Where Do I Start the Story of My Research? This Study Shows Podcast, Episode 3

October 1, 2019 Samantha Green

Topographical map of teal house

Ideas are the “once upon a time” of the research process. If we think of research as a story and scientists as the heroes, will we be able to build trust? In the third episode of our podcast, This Study Shows, we’re talking all things trust and storytelling.

Featuring Cailin O’Connor, a philosopher of science from the University of California, Irvine, Friederike Hendriks, a science communication researcher from the University of Muenster, and Will Storr, author of Science of Storytelling.

The Episode Got Us Thinking:

What kind of story is research?

We talked started off this episode with Cailin O’Connor talking about how ideas spread like viruses: from person to person to person. We’d like to think that we’re all crucial thinkers who evaluate the potential biases of a piece of information, but in the end, we trust who we know and what we know. Friederike Hendriks expanded on that to explain how the experts we trust usually display expertise, integrity, and benevolence. Researchers can’t fake trustworthiness, but the good news is that in general, the research itself seems to indicate a strong public trust in science.

There are a couple of ideas we’re juggling here: the idea that trust is more important than facts when it comes to sharing information, and the idea that one of the best ways to build trust is with an emotional, personal connection.

That’s where stories come in. Stories help us empathize. As Will Storr puts it, scientists must be storytellers because stories are one of the best ways to learn. But we have to find the balance between a simple story, with a single hero-scientist solving a complex problem and saving the world, and the complex reality of research. After all, we’re not going to do ourselves any favors if we tell stories that perpetuate the “lone genius” myth.

So what kind of story is research? Probably not a fairy tale. As Will points out, maybe we can rely on mystery stories to give us a framework. Researchers are our detectives, hunting out clues,  data, and facts to answer a question. Can we tell the story of research in a way where collective discovery and analysis drives the narrative forward?

If we carry out the detective story metaphor, we’ll find some more exciting parallels.

A detective story framework for research communication encourages audience participation. People reading a mystery work along with the detective, picking up clues, trying to solve the puzzle on their own. That kind of active, direct engagement is exactly what we want with research communication and it creates a close relationship between detective-scientists and audience members.

On top of that, mystery stories tend to end in cliff hangers. There’s always more to solve or the hint of a future mystery. Just like each new discovery builds on what came before, and inspires what questions are to come in the research community, each case solved only brings about the next puzzle.

We trust detectives because we get to watch them solve the puzzle, and we get to solve it alongside them. We know why they do what they do, and we accept their expertise, integrity, and benevolence.

Don’t forget-you can subscribe and download at iTunes, Spotify, Castbox, and Deezer.

About the Author

Samantha Green

Society Marketing, Wiley // Samantha Green joined Wiley in 2012, working in the Social Science and Humanities Community Marketing team at Wiley. She now works in the Society Strategy & Marketing creating content on publishing trends and the research community.

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