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The potential of comics in science communication

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The potential of comics in science communication

Abstract

Visual narratives, such as comics and animations, are becoming increasingly popular as a tool for science education and communication. Combining the benefits of visualization with powerful metaphors and character-driven narratives, comics have the potential to make scientific subjects more accessible and engaging for a wider audience. While many authors have experimented with this medium, empirical research on the effects of visual narratives in science communication remains scarce. This review summarizes the available evidence across disciplines, highlighting the cognitive mechanisms that may underlie the effects of visual narratives.
The potential of comics in science communication
Matteo Farinella
Visual narratives, such as comics and animations, are becoming
increasingly popular as a tool for science education and communication.
Combining the benefits of visualization with powerful metaphors and
character-driven narratives, comics have the potential to make scientific
subjects more accessible and engaging for a wider audience. While many
authors have experimented with this medium, empirical research on the
effects of visual narratives in science communication remains scarce. This
review summarizes the available evidence across disciplines, highlighting
the cognitive mechanisms that may underlie the effects of visual narratives.
Abstract
Public engagement with science and technology; Science communication:
theory and models; Visual communication
Keywords
https://doi.org/10.22323/2.17010401DOI
Introduction Science and engineering affect most aspects of our lives, making public
understanding of science a priority for any democratic society. However, factual
knowledge and reported interest in science and technology remain relatively low
amongst the public [NSF, 2016] and the internet is increasingly reported as the main
source for scientific information [NSF, 2016]. This is reflected by a proliferation of
online platforms dedicated to science education and communication, which often
rely on comics, animations and other visuals storytelling techniques to engage with
their audience. Despite their popularity these kind of visual narratives aimed to the
general public remain poorly studied in terms of their design and efficacy.
Both narrative and visual communication have been independently studied, but it
is difficult to predict how their effects combine into visual narratives. While some
scholars [McCloud, 1994; Sousanis, 2015] argued that the juxtaposition of words
and pictures in comics achieve effects larger than the sum of its parts, it is not clear
if combining storytelling and visualisation techniques is indeed more effective,
from a communication perspective. Moreover, while comics have been studied as a
tool for classroom education [Aleixo and Norris, 2010; Hosler and Boomer, 2011;
Short, Randolph-Seng and McKenny, 2013; Spiegel et al., 2013; Weitkamp and
Burnet, 2007], their application to the specific challenges of science communication
remain largely unexplored. One of the reasons behind this scarcity of research is
probably the lack of an accepted definition of what constitutes a ‘comic’. As many
authors have pointed out, while most comics share some unique recognizable
Essay Journal of Science Communication 17(01)(2018)Y01 1
features, they are also an extremely malleable medium which heavily borrow from
other forms of visual communication, making any strict definition either too
limiting or too porous [Cohn, 2013; Eisner, 1996; Groensteen, 2007; McCloud, 1994;
Varnum and Gibbons, 2007]. For the scope of this essay, we will focus exclusively
on the sub-genre of science comics, broadly defined by Tatalovic as “comics which
have as one of their main aims to communicate science or to educate the reader
about some non-fictional, scientific concept or theme” [Tatalovic, 2009] — although
these ‘aims’ may not always be so clearly defined, as revealed by the study of
Collver and Weitkamp (in this same issue). We will review qualitative and
quantitative studies in the fields of education, psychology and cognitive science to
explore how ‘science comics’ may affect the understanding, perception and
engagement with science.
Current research
on educational
comics
In the past decades comics have emerged as an increasingly popular form of
communication, able to engage readers of different age groups and cultural
backgrounds. Despite some early resistance [North, 1940; Wertham, 1954], the
potential of comics as an educational tool has always been recognized by teachers
and psychologists alike [Sones, 1944]. From an educational perspective learning
from comics may offer several advantages [Jee and Anggoro, 2012]. First of all,
most comics are built on the integration of text and pictures, which has been
highlighted by Mayer and colleagues as a guiding principle of textbook
illustrations [Mayer and Gallini, 1990; Mayer et al., 1995]. Moreover, the
multimodal nature of comics [Sousanis, 2015] has the potential to increase readers
engagement and facilitate learning [Eilam and Poyas, 2010]. Finally, comics often
rely on the use of characters and situation models, which provide the basis for
emotional attachment and self-reference, which can also facilitate the formation of
new memories [Symons and Johnson, 1997].
Building on these intuitions, many teachers and educators have experimented with
comics in their classroom, mostly to support students with low literacy skills
[Aleixo and Norris, 2010; Crawford, 2004; Frey and Fisher, 2008; Schwarz, 2006].
However, comics adoption on a larger scale has been hindered by the ‘perennial
disorganisation’ of educational comics [Rifas, 1991], which makes them extremely
difficult to find, and the lack of clear models for how comics may be integrated in
classroom practice [Lapp et al., 2011]. These issues are particularly relevant in the
field of ‘science comics’ or ‘graphic science’. Although many comics covering
STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) have been
published over the years [Tatalovic, 2009] and the format has become increasingly
popular with online science communication platforms, the effects of comics on
public engagement and perception of science remain poorly understood [Jee and
Anggoro, 2012]. Most literature on science comics consists of qualitative reports,
often by teachers and educators who are also the authors of the comics themselves,
therefore providing a small and possibly biased sample [Toledo, Yangco and
Espinosa, 2014; Kaptan and ˙
Izgi, 2014; Kennepohl and Roesky, 2008; Kim et al.,
2016; Nagata, 1999; Naylor and Keogh, 1999; Rota and Izquierdo, 2003].
