Science communications starts with understanding the language

Scientific theories are not the same as conspiracy theories

Communication between American, Australian and English people can be difficult. Like when I ordered a lemon squash in England and was given some sort of dishwater containing fluorescent yellow dye. Or the reactions of hostel roommates in the USA when I spoke of the benefits of wearing a thong in the shower. Turns out I meant flip flops.

These differences are frustrating and occasionally hilarious but the confusion of science English and English English has more serious ramifications.

‘Theory’ is a big one. Einstein’s theory of relativity is not actually on par with Joe Bloggs’ theory about how aliens have invaded Earth and are masquerading as our leaders. Although, based on how our leaders behave, Mr. Bloggs may have a point but it is yet to be demonstrated mathematically.

Scientific theory needs to be taken a bit more seriously than conspiracy theories on the grounds that they have been proven to occur in every case that has been tested. That’s pretty convincing. It’s also pretty confusing. We really need a different name for ‘Theory’ so it better resembles its significance.

‘Hypothesis’ refers to a testable idea and not at all a gut feeling or hunch as it seems to suggest. More confusing terms can be found here.

When it comes to communication, clarity is everything. If I order chips, I may receive hot chips or packet chips depending on where I am in the world. Science communication also needs to factor in perception and use unambiguous terminology. Which may mean that it’s time to find some new words.