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Introduction Popular Science Images and Portals Popular science images are difficult to classify on the basis of their surfacelevel features alone. Images as disparate as, for example, a photograph of a scientist working in a laboratory and a rainbow-dyed visualization of a mouse’s neural circuitry can both be considered popular science images. Rather than being predicated on its surface features, an image’s classification as “popular” depends on a variety of factors, such as the agents producing it, the venues in which it is published, and the purposes (as far as they are discernible) for its circulation outside the scientific community. Addressing these factors from a sociological perspective, Huppauf and Weingart identify, in the introduction to Science Images and Popular Images of the Sciences,1 different categories of popular science images. For example, there are distinctions between images created in the scientific community and purposefully circulated in public venues (think of NASA’s Hubble telescope images) and those created by the media to represent science for the public (think of movie representations of scientists). This book is particularly concerned with popular science images created by scientists, or scientist–artist collaborations, and then aimed at audiences outside the scientific community. Popular science images can include visualizations, photographs, drawings, graphic designs, and other genres that leave the scientific community and are purposefully circulated for public consumption, as well as images created specifically for public consumption, such as portraits of scientists, that were probably not used within the scientific community.2 There is an important distinction to be made between popular science images and scientific visualizations—the images found in research papers that are aimed at audiences of experts and practitioners.3 The latter have been the subject of many studies in sociology, history, and rhetoric. Scholars in these fields have attended to scientific visualizations because of their epistemological function.4 Rhetoricians of science have established that visualizations are indispensable to 2 • Introducing Science through Images scientific argumentation—that they are not supplemental to linguistic components but equally important for advancing knowledge in the scientific community .5 Scientific visualizations in research reports are a part of internal rhetorics of science, situated among scientists, within scientific communities. If and when these visualizations leave the scientific community, they become a part of external rhetorics of science, situated outside scientific communities, in some type of public venue.6 When images circulate in public venues, such as in newspapers or blogs, their primary function is likely to be not epistemological but, rather, didactic—or, as in many of the cases in this book, to inspire awe. Regarding external visual rhetorics of science, there are still further distinctions to be made. Data-driven visualizations and infographics, which are designed to communicate complex information to uninitiated audiences, have been the subject of many studies in technical communication, and they, too, belong to external rhetorics of science.7 The effectiveness of informational graphics and data displays aimed at uninitiated audiences is determined by such factors as usability, concision, and clarity.8 Popular science images typically are not of the same ilk as data displays and informational graphics; rather, popular science images are seemingly innocuous, aesthetically pleasing images of science that circulate in society and fly under the critical radar. Because they cannot necessarily be assessed for their effectiveness at conveying data, they require different treatment. Studying popular science images can be challenging because of their seeming simplicity and consequent resistance to some types of criticism. Despite these challenges, the use of art to communicate science has been gaining traction in the scientific community because of its promise for captivating nonexpert publics. In a visually striking book titled Envisioning Science, the MIT and Harvard professor Felice Frankel instructs scientists in the art of turning their visualizations into breathtaking images that can promote science in the public eye.9 Science images are seen as a way of making science more accessible to the average citizen. “Pictures speak to all of us,” claims Piers Bizony in an article in Engineering & Technology—even, he says, to “people who aren’t so fluent in that [scientific] language.”10 Ostensibly predicated on that belief, the National Science Foundation (NSF) holds an annual competition for aesthetically pleasing scientific images, which, according to the competition’s mission statement, are supposed to increase “public understanding of research developments.”11 When funding for basic scientific research is increasingly difficult to secure, public support becomes all the more essential. But, although visual communication is used in an effort to...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781611178753
Print ISBN
9781611178746
MARC Record
OCLC
1003267820
Pages
160
Launched on MUSE
2018-05-22
Language
English
Open Access
N
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