Alan Alda wants scientists to cut out the jargon

May 01, 2013 by Frank Eltman
In this Friday, April 26, 2013 photo, actor Alan Alda listens during an interview at Stony Brook University, on New York's Long Island. The film and television star is trying to encourage scientists of all disciplines to ditch the jargon and speak in plain English. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

(AP)—Among the procedures Army surgeon Hawkeye Pierce performed on "M.A.S.H." was an end-to-end anastomosis. Most of the viewers, actor Alan Alda concedes, had no idea he was talking about removing a damaged piece of intestine and reconnecting the healthy pieces. Today, the award-winning film and television star is on a mission to teach physicians, physicists and scientists of all types to ditch the jargon and get their points across in clear, simple language.

The former host of the long-running PBS series "Scientific American Frontiers" is a founder and visiting professor of journalism at the Stony Brook University Center for Communicating Science, which has just been named in his honor.

"There's no reason for the jargon when you're trying to communicate the essence of the science to the public because you're talking what amounts to gibberish to them," Alda said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

A better understanding of science, Alda said, can benefit society in ways great and small. Physicians can more clearly explain treatments to patients. Consumers can decipher what chemicals may be in their food. And lawmakers can make better decisions on funding scientific research.

"They're not going to ask the right questions if science doesn't explain to them what's going on in the most honest and objective way," said Alda, 77. "You can't blame them for not knowing the jargon—it's not their job. Why would anybody put up money for something they don't understand?"

Alda, who lives in New York City and has a home on eastern Long Island, said that as his 12-year tenure as host of "Scientific American Frontiers" was ending in 2005, he began seeking out a university interested in his idea for a center for communicating science. He described himself as a "Johnny Appleseed" going from university to university shopping his idea.

Stony Brook, a 24,000-student state university about 70 miles (110 kilometers) east of Manhattan, "was the only place that understood what I was trying to say and thought it was possible," he said.

The center launched in 2009. At a gala last week, the Long Island school officially renamed it the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.

In this Friday, April 26, 2013 photo, actor Alan Alda addresses a Communicating Science class on the campus of Stony Brook University, on New York's Long Island. The film and television star is trying to encourage scientists of all disciplines to ditch the jargon and speak in plain English. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

"Alan did not casually lend his celebrity to this effort," said Stony Brook President Dr. Samuel Stanley. "He has been a tireless and full partner in the center since its inception. During the past four years, he has traveled thousands of miles championing its activities. ... He has helped train our faculty and develop our curriculum, and he personally teaches some workshops."

Alda has also helped publicize a contest the center sponsored the past two years asking students and scientists around the country to find simple ways to explain such concepts as "What is a flame?" or "What is time?"

Among the courses taught by the center is an improvisational acting class that teaches scientists ways of communicating their thoughts clearly to others.

"We've learned it's important to set up vivid analogies," said Lyle Tomlinson, a 24-year-old neuroscience graduate student from Brooklyn who's working as a teaching assistant, noting he used the effects of caffeine in a morning cup of coffee to begin a discussion on the nervous system.

Congressman Steven Israel, whose district includes the Stony Brook campus, said educating people on the importance of science is key to America's competitiveness in the 21st century economy.

He recalled watching a congressional hearing on climate change in which, he said, "a bunch of scientists were trying to teach congressmen about the science of climate change and the congressmen were trying to teach the scientists about politics. It was as if both sides were speaking alien languages."

Alda shared what he called his best examples of clear communication with Tomlinson and his fellow teaching assistants.

About a decade ago, Alda said, he was filming in Chile when he was stricken with sharp stomach pains. He was evacuated from an 8,000-foot (2,400-meter) observatory and taken in an old rickety ambulance to a small, dimly lit clinic, where a doctor examined him and said he would require life-saving surgery.

"Some of your intestine has gone bad, and we have to cut out the bad part and sew the two good ends together," the physician explained.

"And I said, 'You're going to do an end-to-end anastamosis.' He said, 'How do you know that?' And I said, 'Oh I did many of them on 'M.A.S.H.' That was the first operation I learned about on M.A.S.H.'"

After the classroom erupted in laughter, Alda concluded:

"He didn't waste any time on me trying to figure what he was talking about. He said it in the clearest terms possible. He didn't sacrifice any accuracy by making it clear."

Explore further: Best of Last Week – quantum pigeonholing, a hoverbike drone project and the sun goes quiet

4.5 /5 (8 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Actor Alan Alda sponsors 'fiery' science contest

Mar 06, 2012

American actor Alan Alda remembers the disappointment of being 11 and asking a teacher about the flame at the end of a candle, only to be brushed off with the answer: "It's oxidation."

Stephen Hawking honored at NYC science, arts gala

Jun 03, 2010

(AP) -- Luminaries from the fields of physics, opera, poetry, theater, music and dance gathered to pay tribute to British physicist Stephen Hawking on Wednesday, with performances and speeches at a gala in ...

Recommended for you

F1000Research brings static research figures to life

20 hours ago

F1000Research today published new research from Bjorn Brembs, professor of neurogenetics at the Institute of Zoology, Universitaet Regensburg, in Germany, with a proof-of-concept figure allowing readers and reviewers to run ...