Some useful insights may be drawn from the field of Graphic Medicine [Czerwiec
et al., 2015; Green and Myers, 2010] in which several empirical studies on the use of
comics have been conducted. When compared to traditional text-based material,
comics appear to significantly improve understanding and recollection of medical
https://doi.org/10.22323/2.17010401 JCOM 17(01)(2018)Y01 2
conditions [Diamond et al., 2016; Tekle-Haimanot et al., 2016], compliance with
medical instructions [Delp and Jones, 1996; Tjiam et al., 2013], promote informed
consent [Furuno and Sasajima, 2015; Kraft et al., 2016], facilitate interactions
between patients and doctors [Anderson, Wescom and Carlos, 2016] and between
patients and their communities [McNicol, 2014; McNicol, 2017], and generally
improve community engagement with medical issues [Leung et al., 2014; Wang,
Acevedo and Sadler, 2017]. However, the health-related information presented in
these comics clearly has a different emotional value than generic scientific
knowledge. Moreover, graphic medicine often deals with personal narratives,
which better lend themselves to visualization, and are probably easier for the
readers to identify with. Therefore, the promising effects observed in Graphic
Medicine may not extend to science comics, which often deal with non-human,
abstract subjects.
Few studies so far have attempted to quantify the effects of comics on the
communication of science (see Table 1) The goals and settings of these studies were
extremely heterogeneous: Hosler and Boomer used comics in place of textbook in
evolutionary biology classes for non-majors (N=98) [Hosler and Boomer, 2011].
Spiegel and colleagues compared the effects of comics and essays in teaching
concepts of virology to high-school students (N=873) [Spiegel et al., 2013]. While
Short and colleagues, used comics as additional material in a class for business
students (N=114) [Short, Randolph-Seng and McKenny, 2013]. Keeping in mind
these important differences, it is interesting to note how all these studies have
reached somewhat similar conclusions. The effects of comics and text were
equivalent in terms of knowledge acquisition, but comics were consistently more
effective at improving students engagement and motivation. Interestingly, these
results are in line with anecdotal evidence from other studies, in which participants
‘prefer’ comic presentation, even if they do not necessarily improve their
knowledge [Aleixo and Norris, 2010; Kim et al., 2016]. While these studies provide
a promising first step toward the understanding of comics as a tool for science
education, they all have the limitation of being conducted in classroom settings.
Some of the authors rightfully observed that the effects of comics in the classroom
may be biased by the novelty effects of comics [Hosler and Boomer, 2011], therefore
it would be important for future studies to measure comic literacy and
predispositions amongst readers [Caldwell, 2012; Tatalovic, 2009]. More
importantly, the goals and settings of science communication are often different
from those of classroom education. Therefore, more studies are required to
understand how the effects of comics may extend beyond the classroom, to
informal learning settings, with more diverse audiences (both in terms of age,
ethnicity and motivations) and with the goal of public engagement, rather than
education [Meyer, 2016]. Indeed, the effects of comics may be equivalent to text
when readers are required to memorize the material (regardless of the format) but
comics could prove to be more effective at engaging occasional readers. This seems
a particularly promising application for comics, considering that the few existing
studies revealed that students with no prior knowledge of the subject were those
who mostly benefited from their use [Hosler and Boomer, 2011; Spiegel et al., 2013]
and the suggestion that comics “may enable a wider audience of non-specialists
individuals, who do not typically seek out science information, to engage with
science-related topics, thus fostering scientific literacy” [Spiegel et al., 2013].
https://doi.org/10.22323/2.17010401 JCOM 17(01)(2018)Y01 3
Only two recent studies appear to have explicitly addressed the role of comics in
science communication to the wider public. Amaral and colleagues collected
feedback from 206 participants (age from 14 to 85 years old, 54.9% female) as part
of a Portuguese governmental initiative aimed at improving public understanding
of stem cell research [Amaral et al., 2015]. Unfortunately, the participation to the
study was purely voluntary, therefore the sample was biased, and it involved
exposure to a mixed repertoire of materials (including comics but also illustrated
texts, newspaper articles and posters). Although it is difficult to draw any firm
conclusions from such studies, it is interesting to note that comics were rated as the
most effective material by 46% of participants (followed by illustrated texts 21.5%).
Another empirical study was conduced by Lin and colleagues on 194 participants
in the Taiwan region (age from 20 to 65 years old, 45% female), which investigated
the effects of a comic book on knowledge and attitudes toward nanotechnologies
[Lin et al., 2015]. The study found that comics were not significantly more effective
than text at improving understanding and attitude (although they were just as
effective as text) but “more comic readers (83%) were interested in using their
assigned media to learn more about nanotechnology than the text readers (71%)”.
Once again, the study seems to confirm the potential of comics for promoting
public engagement with science. However, it is important to note that the comic
used was 109-pages long, while the text booklet was only 10-pages, and the
information contained was reported to be similar but not identical. In fact, the
authors explicitly state that the comic was designed with the goal to
“contextualize” the scientific information with real-life scenarios, and they
speculate that the effect of the comic may be linked to emotional factors such as
interest and enjoyment, which have been previously highlighted as key factors in
science learning [Falk, Storksdieck and Dierking, 2007; Lin, Hong and Huang,
2012]. Therefore, while these pioneering studies provide encouraging results, more
rigorous experimental designs are required to establish the true effects of
science comics.
