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Tell Me A Story

Tuesday, July 29, 2008 - 01:06 AM

Transcript

Robert Krulwich's commencement speech at California Institute of Technology gets at the heart of what we do here at Radiolab.

It's a treat to hear his passion. We enjoyed it. And we thought you might too.

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Comments [63]

Thank you for your passion and excitement about science.
I am happy to know how many people are excited about science and meaning of life, beauty of nature, etc. There is the hope that future generation won't be "swallowed" by Hollywood, fashion, and "American Idol" even though there are nothing wrong with either of those. It is still an art of theater, craftsmanship and music, but mass consumption and falling for the "gilts and blitz" is way different than inspiring expression of someone's sole/ mind.

Thank you again for brining the light in our lives.

Aug. 14 2014 04:38 PM

David McRoberts - scientists often describe explanations of ultimate causation as "why" questions. Evolutionary biologists often divide questions into questions involving proximate versus ultimate causation. Often, the "why" questions are the more interesting because they deal with the ultimate causation of things like adaptation. The answer is not "God did it." The answer involves the evolutionary utility of the structure, behavior, etc. You have now asked a scientist.

Jan. 24 2014 07:28 AM
Jos Wassink from Netherlands

Thanks Robert for stating so eloquently and witty what science journalism is actually all about. With science radio going down the drain in NL, I'm more than happy with your podcasts. You, Jed and the team are an inspiration to colleagues the world over. Keep up the good work.

Sep. 05 2013 04:22 PM
Megan from Fort Collins, Colorado

I love this! I am currently finishing up my PhD in chemistry, and right now it is so easy for me to be consumed by the everyday struggle and frustration of being a scientist. Thank you for reminding me to focus on the light that science brings to the world and the joy of discovery.

Jul. 18 2012 05:06 PM
Lyssa

I second the contributions that have been given by the commenters. While I applaud the basis of your speech, of the need for facts and a better world-image of science, I feel like you hit against Christians hard. I am a Christian, and I have no problem in "believing" in evolution, or any science, period. To me, science is all the more beautiful, knowing that God created an intricate machine, laws upon laws upon laws, a delicate mesh of being that with just the right circumstances, propelled itself towards infinity. A domino chain, resulting in the patterns of the cosmos. As so many others have said, science is the how. Science is the unraveling of the universe exists, not why, the glorious patterns and parallels, and the quest for understanding that is the greatest gift given to mankind.

And I suppose I'm slipping into those metaphors and story-tellings you both warned and praised. So I'll wrap up. Science and Faith need not be at war. We don't need swords, or competition for minds. We need to look at the flip sides of a coin; the how and the why, and realise that one is not greater than the other. Rather, for someone spiritual like myself, they are far more powerful together.

Apr. 20 2011 08:53 PM
Barbara from Lisbon, Portugal

Hear hear, mr. Krulwich. Hear hear.

I am deeply moved after hearing this speech. I am going to save it, and whenever I feel exasperated with those who present fiction as truth I am going to listen to this again. I want you to know that you truly inspired me to continue blogging, writing and telling stories in all those other ways possible, to share science, not just my own but our shared knowledge and its advancing.

And on a slightly different note: my own research probably wouldn't advance as much if it weren't for RadioLab. I listen to your podcast while working in the lab, and it's a great motivator to keep going, and a fantastic distraction from having to repeat the same experiment again (because it's not working while it totally should and grrmbl). You are part of the scientific cycle! I thank you, so very much, for the great work you do.

Apr. 14 2011 06:20 PM
Zach

I want to thank you for this speech. I listen to it every few months and it always reinvigorates me to share my passion for science.

Feb. 24 2011 01:35 AM
Anna from travelling the world by bike

It worked for me!

See: http://www.wishfish.org/2011/01/29/itty-bitty-dinosaurs/

Jan. 29 2011 12:39 PM
Brian

Great speech. However I could not get past the mistake about the ostrich being pregnant. Could you please clarify how an ostrich can be pregnant?

Jan. 22 2011 09:42 PM
Liz Heinecke from Minnesota, USA

Love it! So inspiring.
I think I ended up in science because my dad, a physicist, is a great storyteller.
Now at home with three kids, I have a website (http://kitchenpantryscientist.com) intended to get young kids interested in science and show parents that it's easy to do experiments using stuff you already have around the house (no kits needed!) After listening to this, I'm going to work harder on my storytelling!