How science can beat the flawed metric that rules it

21 hours ago

In order to improve something, we need to be able to measure its quality. This is true in public policy, in commercial industries, and also in science. Like other fields, science has a growing need for quantitative ...

User comments : 62

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

loneislander
3.3 / 5 (6) May 01, 2013
I deeply appreciate Alan's efforts and think they are largely helpful but as a person who has accepted his obligation to humanity and made a sincere effort to understand scientists I urge scientists to use their creative efforts to raise the public's discernment rather than dumb science down until the Higgs becomes "molasses", for example.

I watched the World Science Festival videos and felt vicariously uncomfortable for serious scientists and embarrassed for hosts when a nervously-bombastic interruption would happen for the third time as these brilliant scientists persisted in giving extraordinarily-polite answers. I saw Lennie almost lose it at one point; his genius extends throughout his virtues.
loneislander
2.3 / 5 (3) May 01, 2013
If Alan is reading: I would be honored to host one of your discussions - since I'm a pro and a nobody there'll be no expectation of a performance by anyone other than the experts.
ValeriaT
1.4 / 5 (9) May 01, 2013
Absence of jargon will not help the physicists to improve the common understanding of their theories at the moment, when they've no intuitive real life analogies and explanations for it - or when they're even actively denying them like the dense aether model. You cannot explain something, if you (ignore the WHY questions) as the philosophy of whole your life.

Albert Einstein: "You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother." It's not just about avoidance of jargon.
cantdrive85
1.7 / 5 (12) May 01, 2013
Hot gas!
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.1 / 5 (8) May 01, 2013
I deeply appreciate Alan's efforts and think they are largely helpful but as a person who has accepted his obligation to humanity and made a sincere effort to understand scientists I urge scientists to use their creative efforts to raise the public's discernment rather than dumb science down until the Higgs becomes "molasses", for example.
The vast majority of people, including those who post here, including myself, are not capable of ever understanding what scientists do. Trying to explain science to them in simplistic terms only gives them the mistaken impression that they ARE capable of understanding science, and worse, of criticizing scientists and of interfering with their work.

Translators like Krauss, hawking, Sagan, neil whats-his-name and Alda himself are useful in generating support for science but they should constantly be conveying how extremely difficult science is, and just what the qualifications are for actually doing it.
Kittora
3.9 / 5 (7) May 01, 2013
I dont believe alan is trying to get scientists to dumb them selves down, nor try to explain something as complex as the dense aether model.I believe he is trying to help in situations exampled above like a doctor talking to a patient or scientists to congress. Being able to clearly explain something without as much "jargon", without overwhelming someone who doesnt have extensive knowlege and experiance in something.
ValeriaT
2 / 5 (11) May 01, 2013
Trying to explain science to them in simplistic terms only gives them the mistaken impression that they ARE capable of understanding science, and worse, of criticizing scientists and of interfering with their work
This is a big mistake. You don't have to be a broody hen for being able to recognize the aged egg. It's actually quite easy to decide, whether the theory - no matter how complex it may appear at the first look - works or not. You can examine the theory as a black box, without bothering about its theoretical details. Of course, whereas it's quite easy to recognize the broken clock, their successful repair or replacement would require a much better qualification. But please, don't create a new generation of unmistakable medieval shamans and priests from contemporary scientists. For further reading you may visit this post and another references collected in its comment section.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (5) May 01, 2013
Actually in my experience the scientists aren't very motivated in detailed explanations of their theories in illustrative ways, because it could reveal their weakness. They're behaving like the medieval druids guarding their empirical secrecies. Just the dogmatic high school teachers (like this one) are very sensitive to it, because such an approach would directly threat their informational monopoly, which is based on the belief, that only thorough knowledge of math enables the understanding of contemporary abstract theories. It's not true at all - actually the hyperdimensional character of modern physics is more opened to its illustrative understanding with various particle and fluid models, than the solely low-dimensional models. With increasing number of dimensions the low-dimensional formal math becomes poorly conditioned and rather the obstacle than the helper of the further understanding.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (4) May 01, 2013
This is a big mistake. You don't have to be a broody hen for being able to recognize the aged egg. It's actually quite easy to decide, whether the theory - no matter how complex it may appear at the first look - works or not
-This from a guy with a theory that is nothing BUT simplistic words -?

Do some work. Turn your words into math. Or would that be too difficult for you? Perhaps you could hire a scientist to do it for you?

Religionists want only theories they can understand. Scientists know the world is far more complicated than that.
Sean_W
1 / 5 (2) May 01, 2013
Another tip is if you are going to explain your math calculations (simple algebra to a somewhat scientifically literate but otherwise general audience) don't assume everyone knows what equation you're using & don't assume everyone knows what each symbol, especially Greek letters, represents because it's a standard in *your* field.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (5) May 01, 2013
Turn your words into math. Or would that be too difficult for you?
The AWT just relativizes the significance of math for physical reality understanding. If you're still asking for math, then it's apparent, you didn't understand the principle of AWT at all. How you could understand the math after then, if you cannot understand the principle? It's like to say to famous detective (like the Sherlock Holmes): 'Well sir, your deductions are indeed interesting and you solved many cases with it - but I don't believe you, until you express your words into math". You would probably sound like the imbecile...