Another important aspect that most of these studies failed to address is the extreme
variability of styles and formats within comics. As previously mentioned, the term
‘comics’ has been used as an umbrella term to refer to a wide range of different
formats, spanning from newspaper strips to long-form graphic novels. The advent
of web comics, which incorporate motion, sound and interactive elements,
complicates the matter even further, blurring the boundaries with animations and
videogames [McCloud, 2000]. Given this heterogeneity it would be a mistake to
draw general conclusions from the existing studies. In fact, most of the initial
research in educational comics focused on short strips or single panel cartoons
[Toledo, Yangco and Espinosa, 2014; Kaptan and ˙
Izgi, 2014; Kim et al., 2016;
Nagata, 1999; Naylor and Keogh, 1999] and their results may be ascribed to the
general effects of visualisation, rather than comics per se. On the other end of the
spectrum, the results of studies comparing graphic novels with textbooks or essays
[Spiegel et al., 2013; Hosler and Boomer, 2011; Lin et al., 2015; Short,
Randolph-Seng and McKenny, 2013] could be attributed to the narrative
component of the graphic novel, compared to the expository structure of the
textbook. Indeed, Hosler and Boomer express this concern when discussing their
results: “Would embedding content in a prose story be as effective or is there
something inherently motivating about comics that engage students?” [Hosler and
Boomer, 2011]. In this regard, science comics may have more in common with other
forms of visual narratives, such as animations and videogames, than single panel
https://doi.org/10.22323/2.17010401 JCOM 17(01)(2018)Y01 4
cartoons and comic strips (which even when concerning scientific subjects often
have the main goal of humour, rather than education or communication).
For all these reasons, instead of treating comics as a separate well-defined genre, it
may be more productive for future studies to ask what strategies do comics and
other visual narrative have in common? How can we use these tools more
effectively in the field of science communication? Following this approach, the
study of science comics could benefit from research in the field of education,
cognitive psychology, information design and literary studies, which already
explored some of the fundamental elements of visual narratives.
Table 1. Empirical studies on science comics and relevant details.
Potential benefits
of visual
narratives
Visual design
Illustrations have always played an important role in scientific writing and
communication. Over the centuries, early decorative illustrations evolved into
highly formalized diagrams and data visualizations. These ‘visual explanations’
[Tufte, 1997] evolved an elaborate vocabulary of marks and symbols [Tversky,
2011] which reflect basic cognitive principles, such as space and events
segmentation [Zacks, Tversky and Iyer, 2001]. Indeed, carefully designed scientific
visualizations have been shown to improve both knowledge acquisition and
problem solving skills [Carney and Levin, 2002; Kools et al., 2006; Levie and Lentz,
1982; Mayer and Gallini, 1990; Pastore, 2009]. However, when it comes to science
communication, these visuals may not be particularly useful, as they often require
high degrees of expertise in order to decipher the information contained. Visual
narratives, such as comics, may offer a way to bridge this gap. Just like diagrams,
info-graphics, and other forms of science visualizations, comics use words and
pictures to convey information, however they also divide the information into
panels [McCloud, 1994] which can facilitate the reading experience and highlight
important information, such as parts and processes [Mayer and Gallini, 1990].
Furthermore, comics not only break down the information into more digestible
units but can also reassemble them into meaningful compositions, through the
process that Thierry Groensteen defined as ‘braiding (tressage)’ [Groensteen, 2007].
Indeed, the content of each panel acquires its meaning not only from its text and
visual content but also from the trans-linear relationships with the surrounding
panels and the overall page composition. Therefore, just like diagrams, comics can
be used to “combine assorted images of real objects into concocted universes,
showing all at once what has never been together” [Tufte, 1997]. As summarized
by comic scholar and educator Nick Sousanis: “the spatial interplay of sequential
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and simultaneous, imbues comics with a dual nature — both tree-like, hierarchical
and rhizomatic, interwoven in a single form” [Sousanis, 2015]. In other words,
comics can be read linearly, panel by panel, but also lend themselves to non-linear
explanations, encouraging the reader to constantly reassess earlier panels in the
light of new information. Similarly, science often requires readers to make
connections between multiple scales and domains of knowledge, not necessarily
arranged in a hierarchical, linear order. In conclusion, while comics are often
perceived as an easy and playful format, they may be exquisitely suited at
presenting complex information in a rigorous yet accessible way. In this regard, it
would be interesting to explore the application of comics patterns to data
visualizations and other types of scientific visualization [Bach et al., 2016; Bach
et al., 2017].
However, besides the design of the individual panel or page, comics are often
defined by the sequential relationship between panels, so much that after long
deliberations Scott McCloud embraced Eisner’s definition of ‘sequential art’ for the
medium [Eisner, 1996; McCloud, 1994]. The storytelling component is what mostly
distinguishes comics from other forms of science visualization, and their use
should be informed by the extensive research in narrative communication.
