Language Barriers between Scientific Community and the Public

It is no secret that there are language barriers that exist between the scientific community and the public, but what is not so commonly known is what factors have created these language barriers and the effects that these language barriers are having on our society. One of the more obvious reasons of why these language barriers exist is due to the fact that the language used in the scientific community is so different than the language used in the public. No, scientists are not speaking a different language all together, but they are using terms that a specific to their area of study. These words, terms, and acronyms are so unique to that area of study that another scientist from a different field normally has no idea what any of the words/acronyms mean. Most scientists are aware of these barriers within their own communities, but very few are actually taking steps to break apart these barriers. An example of a scientist who is well aware of these barriers, and is actually taking steps to breach these barriers is Marcus du Sautoy. Sautoy is the professor for Public Understanding of Science and a professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford.

Professor Marcus du Sautoy
Professor Marcus du Sautoy

He believes that the language barriers between different sciences is “partly due to the time and hard work we put into our own specialist subject meaning there often isn’t time to see what’s happening in other areas” (Jackson). In efforts to resolve this problem Sautoy organizes discussion groups and regular podcast debates in all four areas of science, and humanities. All professors of these departments participate in these activities and Sautoy claims that many lessons have been learned though doing this. He claims that breaking these barriers is “about thinking in a different way, learning about what each other do and going out of the normal comfort zone to get into the mind-set of another scientist. It is through facilitating the contacts between disciplines and departments which I think will create the big breakthroughs in science as we go into the next decade”. I strongly believe that what Sautoy is doing will help break down the language barriers between the different fields of science, and will lead to better scientific understanding, new breakthroughs, and more advanced technology (Jackson). However, when these breakthroughs are made, how will the scientists get past the language barriers that exist between the science community and the public? So far we have addressed the language barriers that exist within the scientific community, but what about the language barriers between the scientific community and the public? Based on my research I have found that there are two primary causes for the language barriers that exist between these two communities.

  1. The use of words, terms, and acronyms that is far beyond the understanding of the majority of the public.
  2. Unrealistic expectations that the public holds regarding the scientific community.

During my research I came across a perfect example of the differences of the language used between members of the same scientific specialty, and between that scientific community and the public. The example comes from a finding from Nathan Sanders, a PHD student at Harvard University. Sanders was studying supernovas and was lucky enough to see one, here is how he explain the experience to the public:

A star exploded in a galaxy not so distant from our own and our telescope just happened to point at that galaxy right after it happened.  As the evidence of this stellar catastrophe—a supernova—waited patiently in the images on our hard disks, the explosion steadily grew in brightness. The supernova became twice as bright, then four times as bright, then ten times as bright as it was when we first imaged it.  At this point, a week later, it was as bright as any explosion we’ve ever seen from a massive star.  This is the point—peak brightness—when supernovae are usually discovered, and indeed another group found it in their own images from this period.  A third group performed optical spectroscopy on the supernova and determined that it was of a rare type, thought to be produced from the death of a massive star which gives way to a black hole. But what makes this supernova truly remarkable, different from almost any of the thousands of others that astronomers have observed over the past century, is that it kept getting brighter.  It doubled in brightness again, and then doubled again!”

However, this is not how he his discovery to his colleagues in Astronomy, this is:

We report on our serendipitous pre-discovery detection and detailed follow-up of the broad-lined Type Ic supernova (SN) 2010ay at z = 0.067 imaged by the Pan-STARRS1 3Π survey just ~4 days after explosion. The SN had a peak luminosity, MR~ -20.2 mag, significantly more luminous than known GRB-SNe and one of the most luminous SNe Ib/c ever discovered” (Scientific American Blog Network, Sanders).

