge and opinions about anecdotes. It seems a lot of you either want to read the book or haven’t heard of it before but have now taken interest. This proves that this blog is not only useful in describing writing techniques but also in informing and introducing interesting reading material to fellow students!

    Cheers,
    Stina

    • muza2009 / Mar 28 2012 11:46 pm

      @stina, a woman after my own heart! Im glad you see the blog as an opportunity to introduce students to new material. The book is available at Sci Comm HQ if anyone would like to borrow it, postgrads you could read this as your book review. Its a well written post that describes both the strengths and weaknesses of anecdotes but I have to agree with @jesspacka who says it ends abruptly, i think some examples of famous querky anecdotes would illustrate your point like Archimedes and the bath…. which is actually incorrect. I also wonder is there a difference between an anecdote and a story?

  9. JamieAlexandraGraves / Mar 30 2012 12:26 am

    I agree with selenamj and noelynn in this blog about the importance of humans as social createures. You have raised this point well, explaining the historical background as to why anecdotes are an important example of human communication in the first place.
    You have also summarised the text “Some we Love. Some we Hate. Some we Eat.” Well in respect to your overview of the content and explanation of the relevance of anecdotes and how the anecdotes in the text are used to convey a scientific message.
    However I am not an animal person and found it a little hard to understand the exact attitudes that people may have about their animals – perhaps including an example would help people like me to better understand your blog!
    Thanks!

  10. michaelpetersen1 / Mar 30 2012 3:12 am

    I thought that your blog entry was easy to read and flowed really well. You also argued well your point that anecdotes help communicate science, but you also kept your post balanced by mentioning some of the limitations of anecdotes. I look forward to reading “Some We Love. Some We Hate. Some We Eat” to find out more. I never thought about using anecdotes to better understand or communicate in science

  11. studentname23 / Mar 30 2012 8:18 am

    Hello, I need to introduce myself briefly, I am a toddler in the blog. I am in a rush to make comment. So I printed some of the articles for week 5 and read few of those today and were very interesting. Finally I found that I can’t comment on those artcles. Then I chose one of those for this week one to comment. It’s really nice to read from the beginning to the end. Finally, I managed to read the comments. Yes, I agree that your summary. Even I also have the question of animal ethics. However; the individual perception varies, there is no perfect answer. The author well managed for his points. Even Stina, you have summarised the salient points very well, and your conclusion.Sometimes we need to accept the reality after reading the stories as you have written in your conclusion.

  12. markforeman92 / Mar 30 2012 2:56 pm

    I have always been a supporter of anecdotes. I absolutely agree with you; the way they can further our understanding of a particular situation is invaluable. When hearing the past experiences of people and listening to stories, we are able to get another perspective on certain issues. I think though, more importantly, that anecdotes can really help to keep a certain piece of writing interesting, as you’ve briefly touched on. Some articles, particularly science, can get a little tedious, and anecdotes are a perfect way to continue with the relevent content whilst also drawing the reader in.

    I thought your summary was fairly concise and effective and you were able to identify the successful use of anecdotes in this particular article. perhaps you could have touched further on the limitations, but i’m thinking i don’t know as much on this topic as you do and there may be very few limitations, in which case i suppose not much more could be said. Overall though, i thought your post was spot on! Good Job!

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