What do you mean by “jargon,” anyway?
It started a year ago with an enthusiastic question from my brother-in-law, “What is this antimatter stuff all about? Is it real? What is it?”
The man who won my sister’s heart is an intelligent, curious man, and he has little advanced scientific education. He is a genius in sales, marketing, and business, not physics.
So today, while I was trawling the Twitter tempest of intriguing information, I came across a story for Discover Magazine’s 80beats blog by Andrew Moseman reporting on a Nature paper about how physicists had managed to trap anti-hydrogen. The story was a a good one, and I wanted to pass it to my brother-in-law, because I thought he would find it interesting, too.
(That’s one of the interesting things about science, really. I’m a science geek, so it’s pretty well all interesting to me. But many people have their “thing”, be it foxes, Pluto, leukemia, or in this case, antimatter.)
So I’ve got Facebook open, and I’m about to post the Discover blog to his wall, when it strikes me… he probably wouldn’t get as much from the article as I did. I’d probably be better off just telling him about it over beers next time I see him. A few months ago, I wrote this:
“Science journalists face a big problem with assumed knowledge. People don’t come from the same background, and they have different grasps of the fundamentals. After years in the field it’s easy to forget where you came from.”
Just with a quick glance, here are some terms which I think we sometimes forget are code for bigger ideas:
Nature, antimatter, Big Bang, annihilate, CERN, antiproton, positron, anti-hydrogen, vacuum, Kelvin, …excite it with laser beams.
This small list of 11 terms is potentially standing in the way of my brother-in-law and him learning about an important advance in a scientific topic that is of interest to him.
So here I propose an experiment to any science journalists, science communicators, or scientists who want to have a go at it. Pick a piece of science news, a story that is crafted specifically for a general audience. Then, go through the story word-by-word, and expand or explain every single idea that you think might be a road block to an interested reader’s understanding. It’s up to you how far down that hole you want to go, but just be honest about whether or not that acronym or quirky name would make any sense if you didn’t have the experience you have.
If you do feel like participating, I’d love it if you could let me know so I can collect all of the links in one place.