A Conversation for The Four Main Reasons Why Scientists are Sometimes Incomprehensible
1 GLFM Started conversation Feb 24, 2003
Dear me, a few blatant assumptions about the communication bit. In my experience, with a reasonable knowledge of mathematics and the ability to look up technical terms, most scientific documents can be profitably understood. Arts, on the other hand, is riddled with meaningless bo!!ocks, clearly written by someone being paid by the word. The parable of the emperor's new clothes usually comes to mind when someone tries to point this out, and is howled down as a philistine.
Compare these two web pages, I'd be very interested to hear your comments:
Bagpuss Posted Feb 24, 2003
Well, quod erat demonstrandum, eh?
I was going to point out myself that a scientist might be confusing simply because he or she assumed the audience knows something which they actually don't. For example, a topologist might explain orientability in terms of manifolds and make it clear to someone who knows about manifolds but entirely befuddle someone who doesn't.
Now, you might claim that this is a case of poor communication, but if it's crystal clear to some people, then it can't be that bad.
I work in the bookmaking industry, which means I meet quite a large cross-section of the entire human race (Atleast most of them appear to be human).
If you have never dealt with Joe Public, you'd be amazed at the amount of unwillingness to understand that there is out there. Even when the customer is an intelligent human being, they have a tendency to assume that the person on the other side of the counter is a raving eejit. (Look at the articles on Fast Food restaurant workers on this site for more on this).
I have a friend who works as a MLSO (Medical Laboratory Scientific Officer) at a local hospital. Because I have a strong interest in science, and did physical sciences up to A-Level, and generally poke my nose into laboratories it doesn't belong, I can more-or-less keep up with her when she starts talking technical, making educated guesses.
If, however, you work on the roads, and your interests are football and drinking, and pretty much nothing else, you're unlikely to know the meaning of gas chromatography, or why a particular incedent was hilarious the other day when the (insert technical-sounding machine part) fell off into a beaker of (insert interesting reagent name) and nearly caused the entire lab to be evacuated. (Names deleted to protect the guilty and cover up for my poor memory). I've even visited the lab, which is unusual, as they don't normally let people in because labs can be dangerous places. I guess they trust me enough not to accidentally inject myself with conc.hydrochloric.
In another life (while not working for the bookmaking industry) I write software used by scientists and build and fix PC's. They don't understand what I do, and I don't know the detail that they take for granted in their job (which is generally in the automotive development, or power generation industry (yes, I get to visit nuclear sites!)), but we still manage to communicate somehow.
For the curious:
MLSO (Medical Laboratory Scientific Officer):
The Butcher Posted Feb 25, 2003
The analysis contains this line:
"Rather, his work achieves the sort of inversion that allows objects to emerge into a more-than-systematic life even as they reenter systematic flatness."
As someone who studied literature, I remember writing stuff like this. When I did, it wasn't good writing. There's actually a fair amount of decent writing in the analysis, but it fades away as the author gets into sounding smart.
Arrogance--a trap for scientists and literature students both.
The population growth study, though technical, is shorter and more understandable. But then I'm a software developer, and I have a background in math that your average person doesn't. The problem there is the symbols. People hate symbols.
U195408 Posted Feb 25, 2003
I think a major part of communication is judging your audience. So if someone gives a talk that is understandable to one person in the audience (someone who happens to know about manifolds), but not to the other 50 people, then I think that person has failed to communicate.
If the audience is there, than they are showing their willingness to try. At that point it's up to the speaker to do his/her job.
Bagpuss Posted Feb 25, 2003
I thought I might get that response.
Obviously giving a talk that's way over your audience's head isn't good communication. However, the list said "The scientist is an inherently a bad communicator" and what the article says doesn't cover this. It just says that using too many symbols means scientists can't talk proper.
daddypoos Posted Feb 25, 2003
keep taking the tablets. u might get through.
U195408 Posted Feb 27, 2003
Part of being an inherently bad communicator is not being able to judge your audience, and/or speak to them. The inability to speak to lay-people, or other types of audiences who aren't directly in the scientists field can be the result of "using too many symbols" and thus not being able to "talk proper".
Penelopepi Posted Apr 8, 2005
From attending workshops where you normally sit 80% of the time, listening, maybe going over a presentation with PowerPoint, or following along with a guide or book that covers strong points of the presentation, I've come to the conclusion that not involving the audience enough is the reason why professionals in many areas have a hard time getting their audience to understand. I realize not all scientists, teachers, and many other professionals do not always speak to expect clear understanding of all. Any presenter that would benefit by turning out a higher percentage of understanding should try to reach ALL of their audience.
Many times I have walked away from a presentation wondering why the audience didn't receive a guide at least a week before it was presented to familiarize themselves with the information ahead of time. I also wondered why the presenter didn't ask questions to verify understanding. Having time to reflect, I wondered why the audience couldn't have been given time to discuss the presentation (if needed) or give feedback. I know this is not necessary for all forums, sometimes the information has to be given to the public and we are supposed to just listen and understand on our own time.
Scientists, and others that hire someone else to get their information out, when needed, are using their communication (tools) knowledge wisely. Hopefully, the person they choose does it in a manner that reaches the not just the Auditory, but the Visual, & Kinesthetic learners also. Teachers are being taught the art of using *Envoy in the classroom to accommodate ALL.
It is not just the scientists having a difficult time with this. Many of us don't put the effort into finding strategies that would help others understand. Both parties would benefit if they worked on how they communicate. There would be less; "That was an awful presentation", "Did you understand what they were trying to say when....", or "I didn't get much out of that". On the other end, "Why am I wasting my breath", "How many ways do I need to state the obvious", or "It's over their head anyway", and more conversations on the actual point they were able to get across if more effort was involved.
Key: Complain about this post
- 1: 1 GLFM (Feb 24, 2003)
- 2: Bagpuss (Feb 24, 2003)
- 3: Caveman, Evil Unix Sysadmin, betting shop operative, and SuDoku addict (Its an odd mix, but someone has to do it) (Feb 24, 2003)
- 4: daddypoos (Feb 24, 2003)
- 5: The Butcher (Feb 25, 2003)
- 6: daddypoos (Feb 25, 2003)
- 7: U195408 (Feb 25, 2003)
- 8: Bagpuss (Feb 25, 2003)
- 9: daddypoos (Feb 25, 2003)
- 10: U195408 (Feb 27, 2003)
- 11: Penelopepi (Apr 8, 2005)