A Case against Scientific Jargon
Still coding my qualitative interviews with science communicators from this summer, I'm struck by the following passage from a prominent scientist and author I interviewed:
...and 50% of the guys who were senior authors on those books said, you know, when we criticized their writing, and said, you know, this is too technical, we’ve got to tone it down a bit, and they would say, you know, ‘I’m not going to lower myself, I’m not going to, um, compromise on my standard to get it across. I’m a scientist, I’m a strong scientist, I’m going to say it the way it has to be said.’ Which is crap, of course. There are times when jargon is bound to be difficult to get around, but, ah, basically I don’t think there’s much… I was a journal editor for a while, and um, I could see, in the scientific community there were those who wrote very complex papers. Everything was right, nothing was wrong; big words where they could have used little words. And so way back then, I was beginning to think, you know, why not, let’s make it easy to understand, whether it’s scientists or the public. And so I’ve been a, it’s been one of my things that I’ve been pushing, is simple writing, even in the technical literature. And I don’t know if I’ve always done that in the papers that I’ve written, but anyhow. - (Interview material collected by Paige Brown)
Do scientists still think that jargon is necessary to the business? Does scientific writing HAVE to consist of long complicated sentences, passive sentence structure and undefined terms?
A note from the National Science Foundation "Science: Becoming the Messenger" conference: you are not "lowering" yourself by simplifying your science and language. Give the caveats, qualifications and context of your research - just do it with a minimum amount of jargon.