332 words • 2~2 min read

The Importance of Word Choice: Terms with multiple meanings for scientists and the public

If you haven’t seen the excellent post on Mountain Beltway - Words matter – you should head over there and take a look. The post brought up some interesting ideas about word choice, and how the common definition of a word may convey a different meaning than the scientific definition. For science communicators, this may lead to confusion and misunderstanding between you and your audience.

I presented this table to my Science and Nature Writing class this morning and asked my students to come up with other terms that may also have multiple, opposing meanings. This impressive list is what they produced:

There are obviously hundreds, if not thousands of other terms that could fit this list. So, in the spirit of collaboration and crowdsourcing, I’ve created a public Google Docs spreadsheet as a repository of confusing scientific terms. Feel free to add as you see fit, but do not delete anything. Feel free to add additional “Better Choices”. Please stick to words that clearly have multiple meanings, and not just difficult scientific concepts.

The editable spreadsheet is here - Terms that have different meanings for scientists and the public

Update: read the original paper that started this all: “Communicating the science of climate change


Deep-sea biologist, population/conservation geneticist, backyard farm advocate. The deep sea is Earth's last great wilderness.


Connect with SFS


  • Recent Popular Articles

    Alberta, Canada is the proud owner of the largest man-made pyramid on the planet
    The Trouble with Teacup Pigs
    24 species of sharks that have killed fewer people than Jack Bauer on 24
    Mermaids: The New Evidence is a Fake Documentary
    28 fallacies about the Fukushima nuclear disaster's effect on the US West Coast
    Severely injured great white shark found, are scientists responsible?
    Charm City's Water Wheel: The first truly feasible ocean cleaning array is already afloat
    How to build a canoe from scratch on a graduate student stipend