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Re: Problems with Paleontological Portrayal

"Sharon A. Hill"  wrote

>       Marty Martin wrote about difficulty with jargon in scientific circles 
>and that all scientists should strive to make their explanations 
>to all.
>       I absolutely disagree. Jargon is necessary for clear, concise 
>communication in a field. What would these posts look like if everyone had to 
>explain what "postcranial" or "hallux" meant every time they used it? I 
>struggled with the terminology when I first read this list but I educated 
>so I can follow the discussions which are far and above the level of popular 
>science. If you can understand, you feel"in the circle", if you don't, you 
>either learn what you lack or you complain about how scientists are just 
>"showing off". We had this discussion in the recent past, here.
>       Scientists are specialized and professionals. Some are very talented in 
>conveying an idea so ALL can comprehend. But, the idea that you can convey all 
>these complicated ideas in words that everybody understands is unattainable. 
>Meaning and substance will be lost. It would be nice if the populus would 
>a good basic, well-rounded education and then build on it.

The point is that there are two sets of vocabulary, each suitable for only one
target audience. When addressing one's fellow professionals, be it in a
scientific journal, lecturing students (or even this forum of interested
audience), use of specialist vocabulary (jargon) is desirable and often
essential. However, when addressing lay audience, and for this purpose a
scientist from another discipline is a lay person, specialist vocabulary should
be avoided as far as possible. Lay audience will lose interest rapidly if they
cannot understand. Purpose of addressing a lay audience, IMHO, is to keep
them interested in one's discipline, not to bring them up to the standard of the
professionals in that field.

More important, I think, is to get the facts right. It is a real problem in many
popular science books. In Fire on Earth by John and Mary Gribbins (a book on
the bolide impact and dinosaur extinction) authors wrote (page 12) ...there
were dinosaur grazers and dinosaur carnivores, dinosaurs that flew in the sky
and dinosaurs that swam in the seas.... implying that all of them became
extinct. Flying dinosaurs of course did not but I wonder whether the authors
were actually referring to pterosaurs and marine reptiles in that sentence. The
book is very much jargon-free but the information is not quite right.

Gautam Majumdar                 gautam@majumdar.demon.co.uk