I believe that in the first description Sanders does a very good job at making the discovery make sense to just about anyone, sure that person won’t have the background knowledge required to know why this is so spectacular, but they would at least get the general idea of what happened. Unfortunately, this is not normally the case of how most scientists describe their discoveries, their descriptions normally resemble the description Sanders provides to his colleagues. This is because scientists are often not consciously aware of the background knowledge, knowledge of the subject, and knowledge of the subjects vocabulary that their audience has. This causes the scientist to use acronyms and terms that the public doesn’t understand. Which then causes great confusion of what is happening, and what this discovery means for society. It could also be argued that situations like these are cause for the general publics loss in interest in what is going on within the scientific community. To fix these problems and reduce the language barrier, it is crucial that the scientist knows exactly who the audience is (Arola 23) and delivers the information to them in a way that will aid their understanding of the discovery, hypothesis, or situation. On the other hand, not all of the blame for these language barriers can be placed on the scientific community, the public is at fault too. Due to the publics lack of knowledge on exactly where we are at with scientific technology, and the capabilities of scientists to make predictions/hypothesis based of the data given, the public holds unrealistic expectations of scientists capabilities, and the accuracy of their predictions/hypothesis. This is very true for geologists, but examples of this can be found with any scientist. This is so true with geologists because geologists, along with other scientists, are the ones who have to predict when large earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions, are going to occur. There is no current way to accurately predict when either one of these natural disasters will occur, they can only hypothesize by using technology, such as seismographs. Seismographs allow scientists to measure, and record, tremors/shifts that are taking place in the earths crust. There are signs that Mother Nature gives off that show geologists that an earthquake might happen, but determining the exact time and location of this earthquake is not yet possible, same thing goes for volcanic eruptions as well.exe31 With that being said, you would think that the public would be aware of scientists capabilities of predicting these natural disaster and would not try to hold scientists for not being able to fully predict when and where one might occur, guess again.

Damage after earthquake in L'aquila
Damage after earthquake in L’aquila

In L’aquila, Italy (2009), seven scientist were initially found guilty on charges of manslaughter after not fully being able to predict an earthquake that took three hundred lives. The defendants, all prominent scientists or disaster experts, had been accused of giving “approximate, generic and ineffective” advice about whether small tremors in the area in the weeks prior to the 6.3-magnitude quake should have alerted them to the probability of a major seismic event. This caused an uproar in the scientific community all across the world, and rightfully so. There was no way that the scientists could have predicted the earthquake, although there were small tremors in the weeks before the big quake, small tremors have not been proven to be a sign of a bigger quake that will occur. Also, when the public tries to go after scientists that delivers a clear message to the rest of the scientific community, and that message is to not give your advice on natural disaster because if you end up being wrong, you will be penalized in a very unjust way (Squires). Two years after the seven scientist were found guilty on manslaughter charges, with six years in jail, six scientists were acquitted of their charges. The 7th, Bernardo De Bernardinis, was charged because the court found that there was evidence that tied his advice to the decisions of 29 people, who died in the earthquake, to stay inside. Bernardinis had advised locals to sit back and enjoy “a nice glass of Montepulciano” wine (Squires). Bernardinis sentence was cut, from six years to two years.

Through the duration of my research I have been able to conclude:

  • There are definite language barriers within the scientific community throughout the different specialties, as well as between the scientific community, as a whole, and the public.
  • Server effects are taking place on our society as a result of these language barriers.
  • More research needs to be done to accurately determine what the exact cause and effects of these language barriers are. After the research that I have done, my position is:
  1. Unrealistic expectations, as well as uncertainty of certain terms, words, or acronyms, has resulted in the language barriers between the scientific community and the public. The high demand of time for ones own specialty results in the sparse amount of time for scientists to become familiar with other specialties, and the terms, word, and acronyms that are associated with those specialties.
  2. A lack of technological/scientific advancement has been a result of these barriers, along with a loss in trust/interest in the scientific communities.
  • This situation is much more complex than originally anticipated, more research needs to be completed to become fully educated on this subject.



output_2H7CtpBetter late than never right?

Well the blogathon at Bills house was a success and I definitely learned a lot! I spent most of the time reviewing the other class blogs, to see if they might be doing anything different that I would want to include in my own blog. Aside from that Brandon showed me how to make a gif! The gif that you see above is irrelevant to anything we are doing in class, but I wanted to play around with it to become familiar with the gif process. Now that tool has been added to the ever-growing toolbox.

Thanks again for the pizza Bill, and also welcoming all of us into your beautiful home!

Conflicting Values

“Don’t start statements with I don’t know”, Bill Mangrum.

  • But what if you really don’t know the correct solution/ answer to a problem?


In a situation like the one we were presented in class, administration wanting weekly updates on students to provide quantitative data, it is very difficult to determine the best solution or answer. This is because the parties involved have different sets of values, and the values of one audience will frequently conflict with the values of another audience.

Audiences and their values:

  • Administrators- Value quantitative data. They also value the format of this data and therefore want Professors to use Canvas and to post weekly progress updates for all students.
  • Students/ Scholars- Value free time, family, friends, work, sleep, food, parties, school, pets, and relationships.
  • Program Area- Values  engagement, ability to argue, listen/ respond to counter-arguments, qualified, and that students are making connection from own program area to different program areas.
  • Bill Mangrum- Values self initiative, responsibility, and self assessment.

In class we also used Patrik’s  background knowledge of his program area to state that there are two types of goods:

  1. Normal good- A good that you sell to higher class
  2. Inferior good- A good that you sell when wage goes down

Since higher education is effectively a business, and these goods also relate to business, I will use a business perspective while evaluating this problem.


