Credibility in science communication
Science fiction seems to have a tradition of predicting where science will take us in the future. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein gave an insight into the possibility of modern surgery techniques and transplants, and Jules Verne wrote about submarines and Rockets in his novels, however absurd these things seemed at the time. It’s no surprise then that scientists are now working on an invisibility cloak something we see in fantasy novels like Harry Potter .
Boonsri Dickenson explains the efforts of scientist to come up with a material which is able to bend light and make the person cloaked in it invisible. Making this story credible involves explaining the science of how an invisibility cloak would work and how it is made. This means that Boonsri keeps the popular culture references at the start of the article which at first draws us into reading it, and starts discussing the realities of the technology still in its primitive stage this causes any preconceived notions of what an invisibility cloak would do firmly within the fantasy novels as we learn that invisible materials are only a fraction of a millimetre in length and only work in two dimensions.
Focusing on the scientists the author tries to make the story appear more credible including direct quotes by them. In particular, we are introduced to Ulf Leonhardt who must create a ‘blueprint’ within two years – a small amount of time for something first thought impossible. Much of the article follows the ideas of the scientists involved in making the cloaks and their challenges and opinions on what the technology could be used for. In this way, we are introduced to people who share a similar fascination on the subject while also gaining an insight into their work and the science involved.
While the science in the article has to be accurate for the story to be credible this can be difficult when the science behind it (mainly theoretical physics) is very dry and boring. The author strikes a good balance here by using simple statements to make then science sound simpler:
“light changes its path when it travels through air to water. It’s like looking at a mirage on a hot day.”
This also helps make a fascinating concept like the science of invisibility which captivates our imagination a little more interesting than the reality of the technology.
Boonsri writes a credible science story while still retaining the magic of invisibility, as she points out while an invisibility cloak seems implausible now
“New Scientist predicts that by 2039, invisibility cloaks would be part of our everyday life”.
There’s no telling where the technology could be in the future, anything that has a potential military function like invisibility is sure to receive further development the real challenge will be communicating to people people that these experiments are worthwhile and credible.