Tag Archives: definitions

how to talk about what you do in an easy to understand way

A new blog has sprung up recently, inspired by xkcd’s ‘Up-Goer Five’ comic and the list of the ‘ten hundred’ most used words in the English language.

The blog is called Ten Hundred Words of Science and it challenges scientists to describe what they do using only the 1000 most commonly used words, though there are a few work-arounds for less common but still crucial words (like ‘Mr Hydrogen and Ms Oxygen’). What you’ll see when scrolling through the posts are the many creative, interesting ways various people describe the science they do – most impressive considering ‘science’ isn’t even one of the thousand words you can use!

The Ten Hundred Words of Science blog just goes to show that with a little bit of creativity and effort almost anything can be explained (to a certain degree) in easy-to-understand language. My only critique is how long some of the explanations are – I’d love to force people to get *really* creative by imposing a word limit, but maybe that’s just cruel.

Here is Jessamyn’s attempt to explain nanoscience and electronics – no easy feat!

“My work is about studying really small things. It turns out that if you take a big thing and make it small, it does something different than what you’d expect. We understand some parts of why this happens, but there is a lot left to learn. So what I do is build something made of lots of tiny things, and look at what they do together. I can make things that respond to light, or put out light, or respond to air! And I figure out what’s happening by putting power in and looking at how it comes out. So I could build something that turns light into power, or power into light, or that moves power around like a computer does, but works more like the brain than computers do. And all this comes from the fact that small things are very different from large things.”

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Good Science Communication – Break It Down Now

Before we delve too deeply into what makes good science communication, it would first behoove us to define what we mean – both by science, and communication. So! The first question of the day is: What makes good science?

There are currently a variety of hotly-contested fields such as homeopathy whose supporters protest that they ought to be recognized as valid and respectable. Why, then, are they not? What do they lack that keeps them from being welcomed into the multifaceted and diverse world of the sciences?

In a word? Evidence. Proof. Confirmation. To expand upon that slightly,  a rigorously tested and proven method of investigation involving peer-reviewed research and further study. A scientific theory does not say ‘this is true because we think it is’. It instead strives to disprove itself at every turn, always open to and indeed expecting refutation. Getting any group of scientists to agree on a definition for ‘good’ science may well be impossible, as under their own defintions they are always questioning, always ready to adapt and update their theories when new information comes along.

So what, then, is good communication? Is it merely being clear-spoken, so that your message is obvious? Is it watching yourself for overuse of jargon, so a wide audience can understand you? Is it injecting every story you tell with a sense of drama, to keep them reading on?

I believe all of these principles are useful in communication, however I would take it one step further and say that good communication is built on passion and dedication – passion for your topic and dedication to making it interesting and relevant to those to whom you are trying to convey it. There are myriad ways of communicating a message, but only people with the correct goals will actually get their message across – goals such as clarity, relevance, and decent support and explanation.

You may have the most fascinating information in the world to share ,and yet without paying attention to how you’re saying it, you may not reach a single soul. Without engaging with a wider audience science becomes insular and myopic, and for that reason alone it is valuable for scientists and science writers to continually strive to find the best ways to communicate their passions and interests to the wider world around them.

For an extremely unique and unorthodox method of communicating scientific information, click through here.