Stories are an immensely powerful communication tool. People find linear narratives compelling and this shapes how we think. This is as true in science as in any other domain. Stories structure our thinking and aid understanding, but they can also constrain our thinking unhelpfully, and embed assumptions that are unwarranted. What’s more, however attractive a story may be, with a beginning, a middle and an end, life is not like that. Life does not work in linear narratives or we would not have to ask “What came first, the chicken or the egg?"
A key challenge in modern biology is to find ways to tell stories about these dynamic, non-linear processes that can aid our understanding, while supporting the open mindedness needed for progress. Leyser’s research in plant developmental biology has tried to address this issue, a challenge that is equally relevant for her current role in science policy. Her Croonian Lecture included examples from both of these areas of her work.
The Croonian Medal and Lecture is the premier lecture in the biological sciences. The lectureship was conceived by William Croone FRS, one of the original Fellows of the Society. Among the papers left on his death in 1684 were plans to endow two lectureships, one at the Royal Society and the other at the Royal College of Physicians. His widow later bequeathed the means to carry out the scheme. The lecture series began in 1738. The medal is of silver gilt, is awarded annually and is accompanied by a gift of £10,000.
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