Can you even realize, that some reality can be described/explained/predicted without math, not to say more consistently and reliably? Apparently not. Of course, nobody is prohibited in development of formal models based on AWT - but (s)he should do it for your own money as a liberal art, not for the money of tax payers.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (5) May 01, 2013
The power and weakness of math is just in the point, it's a language for exact, deterministic and atemporal description and not explanation of reality. But the devil is in details at the moment, when we get into chaotic and dynamic reality. In this moment the temporal rigidity of math becomes an obstacle instead. It's like the attempts for finding of shortest path through fractal landscape, when we are dealing with every detail quantitatively. We can find a way much more reliably and faster, if we would ignore the details at some level. But the physicists, who are payed for publications don't really care, how effective their approach actually is, until their money are going. After all, it's all "basic research", which "could help another research later" - doesn't it? So we are losing precious time in research of really substantial findings, like the cold fusion, magnetic motors, antigravity, etc.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (5) May 01, 2013
In AWT we can explain the roles of deterministic and intuitive understanding of reality with observation of water surface with its own ripples. At the proximity the ripples are spreading in nifty deterministic way in regular circles, which makes the development of deterministic models of reality effective. But with increasing distance these ripples will undergo scattering and the deterministic description of reality becomes increasingly complex. The mainstream physicists still have no problem with it, as it generates jobs for many theorists. But at this distant scale the role of indeterministic spreading of underwater waves becomes dominant too - and it makes the real trouble for deterministically thinking scientists: the garage research and ideas of alternative thinkers and inventors becomes increasingly more effective. As you may guess, at the infinite distance the power and significance of intuitive high level thinking becomes equivalent to strictly deterministic model.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (5) May 01, 2013
After all, we can see, how in many areas of technology the overly detailed and deterministic models are gradually replaced with high-level approach. It's clearly visible for example in development of computer languages - nearly nobody understands/develops in machine code or assembly language by now. Instead of it we are using high-level programming languages, which don't bother about programming details. They're not always strictly deterministic (they're using garbage collectors etc), so we cannot use them for programming of real-time satellite controllers - but they're robust and effective enough for solving of everyday tasks. We can just expect, that the models in physics will evolve in similar way. The problem is, the physics stagnates in epoch of two deterministic low-dimensional models (quantum mechanics and general relativity) and it has still no independent high level languages developed. I presume, the AWT is just a very first step in this direction and others will follow soon
antialias_physorg
4.6 / 5 (11) May 01, 2013
I'm a bit torn about this. Of course it would be nice to explain all the things that science has to offer in simple language.

However, one must understand: Scientific jargon isn't invented for the heck of it. It is used precisely because ordinary language does not suffice.
Ordinary words conjure up a slew of associations. And those associations may not be the same for everyone. Scientific lingo is used in order to AVOID this becuase it leads to confusion and misunderstanding (just look at Zephyr and his water analogies).

The words in science have precisely delineated meanings. And you can only build knowledge on concepts if these concepts aren't fuzzy (again, unlike Zephyr's AWT).

So it's not really any use clothing science in dumbed down words - because that makes the conveyed knowledge useless. It then just becomes (possibly confusing) news fluff.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (8) May 01, 2013
The formation of jargon is an emergent effect, pretty analogous to formation of bosons from fermions in gauge theories. It's not accidental at all, because these new concepts are serving for deterministic exchange of information about another previously known concepts in similar way, like the bosons are serving for exchange of energy between previous generation of bosons. So that when scientists reveal some new connection and this connection becomes effective description of reality, it gets new special denomination and its researched until it becomes a new independent branch of science living its own life. For example the gluons or quarks don't exist independently, but they're handled so like the individual particles and their interactions are getting new independent names gradually. In this way the density of jargon network increases gradually, until its not distinguishable from pure noise for laymen.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (8) May 01, 2013
From high dimensional theories of gauge groups (Lie exceptional groups in particular) follow, this specialization becomes effective just to certain limit (the number of nested levels of gauge boson formation). This is essentially the reason, why the heterotic string theories adhere to relatively low number of dimensions. After then a fundamentally new approach must be chosen, independent of previous mechanism of gauge boson formation. From this analogy I presume, the generation of new jargon words in physics has its apparent limit too, because it will lead to the separation of physicists not only from everyday reality (as it already happened), but to the casual separation of individual branches of physics each other. The typical manifestation of this separation is, the same physical concepts are getting different jargon in various areas of physics. For example they anyons in soft phase physics mean Goldstone bosons in HEP, the scalar waves are equivalent to gravitational waves, etc.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (8) May 01, 2013
Of course, the mainstream physicists don't take a shit, if they're developing the same things under different names in various areas of physics, as it helps them to continue in safe research, grants, jobs and salaries. On the contrary, the naming of various effects by their inventors is their nerdish way, how to make himself famous and immortal. So that these specialists have no intrinsic motivation for unification of physics, as the former president of APS famously recognized and noted before many years already. These guys will pile the new duplicated concepts and terms for it, until their money will be going. Their community represents the selfish meme - an abstract form of living matter, which just struggles to become as complex and entropic as possible, until the Sun is shining at it. The problem is, this matter is evolving inside of human society like its social symbiont or even parasite.
Guy_Underbridge
3.5 / 5 (4) May 01, 2013
I guess it would really depend on who you're talking to, wouldn't it?
Kittora
3.7 / 5 (6) May 01, 2013
I must point out again its not about "dumbing down all of science" Its about convying something to someone who doesnt have experiance in what your talking about clearly and simply.

