Adapting scientific illustration to modern needs

The Bora Zivkovic pointed out this article by Brian Hayes for American Scientist. After convincingly arguing that static, 2D scientific figures (in research papers and in popular science writing) fail to maximize the communicative potential of current technology, Hayes suggests that the dominance of the pdf as a standard document format may be partially to blame, and advocates adoption of the “D3″ (that’s supposed to be 3 in superscript, but WordPress is noncompliant today) framework to create more interactive graphics.

For the purpose of getting those nifty D3 graphics into science publications, there would seem to be two plausible approaches. We could open up PDF to accept a wider range of graphics formats. . .The alternative is to seek a better way to encapsulate all the bits and pieces that constitute a Web application, so that it can be distributed in the same way as a PDF. Something resembling encapsulated HTML already exists; it’s the basis of several file formats for electronic books.

In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, newspapers for wizards are ink-on-paper publications, but the pictures on their pages spontaneously come to life. It’s the best of both worlds—the familiar physical form of reading matter we’ve known since Gutenberg, but no longer lying still on the page. Out here in the land of Muggles we may never quite attain that kind of magic, but we could come remarkably close.

Read the rest of Hayes’ article at American Scientist.

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