Are You Confused by Scientific Jargon? So Are Scientists
Scientific papers containing lots of specialized terminology are less likely to be cited by other researchers. The New York Times reports: Polje, nappe, vuggy, psammite. Some scientists who study caves might not bat an eye, but for the rest of us, these terms might as well be ancient Greek. Specialized terminology isn’t unique to the ivory tower — just ask a baker about torting or an arborist about bracts, for example. But it’s pervasive in academia, and now a team of researchers has analyzed jargon in a set of over 21,000 scientific manuscripts. They found that papers containing higher proportions of jargon in their titles and abstracts were cited less frequently by other researchers. Science communication — with the public but also among scientists — suffers when a research paper is packed with too much specialized terminology, the team concluded. These results were published Wednesday in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Jargon can be a problem, but it also serves a purpose, said Hillary Shulman, a communications scientist at Ohio State University. “As our ideas become more refined, it makes sense that our concepts do too.” This language-within-a-language can be a timesaver, a way to precisely convey meaning, she said. However, it also runs the risk of starkly reminding people — even some well-educated researchers — that they aren’t “in the know.” “It’s alienating,” said Dr. Shulman.

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