Narratives and characters
Storytelling is a universal form of communication which has been studied from
several different perspectives [Chatman, 1980; Fisher, 1985; Gerrig, 1999; Oatley,
1999; Toolan, 1988]. Beyond the field of literary studies, in cognitive psychology
narratives have been considered as a fundamental structure of knowledge [Bruner,
1986; Schank and Abelson, 1977], a model for memory acquisition [Zacks et al.,
2007], a simulation of social experience [Mar and Oatley, 2008] and a powerful tool
of persuasion [Green and Brock, 2000]. In contrast to traditional persuasion models,
which require active cognitive elaboration [Petty and Cacioppo, 1986], narrative
communication seems to rely on emotional mechanisms such as ‘transportation’
into fictional worlds [Gerrig, 1999; Green, 2004] and identification with characters
[Slater, 1997]. Therefore, narratives have been proposed as a useful tool to address
sensitive subjects, which may otherwise resist cognitive elaboration because of
conflicting beliefs and/or lack of interest amongst the audience [Avraamidou and
Osborne, 2009; Mazzocco et al., 2010; Slater and Rouner, 2002]. Moreover, because
their cause-effect structure, narratives are intrinsically easier to remember than
expository arguments [Dahlstrom, 2014; Graesser, Olde and Klettke, 2002] and the
changes of beliefs induced by narratives appear to increase over time, the so-called
‘sleeper effect’ [Appel and Richter, 2007]. Finally, several studies show that these
effects are resistant to various forms of manipulation [Appel and Richter, 2007;
Green, 2004; Green and Brock, 2000]: unless the persuasive intent of a narrative is
made explicit [Moyer-Gusé, 2008] or the message is subjected to an active scrutiny
[Marsh, Meade and Roediger, 2003], narratives seem to be largely assimilated as
‘facts’ even when explicitly labelled as ‘fiction’ [Gerrig and Prentice, 1991; Gilbert,
1991; Green and Brock, 2000; Marsh, Meade and Roediger, 2003], and the message
they carry can have long-lasting effects on the beliefs and behaviours of the reader.
Despite this mounting evidence, narratives are still rarely employed in scientific
communication, which usually prefers to adopt an impersonal
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expository/argumentative structure [Bruner, 1986; Norris et al., 2005; Wellington
and Osborne, 2001]. This is due to social traditions [Ziman, 2002] as well as ethical
considerations, since the persuasive power of narratives can also lead to the spread
of misinformation, with potentially harmful consequences [Dahlstrom and Ho,
2012]. Nonetheless, narrative explanations may be extremely valuable when it
comes to communicating science to the general public [Negrete and Lartigue, 2004].
For example, when discussing issues of science policy or health communication,
where personal and cultural values often prevent other forms of engagement
[Dahlstrom, 2014]. Narratives may offer a way to overcome these barriers, by
engaging readers on both a cognitive and affective level [Green and Brock, 2000;
Hinyard and Kreuter, 2007]. Empirical research in this field remains scarce and the
effects of narratives on health-related decision appear inconsistent [Winterbottom
et al., 2008], but these discrepancies may be partially accounted by the variability in
the format and the structure of narratives [Dahlstrom, 2015; Nan et al., 2015].
Once again, comics may be able to build upon this evidence, combining the effects
of text narratives with those of scientific visualization. In this context it is important
to distinguish between science comics that still rely heavily on the
expository/argumentative structure of traditional scientific texts [Cunningham,
2013; Gonick, 1991; Hosler, 2011; Wicks, 2016], and others which include more
dynamic, character-driven narratives [Farinella and Roš, 2013; Hosler, 2000;
Weitkamp and Burnet, 2007]. In light of existing research, it would be interesting
for future studies to compare these different approaches and investigate how the
benefits of narrative communication may extend to visual narratives. In particular,
given the central role that characters play in literary narratives, the potential of
comics to create relatable characters should be carefully considered. In
Understanding Comics McCloud highlights how some of the most popular comic
characters are extremely simplified (i.e. ‘cartoony’) and to some extremes
anthropomorphic animals or objects [McCloud, 1994]. McCloud argues that one of
the reasons behind the popularity of these characters is that they exploit our innate
pareidolia and allow a broader audience to identify with their stories, possibly
increasing narrative transportation [Green and Brock, 2000], regardless of gender,
age or ethnicity. This theory remains yet untested, but if confirmed could have
important implications for the way we choose to visualize scientific information.
The use of cartoon characters may enable readers to engage with subjects which are
otherwise perceived as too abstract and detached from everyday life. This
approach seems particularly promising in the light of findings [Hosler and Boomer,
2011; Spiegel et al., 2013] which suggested that comics are more effective at
engaging readers that do not perceive themselves as having a ‘science identity’.
Fictional characters who do not conform with the current stereotype of scientists
portrayed in films and other mediums [Kirby, 2011] may allow comics to reach
broader and more diverse audiences, who do not necessarily engage with other
forms of science communication.
