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Conceptual diagrams: tools for science communication Permanent Link

Riversymposium, 31 August - 3 September, 2004 Brisbane AUSTRALIA

This poster details the use of conceptual diagrams in effective science communication. Symbols are useful for depicting unequivocal messages that transcend cultures, languages and times. The use of symbols to construct conceptual diagrams ('thought drawings') can be an effective tool for science communication and problem solving. Conceptual diagrams help to clarify thinking and provide a communication interface between scientists and non-scientists. Conceptual diagrams can be used in a variety of publications including presentations, posters, science communication publications and peer reviewed scientific papers (color or b&w). The IAN symbol libraries contain hundreds of symbols for use in scientific conceptual diagrams. These symbols are available for free from the IAN website.

Developing a Chesapeake Bay Report Card Permanent Link

Jan 29-30th, 2004 4th National Conference on Science, Policy and the Environment 'Water for a Sustainable and Secure Future', Washington, DC

This poster details the importance of developing a scientifically rigorous, spatially explicit ecosystem health report card on Chesapeake Bay and its watershed to facilitate coordination and feedback between monitoring, management and research. A pilot study was conducted in July 2003 on the Patuxent and Choptank Rivers using a novel stable isotope technique (see "Assessing Nutrient Sources" newsletter below) together with more traditional water quality monitoring techniques. Spatial statistical analysis and mapping was conducted and an Ecosystem Health Index (EHI) developed. From these, report card values (A to F) were determined for various reporting regions within the rivers and compared to a region near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. A spatially explicit index of ecosystem health such as this is a useful monitoring tool which can help focus management and research efforts by providing rapid, effective and timely feedback on the health of Chesapeake Bay.

Seagrass habitats of Bocas del Toro province: a balance between river, mangrove and coral influences Permanent Link

July 14-18, 2003 31st Scientific Meeting of the Association of Marine Laboratories of the Caribbean, Crowne Plaza Hotel Port of Spain, Trinidad

This poster summarizes the key features of the seagrass communites in the Bocas del Toro archipelago, Panama. Seagrass meadows within this region are strongly influenced by their proximity to coral reefs, mangrove forests and coastal rivers. Reef, mangrove and river inputs influence sediment type and water clarity, two very important factors affecting the occurrence and abundance of seagrass meadows. Large volumes of silica sand are deposited by the large rivers, high organic matter comes from the mangrove forests as well as associated wetlands and eroding coral produces coarse carbonate sediment. An important modifier of these habitats and determinant of the type of seagrass that will survive is the amount of protection from water motion. The resulting seagrass communities within the Bocas del Toro archipelago can be divided into the following five categories, each linked to a dominant influence: wetland, river, mangrove, coral and ocean swell.

Alternate Futures for the Chesapeake Bay Permanent Link

March 2003

This poster details future scenarios for Chesapeake Bay, one of the world's largest and best-studied estuaries, and is the subject of one of the most ambitious efforts in coastal ecosystem restoration and management. Highlighted are land development scenarios showing recent trends (additional sediment and nutrient inputs due to population increase and land development), current objectives (limited land development, stormwater management and riparian buffer restoration and continued efforts to reduce nutrient sources) and effectiveness of feasible alternatives (restricted land development, stormwater controls through retrofitting, removal of Susquehanna dam sediments, aggressive nutrient source controls, and sustainable fisheries management).

Submarine Springs and Sewage Permanent Link

October 2002 5th International Seagrass Biology Workshop, Ensenada, Mexico

This poster presents data from the lagoons along the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, a region undergoing appreciable growth. The region is characterized by karst limestone without appreciable surface drainage or rivers. However, there are various submarine springs and fissures that deliver runoff to coastal waters. The tropical seagrass Thalassia testudinum was sampled near the developed regions of Cancun as well as in the Puerto Morelos lagoon to the south. Both tissue nutrient concentrations and stable isotope ratios (δ15N) were analyzed in seagrass tissue. A strong sewage signal was inferred for regions adjacent to Cancun, with a much lower signal detected in regions distant from these nutrient sources. Interpretation of this bioindicator data leads to the conclusion that submarine springs that release groundwater into the lagoons appear to be an important source of nutrients to the nutrient-poor coastal lagoons of Mexico.

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"Writing crystallizes thought and thought produces action." Paul J. Meyer


A goal of IAN Press is to empower scientists to directly communicate their ideas and concepts. Publications from IAN Press are designed to transform the uninterested to interested; the interested to involved and the involved to engaged.

IAN Press products are designed to be examples of good science communication principles, and the hope is that others will employ these principles so that scientific understanding can be disseminated widely as possible. The production of IAN Press communication publications involves experimentation with communication techniques and, as such, provides various ideas for science communication that can be emulated.

The comparisons and contrasts that IAN Press provides on environmental subjects intend to stimulate scientists, managers, practitioners, policy makers, students and other readers to think more broadly and expansively about the region and issues that they face. The extensive use of visual elements accesses a broader cultural diversity as well, which allow for more global perspectives.

The conclusions and recommendations presented in IAN Press publications are crafted to empower actions, plant seeds of ideas and provide justification for people to take appropriate action to find solutions to environmental problems. The conclusions are made as explicit as possible by employing active titles and featuring them prominently (e.g., front section of books or back cover of newsletters).

