Art and senses in the service of science

By designing experiments directly targeting our values scientists can achieve more effective scientific communication. Recent research at the University of Gothenburg has shown that art and emotions can help scientists play a key role in getting people to take action based on knowledge.

Marine biologist Sam Dupont during the school project “I am the Ocean”.

The increasing destruction and pollution of the ocean subsequently threatens humanity by putting at risk the countless services provided by marine ecosystems. In the face of global changes such as warming and ocean acidification, only collective action can lead to the needed mitigation and adaptation measures.

When it comes to the responsibility of society for causing these changes, the scientific evidence is strong. But it is complicated by competing values, uncertainties and complexity in causation. The scientific community is still struggling to deliver strong messages to citizens and policymakers.

– We simply need to be better trained in various form of communication, including strategies derived from psychology, sociology and have a deeper understanding of stakeholder´s culture, says Sam Dupont, marine biologist at the Department for Biological and Environmental sciences and the Centre for Collective Action Research at the University of Gothenburg.

The taste of ocean acidification

Sam Dupont and his colleagues have shown that the best way of achieving effective scientific communication is to design experiments directly targeting societal values.

One of their experiments is called “The Shrimp Experiment”, where people were asked to test in what way shrimps would taste in the future if we kept emitting carbon dioxide.

The sea has always played an important role in Scandinavian countries. The Swedish West Coast’s seafood is often referred to as The Shellfish Coast for the quality of its seafood which is highly regarded worldwide. Here, shellfish are of big importance in both the culture and in the economy.

– We performed an experiment testing the impacts of ocean acidification, a direct consequence of our carbon dioxide emission, on a locally relevant seafood species – the shrimp Pandalus borealis. Our study demonstrated that the ocean acidification was negatively impacting the taste and appearance of the shrimp, Sam Dupont says.

By focusing the scientific communication on a simple story and using catchy quotes such as Ocean acidification is often referred as the silent storm because you can´t see it, you can´t hear it, and you can´t smell it, but our research suggests that you just may be able to taste it Sam Dupont´s experiment attracted a lot of attention in different media and among the public.


When the project “I am the Ocean” came to an end there was a tangible passion inside the group. By combining a sense of wonder (the visit to the aquarium), a physical realization of the impact people have on the ocean (the soup) and appropriation of problems and solutions, all the participants where sharing a unique passion and will to act.

Not simply do science

– Our goal is to change the world and one of our angles is to innovate the way we communicate science. Not simply do science and show the public, but rather make science that is directly targeting their interests and emotions. We believe that this could drive some more significant and needed changes, says Sam Dupont.

Sam Dupont is currently working with Explainartist, a multidisciplinary team of researchers and designers aiming at connecting researchers with visual artists. They are preparing an activity for the AHA festival ( to be held in Gothenburg on the 21rd of November.

Sam Dupont,, +46 766 22 9531.

About CeCAR
The Centre for Collective Action Research (CeCAR) is a research center at the University of Gothenburg focusing on Large-Scale Collective Action (LSCA), one of the most pressing challenges of today. Multidisciplinary research aims at understanding what factors determine successful voluntary LSCA in the face of many global challenges from climate change to corruption.

Anna-Karin Lundell, University of Gothenburg, 21 September 2017. Article.

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