What is it about?

This research study compared people with a lot of scientific expertise (oceanographers) to those with only about a high-school level expertise (first and second-year undergraduates). The novices needed data visualizations translated in ways that the experts did not. Even with colors that were more culturally meaningful, titles that removed abbreviations and jargon, and geographic labels to orient the viewer, novices still found it difficult to understand the data patterns in the visualizations of temperature and chlorophyll.

Featured Image

Why is it important?

Spatial data visualizations are a version of graphical representations of data, similar to charts and graphs. Scientists may use these visualizations to explain their work, but many people are unfamiliar with them, especially if the scientists don't change the visualizations to make them clearer for less expert audiences. However, these visualizations can be a powerful depiction of many of our Earth's phenomena, such as global climate change, and therefore, making them understandable could allow more people to understand the science better.


Visualizations are an important tool for science communication and public engagement. Scientists need to translate their pictures for particular audiences in the same way they translate their words. This doesn't mean dumbing things down but rather helping audiences focus on the important information. Science communicators and educators can be powerful allies in this process.

Dr Kathryn A Stofer
University of Florida

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: When a Picture Isn't Worth 1000 Words: Learners Struggle to Find Meaning in Data Visualizations, Journal of Geoscience Education, August 2016, Taylor & Francis,
DOI: 10.5408/14-053.1.
You can read the full text:




The following have contributed to this page