A quick note on jargon

I posted a note on science communication jargon on posterous last week (mainly a four page jargon buster I came across…). I still think posterous is the best place for it, but I’ll link to it here, and also re-post a bit of my commentary.

There are a lot of advantages in the professionalisation of Science Communication. I like some of its jargon. I use a lot of it myself, several times a day. Some reflect names of institutions we mention so often an acronym is almost like a nickname (SOB, Society of Biology), some reflect ideas and historical shifts in approach the field has decided to take (e.g. a move from PUS to PD*).

Still, it’s also necessary to keep it open, and involve the range of other experts who do active science communication work (e.g. professional scientists who also do a fair bit of public communications). Sophia Collins has already made this point very clearly though, go read her post on the need for such a mix. So, we might joke that a field such as science communication relies on so much jargon, but the more serious point is that science communicators need to be careful because the field contains way more than professionals.

Moreover, I suspect that if we forced ourselves to rely on what we mean, rather than buzzwords we think other members of our gang will understand, we’d communicate within the profession more effectively too. Just think of “engagement”; an incredibly broad collection of different understandings (including, I’d argue, misunderstandings). Some call this an “umbrella term”, other’s might say “woolly” or even “meaningless in its multitude of meanings”.

Sometimes jargon can get in the way of precision as much as it allows it.

* Brief translation: the shift from talking down to a public perceived as ignorant (a need for PUS = Public Understanding of Science) and towards more interactive, dialogue-based models of communication which listen as well as educate (PD = Public Dialogue).

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