Metaphors
One final aspect, common to many visual narratives, is the frequent use of
metaphors. Far from being a mere literary device, metaphors have been recognized
as an important cognitive tool, that allows us understand and interact with the
world around us [Lakoff and Johnson, 1980; Gentner, 1983; Giora, 1999; Bowdle
https://doi.org/10.22323/2.17010401 JCOM 17(01)(2018)Y01 7
and Gentner, 2005]. As such, metaphors have been shown to be central in guiding
scientific research [Brown, 2003; Hoffman, 1980; Leatherdale, 1974] and shaping the
way scientists think and manipulate their object of study [Keller, 2009; Gentner and
Grudin, 1985]. Metaphorical thinking can also play an important role in scientific
education and communication [Collins and Gentner, 1983; Gentner and Gentner,
1982], providing mental models for invisible entities (e.g. the flow of electricity as
the flow of water). Therefore, when writing about science for a general audience,
metaphors can be useful to establish a common ground and allow readers to use
their own domains of knowledge to approach new abstract concepts. However, the
improper use of metaphors can also have counterproductive effects on our
attitudes and behaviours toward science. For example, in health communication
the choice of metaphors can have repercussions on the way we think of diseases
[Sontag, 2001] and engage with preventive behaviour [Hauser and Schwarz, 2014].
Similarly, metaphoric framing has been shown to affect attitudes toward climate
change [Flusberg, Matlock and Thibodeau, 2017].
This line of research could be particularly fruitful for comics, which have been
described as an intrinsically metaphoric medium [Wolk, 2007]. Because everything
is filtered through the eyes of the artist, comics and animations constantly require
the reader to actively interpret their content. Even in more ‘realistic’ comics
nothing is meant literally. Starting with the balloon, which has to be interpreted as
speech, everything in a comic is essentially a metaphor or a symbol for real world
entities [McCloud, 1994; Sousanis, 2015]. For this reason, comics and other visual
narratives are able to seamlessly blend metaphors and explanations, without
interrupting the flow of narration, which risks to disrupt transportation [Green and
Brock, 2000]. Therefore, one of the main benefits of comics in science
communication could be the mapping of abstract scientific concepts on to everyday
objects and experiences, helping the public to engage with the material at a more
personal level. At the same time, it is also important to consider the potential
downsides of metaphoric framing [Hauser and Schwarz, 2014] and the risk of
metaphors overextension [Baake, 2003; Leydesdorff and Hellsten, 2005].
Conclusions The research reviewed here strongly suggests that comics have great potential for
engaging wide and diverse audiences with STEM subjects. However, carefully
designed empirical studies are required to understand the full effects of comics on
learning, engagement and attitude toward science. Until now the creation and
study of science comics has been driven by the intuition of few individual
scientists, artists and educators (see Collver and Weitkamp, in this same issue),
who often also use the material in their own practice. These pioneering efforts are
commendable but their quality is extremely variable and the analysis of the results
may lack objectivity. Moreover, existing studies have focused excessively on
stereotypical perceptions of comics, such as their ‘humorous’ nature and their
appeal to children (partly because many studies were conducted in the classroom).
While interesting, this approach ignores the rich and diverse tradition of comics of
the past 30 years, which have adopted a wide variety of registers and styles and
successfully engaged audiences of all ages. Therefore, one of the main appeals of
science comics is the potential to engage audiences who are currently underserved
by other channels of science communication. With these considerations in mind,
instead of treating comics as a unified genre, future research should aim to distil
https://doi.org/10.22323/2.17010401 JCOM 17(01)(2018)Y01 8
the fundamental components of visual narratives, and explore how each of them
can benefit the communication of science. Three lines of investigation seem
particularly promising:
Visual research. The comic page offers almost endless design possibilities, and
many authors have praised the ability of comics to organise information in
innovative ways [McCloud, 2000; Sousanis, 2015]. At the same time, a rich
tradition of visual design already exists in the field of scientific visualization
and illustration [Tufte, 1997; Tversky, 2014]. In order to facilitate the adoption
of comics as a tool for science visualization, it is important to draw
connections between these two fields. How can comics incorporate and
elaborate the marks and symbols of scientific visualizations? Which strategies
are unique to comics and how can they be benefit the communication of
science?
Narrative research. Few of the existing studies explicitly address the role of
storytelling in science comics, which has been often highlighted as a defining
feature of the medium [McCloud, 1994; Wolk, 2007]. Given that narratives are
also powerful tools of engagement and persuasion [Green and Brock, 2000]
future studies on educational comics should compare the effects of comic
books and graphic novels with equivalent text narratives, and explore the
differences between visual narratives and visual explanations. On a related
note, it is important to consider the role of fictional characters and the use of
anthropomorphism in comics, which may facilitate readers engagement with
scientific subjects but also potentially promote a false sense of understanding
[Epley, Waytz and Cacioppo, 2007].
Metaphoric research. Comics make extensive use of symbols and metaphors
[Wolk, 2007] especially in character design [McCloud, 1994]. At the same
time, metaphors also play a major role in scientific research and
communication [Brown, 2003], especially when dealing with abstract
concepts outside of our sensory experience [Lakoff and Johnson, 1980].
Despite the potential downsides, such as distortion, simplification and
overextension, the role of visual metaphors in making abstract scientific
concepts more relatable to the wider public deserves further consideration
[Baake, 2003]. What are the advantages/disadvantages of visual metaphors
in science comics? What constitutes a ‘useful’ visual metaphor in science
communication?