This would depend on who you are talking to. You wouldnt do this to students you are teaching or a science major.

ValeriaT
1.4 / 5 (9) May 01, 2013
And you can only build knowledge on concepts if these concepts aren't fuzzy (again, unlike Zephyr's AWT).
As I explained already, this is valid approach just up to certain level, for which the observable reality can be considered atemporal and homogeneous. But with expanding level of details and distance scale the intrinsic dynamic character of reality becomes increasingly pronounced and the strictly deterministic approach will hits its limit. After all, this is why we aren't using the strictly deterministic approach for handling of complex hyperdimensional nested interactions inside of social groups - the opposite cases are presented at sitcoms like the autistic Sheldon Cooper personality and ridiculed. The trick of AWT geometry is, with expanding of human knowledge the observable reality becomes as complex and hyperdimensional, like the biosphere and human society, so that the autistic approach of mainstream science isn't effective anymore.
grondilu
3 / 5 (2) May 01, 2013
I'm not sure I understand Alda's point. The anastamosis example seems to be against his idea. I think it's neat and useful to have a single word to describe the action of "cutting out the bad part and sew the two good ends together". It's shorter and thus Huffman's principle compliant.

Of course for someone who is not a scientist those short words are useless, but a scientist uses this concept often so he/she wants a short word to talk about them.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (5) May 01, 2013
I guess it would really depend on who you're talking to, wouldn't it?
Of course, the principles of information spreading inside of hyperdimensional objects are increasingly different from information spreading outside of them, as the complementarity of black holes illustrates clearly. The physicists are essentially autistic individualists and they don't like, when the fundamental paradigms are changing too often, whereas the laymen are getting bored with it fast and they do want some change at any price. The scientists are sharing information easily each other like the superfluous condensate, but their community exhibits hard and brittle surface with respect to the neighborhood like neutron stars. The reflecting and censorship of information typical for black hole event horizons occurs there often in both directions. The community of scientists cannot absorb new findings ideas and information from outside.
Kittora
3 / 5 (4) May 01, 2013
hes saying he liked how simple the description for an end-to-end anastamosis. Because, if you say you need an end-to-end anastamosis to most patients they are going to look at you weird without much of a clue what you are talking about.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (6) May 01, 2013
When some object falls into black hole, the observer from outside of it will see the accelerating object shrinking into coherent singularity. Whereas the observer from inside of black hole would see the gradually expanding and slowing object, which is gradually changing into incoherent noise instead. We shouldn't be therefore surprised, if the community of formally thinking people will perceive the same concepts coming from outside in exactly the opposite way. For me the AWT may appear like amazingly well developing increasingly coherent theory, whereas the formal physicists would perceive it like the increasingly incoherent blurb and world salad. The similar duality we observe between worlds of black and white people, Islamists and Christians etc. Fortunately when the black hole absorbs sufficient amount of matter, it becomes diluted and more opened to seamless exchange of information.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (6) May 01, 2013
In essence, whereas the information are mediated with gradients (ideas, theories, religions) trough human society, the same gradients between various social groups (physical phases) are the cause of scattering, confusion and ignorant reflection of information. The only way, how to overcome the surface tension between various social phases is to dilute them mutually in similar way, like we can mix the oil and water with diluting the both with sufficient amount of spirit. The mutual awareness, patient explanation and spreading of knowledge is what helps to overcome the initial distrust if not negativism between social groups with overly different ways of thinking. The action of short-distance mediators (amphiphillic molecules of soap) like Alan Alda without deeper understanding of reality will rather lead to temporal formation of the mayonnaise, which will separate back again into its original phases, whenever their medial massage will disappear.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) May 01, 2013
Its about convying something to someone who doesnt have experiance in what your talking about clearly and simply.

That's sort of the point. If you try to explain science 'simply' then you're not doing it clearly - simple words are open to misinterpretation.
(and conversely if you're explaining stuff clearly - which necessitates jargon - then you're not doing it 'simply')

The words used in science describe things which aren't necessarily common sense. The deeper you get into science the less 'common sense' things become. That's pretty natural as the easily grasped stuff gets discovered first, and the more complex stuff later on.

