rhetoric of science

Sexy. Sputnik. Science.

Obama at science fair

Image Credit: Associated Press

Via Gothamist

In January’s State of the Union, President Obama called this “our generation’s Sputnik moment.” Since then, I’ve been curious about how the administration would visualize the core message of that speech, which foregrounded science, education, and innovation. Exhibit A: the Beatles-esque tableaux above, from last week’s visit to an NYC science fair.

Peripheral Vision

molecular animation

Image Credit: Drew Berry/The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

Via The New York Times

On Monday, the science writer Jonah Lehrer, author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist and How We Decide, skyped into my “Literature and Biology” classroom. During his virtual visit, Lehrer shared many smart, engaging ideas (bonus: he’s also rather comely!). However, the take-away was that innovation often comes from those on the periphery of a field, which makes for a compelling, practical reason for openness and conversation across disciplines.

"Geneticists know what’s happenin'": Viral Science Rap


Image Credit: Baba Brinkman

In the spirit of Elizabeth’s “Picturing Poetry” post from a few weeks back, I’ve assembled a few of my favorite DIY science-rap videos. These multimedia productions collectively offer an alternative model for science communication, challenging top-down popularizations by talking-head experts and giving us new images of what it means to learn about and practice science.

Science Art: Our Specimens, Ourselves

Saved by Science

Image Credit: Justine Cooper

In Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums, philosopher Stephen Asma argues for natural-history museums as rhetorical spaces, with “deep ideological commitments quietly shaping and editing the sorts of things different cultures and different historical epochs consider to be knowledge.” But what can we learn from the museum’s less public spaces? In her narrated slideshow “Saved by Science,” artist Justine Cooper’s behind-the-scenes photographs evoke an eerie dreamscape at the intersection of scientific collecting and human desire.

Remixing Science

Image Credit: John Boswell, "We Are All Connected"

H / T to Catherine

During today’s class discussion of Frankenstein, one of my students referenced the Symphony of Science, a series of electronic-music videos that “deliver scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form.” The project intersects nicely with the upcoming DJ Spooky event as well as current conversations about the remix on viz. Also: it’s just seriously groovy.

Historical Anatomies: Visualizing the Body

historical atlas of anatomy

Image Credit: Sarlandière, Jean-Baptiste. Anatomie méthodique, ou Organographie humaine en tableaux synoptiques, avec figures.

(Paris: Chez les libraires de médecine, et chez l'auteur, 1829).

Historical Anatomies on the Web 

This week I thought I play far afield from my usual subject areas by exploring the image database for the National Library of Medicine, History of Medicine Division.  This database--Historical Anatomies on the Web--showcases many high-quality digital images of the NLM’s collection of illustrated anatomical atlases dating from the 15th to the 20th century.  The quality of the images, the detailed historical introductions to each anatomical atlas, and the descriptions of the illustration techniques all contribute to the immense pedagogical potential of this collection.

Portrait of the Artist as a Science Dilettante

bacterial photography

Image Credit: Aaron Chevalier and Nature

H/T to The University of Texas at Austin

Next month, I’ll be posting an interview with fellow Austinite Zack Booth Simpson, a video-game programmer, artist, and part-time research fellow at UT’s Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology. On the 50th anniversary of C.P. Snow’s famous “two cultures” lecture, in which Snow described a “gulf of mutual incomprehension” between literary and scientific cultures, Simpson’s eclectic body of work suggests the value (and urgency) of a new synthesis.

Science Art: You Can Have It All

Science is Fiction

Image Credit: Criterion Collection

Riffing on Anne’s recent post, I’d like to highlight a film collection that defies left-brain/right-brain categorization. The Criterion Collection recently released Science is Fiction, a three-disc anthology of French filmmaker Jean Painlevé’s body of work, which spanned the 1920s through the 1980s. With titles like “The Love Life of the Octopus” and “Freshwater Assassins,” as well as a 21st-century soundtrack by Yo La Tengo, Painlevé’s short films challenge any didactic, formulaic, or downright schlumpy associations of the Nature Film.

Science Art: The Secret Life of Objects

Barbie CT scan

Image Credit: Radiology Art

H/T to The New York Times

In The Order of Things, Foucault argues that the formation of biology (as discipline, discourse) out of 18th-century natural history hinged on a new conceptualization of “life,” which insisted upon “the dividing-line between organic and inorganic…the antithesis of living and non-living.” However, two intriguing contemporary art projects suggest that our 21st-century visualizations of Life can no longer resist the vital hum of objects.

Science Art: Notorious

H1N1 sculpture

Image Credit: Luke Jerram

H/T to io9

With the swine-flu pandemic ramped up to a national emergency on Friday, it seems a fitting moment to discuss Luke Jerram’s virology art, which includes the stunning depiction of H1N1 above.

Mesmerizingly beautiful and painstakingly researched, Jerram’s sculptures of notoriously deadly microbes also function as wry commentary: they target both the sensationalism of popular medical reportage as well as the claims to objectivity that underlie scientific visualizations.

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