Here come the spiders: the importance of imagery
Imagery is a hugely important aspect of science communication. This is especially true when the language used to describe a scientific breakthrough is largely unfamiliar to a lay audience.
We remember images, generally, far better than we do words. Anyone can describe a scene from their favourite novel, but very few will remember the words. The image is what lasts.
Yesterday, the Daily Mail ran a story entitled “Meet the nano-spiders: The DNA robots that could one day be walking through your body”. Now, to me, the combined imagery of: (a) spiders, (b) robots, and (c) things inside my body equals a bad thing.
Actually, most of the science included in the article isn’t too bad, as long as you aren’t a biologist and you ignore the fact that the “spiders” in question only have four legs. It’s based on an article in the journal Nature , which you can find here if so inclined (Nature 465, 206–210).
The main point of the research is simply that they’ve made some very small structures which move around following a pre-determined track on a surface. The “spiders” carried out ” sequences of actions such as ‘start’, ‘follow’, ‘turn’ and ‘stop’” (Nature). It’s very, very basic in terms of robotic behaviour. If you look at the mechanics of it, it’s pretty cool that it can be done, but it’s a far cry from “armies of surgeon robots that could clean human arteries or build computer components.” (Mail)
The point I’m making is that, although it’s great that work like this is publicised, the linguistic and visual imagery vastly overpowers the actual science in the article. Just compare this picture:
to this one:
I don’t think I need to point out which one is from Nature and which one is from the Mail, nor which I think is more memorable. It makes it very hard to communicate real science when you have to fight this kind of image.
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