In business you want to try your best to value each audience the

Business man considering his options
Business man considering his options

same, however it is typical that one audience, or multiple audiences, will be valued higher than the other(s).  In this case the business owners are basically the administration, and therefore they typically value their own set of values higher than the set of values from the other audiences. So I would then argue that they want their weekly progress updates, in the format that they want, and their is almost no way around that. However, for the business to still run effectively, they need to other audiences and therefore cannot completely throw their set of values out the window. This leads me to believe that a compromise will have to be made by all audiences in order for this process to work. In my own opinion I believe that an effective solution would be to have students work on a platform/ format that is easily turned into quantitative data, that way the professor can then take this data, put it in the format that the administration requires, and then post it. This is mostly a compromise between the professors and students, to meet the administrations values. This solution prevents the work load from being dumped all on one audience, and instead divides it up between two. This solution also allows all the audiences to keep their own set of values. This is a very basic solution, and to construct a solution that is more effective, addition research would be required. Since I have not completed this research, I don’t know what the appropriate solution/answer is.

Sister Helen Prejean/ Dead Man Walking


In Sister Helen’s speech she describes how the Gospel of Jesus called her to be with poor people, so she did just that and started learning from African Americans. While doing this she was asked if she would be willing to write letters to a man on death row. She agreed, but was nervous about it since she was uneducated about current justice system laws. After writing letters to this man for a short period of time, she went to visit him. The mans name was Pat Sonye and his brothers name was Eddie. The two brothers had went to a field in Louisiana and encountered a young couple. They convince the couple that they were security guards, and forced the women to have sex with them in order for them to not turn them into the land owner. This was all a trick, and after the men were done raping the girl, they shot and killed the couple execution style. After learning this Sister Helen was in shock that these were the two men she had talked with and met. Sister Helen then met the family of the victims. The father of the boy was upset that Sister Helen had not come to see them, and took her through his journey. By doing this he taught he that forgiveness is saving your own life by not letting hatred overcome you.

This is the story Sister Helen describes in her book, “Dead Man Walking”.


In the end, Sister Helen was there for Pats execution. Just before she had told him to look at her, and that she would be the face of Christ.

Sister Helen is still working diligently to end the Death Penalty in all states.

Some fun facts that she gave during here speech were:

  • A man on death row had a heart attack a few days before they date of his execution, the hospitalized him until he was healthy, and then killed him themselves.
  • There has been a couple other instances that were similar to that.
  • States that practiced slavery have the harshest penal system.
  • Texas has executions every week
  • It is more expensive to execute them, than to keep them in prison for the rest of their lives.


















“Language” By: Gita DasBender

So far I have read ten articles from this book, each one of those were different from the others and very unique. In this blog, will not go over each one in detail, but I will point out my favorite of the reads and some brief details that stuck with me from those articles.

The first article that I will discuss is, “Writing For an Audience”, by Linda S. Flower. I enjoyed this article so much because I found it very relatable to my major. In geology whenever you write a report, or write anything for that matter, it is crucial that you consider who your audience is and what their background knowledge is on the subject you are writing about. if not, it is very likely that your ideas will be rejected. I also believe that knowing your audience is crucial for any major or job, and this is because in any major/job you will be expected to express your knowledge to others.

The second article that I found interesting and relatable to my major is, “Which Language is Best to Learn”, by Robert Lane Greene. In this article Greene argues that French is the best language to learn. I found this interesting because as a Geologist it is very likely that you will travel a lot, and to many different countries and cultures. During your travel you will encounter many different languages, and it would be impractical to try and learn every language you might encounter. Therefore, it could be very beneficial to learn the language that will benefit you the most no matter where you are on this planet.



Hindrance to Research

Class Notes!

In class we talked about possible factors that could hinder ones research, and here are some ideas that my fellow scholars came up with:

Chayse Romero– “One hindrance to research is that we normally feel the need to touch on many different ideas, points, or subjects”.

Candra Lowery– “Questions often lead to further questions”.

Chloe Speshock– “Not knowing where to start”. Invention, arrangement, style, memorization, delivery.

Alex Byron(myself)-“Language barriers”. Not knowing specific terms for the particular discourse.

Erik Keil- “The way you think of things is not normally the best way to deliver it”.

Candra Lowery– “Willingness to adapt/ willingness to be wrong”.

William Mangrum- “Willingness to be wrong”.

William Mangrum- “Not wanting to be embarrassed by paper when you look back on paper twenty years later. Not about a legacy”.


