Science Communication = Choosing Your Terminology Carefully

By Michael Edmonds 27/10/2014

I was channel surfing yesterday and caught the end of a science piece on graphene and its’ use in flexible computer screens. The story was on the programme “On the Money” a financially focused programme on CNBC, and was showing on one of the Sky channels. It was an interesting piece but I had to cringe when the scientist being interviewed explained that the prototype screens were dark because each layer “attenuated 2.5% of the incidental light” and that there were 40 layers. After this a voice over from the interviewer explained that most of the light was being blocked as it passed through the screen but she then, unfortunately, had to add a comment about how challenging it was to understanding scientists.

It is so easy when we describe our areas of expertise to instinctively use terminology that is better left for speaking with other experts. A good science communicator knows how to bridge the gap between experts and the general public by using terms that are in common usage where possible, and when specialist terms are used, they are used sparingly, and are always accompanied by clear definitions.