Nov. 30 2010 09:55 AM
Clayton from Saint Paul

Jeff…
I think you missed the point. In another radio lab episode, yellow fuzz and other… they interviewed an astrophysicist who after discovering something unique on his own, realized that a group of japanese researchers had discovered the same effect, their math was the same. Science is a process. Religion is about feeling love from god, at least that has been the teachings I have had of christianity. The battle isnt between religion and science, it is between humans, some who belong in or too religious institutions, others who may only look at the process to discover the way the the universe works. To quote a jesuit astrophysicist,Brother . Guy: "you don’t find answers to theological questions by looking through a telescope; you don’t go to the Bible to find answers to science."

Oct. 21 2010 12:17 AM
kaa from Atlanta, GA (but I'm from the Buckle of the Bible Belt)

I just listened to this again, because for some reason, all of RadioLab's podcasts renewed, and I couldn't remember which ones I'd heard and which I hadn't.

What Robert says here is wonderful, but...and I hate to say this...a bit naive.

If he thinks telling a story--no matter how good--is going to convince a True Believer, then he is sadly mistaken. Telling that dinosaurs --> birds story to a Creationist is the same as a creationist telling someone with a PhD in paleontology the story of Creation: it would simply bounce off. Each one KNOWS the other is completely full of it.

I have been trying to merely explain why evolution is "so compelling" (their words, not mine) to me to some Young-Earth Creationist relatives, and they basically pat me on the head, smile at me, and say to each other, "Oh, he's so CUTE, isn't he?" They have an argument against every point. They have a story to counter every story. They have faith for every stack of evidence we have. They have a reason why EVERY SINGLE PIECE of that evidence isn't actually evidence of what it's evidence of. It's like chipping away at a brick wall with a marshmallow.

And, to clarify, these are not stupid people. They are actually VERY intelligent. They just don't know how to distinguish science from pseudo-science.

The people we want to REACH are the people who are not already indoctrinated. The others may eventually come around, but the chances are much slimmer.

Sep. 27 2010 05:40 PM
Jon

This is probably one of the most important speeches I have ever heard. It made me make a website. biologydude.com Let's make science cool again.

Sep. 01 2010 10:38 PM
David McRoberts

Sorry about the double submission. This was my first twitter.

Jul. 28 2010 09:49 PM
David McRoberts

Early in your speech just after,"...to protect science and scientists...."
The words,"how" and "why".
HOW is a scientific question.WHY is a religious question. Long before science and religion got "organized", when our species first became concious,we began asking the HOW AND WHY QUESTIONS.WHY THINGS CAME TO BE IS NOT A QUESTION FOR SCIENCE. ASK ANY SCIENTIST.HOW THINGS CAME TO BE is not A RELIGIOUS QUESTION,ask Gallalio.

Jul. 28 2010 09:43 PM
David McRoberts

"..... so you've got to get in there and tell yours, your version of how things are and why things came to be."
The words,"how" and "why".
HOW is a scientific question.WHY is a religious question. Long before science and religion got "organized", when our species first became concious,we began asking the HOW AND WHY QUESTIONS.WHY THINGS CAME TO BE IS NOT A QUESTION FOR SCIENCE. ASK ANY SCIENTIST.HOW THINGS CAME TO BE is not A RELIGIOUS QUESTION,ask Galalio.

Jul. 28 2010 09:39 PM
Heidi

I just listened to this podcast and found it very moving. THANK YOU SO MUCH for this message. This is exactly what RadioLab does for me. Puts science in simple terms and makes me curious. Love it. Thank you!

Jun. 18 2010 09:21 AM
Sabrina

As an engineer and an MIT alum, the themes in your speech hit home for me. I agree with most of what you said and hold the same values. What bothered me about your speech was your reference to Oktar as Islamist. Especially since you would have been just as successful at portraying your views without this added word. Even if you do not believe that all Muslims have the same mindset as Oktar, the reference implies something you may not have intended. Particularly to the idea of a global close-mindedness of people of this faith. This continues the misunderstanding of Islam and Muslim culture. Perhaps this sounds as if I am being too sensitive but I feel that it is important to point out these examples that indicate a developing prejudice in our culture as a whole.

