The exclusive language of science makes it inaccessible to the larger community

Breanna Khameraj
September 29, 2022
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

Jargon and other poor narrative skills are among the problematic elements of scientific writing hindering communication and trust between the scientists and the community

Science has its own language, best understood by individuals who have spent countless years within academic and clinical environments. While this language can be helpful to describe, understand and then communicate phenomenon within a discipline, the rigid practices of science communication do not make it easy for the larger community to begin decoding this complex language. 

Elements such as jargon, poor writing skills and a bland style of communication all contribute to making scientific writing inaccessible to the public. Terms such as double-blind experiment, null hypothesis and mRNA are classified as jargon terms and individuals who lack a postsecondary science education background will have a challenging time understanding these words and their implications, hindering their overall understanding of scientific ideas. 

Elements such as jargon, poor writing skills and a bland style of communication all contribute to making scientific writing inaccessible to the public. Terms such as double-blind experiment, null hypothesis and mRNA are classified as jargon terms and individuals who lack a postsecondary science education background will have a challenging time understanding these words and their implications, hindering their overall understanding of scientific ideas.

Like journalistic writing, scientific writing should also be straightforward and adhere to basic grammar rules. Audiences should not struggle to read a scientific paper due to complexly worded sentences or the use of the passive voice. 

Even undergraduate science students often find it difficult to understand research papers. But as students of the discipline, we are expected to automatically understand the contents of a research paper and provide insightful analysis. 

It is exceedingly difficult for students to learn how to comprehend these papers on our own. We are given inadequate training in understanding scientific writings and the jargon used within them. As a result of this, we must learn based on the resources available to us: prior research papers, which are also lacking public accessibility. While self-learning has challenges of its own—it places a barrier requiring us to overcome the huge learning curve to be accepted in the academic world—this also allows the cycle of inaccessible science to continue.  

Science students are perhaps the most aware of the inaccessible nature of the discipline, but they are unable to resolve issues of inaccessibility because there is no guidance or adequate influence with science communication to correct this imbalance. 

Given the clear disconnect between the science community and society, how are science students expected to enter the scientific field when the language of science is not inclusive? 

McMaster University undergraduate student, Juliana Wadie, recently published a research manuscript exploring the accessibility and potential for reader engagement of lay summaries. She discovered many scientific journals scored low for accessibility and engagement in terms of public use, offering further examples that although there may be are elements within a research paper dedicated to making scientific findings accessible to the general public, these efforts are clearly not being executed correctly.  

While 90 per cent of individuals trust science and 52 per cent of individuals believe science is important to their everyday life, 44 per cent are more likely to trust social media for scientific facts. If the public cannot decode scientific information, there is bound to be widespread misinformation circulating. 

While 90 per cent of individuals trust science and 52 per cent of individuals believe science is important to their everyday life, 44 per cent are more likely to trust social media for scientific facts. If the public cannot decode scientific information, there is bound to be widespread misinformation circulating. 

As a result, there has been seen to be a 61 per cent increase in public health crises and a 57 per cent increase in the societal division between those who trust science and those who do not.   

When it comes to conveying crucial information to society, scientific communication must adopt the storytelling element; readers must stay engaged in the material for scientific writing to be deemed accessible. 

Initiatives taken by McMaster University are helping to correct scientific communication allowing the public to better understand scientific writing. The school of interdisciplinary science at McMaster has research dedicated to science communication and within the faculty of science, there have been numerous courses created to combat the inaccessibility of scientific. Improving the language of science allows for a better translation of scientific knowledge to the community 

Author

  • Breanna Khameraj

    Breanna is in her second year of Honours Life Sciences. She is ecstatic to combine her love for science and writing by bringing a scientific perspective to the opinions section. Outside of the Silhouette, Breanna enjoys watching anime, taste-testing her sister's baked treats, and reading novels.

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