Earth scientists milling around the lobby during coffee breaks at this year’s AGU had something unusual to mull over this year. A phalanx of colorful posters, created by a visual communicator who describes herself as a note taker on steroids, adorned the lobby of the Moscone Center. Snippets from the illustrated notes offer a fascinating look into some of the brainstorming sessions that have taken place about communicating climate science. AGU intstalled the posters at a fitting time: it’s been a disorienting month for climate scientists who have watched seemingly specious charges of scientific malpractice become a major news item.
One of the posters — called Communicating with Congress (and Everybody Else) — brainstorms some of the pitfalls that make communicating climate science such a challenge. High on the list: jargon. Scientists use such a specialized language that it can be difficult for non-scientists — even for those of us who cover the topic regularly — to distill the meaning from certain scientific presentations or articles. Complicating matters more, there are some words that have distinctly different meanings to scientists and the public. The poster highlighted a handful of them. I’ve taken the liberty of elaborating upon and defining a few of them below.
Did you know the difference? Have any good examples to add to the list?
Scientists: A suspension of any solid or liquid droplet in the atmosphere. Includes dust, soot, pollen, sea salt, sulfates and more. More details about aerosols.
The Public: Harmful material that leaks from nuclear material and is used to battle cancer.
Scientists: Energy that comes from a source and travels through some material or space. Includes electromagnetic radiation such as radio waves, infrared light, visible light, ultraviolet light, and X-rays. More details about electromagnetic radiation.
The Public: Something over Antarctica that protects against cancer-causing light waves.
Scientists: A molecule containing three oxygen atoms that functions as a harmful air pollutant near the surface, a greenhouse gas in the upper troposphere, and a buffer against ultraviolet radiation in the stratosphere. More details about ozone.
The Public: Willful manipulation of facts to suit political ideology.
Scientists: A term used to describe a statistical sample in which members of the sample are not equally likely to be chosen. Also a term used to describe the difference between an estimator’s expectation and the true value of the parameter being estimated. For some scientific analyses, a certain degree of bias can actually be beneficial.
–Adam Voiland, NASA’s Earth Science News Team