Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A remedy for inaccessible science?

One of the most common complaints about the world of science is it's inaccessibility to the everyday person. Carl Zimmer has put together an "Index of Banned Words". Words that should be vanquished from the vocabulary of scientists everywhere. The list includes the taboos "elucidate", "predation", "mechanism", and (gasp!) "community ecology".

Reading through the list has made me realize how incredibly predictable my choice of words has become when writing in my science courses.

What is it that makes scientists so scared to write in everyday language? Does that fact that only a tiny percentage of the general population understand our writing make us feel like we belong to an exclusive club? Are we scared that we will lose our street cred among fellow scientists if our writing is not "abstract" enough? But then again, since when is our target audience the general public? In a recent post, Ingrid made some great points about the changing role of scientists, and our need to communicate with non-scientists. Ecologists need to start talking more effectively with non-scientists about environmental issues. The days of writing exclusively for our peers are over, and writing in a way that is coherent to the layperson may be a great first step to bridging the divide. After all, if we expect non-scientists to get on board with what we have to say, shouldn't they at least have an idea of what we are saying?

How do we strike a balance between writing accessibly and maintaining the technical aspects that are required for communicating abstract ideas and the scientific method? No one has taught me how to do that.


  1. Nobody has taught me how to do that either. Perhaps this is something we need to teach ourselves and then others...

  2. Something tells me this isn't something you can learn in a lecture...