Words evolved to communicate everyday occurences. But the stuff you have in science is not 'everyday occurences'. And so we shouldn't be surprised that a language not evolved to cover these situations is unable to deal with them - and that it makes little sense asking that it should.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (6) May 01, 2013
if you're explaining stuff clearly - which necessitates jargon - then you're not doing it 'simply'
In AWT it's even generalized demonstration of uncertainty principle and one to many duality: the strictly deterministic theories are getting fringe logically and the strictly logical approach leads into deterministic paradoxes. After all, as Einstein once said: "As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality." The only way how to beat this paradox is to use the dual or even more general approach.
The Ptolemy's theory is indeed difficult to explain without usage of various new abstract concepts like the "epicycle", "deferent" and "equant". But at the moment, when you imagine the inverse perspective, then it suddenly becomes clear, what all these terms are actually about. The irony is, you can never understand the epicycle theory in its full depth without having the heliocentric model on mind.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (6) May 01, 2013
From the same reason I don't expect, that for example string theorists will even realize the caveats of their theory without becoming familiar with the dual loop quantum gravity theory and vice-versa. Analogously I do afraid, you can never understand the contemporary physics without admitting the dual perspective of AWT - at least artificially, for sole purpose of realizing it in its full depth. This indeed doesn't say, that the AWT is the true or most general description of reality - for ultimate demonstration or falsification of it we would probably need to consider some even more general model. It just means, that every opponent of some concept should become fluent in its argumentation and he should manage to use it actively, despite he likes it or not. The passive negativism or blind refusal is a sign of weakness and predestined to failure, because your opponent is always at least one step before you. If you don't like some approach, you should learn it first, or leave it.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (6) May 01, 2013
The memo therefore is, you may want to cut the jargon or not - but at the moment, when you have no alternative approach for explanation prepared, Mr. Alda has no big chance with his approach. The mainstream physics maintains no alternative ways - even at the case, when it could use for example the Couder's experiments for illustrative explanation of quantum mechanics, it would admit the validity of aether model, which is indeed not feasible way from political (actually religious) reasons.

In this way the mainstream physics remains helplessly locked inside the trap of its own ignorant (reductionist) philosophy. As Max Planck once said "Science advances one funeral at a time, Truth never triumphs — its opponents just die out". It's because the teaching the physicists the new paradigms isn't only psychological barrier - it's economical barrier of investments, as it consumes lotta time and resources of society. It's not cheap stuff.
Q-Star
3.4 / 5 (5) May 01, 2013
With all due respect to Mr. Alda, the language of specialized field is always going to be,,,, well it's going to be specialized. That's so experts across the geopolitical, sociological and cultural lines can work on the same page,,, efficiently. It's very inefficient to spend most of your time hashing out exact what a particular person is saying in a particular instance.

Mr. Alda, Seek out the popular writers to find material written in "everyday" speak. And LISTEN to them when they tell a certain word means a certain thing and only that thing. If ya skip that part because ya think ya know what the word means, ya'll often get it wrong, AND misunderstand the concepts.

There are dozens of experts who share their expertise with the lay public,,, most of them do a fine job. If ya want to understand the "peer reviewed" literature, then there is no way to do that but began at the beginning and learn the science at it's most fundamental level, and to speak the language precisely.
loneislander
1.8 / 5 (5) May 01, 2013
I'm not sure I understand Alda's point. The anastamosis example seems to be against his idea. I think it's neat and useful to have a single word to describe the action of "cutting out the bad part and sew the two good ends together".


My central point/issue/concern is that once a scientist says that "anastamosis" is "cutting out the bad part and sewing the two good ends together" the audience has the obligation to pay attention and, at least untill the end of the 'sketch', remember what anastamosis roughtly means just in case it has to be mentioned twenty more times in the same hour.
cantdrive85
1.7 / 5 (12) May 01, 2013
The words in science have precisely delineated meanings. And you can only build knowledge on concepts if these concepts aren't fuzzy

Hot Gas.

And LISTEN to them when they tell a certain word means a certain thing and only that thing. If ya skip that part because ya think ya know what the word means, ya'll often get it wrong, AND misunderstand the concepts.


Hot Gas!

If ya want to understand the "peer reviewed" literature, then there is no way to do that but began at the beginning and learn the science at it's most fundamental level, and to speak the language precisely.


Hot effing gas!

ValeriaT
1 / 5 (4) May 01, 2013
And you can only build knowledge on concepts if these concepts aren't fuzzy
Only when these concepts aren't describing the intrinsically fuzzy reality (which our reality undeniably is). If you need to find the shortest way through complex landscape from point A to point B, you've essentially two options, how to find it. You can do it with trial and error approach, while measuring all distances scrupulously. Or you can climb to the highest hill and look for the shortest path, while ignoring the landscape details under hope, the randomness in integrals of many parallel ways will compensate mutually. Do you think, that the successful leaders or politicians are judging every detail? On the contrary, the secret of their success is in the effective generalization (sorta smoothing or averagin) of actual complex conditions. And I'm still not discussing the dynamic situations, where the ideal path changes from time to time.
antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (6) May 01, 2013
The words in science have precisely delineated meanings. And you can only build knowledge on concepts if these concepts aren't fuzzy

Hot Gas.

Precisely. Now you have said "hot gas" and it could mean a number of things. Had you used the jargon word "plasma" (or "unclear verbiage") we'd be further along in communicating. But simply stating "hot gas" gets us nowhere.
See how fuzzy/dumbed down language doesn't work?

Only when these concepts aren't describing the intrinsically fuzzy reality

All the more reason to be precise. If you use fuzzy concepts for a fuzzy reality then the uncertainties add up - and you end up not conveying any information at all (as per information theory).

Do you think, that the successful leaders or politicians are judging every detail? On the contrary, the secret of their success...

