Our session proposal “Scientific Visualisations in Disturbance” for the above conference has been accepted. Here are the abstracts.
Session organisers: Susanne Bauer, Christine Hanke, Jan Eric Olsén
Ambiguity in Digital Visualisations
Christine Hanke, Institute for Arts and Media, Potsdam University, Germany
Due to the absence of denial in the visual mode, scientific visualisation has an affirmative power in the production of evidence (Mersch 2006). From this epistemic status of the image (in comparison to that of language) stems a specific ambivalence, which poses questions for the use of imaging procedures in scientific practice. This is because, as a consequence, digital visualisations lack a visual possibility of distinction between ‘signal’ and ‘noise’ even if statistical or mathematical operations try to eliminate the ‘noise’ or to configure the ‘signals’ before visualising the data: the ‘signals’ are inseparably visualised together with the artefacts of the instruments, the data ‘noise’. Concerning the status of evidence in scientific images, this epistemic ambiguity between ‘signal’ and ‘noise’ has rather disturbing effects.
The paper focuses on exemplary visualisations from different fields like e.g. Mars photography, engineering visualisations and anthropological statistics in order to trace these ambivalences in scientific imaging processes. What can be seen in these images, what kind of epistemic objects are created in this manner and which are the consequences especially for scientific practice and decision making?
Imaging Population Health: The Productivity of Visualisation in Epidemiology
Susanne Bauer, Medical Museion, Copenhagen University, Denmark
This paper will explore the role of visualisations in the constitution of knowledge in epidemiology. Epidemiologic research uses graphs, schemes and charts as means to discuss study designs and conceptual frameworks, negotiating aetiologic concepts, from mechanistic models to biopsychosocial understandings of disease causation. Moreover, visualisations constitute an important medium to interpret and communicate quantitative results.
Drawing on examples from Danish epidemiology (1960s to present), I examine the function of visualisations in the process of epidemiologic knowledge production – from data gathering to public health policy. I explore how biostatistical tools and visualisation strategies contribute to a specific formation of knowledge, as they mediate between aetiologic theory and the empirical data set. More than mere illustration, visual techniques bear specific effects with respect to the production and perception of evidence. In explicit efforts to manage error, confounding and bias, epidemiologists adjust and stabilise representations of ‘health and disease in populations’, as patterns in space and time. Visualisations of epidemiological findings acquire significance for medical decision-making as well as for public health policy, as they promise to make visible the effect of interventions at a glance.
Virtualized Senses: Entwining Medical Perception with Computer Networks
Jan Eric Olsén, Medical Museion, Copenhagen University, Denmark
During the last decades, information technology has provided medicine with the means to visualize and perceive the human body in new ways. Projects such as the The Visible Human and The Digital Human, have in common the configuration of the biological body in digital form. Parallel with this digital visualization of the body, a range of new techniques, which build on the use of simulators, sensors and virtual reality, are reshaping the ways in which physicians and surgeons apprehend the body. Thus it can be said, that images of the body as well as medical perception, are currently being interwoven with digital technology.
This paper focuses on the problems that physicians and surgeons are encountering when readjusting their senses to digital techniques. With examples drawn from surgery and clinical training, I show to what extent bodily skills are being replaced by technological mediation. The senses of the surgeon for example, are currently being adapted to digital conditions which include a range of new techniques for seeing, feeling, hearing and even smelling virtual bodies. The pivotal question here is whether digital technology is merely extending the senses, in a way, similar to what the graphical method did for nineteenth-century medicine, or, if it is rather marking a radical break with previous technologies of medical observation.