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PREFACE When I began this project, several years ago, I was intrigued by the culturally imposed rift between the sciences and the arts. A bit of research proved that others were curious about this rift, too; there are several articles, books, and blogs with titles like “Science and Art,” “Art and Science,” or “Art Meets Science.” What I found, however, was that this literature, for the most part, seemed to privilege science over art, as if art were the handmaiden of the sciences. It struck me that it was also possible for art to complicate science, especially because art is so open to multiple, even conflicting, interpretations. Visuals cannot be controlled like words, and visuals have taken the lead in our culture. With the inherent visuality of Internet communication and the inordinate quantity of visual stimuli that bombard the average person on a daily basis, we have grown accustomed to receiving information through complex symbolic and iconic codes. A website containing large blocks of text with no images would not survive in this overwhelmingly visual climate. It is not so much disconcerting that the digital/visual has overthrown the textual; more problematic is that the vast majority of consumers have not been trained in visual communication . That is, the educational system has until very recently privileged linguistic modes of discourse over other modes. I suspect that many people reading this book did not learn how to analyze and communicate effectively with images in grade school. As a result of this lack of training in visual communication, we have a problem: lots of people want to communicate visually, and they go ahead and do so, even if they have not been well trained. Unfortunately, the entities that attempt visual communication (unsuccessfully) are influential. The National Science Foundation (NSF), for example, hosts an annual visualization competition that is meant to garner public support for science. This study is about science images, or, rather, images that are associated with science: popular science images. Given the cultural expectation for image-rich communication, scientific organizations like the NSF must incorporate images into public-outreach efforts. The “gap” between science and society has long been lamented, and x • Preface science communicators—the intermediaries between scientific communities and nonexpert publics—have developed models for more effective communication. Visual communication, however, is not generally included in these models. Thus, scientific communities that are interested in communicating research to nonspecialists with striking images are lacking heuristics for doing so effectively. I wrote this book, initially, because I wanted to assist in this effort by exploring how popular science images have been used in the past. I became invested in finding examples of visual science communication that have largely been overlooked as being merely ornamental or decorative images but that actually served a persuasive function. My line of thinking was that, if only experts and practitioners could see how popular images have been used in different contexts, they might be able to use that template to set up communications with nonspecialist publics today. My foray into such visuals began with the images that appeared in the front of early books in natural or experimental philosophy: frontispieces. Studying frontispieces in early scientific books confirmed my hunch that seemingly ornamental images served a deeper purpose, and this led me to question other ostensibly aesthetic but actually persuasive scientific images that served as a “front” for scientific information. I decided to call this category of scientific visuals “portal images”: they occupied an introductory position in relationship to text and thus characterized subsequent discourse for audiences, potentially predisposing them to a particular reading of the text. Portal images, it seemed to me, presented an excellent opportunity for scientists and science communicators. Scholarship in science communication and related fields informed my study and served as my motivation for discovering a responsible and effective means of visualizing science for nonspecialist publics: a means of both engaging and informing. I strove to align my suggestions about using images with the accepted scholarship on verbal or textual communication of science to nonspecialist publics; this body of work argues for more transparency about scientific processes, about science being fallible like any other human discipline, and about giving audiences tools to make more informed policy decisions. My book was going to propose a way for images to participate in ethical and engaging science communication. Examples of portal images across time would serve as templates, I thought, to be emulated by science communicators and practitioners to assist with responsible and ethical...


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MARC Record
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