Science in the Public Eye: Communicating and Selling Science Through Images

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Scientific visuals designed to capture the attention of nonscientist audiences appear everywhere — from magazine covers to Internet blogs, from billboards to the Discovery Channel — and yet they have not received the critical attention they deserve. Situated at the crossroads of the rhetoric of science, communication studies, visual design theory, and the still emerging field of visual rhetoric, this dissertation seeks to shed light on the persuasive function of visuals in communicating science to non-experts. Occupying a grey area between scientific visualizations and art, the visuals used to communicate science to nonscientists should be classified, I argue, as scientific advertisements. Their purpose is to sell a positive and supportive attitude toward science, and since this need for support has existed since the scientific revolution, scientific advertisements have existed in different guises at least since the seventeenth century. Their form, however, differs, depending on the available technology and modes of representation. In this dissertation I explore how such images as frontispieces, portraits, magazine covers, and aestheticized visualizations have contributed to the legitimization of science across temporal and cultural boundaries by influencing public attitudes towards scientists and their research. This project addresses the concern surrounding the public's current disengagement from science by considering whether science can be sold visually in a more responsible way.