Feb. 10 2010 08:41 PM
sandrar

Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post... nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

Sep. 10 2009 03:25 PM
Hussein

Ekin
Ekin I understand your strong sense of Turkish patriotism being hurt by Robert's speech, but remember Islam is taking over all fabrics of Turkey at a fast pace. Soon you will see Islamic Republic of Turkey. Then what are you gonna do? May be you migrate to Islamic Republic of Iran next door.

Aug. 22 2009 03:34 PM
lon

Robert:
Thanx. Now if I could get this played for some of my fundamentalist friends
I just might be able to get them to look at a slightly bigger picture. However, I am afraid the big picture will never appear over their horizons but that is another story.

Aug. 20 2009 09:17 PM
liezle

I came across this speech by googling "Tell me a story". Cause I ran out of good podcasts to listen to while at work. What an enlightening speech that was! I'm grateful to have found it.

Feb. 24 2009 10:28 PM
craig z

Great Speech. I agree with Billa (above), that with much due respect to the people who heard this speech as only a debate between Creationism and Evolution that they missed what I saw as Robert's fundamental point: story is compelling and humans need it.

For the scientists in these comments who are in agreement and looking for further ways to explore these thoughts (Hilary, Lee) I'd like to recommend a book, MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE by Walker Percy, which explores the reason mankind needs story in a scientific way. Percy who was a gifted fiction novelist and wrote the renowned National BOok Award winning novel THE MOVIEGOER), also had a scientist's mind.

Jan. 13 2009 11:38 AM
marco

I am astonished how people in 2008 still believe in bibles and 'holy' books. Man,
go study real books and learn science and a new marvelous world will open in front of you. I guess humans are too egoistic to accept that there is no real meaning in life. No salvation. You are just stardust, i am sorry to ruin your dreams.
;)

Dec. 04 2008 11:55 PM
Bob Levine

wonderful

Nov. 11 2008 11:01 AM
Anthony James Barnett - author

An excellent post. Thank you for showing us.

Nov. 02 2008 02:31 AM
Paul Karlsgodt

Lee, I think the best way to learn the art of storytelling is to keep doing what you are already doing by listening to RadioLab: listen to great storytellers. Garrison Keillor's weekly "Stories from Lake Wobegon" is another fine example. If you study how storytellers like Robert Krulwich, Jad Abrumad, and Garrison Keillor communicate, you'll find that they create mental pictures with their careful use of language. One simple technique, taught by professional storyteller John D. Mooy, is to use a series of pictures rather than words as your outline, like a comic strip.

Sep. 25 2008 02:08 PM
Lee

What is the formula for story telling? How can a scientist learn to become a storyteller? What distinguishes a compelling story from a boring one? Given a fact, what steps or actions transform it from data into a story? We study math as a formal process throughout most of our school years. While we read, critique writing, and write essays throughout school, I don’t believe most of us study story telling as a formal process. We are immersed in stories on TV and in the movies, but rarely see them analyzed, nor are explicitly shown the steps for synthesizing a story. I’m sure it can be taught, where can I begin?

Sep. 14 2008 06:22 PM
Thomas White

I was listening to this podcast early this morning as was struck of the profound nature of what is being said. The power of story telling has been true for who knows how long.

In all areas that one my pursue, it is often the best storyteller who has the most impact. This seems to have accelerated with the advent of broadcast media and then the Internet.

Marketing for instance is the using the power of storytelling to sell something that I may not need and could be even harmful to me.

Political campaigns have almost become only story telling that can often have little similarity to what is true.

This goes on and on. Thank you for the clarity and humor.

Thomas

Sep. 09 2008 06:09 AM
geoff stephens

rick.. check out this very good talk about how and why scientists need to tell stories to average joes...

Sep. 06 2008 09:20 PM
Paul Karlsgodt

I very much enjoyed Robert's speech on a number of different levels. His remarks encapsulated what is great about Radio Lab: it makes complicated scientific issues both understandable and entertaining. But more than that, the speech summarized key facets of the art of storytelling and persuasion that apply in almost any situation. As someone who often helps train young lawyers on trial techniques and the art of persuading juries, judges, and clients, I would say that Robert's advice is just as helpful and relevant in the field of law as it is in science.

