Hey, you got art in my science! No, you got science in my art!


There has been a recent trend to blend science and art as a means to promote science to a broader audience, and perhaps to promote art to a broader audience as well. I endeavor to be the beneficiary of the latter effort. This marriage of disciplines seems an especially apt way to reach New Yorkers. The most recent broadcast of NPR’s Science Friday did a piece on “The Art of the Natural History Museum,” in which they described the work involved in creating scientifically accurate exhibits and reconstructions of extinct organisms. The show featured individuals who were more scientist than artist, and those more artist than scientist, and described how they work together to create projects that are at the same time both accurate and pleasing to the eye.

A friend of mine, who is a rising star in the field of circadian rhythms research, alerted me to The International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge, sponsored by the NSF and the journal Science, which celebrates the valuable role that art has within science. “To illustrate is to enlighten.” But the utilization of art to express scientific ideas is familiar. Scientists have always used illustration as a means of description. Where would naturalists like Darwin, or anatomists like Gray, be without illustrators such as John Gould and Henry Vandyke Carter [respectively]?

But artists using science as muse is something altogether new to me. The World Science Festival, held annually here in New York, seeks to “cultivate and sustain a general public informed by the content of science, inspired by its wonder, convinced of its value, and prepared to engage with its implications for the future.” This year there was a heavy focus on performance, design, music, and dance as they featured several symposia specifically addressing the connection between art and science (I encourage you to check out the videos of these events at the World Science Festival’s site).

But perhaps, my favorite example of the melding of art cum science is Isabella Rossellini’s shorts for the Sundance Channel called Green Porno. Ms. Rossellini, with laudable accuracy, uses performance and charming props and costumes to describe some very basic science, that of the various methods of reproduction across the animal kingdom. In this case, the old adage that “sex sells” might be broadened, as apparently asexual behavior also sells. Worms rejoice.

So while I have never heard anyone say that they gained a better understanding of the role of vitamin D in beta-cell function after watching an interpretive dance number, expanding science literacy through art may prove to be a fruitful endeavor. With that I will leave you with an interpretive performance symbolizing the role of vitamin D in beta-cell function (the 2009 graduate student winner of the AAAS/Science Dance Competition).

Composed and performed by graduate student Sue Lynn Lau and the members of the Diabetes & Transcription Factors Lab Group


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5 Responses to “Hey, you got art in my science! No, you got science in my art!”

  1. J. Says:

    Science has good use for illustration but the notion of art is anything but stable. We may even say that science, even pseudo or misunderstood science has been an inspiration to artists. Metaphor may be employed to convey a kind of vividness to the expression of ideas or to induce some affect. That is to say, art is figurative and rhetorical. Science aims to be objective and to give a specific account of a putative chain of causality. Mixing art, what ever that might be, and science is probably not good science.

  2. Gotham Skeptic , Archive » Your thin American Apparel tee is sufficient sun block, and other sunscreen myths Says:

    […] to make vitamin D, and we know that sun exposure is important for vitamin D production from the interpretative dance I blogged about last week, so this is absolutely true. There is also growing evidence that vitamin D may influence the risk […]

  3. Dr. T Says:

    The mixing of art and sciences is rampant in public schools. It is NOT a positive development. Last year, my daughter’s chemistry teacher (who admitted that she never wanted to teach chemistry) assigned numerous poster projects and chemistry models projects. Grading was based mostly on artistic merit rather than how much science was conveyed. None of the projects required knowledge or use of the scientific method.

    Two years earlier, my daughter’s earth sciences teacher gave similar “artsy” assignments. Each required many hours of work but conveyed no more science information than half a page of text.

    I’m certain that none of my daughter’s science teachers understand the scientific method. That isn’t surprising, since, based on my readings and observations, less than half of the people with science degrees understand the scientific method. Included in that group are almost all climatologists (who think that the scientific method is “first draw your anthropomorphic global warming conclusion, then select your evidence”), most theoretical astrophysicists (“first write your equations, then invent invisible matter or energy when observations don’t match the equations”), some atomic physicists (“first model atomic nuclear behaviors, then invent new particles when observations don’t match the model), many biologists (never learned the scientific method, we’re just taxonomists), a few chemists (we’re just muddling along modifying experiments published by others), and some geologists (we can’t do any experiments, but it’s fun to guess about crustal conditions two billion years ago).

    The predominance of non-scientific scientists and science teachers means that our society will never achieve scientific literacy. I doubt we’ll ever reach a point where one person in ten understands the scientific method. Add in ignorance of probability and statistics, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster (cap-and-trade, for example).

  4. Doron Says:

    There are amazing efforts in the field.
    Marta de Menezes (http://www.martademenezes.com/)founded Ectopia a laboratory hosting artists from different backgrounds interested in exploring the intersection of art and science. http://www.igc.gulbenkian.pt/node/view/117

    And of course here in NYC we have eyebeam http://eyebeam.org, where many of the projects are somewhere in between science and art, or perhaps both.

  5. Bellncula Says:

    Anyone remember this from last year? CERN Scientist rap about the LHC. (Featuring Dr. Hawking?)

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