As I continue to explore the field of science communication, I have been thinking about HOW this information is communicated and what tools we use.  As new technology becomes available, we have the opportunity to use different methods and promote our message with a wider audience.  In my last post on Sharing Science through Social Media, I talked about how the research enterprise is discussing the use of social media.  There is a learning curve on how to use these platforms effectively, but they give researchers a way to practice communicating their results with the public.  A researcher can share interpretations of their data in a variety of formats including posters, presentations, and peer-reviewed publications, but there are additional ways to represent data visually beyond the bar chart.

One technique of combining complex data with graphics is an “infographic”.  This format is not new, for example, weather forecasts are representations of atmospheric models in a simplified visual layout.  Recently infographics have gained popularity online as a means of visualizing and sharing data on any number of topics and because it is easy to share them.  David McCandless, a journalist and self-described data detective, provides one perspective on the beauty of data visualization in a TED talk.  He describes infographics as a language that combines the visually appealing with the addition of concepts.  He suggests that through the interpretation of a combination of relative data sets presented visually, perceptions and behaviors could be influenced.  Companies such as or Piktochart allow users to explore uploaded infographics, add content, and connect with a community of designers, journalists, and developers.  They have created templates for those that want to create infographics, but don’t have the background in programming or graphic design.  Something to consider is the quality of the datasets.  Piktochart will recommend sources while encourages viewers to think critically about what the infographic means and what bias the source may be presenting.  This could spark an entirely new blog post on the significance of information literacy…

Living in a fast-paced world, we are flooded with incoming data on a daily basis.  We have to find ways to consciously and subconsciously sort through what is relevant or interesting to us.  This gets me thinking about the attractiveness of visual design and how we can each pick out different patterns from quantitative and qualitative data to tell different stories.  Connecting this to free choice learning, if datasets were available for visitors to manipulate on a touch screen or through a different format at the Visitor Center, how would they be interpreted?  What stories, infographics, or statements would people create from data provided by oceanographic expeditions or citizen science?  How might they share their creations with others and does this generate discussion?  Could this promote learning?  As time progresses, we will only increase in the amount of data that we generate.  What we do with all this data and how we share it will continue to evolve as the tools and technologies change too.

As I work towards a coherent research question for my dissertation, I find myself challenging assumptions that I never dealt with before. One is that visitors trust the science that is being presented in museums. There is lots of talk about learning science, public understanding of science, public engagement, etc., but trust is frequently glossed over. When we ask someone what they learned from an exhibit, we don’t also ask them how reliable they feel the information is. Much like the various fields of science, there is an assumption that what is being presented is accurate and unbiased in the eyes of the visitor.

In accordance with this, it is also frequently assumed that visitors know the difference between good science, bad science, pseudo science, not science, science in fiction, and science fiction; and that this is reflected in their visitor experiences in science museums. Especially in the internet age, where anyone can freely and widely distribute their thoughts and opinions and agendas, how do people build their understanding of science, and how do these various avenues of information impact trust in science? Media sources have been exposed in scandals where false “science” was disseminated. Various groups deliberately distort information to suit their purposes. In this melee of information and misinformation, are science centers still viewed as reliable sources of science information by the public?