On costs

IAN Press does not provide author royalties and the design and layout of the publications conducted by a talented team of Science Communicators is underwritten by various grants and contracts. Marketing is limited to the internet and word-of-mouth, also reducing costs. Thus, the price of IAN Press publications is solely to reimburse the actual printing costs entailed. The intent is to provide the broadest possible readership, thus keeping costs as low as possible is paramount. Typically, full color is used, virtually on every page, which does increase print costs, however, the use of color is a key element in providing accessible information to a wide audience and the lack of author royalties or design/layout charges.

Peer review

IAN Press undertakes a rigorous review process by both peer scientists and resource managers. In addition, Integration and Application Network Science Integrators and Science Communicators read, edit and review all aspects of IAN Press publications, including text, conceptual diagrams, photographs, maps, figures and tables. Many IAN Press publications are multi-authored, and each author contributes to the review and editing of the entire publication. This is not the classical peer review system of a limited number of anonymous reviewers working with an editor to recommend changes, rather a larger number of non-anonymous reviewers that develop consensus on each word, visual element and recommendation. The review process is often accelerated by IAN Press to accommodate timely publication.


IAN Press attempts to be as authorship inclusive as possible and to provide attribution to each visual element. Authorship is not ranked or ordered, and the credibility of the IAN Press product should be based on the scientific data presented and the collective effort of a multiple of contributors, both with and without formal academic training.

Science Communicators are the key element in the production of IAN Press documents. They design the layout of the document, obtain and edit the visual elements, designate the amount and style of text, and orchestrate the review and editing process. IAN Press documents are produced using a 'storyboard' approach, in which the central message(s) are identified and various visual elements selected to support the central message(s). This is in contrast to the more traditional method of writing text and adding in visuals subsequently. In video and film production, storyboards are used and the producer is key to assembling the visual elements. Science Communicators serve in an equivalent role in terms of assembling all the pieces that go into the publication.


IAN Press relies extensively on color for photographs, maps, conceptual diagrams, figures and even text and tables to a limited degree. The use of color allows for an increased data density and provides a bigger visual impact considering the amount of the human brain devoted to visual discrimination of colors. Color allows for greater discrimination of visual elements and in data presentation, a closer juxtaposition of different elements and greater comparative utility. The preponderance of color printers and the ability of electronic versions to be displayed in color promote the inexpensive dissemination of full color documents. In order to help color-blind people compensate, an effort is made to provide other visual clues in graphics, such as symbols with different shapes or map delineations with different shading or texture, but some of the visual impact will be compromised.


IAN Press does not target a narrow, specific audience, rather attempts to be as inclusive as possible. As the world becomes more specialized, with marketing forces that promote highly targeted advertising campaigns, IAN Press products attempt to reach the broadest audience possible. IAN Press attempts to raise the bar rather than dumb down the message by using non-technical language, defining all terms and reducing acronym use. By providing synthesis, visualizations and context, we feel that relatively sophisticated concepts can be grasped by a non-technical audience. In fact, science has become highly specialized and often the language, tools and approaches used in various scientific disciplines are relatively incomprehensible to specialists in other disciplines. Thus, one audience of IAN Press is scientists from other specialties to encourage inter-disciplinary thinking and approaches.

Why use print media?

With the growing popularity of electronic media, the carbon footprint involved in producing and distributing paper products, and the ability to provide infinite resources via the web, it could be argued that IAN Press should disseminate entirely via electronic means. While IAN Press provides downloadable, web accessible materials, IAN Press continues to produces written products for the following reasons:

  1. There is rigor and discipline required in producing science communication products that have limited 'real estate', that, is limited amounts of space to convey a message. A paper product maintains focus, while web links can lead to tangential issues. The priority setting required to establish the final layout and include various communication elements is important in conveying information. Fixed 'real estate' forces condensation, synthesis and integration. Every visual element is uniquely created for the purpose of conveying the specific information intended, rather than repurposed from other sources.
  2. The written product invites non-linear reading, and a quick scan allows readers to delve into the visual elements most interesting to them. If a reader is most attracted to photographs, maps, conceptual diagrams, or figures, they can migrate to these elements and the figure legends should be self explanatory. Alternatively, if reading text is the preferred way of obtaining information, the text is designed to be self sufficient. The juxtaposition of text and various visual elements also conveys important information, something that can be lost via hyperlinks on the web. In addition, electronic books with the current technology do not support color graphics.
  3. Since various IAN Press products are intended to inform a broad community from policy makers to the general public, the weight of scientific support that can be marshaled can be a factor in empowering people to action. In order to make an impact, the difference between hundreds of web pages and hundreds of printed pages is one reason to provide print versions of IAN products. In addition, internet access is not equally applied globally or socially, and in some societies and sectors of society, a written product provides a more accessible source, particularly through libraries and schools.
  4. Printed materials provide a 'time stamp', a fixed point of time when the data are assembled and the conclusions are reached. Rather than constantly updating the data and conclusions, drawing the line in the sand as to what is known at a particular time point is what printed products do. The shelf life of science communication products should be somewhat limited due to the increased scientific understanding based on ongoing research, yet the record of what is known, and when it is known, provides an important archival body of information.
  5. "The product drives the collaborative process"; in that the science communication product forces an intensely collaborative process of obtaining and refining visual elements, drafting and editing text, and experimenting with layout and design. While this collaborative process can be conducted with the production of web materials, print deadlines are a good way to insure timely delivery. In addition, to obtain buy-in from many scientists whose training and experience are in producing printed papers and books, printed copies are often necessary.