The power of armadillo penises: why more scientists should tell stories

For many scientists, narrative does not come naturally — but it can be a remarkably useful tool. Case in point: armadillo penises. Armadillo penises have the power to change the way people think about scientists and the animals they experiment with; they just need someone to tell their story.

Over at Last Word on Nothing, Virginia Hughes recounts a recent experience she had at The Story Collider. The Story Collider is (not surprisingly) all about good story telling. It is also (somewhat surprisingly) about science. Funny science. Touching science. Life-changing science. The Story Collider takes all kinds. The end result: once a month, at Union Hall in Park Slope, Brooklyn, people gather to hear compelling stories about science. Last week, evolutionary biologist Diane Kelly talked about her research on armadillo penises. Writes Hughes:

In the early '90s, as a graduate student at Duke University, in North Carolina, [Kelly] wanted to study how penises work. (Erectile tissue has pretty unusual mechanical properties, after all.) But Kelly, a lifelong animal lover, hated the idea of killing animals for her project. She nearly fainted once when attempting to demonstrate how to euthanize a frog. So her clever, if extreme solution was to temporarily move to a place (Florida) that had a bounty of big-penis roadkill (armadillos).

Kelly's tale was full of surprising twists and turns, culminating with a policeman and a bloody crotch. But its essence was about how she came to terms with the cold fact that her work would require some animals to die.

You can listen to Kelly's entire story here. It's excellent — but it didn't start out that way. Kelly's story may always have been interesting, but it needed a bit of help to become the brilliant piece of narrative that she delivered at last week's Story Collider. Over at LWON, Hughes goes on to describe how Kelly's story came to be the awesome story that it is today, and how more scientists could stand to work on their story telling abilities. Go give Kelly's story a listen, Hughes's post a read — you'll be glad you did.

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