I ain't all that impressed with the decision making quality of 'world leaders' (neither of politicians nor their handlers).
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (6) May 01, 2013
The AWT just relativizes the significance of math for physical reality understanding. If you're still asking for math, then it's apparent, you didn't understand the principle of AWT at all
Yeah buddy. Me and everyone else. Have you ever met anyone who understands what you are talking about? No one here apparently ever has.
How you could understand the math after then, if you cannot understand the principle? It's like to say to famous detective (like the Sherlock Holmes): 'Well sir, your deductions are indeed interesting and you solved many cases with it - but I don't believe you, until you express your words into math". You would probably sound like the imbecile...
Detectives work with words. Scientists only use words to substitute for the equations other scientists are familiar with.

If ever you want to convince any scientist that there is any validity to AWT, you will HAVE to translate.

Words are worthless to physics without the math to back them up.
LarryD
5 / 5 (3) May 01, 2013
Let's get things straight here. What do we want scientists to do?
They spend years from graduating to sometimes deeply involved with whatever their subject is and the outside world seems distant. Sometimes they use 'cutting edge' math.
The odd one or two are good at communicating but most are not...but this is not a fault it is just a fact.
Just a lay people spend most of their time with other lay people so the scientist spend most of their time with scientists. Just as latter should learn to communicate their ideas to the populace so should the lay person accept some responsibility in going part of the way to understand the basics of the topic that interests them.
For the lay person there are now many books on the market which can help bridge the gap, some with no math at all and some with a little (example of the former; Dance of the Photons, A. Zeilinger: latter; Absolutely Small, M. Fayer)
The problem can only be solved by both sides taking a few steps toward each other.
cantdrive85
1.5 / 5 (8) May 01, 2013
Had you used the jargon word "plasma" (or "unclear verbiage") we'd be further along in communicating.


Here I thought plasma was a distinct state of matter. Would "solid" or "liquid" be considered scientific jargon? And in the jargon of astrophysical science, I suppose if I'm referring to a liquid I could just as easily call it an "hot solid". I think some of the "jargon" misleads both the scientists as well as layman.
Guy_Underbridge
3.7 / 5 (3) May 02, 2013
..Here I thought plasma was a distinct state of matter
heck no.. Even I knows it's one of them there new-fangled TVs..
sennekuyl
not rated yet May 02, 2013
I don't think scientists generally use jargon like a salesman does... The only benefit to scientists is to convince you they are right and if they have the time for it will spend more effort to give you the information needed to understand by breaking the jargon down.

The salesman is the opposite, relying on the probability you don't have the time to understand, will convey as many concepts as needed to get you to purchase. They generally increase the jargon when it is obvious you don't understand.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) May 02, 2013
I don't think Alda has a problem with scientific papres (which are written by scientists for scientists).
But more with the type of science journalism that seems to include obscure technical terms.
Maybe this will clear a few things up:
Articles that are in anything less than, say, "Scientific American" aren't written by scientists. They are written by science journalists.
Science journalists often have some background in science, but there is no way they can have any but the most superficial knowledge of what they are writing about (since they need to cover stuff from many topics in the course of a day).
So when they talk to scientists they get handed all the jagon which they don't understand.

Now they have a difficult choice to make: Put it in simple words (and probably get it wrong) or leave the jargon and alienate the less educated readers.

And that's another thing: Readers have different levels of proficiency. You'll never get it written up so that everone is satisfied.
.
antialias_physorg
3.7 / 5 (3) May 02, 2013
it's not difficult to explain the quantum mechanics with Couder's model of water surface or even with dense aether model.

When you explain somethnig using a way that is fundamentally wrong you're not helping the reader. You're just confusing them (and probably in a way that they won't even notice). This is a waste of the readers time and generally a disservice to them.

Journalims shouldn't be about giving a reader that nice, fuzzy feeling of having understood something when in truth they are miles off the mark.
Journalism should try to convey CORRECT information pertaining to a subject. If the minimum requirement for such correctness is that some advanced concepts need to be included then that is preferrable over substituting an incorrect analogy.
grondilu
3 / 5 (2) May 02, 2013
hes saying he liked how simple the description for an end-to-end anastamosis. Because, if you say you need an end-to-end anastamosis to most patients they are going to look at you weird without much of a clue what you are talking about.


That's why they don't use this word when talking to a patient. They use a periphrasis, which makes sense. But is Alda suggesting doctors should forget about the word "anastamosis"?? I hope not. Or am I missing something?
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (3) May 02, 2013
Let's get things straight here. What do we want scientists to do?
We want them to figure out how things work. We want them to solve our problems, extend healthy lives, secure the future for our offspring.

These are the things they want as well. But we have no business trying to tell them how to find out.
They spend years from graduating to sometimes deeply involved with whatever their subject is and the outside world seems distant. Sometimes they use 'cutting edge' math.
The odd one or two are good at communicating but most are not...but this is not a fault it is just a fact
They are extremely good at communicating with each other. It's not their fault we aren't qualified to understand what they are saying.

What they are saying is already as simplified as possible. The problem is that the subject matter is extremely complex. There is NO WAY of making it any simpler without losing vital meaning.

