As a phlyarologist, I understand that words matter.
It’s often not what you say that counts, what’s far more important is how you say it (as a very good friend of mine is so fond of pointing out). Choosing one’s words wisely can make all the difference.
This principle is demonstrated clearly in the following table:
Here’s the same content in plain text:
Terms that have different meanings for scientists and the public Scientific term Public meaning Better choice enhance improve intensify, increase aerosol spray can tiny atmospheric particle positive trend good trend upward trend positive feedback good response, praise vicious cycle, self-reinforcing cycle theory hunch, speculation scientific understanding uncertainty ignorance range error mistake, wrong, incorrect difference from exact true number bias distortion, political motive offset from an observation sign indication, astrological sign plus or minus sign values ethics, monetary value numbers, quantity manipulation illicit tampering scientific data processing scheme devious plot systematic plan anomaly abnormal occurrence change from a long-term average
Why the duplication in the second table?
Well, I thought it was worth taking the trouble to try to make the content available to web spiders, too; they can’t read text in images (not reliably, anyway). I did, after all, start off by agreeing that the ‘how’ is as important as the ‘what’. And the ‘how’ isn’t just simply the choice of words; of equal importance is the choice of medium by which the words are transmitted, and that can depend upon who (or what) the message is aimed at. One has to always consider who the audience is — which is (a) why I prefer to write than speak, as writing gives me more time to think about what I’m saying and who I’m saying it to and (b) probably why I’m often misunderstood, since I cannot possibly know who you are (dear non-web-spider reader) so I’m unable to choose my words to suit you (and thus the words are chosen instead to suit… me!). It’s all very confusing, and, oops, there I go, I’ve strayed from the main message, bad move — ignore this aside, please: look back at the words in the table above and see if you agree.
- (Blog) Callan Bentley Words Matter 17 October 2011
- (Article) Richard C J Somerville and Susan Joy Hassol Communicating the science of climate change Physics Today October 2011 Page 48. PDF (free).
Brilliant assessment. Add to that the confusion about extreme weather events being a 100 year occurrence, a statistical measurement which is also thoroughly misunderstood by the general public, generally speaking…and the misfortunate use of 2100 as a baseline for predictions of ice loss, sea level rise etc., which is so far out as to be meaningless for most people.
Good points, Gail. With so much confusion in terminology, it’s not at all surprising that the meme is finding it hard to make headway.