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