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PERSPECTIVE

The Tensions of Scientific Storytelling

Science depends on compelling narratives.

Roald Hoffmann

Storytelling in Science

Science has stories in it. Scientists shape those stories, and the protagonists of these stories need not be human. These narrative qualities are not only important to composing research papers, but also to effective teaching. An innovative, recent chemical text, Mark Green’s Organic Chemistry Principles in Context: A Story Telling Historical Approach, makes consistent use of storytelling by focusing on particular chemical problems and the lives of the chemists who solved these problems.

By analyzing exactly how scientists approach scientific literature, I hope to reveal the humanity of the scientific method. I also aim to demonstrate the connections between the scientific process and other forms of creation, such as art, literature, and storytelling in general, be it Mann’s novella or African Mandé tales. The narrators in chemical articles indeed are human, as much as they may try to efface themselves by writing in the third person. In the literature of chemistry—yes, it is a literature—molecules take on a life of their own, as do the ways of making and identifying them. No anthropomorphization is needed. There is a life-giving tension between the several roles of the scientist as author, revealing and creating onion layers of reality’s representation in his or her science.

Bibliography

  • Fludernik, M. 2009. An Introduction to Narratology. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Green, M. M. 2012. Organic Chemistry Principles in Context: A Story Telling Historical Approach. New York: ScienceFromAway Publishing.
  • Holton, R. A., et al. 1994. First total synthesis of taxol. 1. Functionalization of the B ring. Journal of the American Chemical Society 116:1597–1598.
  • Medawar, P. B. 1963. Is the scientific paper a fraud? Listener 70:377–378.
  • Rogachev, A. Y., X.-D. Wen, and R. Hoffmann. 2012. Jailbreaking benzene dimers. Journal of the American Chemical Society 134:8062–8065.
  • Stephenson, F. 2002. A tale of taxol. Florida State University Research in Review. http://www.rinr.fsu.edu/fall2002/taxol.html.




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