Storytelling in science, good or bad idea?

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Borrowed from First Person Arts dot org

I was once reprimanded by the daughter of a patient, who called me after our visit with her father. I had casually remarked “What a fascinating story!” in response to a long, involved recounting of his illness, his travels, his experiences with other healthcare providers, ending with his visit to my office. I had thought this was a kind reflection of his efforts to stay healthy.

Instead, his daughter informed me later, My Dad thinks that you don’t believe him when he tells you things.

It gave me great pause. The word “story,” to my patient, implied that his narrative was fabricated.

I never used that word in the exam-room again.

This is my personal interaction with storytelling in healthcare. The words “story” and “storytelling” are heavily laden with history and meaning, sometimes unintended. Many, perhaps most scientists I know and respect, stick to presenting the facts, devoid of story, for precisely this reason: you can’t argue with facts, and stories are the realm of fiction and politics and dreamers, with “no place in science.”

I’m coming around to the idea that this is not only untrue, it is harming science.

We, as scientists, physicians, informaticians, MUST accompany our science and facts with stories. Our world revolves around stories. My current favorite quote by Muriel Ruykeyser:

The universe is made up of stories, not atoms. 

I’ve been devouring books and online treatises on this topic. More on this in BLOG 2 of STORYTELLING IN SCIENCE next week.

 

Author: CT Lin

CMIO, UCHealth (Colorado); Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine

One thought on “Storytelling in science, good or bad idea?”

  1. Hi CT – I agree that the ability to tell a story using data is the best way to capture an audience and communicate effectively. I also have found that those who are able to tell a great story using data are also the ones that are able to connect and allow audience members who are not experts in the speaker’s respective field to follow and understand the key points of their message.

    Liked by 2 people

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