Science and stories are not only compatible, they're inseparable, as shown by Einstein's classic 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect
Better Theory Through Stories
One might think that experiments are more sympathetic than theories
to storytelling, because an experiment has a natural chronology and
an overcoming of obstacles (see my article, "Narrative,"
in the July-August 2000 American Scientist). However, I
think that narrative is indivisibly fused with the theoretical
enterprise, for several reasons.
One, scientific theories are inherently explanatory. In mathematics
it's fine to trace the consequences of changing assumptions just for
the fun of it. In physics or chemistry, by contrast, one often
constructs a theoretical framework to explain a strange experimental
finding. In the act of explaining something, we shape a story. So C
exists because A leads to B leads to C—and not D.
Two, theory is inventive. This statement is certainly true for
chemistry, which today is more about synthesis than analysis and
more about creation than discovery. As Anne Poduska, a graduate
student in my group, pointed out to me, "theory has a greater
opportunity to be fanciful, because you can make up molecules that
don't (yet) exist."
Three, theory often provides a single account of how the world
works—which is what a story is. In general, theoretical papers
do not lay out several hypotheses. They take one and, using a set of
mathematical mappings and proof techniques, trace out the
consequences. Theories are world-making.
Finally, comparing theory with experiment provides a natural ending.
There is a beginning to any theory—some facts, some
hypotheses. After setting the stage, developing the readers'
interest, engaging them in the fundamental conflict, there is the
moment of (often experimental) truth: Will it work? And if that test
of truth is not at hand, perhaps the future holds it.
The theorist who restates a problem without touching on an
experimental result of some consequence, or who throws out too many
unverifiable predictions, will lose credibility and, like a
long-winded raconteur, the attention of his or her audience. Coming
back to real ground after soaring on mathematical wings gives theory
a narrative flow.
Let me analyze a theoretical paper to show how this storytelling
imperative works. Not just any paper, but a classic appropriate to
the centennial of Albert Einstein's great 1905 papers.