Starting in the early part of the twentieth century a cadre of American scientists began to advocate for better public understanding of science, arguing that better understanding of science meant a better quality of life, better public affair deliberations, and the elevation of democracy and culture. To improve science communication, models of the communication process have been developed. In the 1940s science communication researchers adopted the linear communication model of electrical engineering. Scientific communication via the linear model has come to be known as the deficit model. A major failure of the deficit model was witnessed during the Mad Cow Disease outbreak in the UK: beef safety was over-simplified in the communication process, people were given a false sense of security and many ended up sick. Of the many lessons learned from failures of the deficit model, arguably, the most significant lesson is that the public’s prior knowledge and life experience is always brought to bear on the message, i.e. the message must be contextualized. Fortunately, scientific visuals can play a contextualizing role in science communication. Approximately 80 percent of sensory input comes from the visual system. And because humans are more cognitively efficient at recognizing patterns and making comparisons visually, research findings are often conveyed more effectively visually than by written or spoken words. Join us Thursday for a look at the role of scientific visuals in science communication. We’ll see how the evolution of scientific thought has been closely entwined with that of visual communication. As we journey from the fifteenth century to the present day, we’ll learn more about the advent of science communication theory and about the widely accepted tenets of successful visual scientific communication.
Laura Rocchio has supported the Landsat project for nearly a decade as an Outreach Scientist with Science Systems and Applications, Inc. She has master’s degrees in both Geography (University of Maryland) and Publication Design (University of Baltimore). She is relocating to Los Angeles this July.