People who imply there is either don't understand or are being dishonest.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) May 02, 2013
"(AP)—Among the procedures Army surgeon Hawkeye Pierce performed on "M.A.S.H." was an end-to-end anastomosis."

-And Alda should know that the word itself is a very economical way of conveying a great deal of info about location, cause, procedure, and result. When doctors try to simplify their explanations, patients may get the impression that they are capable diagnosing themselves and ignoring doctors recommendations.

Doctors spend much time in med school learning how to avoid this. As scientists spend little or no time in such doctor/patient relationships, they have no need for this.

Once at PPL a reporter from mother jones magazine contacted a brilliant but naive young physicist looking for info. He was more than happy to give this reporter a tour and a lengthy interview.

An article later appeared in the magazine which described sinister govt experiments with the potential to explode and contaminate large parts of central NJ.

The young scientist learned what PR depts are for.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) May 02, 2013
Had my own run-in with science journalists when I was working on integrating haptic interfaces into a surgery simulation.

So this science journalist and his team came along for the demo. We showed them how it worked. That he could touch, feel, and interact with the virtual knee on the screen. We told him all about visible mesh models, haptic mesh models, virtual force calculations, viscous vs. rigid forces, clever look-ahead strategies for interpolation and whatnot.

He played with it, listened to what we had to say, nodded sagely, smiled, scribbled, and left.

Three weeks later the article was published. At least 50% of the article was on how one could not only feel but also HEAR when one interacted with stuff on the screen - which he thought was fantastic.

What he'd heard were the motors from the force feedback generator buzzing. We had never said a word about any audio component to the simulation.

*Facepalm*
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) May 02, 2013
Three weeks later the article was published. At least 50% of the article was on how one could not only feel but also HEAR when one interacted with stuff on the screen - which he thought was fantastic.

What he'd heard were the motors from the force feedback generator buzzing. We had never said a word about any audio component to the simulation.
Perhaps he enlightened you on an unrealized potential source of additional feedback info -?
But you didn't prove it's fundamentally wrong
Morgan Freeman -?
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) May 02, 2013
Perhaps he enlightened you on an unrealized potential source of additional feedback info -?

Since that type of feedback isn't available in the operating room it wouldn't be sensible to include it in a simulation for training...

...unless we'd included the screams of non-sedated patients
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) May 03, 2013
Perhaps he enlightened you on an unrealized potential source of additional feedback info -?

Since that type of feedback isn't available in the operating room it wouldn't be sensible to include it in a simulation for training...

...unless we'd included the screams of non-sedated patients
-And the occasional 'oops'. I dont see why sound would be verboten. Kind of like sonar pings in 'das Boot'. How about earphones?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) May 03, 2013
Sound certainly has a place as an additional information channel in virtual/augmented reality environments. But if you're trying to teach someone how to handle a scalpel it's not good to give them such an information channel that they will not have in the actual operating room.

In another project (where we also used haptic interaction - but too manipulate a microrobot holding nanotweezers in a transmission electron microscope) we tried to use auditory clues.
However we removed them later on, since image refresh in a TEM is too slow and the lag between visual and auditory clues more confusing than it helped. Virtual forcefields and viscosity simulations to suppress user tremor and give guidance assistance proved more useful there.

ForFreeMinds
1.8 / 5 (5) May 05, 2013
Alda is just advocating people adjust their speech to the audience (his audience having been the general public). The benefit of technical terms is they say more with less. E.G., AGW is much quicker to say/write/read than "anthropogenic global warming " which has fewer words than the "man made global warming" though the later has fewer syllables.

Alda speaks to scientists for the reason that, as a group, they typically don't write as well as say liberal arts graduates. At least that's my observation. But to be fair to scientists, Alda should be able to use the dictionary if he doesn't understand the terminology.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (2) May 05, 2013
The benefit of technical terms is they say more with less.
This is high density of information, which will penetrate the hollow heads of laymen like the X-rays. What I would recommend the scientists instead (if they don't want to use the AWT related analogies) - they should use pictures, animations and videos at least. For example, whole the string theory is useless, but it's full of interesting and catchy geometry - but you cannot see it at the presentations. The effects which we can see in Brian Greene TV shows are artistic, but they don't reflect the reality described with string theory equations at all. I do perceive funny, when Greene is trying to remain as exact as possible, whereas he is followed with nonsensical cinematics and snapshots of undulating violin strings. This is manifestation of intellectual laziness. At the very end, the design of physically - or at least mathematically realistic - animations would help the subject understanding even for scientists itself.
Q-Star
2.3 / 5 (3) May 05, 2013
The effects which we can see in Brian Greene TV shows are artistic, but they don't reflect the reality described with string theory equations at all. I do perceive funny, when Greene is trying to remain as exact as possible, whereas he is followed with nonsensical cinematics and snapshots of undulating violin strings.


I agree, Greene's popular TV shows have some pretty nonsensical graphics.... They remind me of electron-ducks paddling along on superluminal transverse water waves disturbing the water walking spiders.

This is manifestation of intellectual laziness. At the very end, the design of physically - or at least mathematically realistic - animations would help the subject understanding even for scientists itself.


