It’s something that Randy Olson talks about in Don’t be Such A Scientist (which I reviewed here): there are a few really strong story narratives that we love to hear over and over again. If you want to have an audience for your science, it helps to know what those are, and tell people a story they want to hear.
I’ve had questions have been bugging me about this. First, why do we seem to have such a limited range of narratives that resonate and stick with us? Why do we love hearing the same basic story over and over again? Can we create new stories that are as powerful as the “hero’s journey”?
Second, do stories have opposites?
I think I need some examples to explain that question.
I read once a claim that any effective messages in advertising or branding has an opposite. If one business advertises low prices, its competitor sells quality. If one corporation pitches itself as family friendly, the other says, “Grow up.”
A recent post on the Respectful Insolence blog talked about a dubious magazine article, and blogger Orac noted:
Journalists do so love that cliché, don't they? It's an irresistable (sic) hook, cliché or not. People love reading about issues that we thought to be true but – surprise! surprise! – turn out not to be true. ... Framing an issue as arguing that conventional wisdom is wrong and highlighting a couple of “lone voices in the wilderness” warning, Cassandra-like, of impending disaster represent a time-honored journalistic trope, not to mention a story structure that goes back thousands of years to, well, Cassandra at least.
Same analysis over at Effect Measure:
Our main point was that it was a straw man argument built around the narrative device of the brave, mavericky truth teller who is shunned by colleagues and has to eat alone at conferences.
The “I’m an oppressed little guy fighting against a hide-bound establishment” is a story that you see when you look at denialists of all stripes.
What’s the counter-story? If the denialists are able to get such mileage out of claiming that they are oppressed by an evil conspiracy (even when they’re not), surely there’s some story that can be used to illustrate the slow, hard-won accumulation of evidence that is the way most science progresses.