Why People Don’t Like Scientists

27 02 2010

“Our results raise the possibility that spontaneous string pulling in New Caledonian crows may not be based on insight but on operant conditioning mediated by a perceptual-motor feedback cycle.”

This is from a behavioral study on the problem-solving abilities of crows.  Sounds impressive, right?  Do you have any idea what it means?  I didn’t either, until I read science journalist Brandon Keim’s translation: “In other words, the crows relied on a simple trial-and-error approach.”

Now, that’s something I can get my head around.  Why didn’t they just say that?

In an earlier post, I talked about the need for conservation groups to inspire people in order to increase support.  The same thing applies to science in general.  A lot of this type of research is funded by public money, so shouldn’t the scientists want the public to be interested in their results?

As an educator with a focus on nature and ecology, I want people to say “ooh, wow, fascinating!” when new information comes out about the natural world.  Too often, studies like this come out that are more likely to result in people saying “ugh, science sure is dry and boring.”  Come on, people – if something is interesting enough to do a study about, give us something afterwards to say “wow!” about.

I suppose it is good way to keep science journalists like Keim employed, so let’s hope that these research grants always come with funding for translation!

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2 responses

1 03 2010
Shannon

I totally agree. Scientists are not known for their writing skills when targeting non scientists. It’s like speaking a new language and if I have a high school education of French, I’m going to cringe trying to read technical documents. But I’ll say the same thing when people talk about economics. Major cringe, so it is not scientist specific! One thing I’ve incorporated into my writing from interfacing with the miltary is keep it short, keep it simple. Get in, get out, get done. Well at least for written documents that is 😛

1 03 2010
Mark Jordahl

Of course I didn’t mean you, dear sister! I meant those OTHER scientists! 🙂

It is true that every profession has its insider jargon and, to be honest, a lot of it is for the express purpose of being very specific, where the subtle difference between terms is lost on us laypeople.

I still just think it is funny when something so complex can be boiled down to “simple trial and error.”

Can’t wait to see you over here!

Mark D. Jordahl Conservation Concepts 256 775 295 126 Blog: https://conserveuganda.wordpress.com Website: http://www.ConservationConcepts.net

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