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Open Access Publications from the University of California

‘Translating’ and ‘Retranslating’ Data: Tracing the Steps in Projects that Address Climate Change and Antarctic Science


In this paper I discuss the notion of translation as it relates to the practice and communication of science. While science is a creative translation of the natural world, it pretends to be a carbon copy of reality and therefore it eschews expressive and metaphorical use of language. I argue that the denial of subjectivity in the pursuit of science and in the scientific approach to language impedes communication with the general public. The use of digital data has exacerbated this ‘objective’ trend. Art can bridge the gap by retranslating this data into metaphors thereby making the information more sensually and emotionally accessible as well as intellectually comprehensible. I present two case studies of my collaborations with scientists centered on ocean acidification and ultraviolet radiation respectively, showing how digital data is retranslated into physical phenomena and inserted into a larger historical and cultural narrative that includes the history of Antarctic science.

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