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"Doing Good Physics": Narrative and Innovation in Research

From: Journal of Folklore Research
Volume 43, Number 2, May-August 2006
pp. 149-173 | 10.1353/jfr.2006.0012


This article examines how physicists use stories in doing physics and in understanding who they are in relation to other physicists. In particular, the article explores how physicists: 1) use narratives of past research successes as a way of teaching the elusive process of "doing good physics"; 2) use narratives of past failures as "cautionary tales" that allow listeners to learn from the mistakes of others without suffering the embarrassing or potentially dangerous consequences of making similar mistakes; and 3) use narratives as metatheoretical commentaries to highlight relationships between theory, experiment, and the "real world" of human interaction.