Visual metaphors are crucial to science communication, both among scientists and between science communicators and the public. To start with a metaphor, they provide a familiar peg on which to hang new information. A well-chosen visual metaphor (particles as billiard balls, benzene as a snake eating its tail) can provide an instant jolt of recognition and understanding to a complex concept, while a badly-chosen one can complicate and obscure. This session will explore the best and worst, the pros and cons of devising and deploying visual metaphors for science. How do these cases make the science more compelling? For example, how do pictures of brain areas “lighting up” give us the feeling that we are peering inside the brain? How do these cases perpetuate errors or biases? In the case of brains lighting up, the color of the map of the brain is in comparison to a baseline. Most of your brain is lit up, most of the time. The moderators are a cognitive psychologist with an interest in visual illusions and the history of psychology and an artist who turns depictions of structures into amazing works of art. We’ll kick off with a little bit of science about visual perception and image processing, then we’ll talk about some good, bad and confounding examples of visual metaphors, and then open up to discussion.
Questions: - When does a visual metaphor in science clarify and when does it obscure/confuse? - What makes a good visual metaphor in science? - What’s your favorite visual science metaphor? Early candidates: benzene ring, brain maps, neurons as wires, particles as billiard balls? - What visual metaphor in science is the biggest cliché? - What’s most important in a sci metaphor: originality, accuracy or familiarity?