Terms that have different meanings for scientists and the public

Scientific term Public meaning Better choice
enhance improve intensify, increase
aerosol spray can tiny atmospheric particle
positive trend good trend upward trend
positive feedback good response, praise vicious cycle, self-reinforcing cycle
theory hunch, speculation scientific understanding
uncertainty ignorance range
error mistake, wrong, incorrect difference from exact true number
bias distortion, political motive offset from observation
sign indication, astrological sign plus or minus sign
values ethics, monetary value numbers, quantity
manipulation illicit tampering scientific data processing
scheme devious plot systematic plan
anomaly abnormal occurrence change from long-term average

Table from Communicating the science of climate change – physicstoday.org
(via Scientists are from Mars, the public is from Earth – blogs.discovermagazine.com)

I feel like some of the ‘better choices’ could still be improved upon. Terms like ‘difference from exact true number’ or ‘offset from observation’ sound like hedging terms, and may still lead to misinterpretations.

There’s a lot to ponder in this table. It strikes me as an important document – a compilation of one of humanity’s most tragic miscommunications.

via Words matter – blogs.agu.org

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