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The Incomprehensible Jargon of Science


We blogged recently about the challenges of communicating scientific uncertainty to the public, especially when it comes to climate science.  The October 2011 issue of Physics Today contains yet another article addressing the very same concept.  From the article:

Scientists typically fail to craft simple, clear messages and repeat them often. They commonly overdo the level of detail, and people can have difficulty sorting out what is important. In short, the more you say, the less they hear. And scientists tend to speak in code. We encourage them to speak in plain language and choose their words with care. Many words that seem perfectly normal to scientists are incomprehensible jargon to the wider world. And there are usually simpler substitutes.

We particularly like the table provided at the end of the article, titled “Terms that have different meanings for scientists and the public.” For example, the scientific term “uncertainty” translates to “ignorance” for the general public; the article suggests scientists use the word “range” instead. Error, which the general public reads as “mistake, wrong, incorrect,” might be better replaced by “difference from exact true number.”