Ya mean "mathematically realistic" like in: neutron ants lining up to exclude water rippling through the aether? Does "the AWT" "help the subject of understanding even or scientists it self."?

P.S. If ya respond, don't change my accurate quotes.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (2) May 05, 2013
If ya respond, don't change my accurate quotes
LOL, just another hypocrite..:-) Do you really believe, that the "electron-ducks paddling along on superluminal transverse water waves disturbing the water walking spiders" or the "neutron ants lining up to exclude water rippling through the aether" is the exact quote of my analogies? If not, why do you expect the exact quoting from me instead? Should I replicate your intentional and dishonest misinterpretations of my ideas? Why I should do it? Tss, tss...;-)
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (2) May 05, 2013
BTW How the people, who are misinterpreting and and ridiculing the ideas of others could be actually motivated into deeper understanding of reality? Aren't they just the "oxen, who tremble whenever a new truth comes to light"? And if our civilization depends on the further progress, aren't such a people actually a parasites, if not open enemies of the human civilization (after all, like every people who tried to cover and twist the truth in the past)? Shouldn't they be punished for their reactionism immediately at the very end? How do you think, the Internet discussions would appear, if the covering and censoring of ideas of other would be punishable like for example the spreading of children pornography? IMO these questions are quite relevant for future of human civilization.
Q-Star
2.3 / 5 (3) May 05, 2013
If ya respond, don't change my accurate quotes
LOL, just another hypocrite..:-) Do you really believe, that the "electron-ducks paddling along on superluminal transverse water waves disturbing the water walking spiders" or the "neutron ants lining up to exclude water rippling through the aether" is the exact quote of my analogies? If not, why do you expect the exact quoting from me instead? Should I replicate your intentional and dishonest misinterpretations of my ideas? Why I should do it? Tss, tss...;-)


There ya are, but I didn't use quotation marks, which means I was paraphrasing. Ya on the other hand, frequently CHANGE the words and then REINSERT them into quotes.
Q-Star
3 / 5 (4) May 05, 2013
BTW How the people, who are misinterpreting and and ridiculing the ideas of others could be actually motivated into deeper understanding of reality?


No, they are ridiculing the ridiculous presentation of fantasy as reality.

Aren't they just the "oxen, who tremble whenever a new truth comes to light"? And if our civilization depends on the further progress, aren't such a people actually a parasites, if not open enemies of the human civilization (after all, like every people who tried to cover and twist the truth in the past)?


Civilization's future depends on electron-ducks and superluminal water waves? Really? We're doomed.

Shouldn't they be punished for their reactionism immediately at the very end?


Who determines who should be punished and the punishment?

IMO these questions are quite relevant for future of human civilization.


Lead us into the future Zeph, I'll follow. (Delusions of grandeur? They have meds for that.)
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (2) May 05, 2013
Ya on the other hand, frequently CHANGE the words and then REINSERT them into quotes.
Nope, I'm not doing it. Period.
Who determines who should be punished and the punishment?
Who determines, who should be punished at the case of child pornography spreading? Don't make things more complex, than they already are...;-)
Civilization's future depends on electron-ducks and superluminal water waves? Really?
I really don't think so. I never used the words like the "electron-ducks" or "superluminal water waves" in my posts. You're apparently living in alternative reality about it and talking about "delusions"? I'm not taking it, sorry. BTW If our civilization doesn't depend on string theory research, for example, why we should pay it from public money? I'm not taking any money for it as well..
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) May 06, 2013
Alda speaks to scientists for the reason that, as a group, they typically don't write as well as say liberal arts graduates.

True. But if they would write as well as that then they might not have become scientists (you choose that path that suits your abilities). Scientists DO usually write well when it comes to writing papers because scientists know that they have to be very precise in how they choose their words.
Scientists usually do NOT write for the lay public (it's not their job - and they don't really have the time for such non-productive work)

But to be fair to scientists, Alda should be able to use the dictionary if he doesn't understand the terminology.

I fully agree. If a term crops up that you don't understand then you should be GLAD to get the chance to expand your knowledge by looking it up (otherwise what are you reading scientists' papers for if not to expand your knowledge?). Complaining that it isn't presented using your vocabulary seems hypocritical.
no fate
1 / 5 (3) May 07, 2013
Communication can only occur if all parties understand each other. The chosen jargon should reflect the least intelligent person present who is expected to understand and communicate within the group.
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) May 08, 2013
The chosen jargon should reflect the least intelligent person present who is expected to understand and communicate within the group.

If it's communication we're talking about (and not just one-way, like in articles) then I think it's perfectly acceptable that if someone doesn't understand the jargon he can interrupt and ask for clarification.

If a doctor tells you he's going to perform an anastomosis then why not say "could you tell me what that means? I'm not familiar with the term"?
Is that so hard? Or is the doctor supposed to divine what kind of proficiency level you have?

On a related note: Is the journalist supposed to mind-read what kind of education level every reader has? How can he do that? He can guess at the general education level of people who read scientific articles - but that's about all one can reasonably expect.

So it's up to the reader to ask himself FIRST: "Shouldn't I catch up on some terms/aspcts BEFORE complaining?"
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (1) May 08, 2013
New website where scientists can discuss their research in ways that are accessible to the general public.