Jargon Rehab: A Call for Clearer Communication

By Laura Seeholzer Miscommunication Pronunciation of the Kiswahili words for mosquito (mbu) and penis (mboo) are precariously close. Unfortunately, I only became aware of this a month after I started researching mosquitoes in Tanzania. The project I was working on required me to use a blended nylon material found in men’s boxers so once a week I would go down to the market and buy men’s Tommy Hilfigers (they had the perfect blend). When explaining to the marketplace vendors why I wanted men’s underwear, not women’s, I’d say in Kiswahili, “I study penises. I need underpants for an experiment with the penis” of course, I thought I was using the word mbu (mosquito), but I was of course saying mboo (penis). Yikes. This innocuous miscommunication can be used as an analogy for a serious problem: a disconnect between what scientists think they are communicating and what the public is actually hearing. In December, Alan Alda spoke to the Rockefeller community about this communication gap, a problem I knew existed but never fully appreciated.  He first asked us: “what level of knowledge is the public really starting at?” For instance, if you told a person on the street that you study

On the Doctor-Patient Disconnect

By Michelle Lowes, MD PhD EmpowerMyHealth helping people make informed decisions in health and illness So you’ve been feeling unwell for a while, and you finally go to your doctor, who listens to your symptoms, does a physical exam and then says, “let’s do some tests.”  She doesn’t give you any idea what your aches and pains might be, but says, “call me for the results in a few days.” Nervously, you call back and speak to the receptionist, who tells you the doctor is busy and will call you back later that day. You wait for the call, which comes when you are in the middle of a meeting, so you can’t pick up. You call back again. When you finally stop playing phone tag, your doctor tells you, “Well, the lab tests are in, you have panosis [1]."  She starts to tell you what panosis is and how it’s treated, and she will call in a prescription at your local pharmacy. However, you are still trying to digest that you have panosis, and you are really not listening at all. You say “thanks” and hang up, bewildered, scared, anxious. You immediately google panosis, and check out the online

Sensationalism in Science, Part I

By Gabrielle Rabinowitz Image credit: Zach Weiner (SMBC) “NASA Discovers Alien Life”  “Doctors Talk to Vegetative Patient Through Brain Scans”  “Sleep Apnea Tied to Increased Cancer Risk” The world according to popular science headlines is a pretty crazy place. Miraculous cures and surprising causes for all of our ailments can be found in a bite of chocolate. Everything we knew about something is wrong. And NASA has confirmed either the existence of aliens or a world-engulfing black hole. Of course, these are just sensational blurbs intended to grab your attention. Surely the real science can be found after the jump… And yet more often than not, the articles themselves are mere jumbles of over-hyped conclusions, out of context quotes, and clichés. But where do these headlines come from? Buried under all the hype, there is an actual scientific study. This source may not even be cited in the article, but it is out there. It presents evidence for a new discovery, or a new way of thinking about some, often small, aspect of our world. Eventually, the data presented in that study will be reanalyzed, critiqued, revised, and applied to advances in health or technology. But that process

Welcome to ArtLab

By Maryam Zaringhalam Photo taken from Iain McGilchrist’s TED talk “The Divided Brain” Oversimplification is the kryptonite of any scientific idea, oftentimes turning pop science into an elaborate game of telephone, carelessly paring away all the nuances and caveats that make the idea so impactful in the first place. The lateralization of the brain, first studied by Michael Gazzaniga and Roger Walcott Sperry in the 1960s, has been perhaps the biggest victim of bastardization by oversimplification. The left brain//right brain divide has been pigeonholing folks for decades now, neatly sorting us into the science-oriented versus the artistically-inclined. The rational male versus the emotional female. The *Spocks* versus the *Kirks*. The practical, ordered, and scientific world is the territory of the left brain, while the imaginative, aesthetic, artistic world is the right brain’s domain… … the problem with such a black-and-white picture is that it doesn’t account for all the grey in your grey matter. Sure, neuroscientists agree that the right hemisphere sees the bigger, interconnected picture, and that the left hemisphere picks out details and organizes information to create a sort of rule-bound world. However, regardless of whether math or science or business or literature or philosophy is

Welcome to The Incubator!

The Incubator - hatching conversations about science - is a blog fueled by The Rockefeller University community.  In an effort to help shape expectations for the type of content you will find on The Incubator, we have highlighted a few key points that are central to our mission: Community Engagement   By improving the dialogue between RU and the broader community, we hope to improve science literacy and create a base of informed consumers of science.  There is a clear disconnect between the appropriate interpretations of basic and clinical research projects and what the public understands.  When explanations are offered, they are generally dull, jargon-laden science lessons. We have seen the consequences of a scientific community that has become disengaged with the general public.  If scientists do not help pass on their passion for science to the populous, the public cannot differentiate between evidence-based science and pseudoscience.  Examples of this are found by simply looking at declining vaccination rates, or legislative policies that are not aligned with rigorously proven scientific findings. Scientific Openness The Incubator is meant to be, in part, a platform to facilitate discussions among scientists, and provide a window to showcase the work and philosophies born at RU in