The science of telling stories, a review

A review of the research paper, “The science of telling stories: Evaluating science communication via narratives (RIRC method)” by Aquiles Negrete and Cecilia Lartigue.

Why this topic:

One of the first things that attracted me towards science communication was a story. I do not remember who it was but the gist of the story was that he was intrigued into learning genetics by a story and a few questions that his Biology teacher posed to him.

The first question was ‘Hypothetically if I cut off your leg, would your future child be missing a leg?’ He answered no. The second question was ‘Hypothetically, if I cut off your leg, and I cut off your future child’s leg, would your future grandson be missing a leg?’ He answered yes.

And then, that was when his Biology teacher taught him about genes and how they were transmitted from parent to offspring. The utility of narratives and the how they helped in the retention of information, for me was a keystone in learning Science. This particular research paper mentioned a qualitative method to understanding how narrative and paradigmatic ways of communicating scientific information work. This is the RIRC method; Retell, Identify, Remember and Contextualise. The essence of this method is that different memory tasks are used to evaluate how much an individual retains scientific information using both implicit and explicit memory. Explicit memory refers to the conscious recall of facts (like recalling the date of your friend’s birthday) while implicit memory refers to unconscious learning (like learning to ride a bicycle).

Summary:

Two science short stories, Nitrogen by Primo Levi and Crabs take Over the Island by Anatoly Dnieprov, were summarized to one tenth of their original length and given to one group of students. The facts in those stories were summarized into 10 fact sentences and given to another group of students. They were then assessessed using the RIRC method, with questions testing 1) Retelling, 2) Identifying, 3) Remembering and 4) Contexualizing skills. The same questions were repeated again after a week. The student’s T test was used to analyse the results. Although it showed that there was a better performance from the factual group as compared to the narrative group, there was significantly higher scores in the Identify and Recall questions, specifically for the Crabs story. It was also noted that narratives provided students to remember more as compared to a list of facts.

Review:

Firstly, the sample size of 40 was too small. Also, the method of testing could be refined further as the difference in length between the narrative (2792) and facts (332) might have a confounding effect on the results. In Figure 1, the marks for the four tasks were accumulated and compared for the two sessions. It might be noteworthy to include and compare the results from the breakdown of question type for both sessions rather than just looking at the second alone. Also, there was a similar weightage for both contextualising questions and simpler identifying questions. This, although easier, might not be completely accurate.

However, usage of the RIRC method could be researched further and a larger-scale research would be useful to understand the differences in learning between the narrative and paradigmatic learning.

References

Negrete, A., & Lartigue, C. (2010). The science of telling stories: Evaluating science communication via narratives (RIRC method). Journal Media and Communication Studies,2(4), 98-110.

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