Sunday, October 12, 2008

Scientific Storytelling--Radio Lab, WNYC

Scientists should tell stories... this is how Robert Krulwich, maker of RadioLab, begins his commencement address to CalTech students. In a 30 minute speech Krulwich asserts that creationists and other myth makers are busy creating compelling stories about the world works and if scientists don't create their own compelling stories then no one will listen to them. He tells the story of Galileo who he suggests was not only a great scientist, but was good at writing and demonstrating interesting ways of showing people new ways of thinking about the world. Krulwich suggests that if Galileo had been more obscure or communicated his ideas in less interesting ways he would have been far less of a threat.

In another short podcast, Krulwich and co-host, Jad Abumrad, give a behinds the scenes look at how they translate science into a language that the general public can understand. There are the usual Krulwich gags, but along the way they tell us how they create stories out of complicated scientific evidence. Although I am very fond of RadioLab and their entertaining explanations of science, Krulwich and Abumrad, do not tell us much about behavioral and social science. In these areas, we have a different problem of explanation than physics and biology. With behavioral and social sciences, the challenge is that everyone has their own behavioral and social explanations of everyday life. No one says to the physicists, "the quarks in my house don't behave like that" or "my family of quarks work like this..." Behavioral and social scientists have to help people ask tougher questions about the generalizability of their experiences and to examine more data about their hypotheses about how social phenomena work. I think this is more challenging than understanding the realms of science that are outside of human experience.

And finally, here is an interview, Chasing Bugs, with a great scientific storyteller, E.O. Wilson, who not only is an excellent entomologist, but also a great communicator about biology to the general public. In this interview, you get a terrific look at the man behind the science.

No comments: