Why Scientific Multimedia?

 The acquisition of advanced literacy is a social process of enculturation into the values and practices of some specialist community. In the case of scientific literacy this is the community of professional scientists, and their literate practices are normally conducted in multimedia genres where meanings are made by integrating the semiotic resources of language, mathematics, and a variety of visual-graphical presentations. I want to consider here the nature and extent of the multimedia literacy demands of (1) the advanced secondary school curriculum in science, (2) the multimedia genres of traditional scientific print publication, and (3) the internet-based multimedia genres which professional scientists are developing to communicate with one another and to the public. A survey of these three domains of scientific literacy can provide a useful foundation for defining both the goals of advanced literacy in science and measures of proficiency in this globally significant literacy.

 As writers and scholars we know that no discussion of such important and complex topics can be complete in itself. I will focus here on more recent explorations of internet-based multimedia science genres and only briefly summarize work reported elsewhere on science classrooms (Lemke 1990a, Lemke in press) and scientific print publications (Lemke 1998a). I will also cite other discussions of basic theoretical and conceptual issues in the analysis of literacies and semiotic practices which I have published over nearly twenty years. In those can be found extensive reference to the large literatures on these subjects, which can hardly be summarized here. Indeed, as bodies of scholarship grow in extent to unprecedented new scales, I believe we must abandon all pretense in individual works to exhaustive citation of the relevant literature. What I write here can only make full sense to those who read not only my cited references, but a substantial portion of the larger web of relevant literature which is in turn cited in those references. These vast webs of intertextuality are both powerful resources for meaning-making in general and specifically relevant to the nature of scientific literacies (Lemke 1985, 1990a, 1990b, in press -a).

 Before looking in detail at specific examples of the multimedia literacy demands of scientific genres, I want to sketch in some general conceptual background which will inform what I say about the examples.