Sep. 03 2008 03:55 PM
Xor

The comments in this thread are proof that all it takes is for someone to say the truth, that creationism is a good made up bedtime story for children, and you get a fundie rush.

Get off my internets! Ya slack jawed yokels.

Oh and props to the Turkish guy, proving that Turks on the internet always have a wall of text ready, whenever they hear their countries name.

Aug. 21 2008 10:01 PM
Billa

What a great, inspiring speech! Scientists of all stripes need to take its core message to heart.

And with all due respect to those who felt that creationists were "picked on", it seems that you missed the core message: legitimate, serious science + a good story is a winner because it has our best, most-informed knowledge as a foundation.

This applies to creation "science" as well. And if legitimate, serious science were to demonstrate the accuracy and truth of creationist beliefs, creationist stories would be much more effective.

I submit that at least part of the indignation at Robert's discussion of creationism stems from a deep-seated worry creation "science" will never produce compelling results, that creationism will forever be relegated to areas outside of science.

Aug. 21 2008 12:35 AM
Jo

- To Hilary -

I think what you're talking about is the fabulous world of 'science communication' or 'public engagement with science'.

There are a variety of courses (diplomas, masters degrees and so on) in the field which look at the issue of communications generally as well as the philosophy of science. But, of course, many people in the field come from a journalism background too.

No idea where you're based so my answer will be a bit UK-centric but have a look for any or all of the following on Google to get a feel for what's out there... this is a good website to orient yourself in the field a bit - http://www.scienceandsociety.info/

Then there's ABSW - Association of British Science Writers, PSCI-COM - the mailing list for science communicators, search for the two words - Psci-com jiscmail - to bring up the mailing list page (JISCmail is the hosting service for the list), or psci-com to bring up the supporting (HUGE) website at Intute.ac.uk...

If you happen to be anywhere near St. Louis in the second week of October (possibly a bit of a long shot!) there's SciFest, a five day science festival co-produced by the people behind the UK's Cheltenham Science Festival (it's great) which should be good. Wish I was there :)

Hope you find something suitable,
Jo

Aug. 20 2008 05:39 PM
Hilary

Mr. Krulwich (or someone who might answer for him),

I completely agree with what you've said about the necessity for scientists to share what they learn with non-scientists and other scientists, alike. I want to be able to do this!

Sadly, I was not born with your talent for transforming scientific literature into everyday gab (and I don't think I'm alone). I tend to think so literally and in-detail that it's hard for me to transform information into clearly organized analogy relative to the general public.

Still, I don't think I'm doomed. I imagine with instruction and practice, I could develop this ability.

Do you have any suggestions for where scientists who are not inherent story-tellers can get some education and practice in conveying their research to those who think differently?

Many thanks!

Aug. 19 2008 05:19 PM
Fred Jones

To the folks at RadioLab, especially Robert. Thanks for sharing your speech to the graduates at Cal Tech. My pleasure in hearing you talk about stories was congruent with the great pleasure I have in you and Jad creatively configuring stories on the show, which I listen to via podcast. Let tip to the critical side here, though, and share a point of view, one which is hardly original, and a moment of irony experienced by the end of the podcast. I am as firm a believer now as I have ever been that the scientific method is an enormously significant way of knowing. I am no more convinced now than I have ever been that it is the only way of knowing, nor am I convinced that the most foundational truths can be expressed in the form of math (as some of your speech indicated—though it is not fully clear that you hold this view, and based on the show, I suspect you do not). Lastly, I am in no rush for closure--finding winners and losers--when different ways of knowing cannot be easily reconciled. So I am not as committed, as I infer from your speech are and as you inferred the Cal Tech graduates are, that science is The path to truth, and that narrative is—maybe merely—a means to the end of sharing that truth. You may be closer, as am I, to Jerome Bruner’s-constructionist conception of knowing than you sounded in your speech. If I had been a Cal Tech graduate and your audience(alas, my doctorate is in education and not in the sciences), I would have found your assumptions about my epistemology strangely presumptuous and possibly narrow-minded. The possible irony came after the close of the speech, when the music started up. The words I could not make out, but the tune seemed to come from Handel (I am not very musically knowledgeable) and I was pretty sure I heard the word “Alleluia,” though I could not determine toward what end it was being appropriated. Yes, more story, now musically, carrying meaning, or so it seemed. But a really carrier only? Of math? Or is beauty not so easily reduced, in ways that science helps us know but can never fully capture?

