Arctic Science Gets Graphic!
Researchers at CEOS are often asked to write a field story about their work, to make their research more accessible. We decided to do something a little different for our work on applying machine learning to detecting and tracking beluga whales: we are presenting it as a comic-book style video!
Comics and graphic novels are a very popular genre now and cover a wide range of subjects, from traditional superheroes to historical figures like Louis Riel. They have also become a novel and emerging way of communicating science. There are graphic novels about physics, chemistry, biology, and math, and ones about famous scientists, such as Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing. Comics are not only used for science education, however; they are also gaining popularity as a means of disseminating new research findings. The European Research Council (ERC), for example, recently decided to create comic-book adaptations of some of their funded projects, as an innovative way to showcase them.
The process of doing scientific research is very visual, with researchers often drawing out ideas on a whiteboard or on paper. Yet, the end product is usually an academic journal article that is mostly text and a few graphs, couched in technical language and presented in a formalized structure.
Comics and graphic novels can bridge this gap between the textual and visual by combining a narrative structure with visual storytelling to bring a story to life. And since comics appeal to people of all ages and cultural backgrounds, they can engage new groups of people, rather than the audiences who typically read research literature.
Journal articles can also wrongly give the impression that the research was a straightforward "royal road" from hypothesis to conclusion, which is seldom the case. The false paths and dead-ends that were explored and the obstacles that were encountered are never mentioned. Much like a finished building, the scaffolding has been removed, leaving only the final result for people to see. Learning about these dead-ends, however, can be instructive and reassuring to a student starting out in research. A comic can show this type of behind-the-scenes work that is rarely discussed in a more formal article.
We hope that our comic-book video illustrates the research process, with its ups and downs, and also shows how people with different backgrounds work together on a project. If it motivates people to find out more about our work (and read the dry, academic version of it), that's all we can ask for!
Without further ado, here is "One Beluga, Two Beluga, Three Beluga, Four: How to Count Belugas When You Run Out of Fingers and Toes".