Finally, it would be interesting to compare different types of visual narratives. In
particular, comics and animations are often associated in popular culture but they
probably rely on different cognitive mechanisms. Animations are a passive
medium, in which the flow of information is not controlled by the receiver and this
may be a disadvantage from an educational perspective [Tversky, Morrison and
Betrancourt, 2002; Yang, 2008]. Only a recent study directly compared comics and
animation as medical informational aids, finding that animated videos (or
slideshows with voice-over narration) are more effective than comics in explaining
medical practices, although both were more effective than text alone [Kraft et al.,
2016]. More studies of this kind will be required in order to determine which visual
strategies are more effective, on which topics and for which audiences. Integrating
https://doi.org/10.22323/2.17010401 JCOM 17(01)(2018)Y01 9
this kind of empirical evidence with the insights of visual communicators,
educators and cognitive scientists will facilitate the creation and adoption of comics
for science communication, allowing the emerging field of ‘graphic science’ to
reach its full potential.
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Author Matteo Farinella is a neuroscientist, cartoonist and illustrator. After completing a
Ph.D. in neuroscience at University College London in 2013, Matteo has been
creating comics and illustrations to make science accessible to a wider audience. He
is the author of Neurocomic (Nobrow, 2013) a scientific graphic novel published
with the support of the Wellcome Trust, and he has collaborated with universities
and educational institutions to visualize academic research. As a Presidential
Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Matteo will investigate the role of ‘visual
narratives’ in science communication. Working with science journalists, educators
and cognitive neuroscientists, his project aims to understand how these tools may
affect the public perception of science and increase scientific literacy.
E-mail: mf3094@columbia.edu.
Farinella, M. (2018). ‘The potential of comics in science communication’.How to cite
JCOM 17 (01), Y01. https://doi.org/10.22323/2.17010401.
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ISSN 1824-2049. Published by SISSA Medialab. jcom.sissa.it
https://doi.org/10.22323/2.17010401 JCOM 17(01)(2018)Y01 17
... This general notion that comics can be an effective secondary pedagogical tool is supported by quite a few studies (e.g., Berkowitz & Packer, 2001;Tatalovic, 2009;Araya et al., 2021). Furthermore, there is research that tested comics as a means of communication in scientific and cultural institutions (e.g., museums; Tatalovic, 2009), in primary schools (Farinella, 2018;Herbst et al., 2011) and secondary schools (Roussou et al., 2019;Wallner & Eriksson Barajas, 2020) and higher education institutions, or even in individual science publications (e.g., Green & Myers, 2010;Arroio, 2011;Weber et al., 2013). Thus, although comics in scientific and cultural communication and education are not only a new concept but have actually been proved to be an effective tool, to this day they still have not found their footing in mainstream applications. ...
... However, Farinella (2018) noticed that a lot of this research is done in the classroom by teachers who are also comic book authors with a small and possibly biased sample size. Therefore, Farinella argues, "while comics have been studied as a tool for classroom education, their application to the specific challenges of science communication remain largely unexplored" (2018, p. 1). ...
Article
Comics are an indisputable part of popular culture. But compared to any other audiovisual media products, the production of this form of entertainment is relatively cheap. Thus, on this fact alone comic book artform could be used to fill the demand for local historical genre in popular culture and, in turn, to contribute significantly to the formation of a modern national identity among the youngest generations of the country. However, that is not the only or even the best superpower of the medium when it comes to production of fictional historical epics for entertainment purposes. In this article, the author explores comic medium’s creative aspects that could be used to effectively communicate the various visual aspects of the past. Findings suggest that the most important visual medium’s communicative tool that creates a unique and immersive experience is stylisation, in tandem with spatial and temporal systems. Additionally, the author discusses the challenges and opportunities for comic media to emerge in an educational context.
... To position our approach against the existing literature and to provide a critical discussion, the works of Farinella et al. [40], McDermott et al. [39], Tigges et al. [41] and Kearns et al. [42] are particularly relevant. Our own results are consistent with their observations and can be summarized as follows: while precision is a key element in illustrating scientific publications, comic-style drawings are better suited to communicate with a broad audience. ...
... In order to develop or better communicate a new scientific visualisation strategy to a large audience, a collaboration between scientists and designers/illustrators has proven to be very successful. Interestingly, while the precision of the illustrations is a key element in scientific publications dealing with complex systems such as biomolecules, we found that "comics" style drawings are better adapted for scientific communication for a broad audience, as these will ensure a wider outreach [40][41][42]. Although this collaboration has mainly come about by bringing designers into a scientific environment, it would be interesting to see if scientists could join a team of designers or work on a team of illustrators for a few months to help them think outside the box of science and develop new communication skills or even develop new designs to solve scientific problems. ...
Article
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We discuss how design enriches molecular science, particularly structural biology and bioinformatics. We present two use cases, one in academic practice and the other to design for outreach. The first case targets the representation of ion channels and their dynamic properties. In the second, we document a transition process from a research environment to general-purpose designs. Several testimonials from practitioners are given. By describing the design process of abstracted shapes, exploded views of molecular structures, motion-averaged slices, 360-degree panoramic projections, and experiments with lit sphere shading, we document how designers help make scientific data accessible without betraying its meaning, and how a creative mind adds value over purely data-driven visualizations. A similar conclusion was drawn for public outreach, as we found that comic-book-style drawings are better suited for communicating science to a broad audience.
... In scientific communication, illustrations play significant roles as visual explanations (Schreiner, 1997) that reflect the structure of the concept presented (Farinella, 2018). As scholarly interest in visualization of climate change increases, climate visual imagery has been used in television, films, advertisements, and artworks for visualizing past and present climate states, and inspiring imagination about future states (O'Neill and Smith, 2014). ...
