Scientist storytellers bridge the gap between life and textbooks

When I’m listening to an engaging story, I prefer to look away from the storyteller. Part of this is due to my poor hearing in crowds — I subconsciously turn my ear toward the person. I admit it’s also a lot easier for a story to engulf me if I’m not staring at the narrator. The best stories don’t require the expressions and hand motions of their tellers. I don’t want to be in the present, at the party, I want to see and touch and hear what the storyteller weaves for me.

Jad Abumrad of Radiolab fame appeared in a Big Think video to explain audio’s power over video.


“It’s kind of ultimately the coolest thing about radio, is what it lacks,” Abumrad said in the video, “It’s somehow empowered by the absence of pictures.”

In science, especially, audio allows you to close your eyes and slip into another life. A life of beeping laboratories, rustling aspen leaves, or squeaking ground squirrels. Not seeing immerses you into imagining.

Science teaching is a conundrum of trying to bring students and the public face-to-face with something so they can see first hand the importance and wonder of the universe. Anecdotes tend to personalize a topic more than formulae or cryptic vocabulary. You need a knowledgeable guide who can link the best stories to a tough concept. You have to be able to trust this person, trust that you can trace the breadcrumbs from the story back to the concept.

“Because we have to fill this gap of picturelessness together,” Abumrad said of audio, “we have to somehow be connected.” Abumrad’s wonder toward radio reminds me of the void we rely on scientists and science writers to bridge — the gap between hard science and everyday life. We have to be connected for the stories to resonate.

I sought out a science professor and a science writer — Mike Harris and Ned Rozell, respectively — and asked them how they engage their audiences.

On Memorial Day, the Alaska Public Radio Network — through a mentorship opportunity with the Alaska Teen Media Institute and the Alaska Press Club — aired my story on Alaska News Nightly. Here’s the link.

Wordle from the script for the Alaska science story.

Also, you may remember my post on hibernation — I covered everything from ground squirrels to zombies. APRN helped me explore Kelly Drew’s work with ground squirrels a little more. The network broadcasted the new story last month. Be sure to check back to my earlier post if you want to learn more about hibernation research.

Wordle created from the script for my APRN hibernation story.

Why all this radio plugging all of a sudden? (Okay, it might not be all of a sudden if you follow me on Twitter.)

Audio’s on my mind a lot these days since KUAC News took me on as a summer intern. I can’t wait to keep playing with sound. That reminds me — if you’re in Interior Alaska and have an idea for a radio story, please let me know. I’ll turn my ear toward you.


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