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Science V.S. Story: Confusion.

Science and storytelling - are they mortal enemies?

Here's a thought - we can't actually pit Science V.S. Storytelling because fundamentally they have something in common...

Now, go with me on this -

you'll see why.

Both are fuelled by curiosity, the need to understand & the desire to share...fundamentally Science & Storytelling are activities that fulfil a very primal & human urge to...

Find patterns

Finding, sharing & communicating patterns with each other, the ability to abstract & connect ideas are (arguably) what make humans distinct and sometimes fun at parties - maybe Bonobos beat us there, those guys are seriously wild.

Method is the obvious difference - as in - Science has one & storytelling doesn't, but wait...

Now I used the word 'primal' earlier for a reason - how many times have you dived deep into a Youtube hole - with some version of 'oddly satisfying & relaxing food / skill / slime / pimple popping (you weirdos you) in the title? - I know I have -

And how irritating is it when something remains incompl---

This narrative trope, this cliche, is so universally engaging & successful that we call it a 'cliff hanger' - as if the simple act of leaving a pattern incomplete pushes the same adrenaline filled 'fight or flight' response in our bodies & brains - and that's because - it does.

What I'm trying to say is that -

Storytelling does have a method

You'll already know some, but maybe not others...(more on this in the next post)

Here's the kicker when it comes to Science V.S. Storytelling.

Storytelling & communication is older than

  • Science

  • Logic

  • Reason

and it's deeply embedded into the way we share ideas even today.

Storytelling was SciComm...without the method

Sitting together around a fire and telling stories was our original attempt at explaining why & how we think the world around us works - a way to narrativise & organise our understanding of life and these stories governed (or at least suggested) how to act and behave - we are still 'story telling apes'

When Anecdotes meet Analysis

Try this with me, if we take the Scientific method and remove 'research' 'experiment' & 'test'

- what are we left with?

Observe - Question - Research - Hypothesize - Draw conclusions -Report

How leaders use logical fallacies

Observe: We burn witches

Question: What else burns?

Research: Wood burns too!

Hypothesize: So witches are made of wood, which also floats, but ducks also float

Draw Conclusions: So, if she weighs the same as a duck - she must be made of wood and therefore a duck...I mean a witch

Report: Let's weigh her, burn her and find out

How does this relate to you?

  • Audiences often come with preconceptions / intent.

  • Audiences want to engage with a method.

  • Leaders can have self belief, good intentions but unknowingly lead us to bad results.

What SciComm gets wrong

Most people don't 'think like a Scientist'

Facts and conclusions are the wrong tools to use in order to win hearts and minds

- now don't get me wrong - these are absolutely essential for Science communication and demonstrates your integrity...but...

When people form opinions:

  • Facts are cherry picked from a vast buffet of ideas

  • Conclusions are seen as theories and most people conflate 'theory' with opinion.

Recognise your luck & understand relevance

You are lucky if:

You have time in your life to be curious,

You have enough space in your life to pursue abstract thinking.

You have access and resources to scientific materials (let's save problems with Science publications for another day)

Sad but true

From a global perspective - most people don't have these - you might take these for granted (I know I do) but the vast majority of people on the planet would consider the above to be luxuries.

So What?

This is in the question rattling around in most audiences heads, most of the time - as you're reading this, it's probably been rattling around in your grey matter.

"So what does this mean for me?" - now this isn't selfish, this isn't stupid or even short sighted - this makes total sense in the context of survival and right now during this pandemic a lot of people are in survival mode.

Use your intelligence, but apply your wisdom and empathy to communication - avoid talking at people and start talking with people. - Martin Billingham 2021


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