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Science graphics + understanding

Pamplona - Science graphics only work well when they aid understanding, Heber Longas of El Pais explained to the Friday morning audience here. Complex explanations, as Longas spoke about in depth, do no good if they do not help readers understand the simple truths behind the science and fill in "knowledge gaps" that the general public, not the scientific community, needs in order to see why a particular discovery is important.

Longer, who trained in biochemistry and science, brings a unique skill set to bear on how he approaches the craft of visual explanation. His first question: What is the science behind the news? If you can explain that, you can help people form opinions by giving them the basis of background, knowledge, and understanding.

Longer quoted Pablo Ramirez:
A visual lie is the worst kind of lie.

The tsunami example

He explained how science graphics have a different obligation to represent truth, and used the tsunami graphics so many organizations did as examples of exaggeration, with waves informed more by Hollywood. And instead pointed to the simplicity of the graphic above as a more accurate, if less sexy, way to show how a tsunami hits more like a flood.

Five ways to improve understanding

He offered the following tips for making better science graphics:

1. Focus on the real. Do not speculate if you cannot back it up.

2. Be careful of data collected from the Web. Develop original sources if possible.

3. Basic books are a great source because they explain in the simplest terms.

4. Don't make news seem bigger than it is. Science moves in small increments.

5. Choose words carefully because they need to support the visuals. Don't let editors "dress up" the words that the images cannot make real.



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