Science is wonderful and exciting! So why does it have such a bad rep? It's too hard, you can't understand it, only people in white coats do it...
The many disciplines of science necessarily have a language of their own. Jargon builds up in every profession but it can breed a sort of elitism – only the initiates have access to the secrets. But each specialization in life has its own language, so what makes science especially be the brunt of bad press?
I was recently privileged to hear a lecture by Alan Alda (Hawkeye from M*A*S*H and currently the director of the Centre for Communicating Science at Stony Creek University, New York). He tells a story of a time when he had severe abdominal pains. The attending doctor told him that he had a bad bit of intestine, so they were going to cut the bad bit out and join up the good ends and he'd be right. Alan said "oh you're going to do a something-long-worded-ectomy" to which the surgeon replied "how did you know that?" Alan said it was a procedure he" performed" a lot in the first episodes of M*A*S*H!
The point was, if you are told you are having a ........ectomy, it would probably be meaningless, but the stupidly simple explanation, while it didn't use scientific jargon, was quite accurate, telling you exactly what was happening.
This somewhat goes against the grain. As a scientist, I have been taught to be precise, succinct and to write in the third person with technical language which has no ambiguity. Using colloquial terms was just unacceptable. So the liquid was not "poured into" but "decanted". That was fine when I was working in a research lab, but nowhere in my career as both a researcher and a teacher have I been taught how to make science "people-friendly".
There's a sense that if you use colloquial, simple language, you diminish the scientific veracity of what you're saying. And if you really want to be a scientist, you have to speak the language. But to have their ideas accepted and understood by the general public, let alone school kids, scientists must express their work simply, without dumbing it down so much that the reader, or listener, feels they are treated with condescension, while still conveying the truth about what they're doing.
This becomes significant when, for example, scientists are trying to acquire funding to carry out their research. Very few people in government are scientifically literate and they need to hear in strong, confident, understandable terms why this research is important.
A similar thing is true of Christianity. There is a jargon that Christians use with words like "atonement", "justification", and "sanctification" that is pretty much meaningless to the average non-churchgoer. Even the word "sin" still has many connotations that are not necessarily true or desirable among both Christians and those who are not.
Christian jargon, like scientific jargon, is often incomprehensible to the ordinary person.
The master communicator
God, the master communicator, has nailed it! His communication reaches absolutely everyone who's listening. He even uses science: the heavens declare how amazing he is (see Psalm 19)! Also in Romans Chapter 1 verse 20, it states that "from the creation of the world, the invisible qualities of God's nature have been made visible, such as his eternal power and transcendence" (The Passion Translation).
In Hebrews Chapter 1 verse 2, it states that in these last days God has spoken to us by his son. It goes on to explain that the son, Jesus, represents God exactly and freed us from our sins. Such a personal involvement trumps any language.
Not only that, but while Jesus was on earth and lived among us, he taught, not in Christian jargon, but by telling stories that were both simple and profound and stumped the scholarly Pharisees who could not answer back. The parables were simple, culturally in context, and packed a punch.
And one of their strengths was that they were delivered out of love. Jesus was not trying to compete or prove himself or convince people to follow him (or get funding for his research!). People were left with a choice, but the impact was unmistakable. Surely there's a lesson about communication here.
The most effective communication we can hope to achieve if we want people to notice that we are Christians and that this is worth following, is love. Our actions speak louder than words – the Bible says that "by their fruits you will know them" (Matthew Chapter 7, verse 16).
Aira Chilcott B.Sc (Hons), M. Contemp Sci, Cert IV in Christian Ministry and Theology, Cert IV in Training and Evaluation, Grad Dip Ed., began her working life at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, investigating characteristics of cancer cells. Turning to teaching in the Christian school system provided opportunities to learn theology, more science, mission trips and explore the outdoors through bushwalking and other exploits. Now retired, Aira is a panelist for Young Writers and volunteers at a nature park. Aira is married to Bill and they have three adult sons.
Aira Chilcott's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/aira-chilcott.html