Scientific literacy is on the decline according to Scientists

“Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”- Politics and the English Language/1949/George Orwell

“Scientific literacy is the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision-making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity”. Scientific papers are getting harder to understand by the general population according to scientific research. The irony of it all, we had to simplify the study researching the subject so our readers understand the subject.

While scientists spend a significant part of their time experimenting in the lab, they spend a lot more time writing on the computer. Among these writings are the scientific articles that compile the results of the experiment in the first place. The point that distinguishes these articles from the articles published in daily newspapers and magazines is that the articles are a front element, called peer evaluation or peer review. That is, the researcher who wants to publish the article in a scientific journal first sends the article to the editor of the magazine, and if it can persuade the editor to be sent to the peers, that is, the researcher, like himself. If the referees give a positive opinion, the article is accepted and published in the journal. However, this has a background.

Starting a losing game

Scientific knowledge production is one of the areas where uneven development is directly observed. The advantages that countries with economic power have in terms of the production and use of knowledge do not end with a count. This unequal structure naturally affects scientists who are trying to make science and who are trying to make their work known to the world. In a world where competition is so high, researchers who have started the game 1-0 again have another big trouble: the science of science, or the science of English, which is today’s dominant state.

It is normally accepted that scientific articles are complex and incomprehensible among the people. The fact that the content of scientific information is very specific makes it difficult to understand why it has to overcome vocabulary used in daily life. However, beyond the understanding of the scientific articles by the public, it becomes increasingly difficult to read and understand the articles written even among the peers.

Access to scientific knowledge

This matter has attracted the attention of a group of researchers in Sweden and the Karolinska Institute has examined the abstracts of scientific articles on medicine and biology published from 1881 to 2015 by scientists. Researchers who scanned more than 700 thousand magazines from 122 magazines have tried to examine the variation of language used in articles with a few variables. One of them was the number of syllables in the words and the number of words in the words. The other was the ratio of the number of “hard words” per sentence to all the words. The “hard word” was defined as words that were outside of the commonly used three thousand sheep. According to this method, as the number of syllables in words, the number of words in sentences and the number of difficult words per sentence increase, the clarity of the articles decreases.

According to the results obtained, from 1881 to 2015, published articles are increasingly becoming more understandable. This trend is in line with the increase in science jargon used in the articles. The science jargon is formed by the use of less common and less well-known words in scientific publications, although there are other provisions on the daily basis.

As regards the reduction of the level of understandability, researchers contribute to the possibility of scientific development and the use of new concepts as words. However, they point out that increasingly widespread science jargon is not very relevant to expressing new scientific concepts. They, therefore, emphasize that making the articles less understandable is proportional to the authors’ choice of words.

Instead of a simple statement between scientists, a visceral language is more common and more intuitive. Perhaps this illusion makes the articles less understandable. Especially young academics strengthen this tendency by imitating their hocans or others instead of using their own writing skills.

The study of Swedish researchers explores the problem of telling science to the public. Scientific knowledge in the current system is less accessible to society. The decline of scientific literacy affects society as a whole. The most striking examples are observed in children. Researchers underline that children’s awareness of it also weakens.

Related article:

Plavén-Sigray et al. BioRxiv (2017).

Leave a Reply