There’s a perennial debate about who’s to blame for widespread confusion about the state of climate science – scientists incapable of speaking to a normal human being or journalists incapable of grasping the simplest scientific concept. Last year at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a panel discussion of climate communication devolved into prominent scientists and journalists engaging in behavior I’d sooner expect from my five year old (“Your fault!” “No, yours!”). The stereotyping and finger-pointing even showed up at Science Online 2012, a group I expected to be well past this.
Just personally, as a scientist-turned-journalist, it’s an argument I find rather pointless (I’ve rarely seen meaningful forward progress come from such blame games) and frustrating beyond words. That said, since I’ve posted the Sh*t Scientsts Say, this is only fair. It’s a list of words or phrases that journalists use (abuse?) but people never actually say, posted on the Fast Horse blog. Bob Ingrassia posts examples taken from Minneapolis’ Star Tribune paired with how he might use them at home. Here’s a taste:
Strib: “Construction activity last year was slightly better in 2011 than 2010, largely because of an increase in apartment construction.”
Journo Dad: “I’m largely done with fixing dinner.”
Strib: “Critics contend that young, developing businesses and smaller websites could be saddled with expensive litigation costs.”
Journo Dad: “Critics contend that you kids don’t hop into the tub when you’re supposed to.”
Strib: “Police arrested a 22-year-old St. Paul man Sunday in connection with the death of another man, apparently after an altercation.”
Journo Dad: “I don’t want you kids getting into an altercation over who goes first.”
Ingrassia’s list goes on to include probe, blaze, and “white stuff” (which I failed at first to recognize as flowery longhand for the simple four-letter word “snow”), but is dwarfed by Mimi Burkhardt’s More Cliches Than You Can Shake a Stick At. Both are a good reminder that even the best professional writers and journalists can write or say stupid sh*t that nobody else understands. Indeed, the fact that the Sh*t People Say meme has been so popular suggests that just about any group you pick has jargon and slang that can render speakers unintelligible or ridiculous to outsiders. It’s not just scientists.