In contrast, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's Sergio Avila-Villegas writes about the way the accidental death of a jaguar he was studying during his PhD led him to rethink the way he was conducting his research and to promote less invasive methods to learn about the species he was trying to protect. What started as a tragedy ended in the development of new methods to engage local residents with science and protecting the animals that live near them.
Dr Elizabeth Hardy of Stanford University contrasts her experience as a teenager reading about the impact of chlorofluorocarbons on the ozone layer, and the government action in response to that evidence, with reactions to her own research on climate change and Yellowstone Park. “The irony is hard to miss – the mantra these days is 'to make America great again,'” Hardy writes. “But a key feature of those bygone days was listening to the lessons that science taught and acting upon them to make a better planet. Today, it is the trepidation that even though we know, we might not act. And that makes me very worried.”
The scientific community has often distrusted stories, preferring to rely on numbers and calculations. “Simple, appealing, but terribly misleading narratives can result in the rejection of empirical reality, as we see in climate change and vaccine safety discussions. Stories can be seductive, even among technical experts,” the stories' editors note. To address this, PLOS Biology had each one peer-reviewed to ensure that, while they appeal to the emotions in a way most science papers do not, their “empirical footing” is secure.
“Scientists are increasingly recognizing the need to find new ways to effectively engage with a diversity of audiences,” the editors point out. In a world where the enemies of science will use every tool they can to make people doubt evidence, scientists need to find ways to push back that reach those who would not read an ordinary paper, and wouldn't believe it if they did. Whether this idea of combining narrative, emotional intensity, and rigorous fact-checking will be successful remains to be seen. It's an experiment, which is what scientists do best.