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Filling in the Gaps: Artistic License in Education and Outreach

  • David S Goodsell mail,

    To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: goodsell@scripps.edu

    X
  • Graham T Johnson
  • Published: December 04, 2007
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0050308

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Truth and Beauty meet together

Posted by plosbiology on 07 May 2009 at 22:21 GMT

Author: David Bump
E-mail: david.bump@att.net
Submitted Date: December 04, 2007
Published Date: December 5, 2007
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

This stimulating article raises many valid points about the need for some artistic shortcuts and modifications in order to provide interesting and useful aids to our ability to contemplate various structures, given their complexity or the lack of available data.

Still, it is even more important to consider the points concerning setting limits and cautions in this area. As noted, in technical papers there is little question that such "license" must be clearly identified. What concerns me is the almost enthusiastic advocacy of much more license in the area of education, on the grounds that it will "provide a more general view of a scientific concept and to excite interest."

This is a very short-sighted concept and does injustice to the intelligence of students. What good will it do to create such views and interest, if students are later disillusioned or disheartened when later confronted with more realistic depictions or the discovery that filled-in data was misleading or badly mistaken?

There are a number of techniques which can allow for clear and exciting illustrations along with full and accurate disclosure. Dots, greying, and transparency can distinguish interpolated data from observed data. Cutaway views can hint at the deleted structures. Captions can explain modifications made for clarity. Photographs can show what dramatic illustraions are based on.

There should be no need, and no excuse, to sacrifice truth in the hope it will popularize a subject or even aid education.

No competing interests declared.