Aug. 16 2008 08:40 AM
mynameisgoor

You are not right.

Aug. 15 2008 04:38 AM
Donovan

I loved the emphasis on the power of a story. But I was disappointed to see the whole science vs. religion idea so central to the speech. When are we going to get beyond that?

Though I am a follower of Jesus myself, I find the fundamentalist approach to "creation science" ridiculous and embarrassing. To think the ancient authors of the scriptures were trying to provide a "scientific" explanation of the universe is absurd. The whole point is that there is a direction and a purpose behind it all. Science deals with observation and interpretation of how the universe works. These are different issues, and I see no reason why they should be in competition or any kind of "tug of war".

I was a little disappointed to hear Robert treating science as a religion in itself as if good science has any place to address the "why" of evolution. That's not something you can put under a microscope. That's philosophy's world. That's theology's world. Let science be science. Religion should stay the hell out of that process, and let science inform it in its progress. Likewise, science should stay of out religious and philosophical assumptions. Science can tell us that our perception of the sky is blue and it can even tell us how that works, but it can never tell us why there is a blue sky.

I wish we could all just get along.

Aug. 11 2008 03:44 AM
Mary

Eric said it. The Biblical creation account and the scientific creation/evolution account are answering different questions. I find it enlightening and compelling to explore both sets of answers.

Aug. 10 2008 08:34 PM
jeff

I’m a big fan of Radio Lab when it asks questions and reveals the "wonder and awe" of the world around us, unfortunately this episode reveals how shallow and fearful many in the Scientific community can be when they have their own pre-suppositions challenged.

Robert talks about Cal Tech being a place where there is “Intellectual freedom, respect for the truth and love of inquiry.”

During his speech he applauds the “values” being taught… “A deep respect for curiosity, for doubt, open mindedness, for going where the data leads no matter how uncomfortable.”

Why does Robert, and others have such disdain for people who may disagree with their theories of our origin? Where is their “open mindedness?”

It appears Robert live by a credo of being “open” and “curious” until someone suggests an idea that upset the Darwinists. It truly surprises me that Robert FEARS another point of view so strongly.

All that Robert’s speech did is strengthen my own hypothesis… That much of so-called “Science” is merely a fanatical religion full of zealots who worship their own intellect. It seems that they are as terrified, and are as close-minded to any who disagree with their doctrine as those in many “organized” religions.

Aug. 08 2008 09:15 PM
Cindy Henley

Well... I have had a hard time with the whole creationist vs. darwinist theory. I was raised in a VERY religious family and have MANY MANY relatives, some of whom I love very deeply, who think that the earth was created in seven literal days by God. I do believe in God. A higher intelligence that has a greater plan in mind. Sometimes I explain that higher power as the best highest spiritual part of myself. For me that is where God exists, my personal intimate God, in the very heart of me. In Biblical terms it might be the Holy Spirit. The more I know about the human body and nature, the more wonder I have in that greater intelligence.

When it comes to the origin of the universe, I find that I have to war constantly with both mindsets. I have come to believe that God created the earth and he used evolution to do it. I find it utterly amazing that if you look in Genesis, the order of creation, in a book written before any of the science of it was discovered, lays out the order of evolution. I find that the two theories do not oppose each other, but rather it is part of the miracle that evolution is basically detailed in a book from the most ancient past.

I know that people on both sides of the argument think what I am saying is absurd. I am very grateful to live in a place where I can think what I want. I am also grateful that I live in a time when my opinion as a woman has as much validity as if I were born male. It is mind-boggling to me that women accepted a role as somehow second-class for SO LONG. But as Robert would say... that's another story.

Aug. 05 2008 08:23 AM
Marcus

Mark. That's a long comment, man.

Eric posted his email, and I'm posting my blog address if you want to talk more about this. I'll put up a post on my blog later this morning to continue this conversation if you're still around.

