Tell me a story. Tell me a story and you are sharing with me a part of yourself, an experience enlivened by your unique perspective. Tell me a story and you are partaking in humankind's most enduring pastime: conveying not just factual information but also the circumstances under which it was gained and the inspiration that gave it life.
Science often misses out on the non-factual component. The peer-reviewed literature is, appropriately, shorn of anecdote and circumstance. It provides the essential mine of information on which other studies can build. But the peer-reviewed literature shouldn't be the only way to record science. What happens at lab benches under the hands and in the minds of researchers, each one of whom brings different perspectives, insights, and motivations is much more textured and complex. The day-by-day struggle for knowledge needs to be more widely studied and appreciated. It is our culture and our heritage.
Biographies and especially autobiographies get to the heart of that culture. James Watson provided the blueprint with a masterful transformation of a two-page letter in
Lately we've seen a welcome addition to the science storytelling movement. Thanks to new technology and the increasing commoditization of digital storage, we can capture and preserve hour upon hour of stories from our greatest scientists. These are of intense interest to historians and those who wish to better their scientific acumen.
In this issue of
Tamara Tracz directs and produces videos for an online archive called Peoples Archive.3 This project, which has ties with our sister company BioMed Central, has stored hours of discussion from such individuals as Sydney Brenner, John Maynard Smith, and Francis Crick, along with physicists and other significant individuals outside of science. These sessions, which range in length from three hours to 15, have been divided and indexed into thousands of stories. Individuals discuss discoveries, inspirations, motivations, and outside interests. The project provides links between similarly themed segments and contains searchable transcripts inviting various modes of exploration.
While modern technology is a driver of
As our scientific oral history takes its rightful place in eternal digital preservation, such collections will become invaluable as a teaching tool, irreplaceable as a resource for historians, and inspirational for all of us interested in research.