Faculty of Science

The Language of Science

October 20, 2011

There's a fascinating dialogue about the language of science taking place in the science blogs this week.

Physics Today just published an article called “Communicating the Science of Climate Change” (free to download from that link) by Richard C. J. Somerville and Susan Joy Hassol.

As you can see in the chart (above) published in the article, the words used by scientists can be interpreted very differently by the general public and the media.

By failing to anticipate common misunderstandings, scientists can inadvertently reinforce them. A good example is the confusion of ozone depletion with climate change. Scientists should avoid talking about aerosols and climate in a way that reinforces this confusion. For most people, an aerosol is a spray can, which they associate with ozone depletion — even though ozone-depleting chemicals were long ago phased out of spray cans. Like "aerosol," many terms mean completely different things to scientists and the public.

Another blogger asked his class to add other problematic scientific terms, and then created an editable GoogleDoc where you can make your own additions to the list.

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