Narrative risks in science writing for the lay public

Science writing for the lay public frequently appears to degenerate into so-called ‘Just So’ stories: narrative explanations of evolutionary phenomena that do not conform to rigorous principles of scientific explanation

Olav Muurlink; Peter McAllister

2018

Scholarcy highlights

  • Science writing for the lay public frequently appears to degenerate into so-called ‘Just So’ stories: narrative explanations of evolutionary phenomena that do not conform to rigorous principles of scientific explanation
  • How uncommon is the use of the fundamentals of narrative storytelling in popular science writing — and not just evolutionary phenomena? Bruner describes narrative and scientific explanation as “two modes of thought, each providing distinctive ways of ordering experience, of constructing reality
  • The two are irreducible to one another”. They differ radically in structure, Bruner insists: scientific explanation follows that of the logical proposition “if x, logically, y”, while narrative adopts the recitational formula “the king died, and the queen died.”
  • Norris et al echo these generalities, describing narrative as unsuited to the circumspection and caution required in scientific explanation, and preoccupied with particularities as opposed to the search for general principles that are the ultimate goal of scientific enquiry
  • The author of Pygmonia does what is common in popular science writing: converts event-types of deductive-nomological explanation into event-tokens of narrative

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