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BLOG ENTRY 8 Do visual media work differently to other media forms?

May 1, 2012

I will be conducting an analysis of visualisations in relation to the following three forms of visualisation: scientific research, communication of science within the “public sphere” and “real time” interactive visualisation. These images are mostly coming from scientific or visualisation blog sites which dedicate their entire site to a certain topic. These intricate images are created by talented graphic designers who passionately use their skills to depict an image that represents the scientific significance that defines it. The only one I found on a broad news site was the Polar Bear visualisation which was about climate change. These images are able to relate to the general publishing sphere by their use of global internet which is their means of entering the “public sphere”.  The most important process that occurs in creating a visualisation involves the collection of scientific data needed to arrange the visual objects within the resulting image created by the graphic designer.

VISUALISATION 1: Struggling Polar Bear (http://www.metro.co.uk/news/147937-struggling-polar-bears-put-on-endangered-list)

This visualisation is in a news site and compliments an article based on climate change. In this particular context, this image of the Polar Bear is functioning to gain emotional attention from the audience. Without the image, the article would lack a sense of connection and impact towards the concept of global warming. This perhaps is the largest function and effect of the images publication with the written article. This image assembles information and warnings about climate change which is assembled in a compact photograph that really does say 1000 words.

VISUALISATION 2: Mouse Eyeball Cells (http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/tag/science-visualization/)

This visualisation was found on a scientific blog site called Wired Science which I found to be a favourite and particularly interesting. On this same site I found a quote quite relevant to the concept of visualisations representing scientific data by Thomas Wagner, a cryosphere scientist at NASA who states,  “I think because information technology tools and visualization tools have advanced, people have found ever-increasingly clever ways to display difficult scientific concepts”. I believe this sums up the function of using visualisations in this scientific context.

What is happening to this image in this context is it is attracting the human eye through its aesthetics and therefore, simplifying the daunting biological data of the mouse eyeball cell. This image won first place in the 2011 International Science and Engineering Visualisation Challenge by its strategic use of colour and it states on the Wired Science site that judges chose their winners based on, “visual impact, originality and clarity” (Dave Mosher). It assembles the cell data by assigning red, blue and green to antibodies which resulted in the revelation of “70 different cell types in the organ” (Dave Mosher).

VISUALISATION 3: Climate Change Deniers vs The consensus (http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/climate-change-deniers-vs-the-consensus/)

Although I did like the site name, “Information is Beautiful”, I did not particularly consider this one the best example of visualisation. This is mainly because the graphs are quite complex and the only thing that gives these graphs any kind of visual appeal is their use of colour in contrast to the black background. There is also a large use of words surrounding the visualisations which takes away from the whole effect of using visualisations. The context is global warming and carbon dioxide levels and the form of assembly of data is graphs which act as a way of presenting the data in a professional and prepared manner.

However, on the other hand, I do think that it serves its function to represent the written information in a visual form. The graphs assemble data of carbon dioxide in a more calculated way than the other visualisations as it does not focus necessarily on aesthetics but rather on information publication. The most important effect of the graphs is that it indicates a thorough amount of time and effort that the site has spent on constructing the data. It gives readers a chance to choose between words and pictures to learn more about the topic.

VISUALISATION 4: Global Carbon Emissions on the CO2 now site (http://co2now.org/)

I think this particular visualisation was really effective in the sense that it captures attention by use of photography. The images in the context of carbon emissions and humanity’s role in terms of causing carbon pollution is demonstrated fairly well through the juxtaposition of the natural scenes and the industrial settings depicted through the photos used. The images somehow tell a simple story teaching those who do not study science  about how our actions affect our natural world in every aspect: air, land and sea. This is the function of the photos– to portray a deeply concerning and relatively complex idea through a simple and eye capturing photos which is something that everyone can understand.

In turn, this effectively publishes an urgent cause which is carbon gases and its effect on the natural world. Each of the photographs assemble a message for everyone in the world that humans must stop polluting the environment in order to save it and the designer of the visualisation does this through the use of the words, “come from” and “goes” to establish something similar to a flow chart.

How do they fold into both the general social body, and individual bodily interaction with media?

Scientific visualisations affect the media and society by teaching us something that cannot be entirely explained through traditional reading of words on a page. Through employment and creations of visualisations, people who are not fully aware of the context of a concept are more able to grasp its defining idea through an immediate glance at an image. It simplifies information that would be otherwise very difficult to digest and perhaps take a long time to learn. In the media, visualisations work very well because the media must simplify everything to the audience and make information as easy as possible.

How do visual modes of publishing relate to the issues we are concerned with in ARTS2090?

In terms of assemblages, these image assemble complex data systems and compress them into simplified pictures that every day people would find easier to understand especially in the context of science. It also relates to attention as these images capture our attention through colour and other visual techniques. Lastly, it relates to archiving as it somewhat archives scientific data through its compression of information in the image or visualisation used to represent that data.

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