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Visual Communication of Science - a debate

Reflections on the status and investment in visual communication of science in Portugal

June 24, 2013
SciCom PT 2013
SciCom PT 2013

In the past 27th and 28th of May was held the first Conference of Science Communication in Portugal, and among the various topics covered, there was a debate on the importance of visual communication in science communication.

It was highlighted that efficiency in communicating a visual message in science relies on the interdisciplinarity between illustrators, researchers, designers and communicators, among others, so it is important that people from different areas are willing to work together and understand the importance of it. In an era when the consumption of information tends to be faster, the communication through video or image become vital for  communicate, understand and engage with messages in science.

However, a lot of visual communications in science, have low quality. Pedro Salgado, scientific illustrator and participating in the debate, highlighted the case of scientific posters, which in their majority have no visual quality, that demonstrates a lack of competence of the researchers in this area.

Fish scientific illustrations by Pedro Salgado (Source)

Thus, he argues that the development of visual skills should be integrated into the training of these professionals and he even states that, in general, “people should talk less and draw more”, helping to destroy the myth that only a few people with special talents are able to draw.

A great part of the debate focused on scientific illustration and the “good health” and the growth of scientific illustration in Portugal, where there are about 50 illustrators in activity, some of them with work recognized worldwide, as is the case of Diana Marques, Lúcia Antunes and Pedro Salgado, among others.

Guide to Bats in Portugal, by Lúcia Antunes (Source)


But visual communication in science is not only about scientific illustration, and regarding this we can focus on other examples like, specifically in mathematics, the graphical representations of data. These are often used in distorted form as a vehicle of information by the press (examples here and here), promoting (when baddly used) fallacious understanding of information.

As a conclusion, there were two main ideas to keep from the debate: the visual communication of science has to be interdisciplinary to be effective and should be a strong point of investment within the science communication, even included in curricula – not only in biology, but in science in general.

Written by Susana Pereira

Susana Simões Pereira, maths teacher and PhD in science teaching and communication. I enjoy games and photography and I'm passionate for science and art, specially when together in the same context. You can follow my updates on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.