De-Jargonizing Program Helps Decode Science Speak
August 10, 2017
Science is fascinating to many, but sentences that are full of expert-level terms and description can scare away even the most passionate readers. Can scientists learn to talk about their research without using too many technical terms? One of the obstacles to avoiding jargon is that scientists suffer from “the curse of knowledge” – they simply do not remember not knowing what they now know as experts.
To help scientists recognize which words are jargon and should be avoided or explained when engaging with the public, researchers at the Technion and HIT–Holon Institute of Technology have created a program that automatically identifies terms the average person may not know. In a recent paper published in the journal PLoS One, the free of charge and scientist-friendly De-Jargonizer is introduced. Once a text is uploaded or pasted, the algorithm color codes words in the text as either frequent or intermediate level general vocabulary, or jargon. This is based on frequency of the words on an internet news site, designed and written for the public. The corpus will be updated periodically, and can be expanded to include other sources and languages.
“The De-Jargonizer provides a grim glimpse at the current level of jargon in scientific writing,” says Technion Prof. Ayelet Baram-Tsabari.
When the authors compared 5,000 pairs of lay summaries, written for a wide audience, and their corresponding academic abstracts published in the journals PloS Computational Biology and PloS Genetics. Results showed that lay summaries indeed include less jargon (10%) than academic abstracts (14%) on average; however, research previously showed that for adequate comprehension, readers need to be familiar with 98% of the words. Therefore, the recommended level of unfamiliar words, i.e. jargon, is 2% – much lower than the percentage found in the lay summaries.
“The scientists intuitively understand they need to use less jargon when speaking with the public than to their peers”, says Baram-Tsabari, “but using so many unfamiliar words excludes the very people they are trying to engage.”
The program is designed to help scientists and science communication instructors improve and adapt vocabulary use when communicating with non-experts. Also, professionals in medicine could use it to evaluate text level for communication with patients. Overall, the importance of such a tool is to aid in making science and research accessible to the public, to support informed citizenship and more productive dialogue in these complex times for science in society.
The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is a major source of the innovation and brainpower that drives the Israeli economy, and a key to Israel’s renown as the world’s “Start-Up Nation.” Its three Nobel Prize winners exemplify academic excellence. Technion people, ideas and inventions make immeasurable contributions to the world including life-saving medicine, sustainable energy, computer science, water conservation and nanotechnology. The Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute is a vital component of Cornell Tech, and a model for graduate applied science education that is expected to transform New York City’s economy.
American Technion Society (ATS) donors provide critical support for the Technion—more than $2 billion since its inception in 1940. Based in New York City, the ATS and its network of supporters across the U.S. provide funds for scholarships, fellowships, faculty recruitment and chairs, research, buildings, laboratories, classrooms and dormitories, and more.