Correctly using your story arc–an article analysis

6 11 2012

This week’s assignment was to analyze an article from the New York Times’ Science Times section. Specifically focusing on the components of the story arc and what elements make the story intriguing.

I focused on “Scientists Move Closer to a Lasting Flu Vaccine,” by Carl Zimmer. While the article is fairly lengthy, the format really keeps the readers interest. It presents the current conundrum, why we have to keep getting flu shots every year, and what direction researchers are taking to come up with a better, longer lasting solution. There isn’t a character being focused on in this story, but I feel that with flu season coming, most of the readers will be very interested in the how, why, where, and what’s next in the development of flu vaccines. The flu is not a fun virus to obtain, I can speak from experience, so I’m sure any information on prevention and development of an improved system would be well received.

The 3rd paragraph sums up the whole article, we’ve been stalled in terms of vaccine development for the flu since the 1950’s, but with the onset of several new research studies, at long last it looks like we may see long-lasting vaccines in our future. The first few paragraphs give the reader a jumping off point, knowing why the flu is so unique and how current immunological information has allowed us to begin developing new types of vaccines that target the virus in new and different ways that may provide solutions for not only the flu, but other viral diseases like HIV.

Moving on to the second page of the article, Zimmer continues to describe how our immune system can take advantage of the vaccine and contribute to enhanced immunological memory and a strengthened secondary response when attacked by the virus. I think that overall it is a reliable, understandable description, though I do take issue with his statement that scientists have to “guess which strains will be dominant.” I assure you that this is not merely a guess, but backed up with historical data and trends, along with information on the current evolution of the virus, and a statistical analysis to determine which strains to include.

The conflict created to keep the readers interest up to the climax is the fact that flu vaccines have been made and re-made every year since the 1950’s battling to keep up with the ever evolving flu. This vaccine is one of the only vaccines that needs this much upkeep and attention year to year, and the effectiveness really relies on researchers ability to predict its evolution and frequency within a population. The climax is reached about half way through the second page, when Zimmer introduces the researchers working on new ways to tackle the flu virus.

Specifically, he focuses on Dr. Gilbert, a researcher at Oxford that is focusing on a vaccine that targets T cells, rather than the traditional B cells. The other is a researcher at Scripps, Dr. Wilson that is focusing on creating antibodies against multiple flu strains, rather than just one. This technique is evolved from original research in Japan from 1993. This new researcher provides hope to the readers that in the future, a yearly flu vaccine may not be necessary and that they will be better protected over time, rather than having the chance of catching the flu strain that was not included in the shot (which was how I ended up with the flu a few years back). The quote obtained by Zimmer from Dr. Wilson creates a nice, cheery resolution, “The whole field is invigorated.”

While there is much hope to be had from current research, the last two paragraphs also bring this hope into perspective. Without stating directly that much more research needs to be done, he alludes to that fact by mentioning an issue that researchers have to overcome for some of this new technology to be implemented. That is, getting the immune system of each individual to produce enough of the newly created antibody to be effective in battling an onslaught of any strain of flu virus.

Though the article is quite science/information heavy, it provides information that is critical to understanding the current state of flu research in an easy to read and understand format, using a traditional story arc with conflict, climax, and resolution.