Magazine article American Scientist

The Science of Narrative

Magazine article American Scientist

The Science of Narrative

Article excerpt

Over the centuries, researchers have 'converged on a fairly consistent and wellformulated set of rules of how the scientific method should work. But when it comes to the best ways to present and describe the discoveries that result, opinions abound. American Scientist has long covered this topic with gusto, adding many voices and distinct perspectives to the debate. See, for instance, one of our most popular articles, "The Science of Scientific Writing," by George Gopen and Judith Swan, published in November-December 1990 (available online at http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/feature/thescience-of-scientific-writing).

In this issue we are pleased to present new ideas on this topic from two of our regular columnists, who come to the discussion from intriguingly different backgrounds. Chemist and Nobel laureate Roald Hoffmann, writing in this issue's Perspective column, "The Tensions of Scientific Storytelling" (pages 250-253), "chafes" at the idea that scientific papers are not regarded as narrative literature, and describes the drama that can unfold in the telling of a scientific advance. Humanities scholar Robert Louis Chianese, in his Arts Lab column, "A New Language for Ecology" (pages 254-257), opines that scientific descriptions could present a more complete picture of reality if authors sometimes dared to draw on the language of poetry. Their arguments are, in a way, two sides of the same coin.

The crossovers between science and the humanities don't stop there. Two of our regular columns focus on classic literature in this issue. Brian Hayes's Computing Science column, "Belle lettres Meets Big Data" (pages 262265), looks at the history of numerical analysis of literary texts dating back to the 1800s, and examines what those results can reveal about the authors who penned the works. …

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