Why scientists need to be storytellers.

Why scientists need to be storytellers.

My colleague Zach Meisel and I published an essay in the November 9th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association that makes the case for narrative as an essential tool in the translation of science and the development of science policy. “Narrative vs. Evidence-based Medicine: And, not Or” draws on narrative theory and the psychology of belief and persuasion to argue that scientists ought to be story tellers.

Narrative can work in at least two ways. In response to narratives that dispute science based policies, we argue for the strategic deployment of what we call “counter narratives,” meaning stories that illustrate the other side. Such stories make sense of data because they embody data with real characters in a vivid plot that has a beginning, middle and an end. Even more revolutionary than counter narratives is our argument that scientists engaged in policy making ought to tell the story of how their policy was created. And when we say story, we mean a story with vivid accounts of the drama that led to the policy.

This story telling should occur as part of the guideline writing process. As scientists discuss with each other the stories of how they reached their conclusions, the more compelling their individual stories and the more the stories coalesce to a final conclusion, the more credibility their recommendations may have in the eyes of the public. In contrast, conflicting narratives foretell challenges in translation and argue for revisiting the guideline writing process.

Bottom line is this. Scientists need to become story tellers.

See pick up of the piece by the Scientific American blog and Science 2.0.


Attached is Susan Poirier & Dan Brauner's "Ethics and the daily language of medical discourse" - a thoughtful essay on how language manipulates reality. It is a vivid account of how our language affects how we think about patients and, I would submit, medical science.