By Amber Manfree
Data and data management are persistent concerns for the Delta and California water more generally. Data Wars: A New Hope, a shadow puppet play on the subject, was shown at the 2016 Bay-Delta Science Conference in Sacramento. The challenge of the Conference’s theme, “Science for Solutions: Linking Data and Decisions,” is illustrated by characters such as a lonesome marsh wren and a striped bass with a Boston accent.
The video highlights a fundamental problem facing Delta stakeholders: how to make sound decisions based on science when no one seems to agree on objectives. It lends some comic relief to a seemingly intractable issue. It was also fun to create.
Over a dozen scientists collaborated on this work, including voice-overs by Bruce Herbold and Peter Moyle and puppet design by Micah Bisson and Rosemary Hartman. Musical accompaniment was arranged and recorded by Kyle Phillips. Amber Manfree, an avid shadow puppeteer, directed the project. Video production and technical advice from Megan Nguyen translated the play to video.
Thoughts on Communicating Science
Packaging science to appeal to a broad audience is critical, yet scientists and technical people rarely have training in communication. Those who create scientific content can improve communication in two ways: by honing skills and collaborating with others.
1. Gain Skills. Even scientists can develop and improve artistic skill, but it takes attention and effort. Like ice skating, slick graphics require by many, many attempts. Cultivating a habit of sketching in field notebooks or hand-drawing charts before generating them digitally is one way to get started. Paying attention to and mimicking well-designed graphics aids rapid advances. Once basic graphics have been laid out, they can almost always be improved with feedback from reviewers and touch-ups with graphic design software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, or GIMP/GNU. Online tutorials are widely available.
2. Collaborate. Expand your network and collaborate with talented visual communicators, secure funding to support them, bring them into your fold, and learn from them. The Bay-Delta Science Conference Art Committee worked to pair artists with scientists to create original works for the conference. This expanded how scientists think about communication, and expanded how artists approached their work.
Amber Manfree is a postdoctoral researcher with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. When she isn’t sampling fishes, data gazing, or researching, she can be found designing materials that join art and science.
Some examples of art-science collaborations: