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May 19, 2010

The Language of Science: Part III

The language of science is designed to clearly convey ideas so that other scientists and the scientifically literate can understand them. I wish I could also say it is helpful in conveying scientific ideas to the public, but unfortunately that simply is not the case. Often times using scientific jargon will only confuse your audience. This creates two problems. First, it makes it much more challenging to educate people about science. This is a serous problem, but another problem that I think is even worse many times is the hijacking of scientific language. This misuse of scientific terminology is often referred to as "technobabble." This video below is one of the most famous pieces of technobabble on the web.

So, what's wrong with this explanation? She references creditable scientists and uses scientific formulas we are all familiar with. If you have much of any background in science, I'm sure you noticed the misuse of all these scientific terms; however, if you aren't, they can be more difficult to spot. I wanted to use this video not to prove that Dr. Werner is wrong, but to show how scientific terms can be completely taken out of context and misused. She tries to manipulate theoretical physics using very vague ideas. She talks as though she is trying to explain some scientific subject, but she is missing the scientific subject to explain.

Science does sometimes make bold claims, but only when the evidence is there to support it. If you hear someone making a bold claim that they claim is back up by science, ask for the evidence. There should at least be other researchers in relevant fields also supporting the claim. There is no perfect formula for avoiding technobabble, but it is something that we should be aware of. The better you understand basic science the easier it is to pick out when it is being misused. So try to educate yourself and those around you. Try finding other examples of technobabble in TV shows and pop culture. This is a really fun way to educate yourself and will help you detect when people are trying to sell you something that just isn't there.