Aug. 04 2008 08:30 AM
Eric

Ok, OK, Ok I have thought a lot about how to respond to you Mark. I thought not responding would look like I didn't think my view point could hold up to all the ABC's and Philosophy 102 debates in the world. (Which is not the case.) Nor is this a place for such debates.

But I think I do need to say that my post was about the nature of the creationist and evolution debate, and that I feel like both have become guilty of the same thing: competing to have "The Answer" in a discussion that requires multiple answers. Some from Science, Some from faith.

I take it that you believe that science has the tools to answer all the questions worth asking. I do not. I think there is value in venturing outside the limits of the scientific method to ask bigger questions, even if no answer is ever ABC'd.

But back to Roberts talk, if the creationists are morons for being foolish enough to believe that they have all the answers for questions on the science side of the room, are scientists that are saying that they have all the answers for the spiritual side of the room (mainly that it doesn't exist) any less foolish?

Finally I apologize to folks in this forum who don't want this debate here.
Mark if you want to talk more let's not do it here. Just email me at lies.eric@gmail.com

Aug. 03 2008 01:53 PM
Mark

p) We simply must NOT try to describe things that are beyond our experience.... This, folks, comes to us as the limitation of our knowledge. This is the Universe where we reside. We can't get outside of it. And So we are indefinitely doomed to live without being able to answer the question, "Why are we here?" Any answer to this question that rings of a supernatural tone should automatically be ruled as nonsense in that we can't possible verify the truth of such a statement.

Instead, let us ask: "What shall we do now?" and "Why should we do it?"
-- These are both questions that we are fully capable of answering!

I'll leave the rest of this discussion to my friend JP Sartre.

Aug. 03 2008 03:05 AM
Mark

To Eric and Marcus (above),

a) As we all know 'faith' is required for belief in God, and-
b) We should be aware that we all have differing conceptions of God.

c) THEREFORE before we are to begin looking for any middle ground, we must first look to each other and for all that we agree on so we may resolve our disputes more effectively. As is the standard for any productive argument/discussion.

d) Both of you and I would be in agreement against the Creationist movement (if I've read you posts correctly); but Why is that?

e) Because as far as I'm concerned- We can all believe whatever we would like... but it doesn't change a thing. Holding a belief simply does not render it true. So I propose we look to the natural order of existence for our explanations and beliefs... We call this Science.

f) I see the explanations and stories derived from Scientific data as descriptive models from which a greater understanding of the universe can be attained.

g) Models can and should change!

h) Scientific models are meant to provide flexible and efficient means of expressing the meaning of data. As more data is found and interpreted our models should act accordingly.

i) I see the 'God' idea as just another model in our bag of paradigms for understanding the world and our place in it.

j) Therefore we should be flexible with what we mean by the term God if we are to use it at all.

k) The hallmark of science is, "lets wait until we have sufficient data before we begin to interpret it"

l) I'm not sure I see this trend in Christianity. The bible is chock full of over the top descriptions and references to 'God' and other 'supernatural' phenomenon-

m) -All of which REQUIRE a leap of faith as presumes any truth.

n) In other words... Many people in many religions hold very elaborate descriptions and mental imagery of these ideas -- AND by doing so, further the breach between Reality and Knowledge/Belief.

o) I think, if we are to consider religion to be necessary or even beneficial we must STOP the confabulation and other nonsense and Turn inward to our existence here and now; rather than outward to supernatural/contradictory models.

Aug. 03 2008 02:47 AM
Nicolaj Nielsen

Thank you for an amazing speech and a great show! i just wish you had not published that picture of Mr. Krulwich - you have forever ruined the image of his physical appearance I had constructed in my mind when listening to his voice. I always thought he sounded like a stubby guy with a beard, but now knowing the truth, Radiolab will never be the same again. Damn it! Interesting phenomenon really.

Aug. 02 2008 02:36 PM
Eric

I am a huge RadioLab fan, and it is easy to see the beauty in what Robert and the RadioLab crew do in making science into narratives and Galileo style explanations. I really loved the majority of the speech, but the part that left me feeling awkward was that I heard Robert using a lot of the rhetoric that Creationists do. "A sword" for your arsenal in the "competition" for the minds of the Phoebe's of the world. I am a committed Christian, and one of the things I'm committed to is Truth. I am convinced that old earth darwinian evolution is the Truth(no equivocaions, or yeah buts...). I am convinced that the fact that Genesis is a Myth doesn't make it useless.
You succeeded in pointing out the power of story to convey truth, and stir up interest. I guess I just wonder when the day will come when we realize that the role of science to tell us how, and the role of faith to tell us why, and when either one stretches beyond it's expertise we start needing "swords."
Thoughts? Can there be a rational middle ground?

