Visualisation, Truth and Trust- Norrköping, Sweden

Last week the neat and ergonomic post-industrial town of Norrkoping, Sweden, hosted a European Science Foundation conference on Visualisation, Truth and Trust. The event drew together a set of practitioners that was diverse even by Landscape Surgery standards. Artists, physicists, medical engineers, philosophers, media theorists, historians, and publishers spent three days examining and discussing scientific imagery. I presented a poster tracing the influence of early 20th century botany on military aerial photography during World War I. The eclectic nature of the delegation led to some fairly lively debate, and dense exchange of views.

A few points emerged that seemed important to me, and might be of interest to Surgeons…

Different scientific disciplines have very different sensibilities about what counts as stylistic ‘interference’ in the representation of phenomena. This is a particularly key problem when using digital imaging software to ‘enhance’ or ‘clarify’ pictures of galaxies, cells, quantum particles, bones, or genes.

Particular software choices seem to be homogenising scientific imaging outcomes across very different disciplines- not only in the case of presenting images ‘captured’ in the laboratory, but also in the illustrations provided in more ‘magazine’ style publications.

-There is a great deal of very interesting work going on addressing the role of brain-scans and nanotechnology imagery in public understanding of the field, and also investigating how interpretations are constructed by the public.

In the context of contemporary scientific research it can still be surprisingly difficult to find ways of discussing visualisation as ‘producing knowledge’ or as being a site of negotiation. During this conference, the visualisation practices of ‘Science’ often appeared to be locked into opposition with a fairly dry conception of ‘Art’ in its contemporary, secular, Western form. Despite excellent work in the History of Science, Medicine or Geography- there is still a long way to go to achieve a more post-colonial or anthropological outlook.

Finally- a trip to the Visualisation Centre of Linkopping University was for me one of the highlights of the conference. See the video below for one of the technologies they have been developing. Virtual autopsy– the interrogation of causes of death through manipulating a 3D scan of the corpse. Coming soon to a morgue near you…

Liz Haines, PhD Candidate

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