829   Roundtable discussion

Re-envisaging the visual communication of science

Diagrams, charts, illustrations, and photographs have long been at the heart of communicating science, and with visuals and graphics becoming easier to produce and disseminate in the digital age, we can only expect them to play an ever-increasing role in science communication. This is a welcome trend for those who acknowledge the communication potential of visual modes, but to what extent do we really understand the impacts of graphics, illustrations, diagrams, photographs, and video, or how they should be employed to best effect in our field? While there is a lot that is relevant and insightful to be learned from the study of visual modes in other disciplines, this ‘imported’ knowledge base is not always applicable for the specific needs and characteristics of science communication and often fails to address important concerns for science communicators. For example literature on the educational impact of diagrams that does not consider engagement value, or literature on persuasive visuals that disregards the need for accuracy or explanation. Furthermore, science visuals perform unique roles (e.g. ‘icons’ of science literacy) that can only be studied within a science communication context. 

This session will offer diverse perspectives on the use of visual modes for communicating science to argue for a transformation in the way we perceive and understand visual communication within the specific context of science communication. Speakers will discuss the epistemic function (explanatory or persuasive) of visuals in different contexts; affective and attitudinal impacts of diagram design; the development of a visual rhetoric for science communication; the motivational and educational roles of science comics; and the significance of these topics for science communication practice.

Author: Matthew Wood
University of Tsukuba, Japan

A more inclusive view of diagrams to include affective and attitudinal impacts. Comprehension and information transfer are important target outcomes in most situations where diagrams are used, so research and recommendations on diagram design tend to focus on these cognitive aspects. However there are a raft of other outcomes which are also important for the broader considerations of communicating science, which tend not to be considered. These include affective, or emotional impacts that are the basis for developing interest and motivation, and attitudes that lead to a sense of relevance or concern. Such aspects are given consideration in studies on the interpretation of photographs and imagery, but this is rarely the case for studies on diagram interpretation. This talk will draw highlights from an investigation into affective impacts of life-cycle diagram designs, and argue for the need for a broader view of diagram interpretation in science communication settings-one that includes both cognitive and affective impacts.

Speaker: Yin Chung Au
National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan

Recognising and narrowing the gap between expert and non-expert visual languages I analyse the differences and similarities between the epistemic roles of images in expert communities and the public domain. This is for science communicators to re-evaluate existing visuals and create new ways of visually translating scientific content. In scientific communication, researchers use images as evidence and representations for both reasoning and convincing. The reasoning process is highly sophisticated and normally black-boxed when researchers present the 'big pictures' to convince their peers. In science communication, on the other hand, visuals are more intended to be persuasive and sometimes aiming at behaviour change. Whether visuals are explanatory and persuasive enough means differently in expert and non-expert contexts. Persuasive visuals in the public domain can convey misleading messages, and scientifically explanatory visuals can be incomprehensible to non-expert audiences. My case study is biomedical images because images play pivotal roles in the construction and communication of biomedical arguments.

Speaker: Wiebke Finkler
University of Otago, New Zealand

Visual Research Methods & Visual Rhetoric for Science Communication The rise of digital technologies such as social media, mobile phones, virtual reality and video on- demand is changing the way we live, work, and communicate. Visual research methods, especially those involving video, have become much more accessible, affordable and easier to employ through technological developments and simplified software for video editing. This carries relevance for science communication research, both for the communication of science, and for enhancing the epistemological effects of research. Drawing on marketing communication, I argue for the development of a visual rhetoric for science communication with a particular focus on video, and put forward a marketing-based science communication approach for designing, presenting, evaluating and using images.

Speaker: Bruno Pinto
University of Lisbon, Portugal

Science comics: the story so far Science comics are becoming a more popular tool for science education and communication. This talk will start with the presentation of several examples of science comics, including some of the personal experiences of the author. It will focus on the existing empirical studies about its use, which are mostly confined to educational settings such as schools and universities. These studies suggest that, when comparing comics with textbooks or essays, they are similar in what concerns knowledge acquisition, but comics are more efficient in motivating students for learning. Therefore, it is proposed that the use of science comics needs to be better assessed, especially in the case of science communication. This could include comparisons of comics with other media, with different types of audiences and assessing specific elements such as narrative or characters.

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