Aug. 01 2008 10:28 PM
Daniela

As a scientist i want to say how inspiring that is.
I always enjoy radio lab shows, and deeply enjoyed this speech as well.

Aug. 01 2008 10:27 PM
Marcus

Inspiring speech. Interesting comments. I noted the antagonism toward creationists, too, especially since I listened to this podcast on the way home from the evangelical retreat center where I work.

But I'm no creationist. I've had the pleasure of interacting with folks like John Medina and Francis Collins through our retreat center. Both of them encouraged me to be much more vocal in defending science and evolution. I wouldn't say I'm at war with creationists, but I've stopped sitting quietly when people assume I believe the world is 6000 years old.

Jul. 31 2008 10:56 PM
Ekin

It's so ironic that Robert Krulwich compiled a fictitious story on Turkey & its people from hearsay and some marginal out-of-context headlines to completely base a speech advising about fiction becoming reality through accesible story-telling!

I am an avid fan of well-conceived investigative sound-pieces of Radio Lab, so imagine my shock and frustration when I heard this speech in relationship to Turkey.It's true that there is a media savvy convicted con-artist/self-proclaimed new-age spiritualist turkish author with the name of Adnan Oktar. Throughout 1990's Oktar built a lucrative business model trying out a variety of schemes to get a US-style hyped-up media exposure. He self promoted himself by staying in the headlines with new outrageous remarks or publications on a variety of provocative and obscure topics, conspiracy theories playing with public sentiment and law-suits to his critics.

Oktar's brand of intellectual new-age spiritualism is aggresively promoted through lavisly produced contemporary products and publications. Nothing original compared to the 11 billion dollar self-help/new-age business in the US. Think of a non-scholar poorman's version of Deepak Chopra (as scientic rhetoric & intelligent design). One difference is that Oktar's products have a self-promotory purpose as they are mostly given away free or very affordable. His profits on this recognition and fame.

Oktar's latest exploit is 'The Atlas of Creation' book from 2006, an almost exact adaptation of amercan ICR's protestant creationist literature to a Islamic storyline. The book got attention and reactions all around the world because of its very aggresive marketing campaign. Tens of thousands of unsolicited Print unauthorized copies of the book have been delivered, on an basis, specifically to high schools and politicians in Turkey, in France, and also, prominent researchers and research institutes throughout Europe and the United States. The aim was to present it as a new 'Cultural phenomenon'(think of 'the secret') or fake bestseller - although its distribution was the equilvalent of Spamming or sending a computer virus. Suddenly everyone had a free copy of this allegedly new-found theory of Islamic Creationism with sensational scientific graphic design. The Turkish media (copies of their US counterparts) had a field day capitilizing on all the Hype. There were public discussion on this contraversy, forums, articles, opinion pieces. So until here Krulwich's argument has some merit. since, marketing strategy and a fancy design can validate a bogus adaptation to be considered a real Scientific creation story.

Unfortunately, the rest of Krulwich's speech is an invented a bias, uninformed story, where he heavily exaggerated the implications of some book. There are such no masses in Turkey suddenly embracing Creation Science and denying evolution. There is a fad created by the abundance of free copies of the book leading to discussions. The introduction of the book and an Islamic Creationist theory just happened within the last year, it's quite recent, so despite its bogus nature, it's out there it will take its time to be discussed and invalidated.

No schools in Turkey have switched or ever considered switching to teaching Creation Science, instead of evolution. Especially not to a shady, unscientific book published just a year ago. This is an outrageous undermining of Turks and Turkish scientific and educational community. You should know that it takes years of scientific expertise, research assemblys and educational committees to decide and finalize the offical school curriculum within the highest scientific standards. The fact that some shady company decided to spam teachers & schools with free unauthorized copies of a bogus book, doesn't give Krulwich the right to conclude that it was offically being taught. Infact when this was exposed, there was a big outrage in Turkey.

