Metaphor, evolution, visualization, new media, digital media, science communication, science education, birds, dynamic evolutionary map


This dissertation describes and presents a new type of interactive visualization for communicating about evolutionary biology, the dynamic evolutionary map. This web-based tool utilizes a novel map-based metaphor to visualize evolution, rather than the traditional "tree of life." The dissertation begins with an analysis of the conceptual affordances of the traditional tree of life as the dominant metaphor for evolution. Next, theories from digital media, visualization, and cognitive science research are synthesized to support the assertion that digital media tools can extend the types of visual metaphors we use in science communication in order to overcome conceptual limitations of traditional metaphors. These theories are then applied to a specific problem of science communication, resulting in the dynamic evolutionary map. Metaphor is a crucial part of scientific communication, and metaphor-based scientific visualizations, models, and analogies play a profound role in shaping our ideas about the world around us. Users of the dynamic evolutionary map interact with evolution in two ways: by observing the diversification of bird orders over time and by examining the evidence for avian evolution at several places in evolutionary history. By combining these two types of interaction with a non-traditional map metaphor, evolution is framed in a novel way that supplements traditional metaphors for communicating about evolution. This reframing in turn suggests new conceptual affordances to users who are learning about evolution. Empirical testing of the dynamic evolutionary map by biology novices suggests that this approach is successful in communicating evolution differently than in existing tree-based visualization methods. Results of evaluation of the map by biology experts suggest possibilities for future enhancement and testing of this visualization that would help refine these successes. This dissertation represents an important step forward in the synthesis of scientific, design, and metaphor theory, as applied to a specific problem of science communication. The dynamic evolutionary map demonstrates that these theories can be used to guide the construction of a visualization for communicating a scientific concept in a way that is both novel and grounded in theory. There are several potential applications in the fields of informal science education, formal education, and evolutionary biology for the visualization created in this dissertation. Moreover, the approach suggested in this dissertation can potentially be extended into other areas of science and science communication. By placing birds onto the dynamic evolutionary map, this dissertation points to a way forward for visualizing science communication in the future


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Graduation Date





Dombrowski, Paul


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Arts and Humanities

Degree Program

Texts and Technology








Release Date

November 2012

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Arts and Humanities -- Dissertations, Academic, Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Humanities