Article
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Climate change is difficult to connect with personally, because people only regard the phenomenon as important if it becomes a perceived threat to themselves. Arguments like statistics and policy debates are extrinsic motivators, which do not necessarily align people’s own intrinsic motives with those of climate action. Instead, narratives and visual communication can influence viewers implicitly by the way they show and reinforce actions and thoughts that align with climate action. In this design study, we used comics created for human-level climate change influence to promote ideas like future-based thinking, sharing of responsibility, and caring for each other. We also created data visuals that illustrate future consequences of climate change for the purpose of averting negative alternative realities. To see whether our design can affect audience perception of climate change on the human level of goals and desires, we showed the comics to readers unfamiliar with the themes of the stories, presenting them as manga about characters and situations. The survey showed that data stories can affect the way naive readers interpret narratives to align with pro-climate attitudes such as sharing and future-vision, and that readers are focused on the human-level of the data and story as opposed to the physical resource level. Speculative fiction and data visuals provide a potentially effective way to influence individuals’ climate change attitudes by showing alternative realities and attributes of collective responsibility and planning-for-the-future as data stories.
... Information comics popularize knowledge transfer and make extensive use of emotive elements in both text and image (Jüngst, 2010). They have the potential to increase readers engagement as well as foster scientific literacy (Eilam & Poyas, 2010;Farinella, 2018) and visual literacy (Cohn, 2013), a skill that must be learned (Avgerinou & Petterson, 2011) and is of critical need in today's universities (Kędra, 2018). ...
Chapter
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The International Visual Literacy Association Book of Selected Readings 2022
Article
Humor is widespread in communication and its use in the context of science is no exception. Although science jokes are pervasive on social media, we are only beginning to understand the mechanisms through which humor affects people’s attitudes, opinions, and perceptions of scientific topics. Here, we add to our understanding of how funny science content influences attitude formation and behavioral intentions; these results can help communicators make strategic decisions related to humor’s use in real-world practice. Extending recent work in science communication, this study aims to understand the conditional nature of the mechanism by which funny images about three different scientific topics, combined with verbal humor, affects people’s social media engagement intentions by eliciting mirth. Our results offer evidence that choices about which humor types to employ matter when it comes to communicating scientific topics. For two of the three topics, artificial intelligence and microbiomes, exposure to different humor types resulted in different levels of mirth and humor’s effect on engagement intentions was moderated by respondents’ need for humor. However, humor did not have the same effect on global warming engagement intentions. Our findings have implications for the practice of, training, and scholarship in science communication.
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Protest placards are an important part of School Strike 4 Climate (SS4C) protest culture and illustrate how protesters view, understand and share their environmental concerns. Many of the placards use humor to convey the messages of their creators. Bringing together science communication and humor studies, this paper examines the communicative functions of humor in Australian SS4C posters by asking to what extent protest signs can be understood as a vehicle of science communication. The paper reveals how humorous protest placards become the means of grassroots creativity, exploring bottom-up science communication in an ambiguous, but accessible and enjoyable form.
Article
Comics and manga have long been seen as childish literature, even if sometimes referred to as an art. Webpages discussing matters like Mathematics or Science are usually considered popularized content and not as tools with which research can be built. Arcade video games are often not considered serious games that can be used for learning or team building purposes. In this work, we present examples of comics, interactive web pages, and arcade video games that can be used to learn the basics of vibro-acoustics or to focus on more specific topics such as the acoustics of porous media. The reader can experience most of these visual narrative examples following the provided links. An objective of this collection is to make them better known and to stimulate further initiatives on these topics in acoustics education. To this effect, recommendations from various use cases of these visual narratives for different levels of education are also given.
Article
Era revolusi industri 4.0 menuntut pendidik melakukan pembaharuan dalam proses belajar mengajar. Proses belajar yang diterapkan kadangkala tidak sejalan dengan tujuan yang ingin dicapai karena siswa tidak fokus dalam menerima pelajaran. Materi buku teks hanya berupa tulisan yang membuat siswa kesulitan untuk memahami isi. Selain itu, buku teks yang hanya berisi tulisan saja menyebabkan rendahnya literasi siswa. Media pembelajaran dibutuhkan sebagai media pendukung agar pembelajaran lebih efektif dan tercapai hasil belajar kognitif. Kegiatan pengabdian kepada masyarakat ini bermitra dengan SMA Ar-Ridwan, Bekasi dalam bentuk pelatihan mengenai educational comic untuk membuat komik sebagai media pembelajaran alternatif. Pelatihan diberikan secara daring karena masa pandemik Covid-19. Kegiatan ini merupakan salah satu upaya meningkatkan keahlian pendidik menyajikan materi pembelajaran yang lebih efisiensi dan efektifitas dalam proses belajar mengajar karena menciptakan pemahaman yang komprehensif. Aplikasi educational comic yang dapat digunakan salah satunya adalah Comic Life. Selama pelatihan mitra sangat antusiasi mengikuti pelatihan dari awal sampai akhir. Mitra sepakat bahwa pelatihan yang diberikan dapat meningkatkan minat literasi siswa. Selain itu, educational comic juga mampu menciptakan rasa senang dan minat siswa untuk mempelajari suatu materi pembelajaran sehingga nilai KKM dapat tercapai. Mitra juga sepakat bila penerapan penerapan Comic Life lebih mudah diaplikasikan, tidak membutuhkan keahlian menggambar karena ilustrasi komik dapat berupa kolase foto dengan format images, dan tidak terkendala internet karena aplikasi ini berbasis non-web.
