19 October 2011

Use your words (wisely)

Posted by kramsayer

Scientists and the public can have different definitions for the same words (Source: Physics Today)

The first day of organic chemistry, my professor warned us that we were about to start learning a new language. He wasn’t kidding, and ‘stoichiometry’** is still one of my favorite words. But the different definitions that scientists use for everyday terms can lead to confusion, and scientists should make sure they’re speaking the same language as their audiences.

On our sister blog Mountain Beltway, Callan Bentley posted this table outlining some common examples. It’s from an article by Richard C. J. Somerville and Susan Joy Hassol in Physics Today (behind a paywall).

The list illustrates just how simple it is for science to be misconstrued, and has generated lots of attention in the blogosphere – posts on Boing Boing and Bad Astronomy generated dozens of comments, and Southern Fried Science created its own list and started a Google doc for people to add other alternate science definitions.

What science translation errors have you found?

**Click here for a definition of stoichiometry, which is not only fun to say, but still comes in handy for all those times I need to convert grams per liter to ounces per gallon.

– Kate Ramsayer, AGU science writer