PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Evolving germs - Communicating evolution through animations of antibiotic resistance

Gustav Bohlin  

Evolution is at the very core of biology, with broad ranging implications. These include societal issues such as microbial resistance to antibiotics and organisms' adaptations to climate change. Previous research suggests that evolutionary knowledge may aid citizens in making informed decisions. For example, causes for antibiotic resistance, as well as recommended countermeasures, can be derived and justified through the application of evolutionary reasoning. Therefore, citizens' knowledge of evolution forms a crucial part of scientific literacy as well as public understanding of science. Unfortunately, public understanding of evolutionary mechanisms, such as those underlying antibiotic resistance, is rudimental and associated with many misconceptions. The aim of the present study was to explore how the context of antibiotic resistance can be used to help students and members of the public to understand and apply evolutionary theory. We have developed a digital environment where one can interact with a series of animations that illustrate how antibiotic resistance arises through evolutionary mechanisms. Methodologically, we followed a qualitative approach using focus groups and observations. The main data used for analysis consist of transcripts from discussions and follow-up interviews as well as written responses to both closed and open items. The final analysis will be completed during spring, but preliminary results show that the context of antibiotic resistance facilitates volunteers' ability to use evolutionary reasoning in several ways. These include compressing spatial and temporal scales, clarifying the role of random factors, as well as providing incentives for learning a subject that is sometimes perceived as being of little importance for contemporary societal issues. Apart from the study results, we will share useful experiences from design choices in animation-based science communication. We see implications in many PCST-related areas where informal learning is considered. These include web-based campaigns, healthcare events and science center exhibits.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.