The Story of Science
“I don’t want to hear any of your excuses, just give me the facts”
Unfortunately, only stating the facts makes it sound like I’m at fault. What I need is to tell my side of the story. Only then will my dad understand the (almost) logical reasons for my actions and maybe, just maybe he will feel bad for me.
I use stories (aka narratives) all the time. Those who know me well will attest to the fact that I never just state what you need or want to know, but start at what I believe is the beginning of the story, and then continue on, and on, and on… Admittedly, I’m not a great storyteller. Often my stories end up becoming the long, incoherent ramblings of a very strange female; however, I strongly believe that when done well, a story is so much more exciting and memorable then just the facts.
But how do you turn a list of scientific facts into an enthralling story? How do the characters, plot and science all fit together?
Larissa MacFarquhar depicts the stories of kidney donors: who they are, why they donated, and how they felt afterwards. For me, I found that the science played a supporting role in these stories. It was the characters that kept me engaged, but the science moved the plot forward.
The same relationship occurs in American television shows. Consider this: could you still watch House, Grey’s Anatomy or Bones if you only saw the characters’ home lives? Probably, since the characters are fantastic, but the plot lines would probably start resembling Desperate Housewives. It’s the need to solve the current medical or murder mystery that propels the story forward. Relationships are built as science occurs.
Now, could you watch the shows without the characters. For me the answer is no. I love my carefully constructed plot and often life doesn’t fit together so nicely. I have spent many a night forgoing sleep to feed my tv addiction. I can honestly say the same is not true for science textbooks. In fact, textbooks often put me to sleep. That is why I really like scientific narratives.
Another reason I prefer science narratives over listed facts is that, unless you are unfortunate enough to be reading the next Hemingway, written scientific narratives conjure more vivid mental images then textbooks do. I find the authors of the narratives employ more descriptive adjectives. The improved mental images, makes it easier for me to learn. Who knows though, maybe by the end of the day, all I will remember is the story and no science at all. I will recall who kissed who, and whose lives were completely ruined, but if asked to explain the symptoms of breast cancer, I will become uncharacteristically silent.
What do you think? Is the narrative or the science more important.
Reference: McFarquhar, K. (2010). The kindest cut. The best American science writing 2010; Eds Groopman, J, Cohen J./em>