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Science from Sight to Insight

How Scientists Illustrate Meaning

John Dalton’s molecular structures. Scatter plots and geometric diagrams. Watson and Crick’s double helix. The way in which scientists understand the world—and the key concepts that explain it—is undeniably bound up in not only words, but images. Moreover, from PowerPoint presentations to articles in academic journals, scientific communication routinely relies on the relationship between words and pictures. In Science from Sight to Insight, Alan G. Gross  and Joseph E. Harmon present a short history of the scientific visual, and then formulate a theory about the interaction between the visual and textual. With great insight and admirable rigor, the authors argue that scientific meaning itself comes from the complex interplay between the verbal and the visual in the form of graphs, diagrams, maps, drawings, and photographs. The authors use a variety of tools to probe the nature of scientific images, from Heidegger’s philosophy of science to Peirce’s semiotics of visual communication. Their synthesis of these elements offers readers an examination of scientific visuals at a much deeper and more meaningful level than ever before.  

344 pages | 92 halftones, 46 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Cognitive Science: Language

Language and Linguistics: General Language and Linguistics

Rhetoric and Communication


Science from Sight to Insight addresses a question identified by scholars across the science studies spectrum: What role do visuals play in the formation and communication of scientific arguments? Gross and Harmon address this question with a theory of visualization in science rooted in philosophy, psychology, and semiotics, and they illustrate their theory in a fascinating sampling of cases that display their command of the history of science communication and of close reading practices. The book is a major contribution on a critically important subject.”

Jeanne Fahnestock | University of Maryland

“Modern science transforms the world as picture, claimed Martin Heidegger. Gross and Harmon take this insight and trace it through multiple sciences, disciplines, and historical examples showing how science uses words and images, verbal and visual interactivity for its powers of insight. This book is a tour-de-force which has reaped lessons from recent science studies and is a must read.”

Don Ihde | Stony Brook University and author of "Expanding Hermeneutics: Visualism in Science"

“Too often scientific images are treated as afterthoughts . . . . Without imagery, science loses at least half of its meaning. The authors construct their theory regarding the importance of the interplay between visual and textual information in science using raw material mined from psychology, phenomenology, and other disciplines—all with the goal of demarginalizing science imagery.”

Bob Grant | The Scientist

“Beyond aesthetics, scientific illustration must effectively communicate factual information in a clear and visually compelling way. Gross and Harmon present their extended insight that scientific images have epistemic importance, using well-supported reasoning, illustrations, and examples ranging from Socrates, da Vinci, and Shakespeare to Heidegger and McLuhan. . . . An intriguing exploration of ideas. Recommended.”

S. E. Wiegand, Saint Mary’s College | Choice

"Extensive research and sophisticated discussions."

Society for Technical Communication

“Gross and Harmon tackle a subject of great importance to scholars of scientific discourse across disciplinary boundaries: the role of visuals in scientific arguments. One of this book’s major contributions to the field is its advancement of a theory of verbal-visual interaction to account for how scientific meaning is communicated. . . . Those who study scientific communication and who are interested in the role of visualizations in scientific arguments will have much to gain from reading Gross and Harmon’s new book. . . .  The complexity of the framework advanced in this book opens up many opportunities for further exploration. On the whole, Gross and Harmon’s addition to science studies with this book, ambitious in its scope and meticulous in its analyses, cannot be over-estimated.”

Maria E. Gigante, Western Michigan University | Rhetoric Society Quarterly

“Although I knew that Science from Sight to Insight would be about visuals in scientific communication, I was surprised at the depth of the research and philosophy behind the complex foundation of this book. . . . Professionals who are actively involved in scientific visualization studies will appreciate the vast and deep examination of applicable literature that gives Gross and Harmon the basis for their own argument. . . . Highly relevant to graduate students studying scientific and technical communication. . . . Meticulously researched and explained.”

Diane Martinez, Western Carolina University | Technical Communication

“The soon-to-be-classic book on the topic. . . . Groundbreaking. . . . Sight to Insight has a tightly charted framework. . . . Gross and Harmon go a very long way toward enriching and anchoring a potent visual rhetoric of science.”

Randy Allen Harris, University of Waterloo, Ontario | POROI: Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry

“The topic is of the greatest importance, as science has always been highly visual and is becoming even more so in the face of new imaging and data technologies with outputs that are irreducibly visual, yet at the same time highly dependent on their verbal and textual embedding. This book, promising to shed light on the relation between these two modalities, is timely and at the very least brings to our attention once again a series of questions concerning visual-verbal interactions in science. . . . The examples of verbal-visual interactions are rich in number, variety, and detail. . . . Gross and Harmon have made a worthy contribution to our understanding of the range of visual-verbal interaction in science communication.”

Annamaria Carusi | Isis

Table of Contents

Introduction: Verbal- Visual Interaction in Science

1. A Framework for Understanding Verbal- Visual Interaction
2. Understanding Scientifi c Visuals and Tables: A Taxonomy
3. Visual Evolution and the Heideggerian Transformation
4. Verbal- Visual Interaction and Scientifi c Argument: The Contexts of Discovery and Justifi cation
5. Visual Argument and Narrative in the “Historical” Sciences: The Example of Geology
6. Verbal- Visual Interaction in the Victorian Discovery of Deep Time
7. The Public Science Lecture: PowerPoint Transforms a Genre
8. Weaving the Web of Scientifi c Knowledge: Visuals on the Internet


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