Thesis
Images of dinosaurs abound in popular media: we can find dinosaurs in film, on television, dinosaur animatronics in theme parks, dinosaurs are a perennial topic for children's books, dinosaur fossil mounts and displays are a draw to natural history museums, and new paleontological discoveries are a favorite topic for pop science articles. Contemporary public perceptions of dinosaurs, and the sciences related to their study are still heavily influenced by imperialist and gendered imagery rooted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Imperialist and patriarchal values such as rugged individualism, a skewed notion of "survival of the fittest" overly focused on individual strength, and conquest through violence and physical prowess, have become largely accepted conventions of dinosaur images. This paper aims to highlight the influence of these values on early constructions of dinosaurs and how these values still inform contemporary images of dinosaurs as once-living animals. Through the examination of film, children's media, fiction, video games, scientific art, and transformative works, this project examines the ways in which creators and audiences conform to or contest these early constructions and values.
Article
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Despite overwhelming scientific consensus, millions of Americans fail to view climate change as a pressing threat. How can we address this disconnect between science and public opinion? In the present study, we investigated the role of metaphorical framing in shaping attitudes toward climate change. Participants read a brief article that metaphorically described US efforts to reduce carbon emissions as a war or race against climate change, or non-metaphorically described it as the issue of climate change. We further manipulated whether these emission-reduction goals emphasized the relatively near or distant future. We found that, compared to the race frame, the war metaphor made people perceive more urgency and risk surrounding climate change and express a greater willingness to increase conservation behavior, irrespective of the time horizon. Those who read the non-metaphorical report tended to respond in between these two extremes. We discuss the implications of these findings for climate communications.
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As we increasingly rely on data to understand our world, and as problems require global solutions, we need to effectively communicate that data to help people make informed decisions. The special Art on Graphics article explores the potential of data comics and their unique ability to communicate both data and context via compelling visual storytelling.
Article
Survey methods were employed to learn more about teachers’ attitudes toward graphic novels and how graphic novels are used in their classrooms. Questions explored participants’ attitudes and actual classroom use. The survey research sought to determine if teachers are open to using graphic novels and the extent of their willingness to do so. Though teachers report willingness to use graphic novels and other graphica, they are limited in their attempts to do so by lack of instructional models, lack of graphic novels in the classroom, and their own level of comfort with the genre.
Book
The now-classic Metaphors We Live By changed our understanding of metaphor and its role in language and the mind. Metaphor, the authors explain, is a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects. Because such metaphors structure our most basic understandings of our experience, they are "metaphors we live by"--metaphors that can shape our perceptions and actions without our ever noticing them. In this updated edition of Lakoff and Johnson's influential book, the authors supply an afterword surveying how their theory of metaphor has developed within the cognitive sciences to become central to the contemporary understanding of how we think and how we express our thoughts in language.
Article
There are unaesthetic aspects in teaching people about the early detection of colorectal cancer using the fecal immunochemical test. Comics were seen as a way to overcome those unaesthetic aspects. This study used the Asian grocery store-based cancer education venue to pilot-test the clarity, cultural acceptability, and alignment of five colorectal cancer education comics intended for publication in Asian American and Pacific Islander (API) community newspapers. After developing the colorectal cancer education comics, API students asked shoppers to review a comic from their collection and provide feedback on how to make the comic clearer and more culturally pertinent to API readers. To evaluate viewers' responses, the students gathered such unobtrusive data as: (1) how many of the predetermined salient information points were discussed as the student educators interacted with shoppers and (2) how many comics the shoppers were willing to review. Shoppers were also asked to evaluate how effective the comics would be at motivating colorectal cancer screening among APIs. The students were able to cover all of the salient information points with the first comic. As evidence of the comics' capacity to engage shoppers' interest, shoppers willingly evaluated all five comics. Using multiple comics enabled the educators to repeatedly address the four salient colorectal cancer information points. Thus, the comics helped student educators to overcome the unesthetic elements of colorectal cancer discussions, while enabling them to engage shoppers in animated discussions, for far more time than with their conventional didactic educational methods.
Article
Preface PART 1: TWO NATURAL KINDS 1. Approaching the Literary 2. Two Modes of Thought 3. Possible Castles PART 2: LANGUAGE AND REALITY 4. The Transactional Self 5. The Inspiration of Vygotsky 6. Psychological Reality 7. Nelson Goodman's Worlds 8. Thought and Emotion PART 3: ACTING IN CONSTRUCTED WORLDS 9. The Language of Education 10. Developmental Theory as Culture Afterword Appendix: A Reader's Retelling of "Clay" by James Joyce Notes Credits Index
Article
Effective doctor-patient communication facilitates the therapeutic relationship, promotes patient physical and mental health, and improves physician satisfaction. Methods of teaching effective communication use a range of techniques, typically combining didactic instruction with simulated communication encounters and reflective discussion. Rarely are patients and physicians exposed to these instructions as colearners. The evidence for the utility of graphic stories, comics, and cartoons to improve patient comprehension and self-regulation is small but encouraging. The authors describe the use of graphic medicine as a teaching tool for engendering empathy from both the physician and the patient for the other during a shared clinical encounter. This use of educational comics in a colearning experience represents a new use of the medium as a teaching tool.