Sunday, October 23, 2011

Word Choice Matters

Scientists are from Mars, the public is from Earth, by Phil Plait, discusses a list of commonly-used words that science writers use, and how the public interprets them. For example, "theory" means "scientific understanding," but the public interprets it as "hunch, speculation." The word "manipulation" when used by science writers means "scientific data processing," but the general public interprets it as "illicit tampering."

Plait writes, "There are times I fret over a word in a post. It took me a while to start using the word "denier" instead of "skeptic", for example, but the difference is important. I’ve fought for years to teach people that skepticism is not cynicism or denial; it’s asking for and looking at evidence logically and rationally (in a nutshell). What’s funny is that now the media uses phrases like "climate skeptic" when talking about some people who are not skeptics, in that they are not looking at the evidence logically and rationally. They look at evidence so they can figure out how to spin it, cast doubt in the mind of the public over something that is actually a fact."

Can you think of other examples of what you meant/what they interpreted?


Lisa Song said...

Yay! I'm glad you posted about this. It's a brilliant glossary and I hope it can help both journalists and the public.

Saints and Spinners said...

Lisa, I thought of you when I posted this link. I figured you were already on target with your word choices. I'm definitely keeping the glossary as a reference for daily life discussions.