Scientists, Watch Your Language

Scientists, Watch Your Language

We all know that technical jargon is bad for public consumption, but this chart shows how commonplace terms in scientific writing can be interpreted very differently by the lay person, adding to distrust and confusion. For example, data manipulation may simply refer to a defined and validated form of analysis but can sound nefarious or dishonest to a non-scientist. Be sure to check out the full article in the link and let us know what other terms strike you as misleading.

Ref: http://climatecommunication.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Somerville-Hassol-Physics-Today-2011.pdf

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Originally shared by Samantha Andrews

What scientists say, and what the public hear

Although originating from 2011, this table is currently making the rounds on Twitter.  It comes from an article written by Richard Summerville of Scripps Oceanography and Susan Hassol of Climate Communication focusing on ‘communicating the science of climate change’, and how science communicators aren’t really getting their message across.

Actually the points they make are relevant to all science communication – not just for climate change.

The original article is very much worth a read – you can find it here http://ow.ly/wrgBp 

#scicomm   #openaccess   #science  

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13 Comments


  1. Serj Enoch Word meaning is defined by language users, so they are not wrong, just different. Etymology is irrelevant. As for anomaly_the two meanings are only the same if you you the etymological derivation of _abnormal to mean “different from the normal”. Again, the popular understanding of abnormal is “deficient”.

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  2. Brian Holt Hawthorne Fair point, but I didn’t say anything about “abnormal”, it was “anomaly”.  The two definitions given for “anomaly” are the same meaning, different wording. An “abnormal occurrence” is the same thing as a “change from a long-term average”, in that the occurrence is only “abnormal” (which doesn’t mean deficient in any common sense, but I’ll get to that) because it deviates from what is observed in the majority of the population over a long period of time.


    “Abnormal” means a derivation from the average, like anomaly. People on the Autism Spectrum certainly have an abnormal capacity for empathy, but it’s by no means deficient. It’s actually substantially stronger than average.

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  3. Serj Enoch In common parlance, at least in the US, abnormal does not simply mean “differs from the norm” but has a distinct pejorative connotation. So, the two definitions of anomaly are distinct, with most native US English speakers ascribing a pejorative meaning to it.

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  4. Most of those “Scientific” terms are perfectly clear to me…and I’m just a general enthusiast of the field. Perhaps the real problem is that people just aren’t read and expanding their vocabulary as frequently any more?

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