Furthermore It's true this author'Adnan Oktar' does use an aggresive tactic of filing US style libel suits in courts to silence his critics, he lost all of these lawsuits, and in some cases had to pay reimbursment fees. The incident where his fans harrased and labeled six professors 'Maoists' infact happened in 1999, 7 years before Creation book is published. The professors later sued him for defamation and were each awarded a large sum of money. He also refers to a ambigious 2006 poll, how and with which group unclear, obviously it is unrelated to this book. In 2008 Oktar was convicted a variety of crimes including engaging in criminal threats, another one of his many arrests.

Where is Krulwich getting his facts, I understand the message he is trying to communicate, making up his point to the expense of Turkish people is quite outrageous and a big let down from a respected broadcaster. 'Adnan Oktar'is in fact a lousy copy of Us Style business stragegy and culture, Krulwich could have made a better job looking at the original examples at home.

Jul. 31 2008 07:10 PM
Alex

Great speech. I wish there more programs like Radio lab.

Jul. 31 2008 02:31 PM
Bash

Very nice speech. I learned the history of science, and always my favorite man was Galileo. I really encourage, like Krulwich did, for people to go and read him. He is very fun reading.

The one thing I didn't like about Krulwich's speech, was what I thought was a hint that we should "fight" with good stories, even lowering our standards (Krulwich, I'm sorry if you didn't mean that). I think this is also a sickness of the tottally amazing podcast in general. Sometimes the story takes over the reasoning.

So to summarize: I don't think that in this case the end justifies the means. We should strive to tell compelling stories, but we must do it while sticking to rigor and reason.

Jul. 31 2008 02:11 PM
Alex Ley

Thank you for posting! Through another blog a few weeks ago, I found out about Krulwich's commencement speech and watching it online through CalTech's website. I've been wanting to get a copy of it since it really inspired me to listen to it.

Jul. 30 2008 11:50 PM
Marc Naimark

Great speech. But it's not the "active tense". It's the "active voice".

Jul. 30 2008 04:10 PM
Orin

Wow. Great job, Krulwich. Way to kill two birds with one stone. No pun intended.

Jul. 30 2008 01:05 PM
Willie

I am a middle school math teacher who believes in the power of "the story". I want to thank you for helping to rejuvenate my educational passion by your mandate on story telling. Every time I listen to Radio Lab I am armed with another story that I use as a connector that draws my students into that special place us educators seek. I only wish that you would find time to delve into my abstract world to help me find more stories to capture the middle school mathematical mind. I know that the power of the story is what makes Radio Lab my favorite show. Thanks for sharing.

Jul. 29 2008 11:52 PM
stephe

I agree with Sam.
And, couldn't the vilified creationists say the same story about Bob"ette" the Dinosaur and Maria the Sparrow. Similarities would be made due to an "architect" rather than natural selection over time.
I really did enjoy the speech. I will never again be afraid of T-Rex.

Jul. 29 2008 11:21 PM
Mike N

Bravo! You should have been at UNC when I graduated. Well, I didn't walk, but nevermind. I think the speech is a great summary of why I can't get enough of your show - and physics was the only college course I ever got a C in (that is, I'm not a scientist). If anyone cares to view a blog post I wrote about your speech, click on my name above.

Jul. 29 2008 06:32 PM
Sam

It was odd that creationists were vilified in a speech that was intended to be about clearly presenting scientific results. You may not agree with the creationist viewpoint, but the message should be that they clearly present their work, and the other side presents their work and the scientific process clears up which side "wins".

Jul. 29 2008 02:11 PM
Mike

Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing!

Jul. 29 2008 02:07 PM
Patrick

Great speech.

Jul. 29 2008 01:07 PM
Tony Bruguier

It was a very good speech - glad I attended.

Jul. 29 2008 11:48 AM
Cheshire Katz

Excellent. Thanks for posting.

On a completely unrelated note, I was reading this NY Times piece about the mystery of glass and thought it sounded like an interesting subject for RadioLab to tackle.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/29/science/29glass.html?8dpc

The idea of completely baffling things we use in everyday life (like your wonderful piece on emergence) is always a subject of great fascination. Keep up the fantastic work.

Jul. 29 2008 10:49 AM

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