Evidence-Based Methods of Communicating Science to the Public through Data Visualization

Eric A. Jensen, Kalina Borkiewicz, Jill P. Naiman, Stuart Levy, Jeff Carpenter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This essay presents a real-world demonstration of the evidence-based science communication process, showing how it can be used to create scientific data visualizations for public audiences. Visualizing research data can be an important science communication tool. Maximizing its effectiveness has the potential to benefit millions of viewers. As with many forms of science communication, creators of such data visualizations typically rely on their own judgments and the views of the scientists providing the data to inform their science communication decision-making. But that leaves out a critical stakeholder in the communications pipeline: the intended audience. Here, we show the practical steps that our team, the Advanced Visualization Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has taken to shift toward more evidence-based practice to enhance our science communication impact. We do this by using concrete examples from our work on two scientific documentary films, one on the theme of “solar superstorms” and the other focusing on the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. We used audience research with each of these films to inform our strategies and designs. Findings revealed specific techniques that were effective in information labels. For example, audiences appreciated the use of an outline of the Earth to demonstrate scale in scientific visualizations relating to the Sun. We describe how such research evidence informed our understanding of “what works and why” with cinematic-style data visualizations for the public. We close the essay with our key take-home messages from this evidence-based science communication process.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6845
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 18 2023


  • science communication
  • informal learning
  • public engagement
  • science in the media
  • entertainment media
  • data visualization
  • scientific visualization


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