April 14, 2017
As you’ve likely heard, many organizations and people around the country plan to participate in the March for Science on April 22nd (Earth Day). I’m not the “marcher”-type, but I’m predictably interested in communicating science and championing the importance of research, so I checked out the website. On it, the March for Science mission was stated as follows:
The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.(from https://www.marchforscience.com/mission/)
A bit wordy, isn’t it? Later on that page, the website argues that, “The best way to ensure science will influence policy is to encourage people to appreciate and engage with science. That can only happen through education, communication, and ties of mutual respect between scientists and their communities — the paths of communication must go both ways.” I think one of the best ways to engage people — and to show them respect — is to speak their language. Scientists are forever getting criticized (and criticizing ourselves) for using jargon. We can’t avoid it!
That’s why I love this thing called Up Goer Five. It’s a cartoon from a few years ago on xkcd.com, where Randall Munroe (who often creates cartoons of complicated scientific subjects) drew a labelled diagram of the Saturn V rocket using only the most common one thousand (or “ten hundred”) words in the English language. Thus, the Saturn V rocket became the “Up Goer Five.” The concept took off, and many scientists have taken a stab at explaining their research using only those top ten hundred words. Many of them are on this tumblr page. One I really loved (based on extreme scientific bias) was by a scientist named Lora who does experimental rock and mineral deformation:
“Our world is a big ball of rock. There are rocks on the ground and rocks under the ground. The deeper a rock is under the ground, the more everything about it presses down on it and the more it gets hot. This pressing and hot change the rocks deep inside our world so that they are different from the rocks on the ground, even if all the rocks are made of the same things to start with.….I study how the rocks change deep inside our world and inside other worlds near us, as they get hot and are pressed on under ground. But how can I study this if I can’t go hundreds and hundreds of feet under ground? I am able to grow a piece of what is down there by pressing hard hard hard on a very tiny piece of rock and making it hot at the same time. The rock responds and changes as if it were deep under ground. Then I can look at the tiny new rock I made and study what happened to it.”
Sometimes it can sound silly, and while you’d never actually talk like that (except to a small child ), I think the exercise can be very useful. And why not be able to explain your research to a small child? What do you think those scientists testifying to Congress have to do? (ba-dum-ching!)
So I’d like to challenge my fellow JSG students to give it a try, and send us a short description of your research using the ten hundred most common words. If you use this editor, you can automatically find out when you’ve used a forbidden word (hint: “rock” is okay, but “mineral” isn’t. neither is “fossil”). It’s kind of addicting.
We’ll post up any entries we get so you can send your friends a link — who knows, maybe your mom will finally understand what you’re doing.
(And in case you are interested, I study rocks that come from very deep in the Earth to the Earth’s surface. These rocks are made up of smaller pieces, almost all of which are green! I study how the rocks change shape from forces pressing on them. Right now I go to school as a student, but in the future I hope to work in a place where rocks are shown and explained to people.)