Randy Olson schrijft in Houston, we have a narrative:

I thought about what I was trying to do. These two guys were the sources of knowledge — they were the ones who actually knew something truthful about the real world. I was this horrible agent of conformity wanting to reshape their words and information, to transform the real world into the narrative world.

This same shaping process happened with the iconic quote from the Apollo 13 mission to the moon. The original words spoken by astronaut Jack Swigert in 1970 when an oxygen tank exploded on board were “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” But 25 years later, when Tom Hanks delivered the line in the movie version of the events, the words were “Houston, we have a problem.”

What changed and why? Two things. The Hollywood folks made the line more concise (fewer words) and they made it more compelling (present tense makes it more urgent). I wanted to do this with the scientists — keep things accurate yet make them conform better to the constraints of the narrative world in which we live.

But this sort of text manipulation worries scientists.

They want people to know how things are in the real world, and they dream of simply being able to “see it, say it.” They want to tell you the truth, exactly as they see it, without having to rearrange anything, because the rearranging process can be dangerous. Rearranging things comes with risks—at the mildest just getting it wrong, at worst deceiving people.

But the problem is, “see it, say it” doesn’t work. Not even in the world of science, as Nobel laureate P. B. Medawar first addressed in the 1960s with his essay “Is the Scientific Paper a Fraud?” He agonized over the transition that must take place, where scientists have to give in to a third step, ending up with “see it, shape it, say it.” This is what scientists do every day in the process of editing their scientific papers.

Yet the strange thing is that, despite having made major concessions over the past century to this need to shape things, scientists still have little awareness of it.

[Olson maakt in zijn schrijven voortdurend gebruik van de narratieve basisstructuur And, but, therefore. Veel ‘maren’ in zijn tekst om conflict neer te zetten, ook binnen alinea’s, op zinsniveau. Ik houd van zijn aanbeveling ‘concise’ en ‘compelling’ en ik geloof erin – ook omdat ieders tijd opraakt, dus eindigt dit nu.]

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