Anecdotes clarifying science…one story at a time.
How do you get a real estate agent, who has been proudly selling houses for 20 years to understand the complexity of how neutrinos were supposedly caught breaking the cosmic speed limit in 2011. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that sentence my face distorts into something that replicates a confused monkey.
Anecdotes are a powerful and popular technique that science writers adopt to help create an understanding of science. If successfully done, they can become a spine-tingling explanation of the latest science discoveries. Poorly done, and they can leave the reader even more confused and turning the page to the next story.
There are over 3.5 billion women in today’s society. Most of them will never understand the complexities of their own bodies. This is mainly because the science is not been passed on from the scientist to you and me. However there is some good news!
Natalie Angier has managed to unlock the secrets and provide and inquisitive explanation into the woman’s body. With its wit, humour and copious research the novel- Women: an Intimate geography takes the reader on a journey of discovery without sacrificing the scientific fact.
But how does she do it? Why did some of her anecdotes leave me wanting to know more while at other times I found myself skimming over the text desperately trying to catch something that caught my interest again?
In Angier’s chapter ‘Wolf Whistles and Hyena Smiles- Testosterone for women’, anecdotes are regularly used to engage, inform and promote emotional responses in the reader. One particular anecdote that stood out for me, described the life changing mood swings experienced after a 10 year old girl called Rebecca, lost consciousness after a head injury. The anecdote was used to support the claim that humans that suffer head injuries may display aggressive, impulsive, violent behaviour. It is hard to explain why this anecdote affected me more than the others. Maybe it is because I am can still remember the difficulties or growing up as a teenager and the additional stresses that this girl suffered left me shocked and empathising with her. Maybe it is because she is a young girl that has had to deal with a major life change that I cannot comprehend the length of. I would love to hear your opinion on this story. It is on page 282 of the chapter. How did you respond? Did it add to the scientific evidence? Do you have a different favourite anecdote in the chapter?
In my opinion a good anecdote is one that sparks an emotion within the reader, whether it is humour, empathy or anger. I argue that if you don’t have an emotional response to the story then it was unsuccessful. Do you agree/or disagree? Can an anecdote be successful if does not provoke a response?