Picture of a man trying to research, the struggle is real.








Connection to Geology List


  1. “Which Language is Best to Learn?” by Robert Lane Greene

Greene poses the question, which language is best to learn? I think that this connects to Geology because as a geologist you will encounter many languages while traveling the world doing work.

  1. Writing for an Audience by Linda S. Flower

This article connects to Geology because when a geologist writes up a report, they always have to consider their audience.

  1. “We All Are Writes Now” by Anne Trubek

Trubek makes the claim that everyone in today’s generation is better readers and writers due to social networking. I believe we see this in the geology field because it could be argued that younger geologist are more proficient at these skills.

  1. “I won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar” by Kyle Weins

You can’t get a job as a geologist if you use bad grammar.

  1. “Conquer English to Make China Strong: The Globalization of English”

If English is continuing to become a second- first language in areas around the world, this would be a benefit to English speaking geologists.

  1. “Saying Adios to Spanglish” by Letricia Salais

Geologist that learn Spanish in the states often struggle with speaking the language to the native people of those areas that have been speaking Spanish all their life.

  1. “Your Bad Grammar at Work: What’s the Problem?” by Alison Griswold

When geologist use bad grammer that can cause confusion to others or even be fired for doing it.

  1. “Why Being a Jerk Pays” Amy Reiter

It could be argued that this strategy to climbing the “corporate ladder” would be used in geology as well.

Pursuing the Definition of Inquiry


Inquiry: The process of obtaining knowledge through a question(s)and/or observation(s) that is relevant to the discourse.

  • Does this definition include that inquiry fills in the holes of missing knowledge?
  • Is there a distinct difference in this definition to the definition of research?
  • Does this definition clearly state the questions and observations don’t necessarily have to be verbalized?

In geology, my current major, we use inquiry almost all the time. We are constantly having to judge what others have said about a subject, and retest it. We also having to come up with theories of what we believe to be true, and back those theories up with facts. Therefore, geologist are always inquiring about certain subjects/problems, and are also having to try and fill holes of missing knowledge!







Multimodal Examples on Campus


Here we see Fort Lewis shooting a video on why students should come to the Fort, and what the benefits are! In this picture there are many multimodal examples, and they are using these modes as tools to help convince students to come here!

Gestural- In this clip they have students moving around, and their movements are predetermined and precise movements. They do this in order to emphasize points they want to make, and to also make everything more appealing to the viewers eye

Aural- is another distinctive mode that we see in this example. Its is being used by having the speakers within the clip speak in a certain tone, and then to also change and emphasize that tone in order to make certain parts of information stick out. This helps to get the viewer to focus on what it is you want them to focus on.

Linguistic- This mode is used in this clip because the author/director had to be very careful on the word choice. Often times for videos like these they are working on time limitations, and therefore can’t spend too much time describing one thing if they want to get everything in the clip. This causes them to come up with word choice that helps them summarize the information they want to be delivered, all while doing it in an effective way.

Another great example of the modes we are learning about in class, and how they are used in combination of one another to maximize the effectiveness. Thanks for reading!



Multimodal Examples on Campus


Bulletin Boards!

I’m sure we all know that these are very useful to get information about various events, but have you ever took a moment to step back and realize what technique these boards are using to deliver information to you? If your like me, I am guessing that your answer was no. So lets change that!

Bulletin boards use various multimodal elements! I will now describe what modes are being used, why I believe that particular mode is being used, and why.

LINGUISTIC- This bulletin board is covered with examples of linguistic mode! Whoever made the ad/paper had limited space to use, and therefore had to be very precise about his/her word choice in order to get all the required information on there.

VISUAL- The authors also commonly use pictures on their ad/paper in order to draw the viewers eye, and to also help describe what it is they are trying to deliver.

SPACIAL- The authors also used this mode by how they arranged their ads/papers, and also by how the bulletin board was organized. The board is organized so that none of the papers overlap, and also so that the viewer is able to read all of them. The individual ad/paper is organized in a way that the reader can read quickly and get the main idea right away.

All of these modes combined with one another to make the board successful. Even if one mode was missing, it could be argued that the bulletin board wouldn’t be near as effective as it is will all the modes.

Also, bulletin boards can vary in size, and also how they are organized.


Display Case!

Here we see a display case that uses the same modes as the bulletin board, but is slightly different. Here most of the ads/papers follow a common theme. This helps the reader to hop around and read whatever information the think they need, all while being readily available to a vast amount of information on the subject. The display case also provides pictures and additional information at the bottom of the case. The modes I believe that are being used to make this case effective are provided below:

  • Linguistic
  • Spatial
  • Visual

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