Ten hundred words of science spreads like wildfire…and gets a Tumblr!

A post by Anne JeffersonWow. Wow. Wow. When I challenged you yesterday to explain geoscience (or any science) research using only the 1000 most common English words, I had no idea how many amazing responses I was going to get to read. It is so COOL to read about all the fascinating research that we do, distilled down to a language that anyone (even my kindergartner) can understand. And while I’ve seen some grumbles about how limiting the lexicon can be (plant is not on the list!), I think by and large the explanations being produced do not suffer for lack of those words. In many ways, I think telling people that you study little green things that lived more than “10 hundred times 10 hundred years ago” gives a sense of the enormity of geologic time time in a palpalable way than saying that you study organisms that lived more than a million years ago.

Last night, Chris and I spent our evening compiling many of the amazing responses we saw in our blog comments, our Twitter feeds, and the Storify. Today we are proud to unveil a new tumblr that collects these responses into one place, where they can be easily found and enjoyed:


As of right now, there are 86 entries on the Tumblr, and more entries coming in through the submit form all the time. This has spread far beyond the geosciences, with recent submissions spanning invertebrate neuroethology to solar physics. Take some time to browse the entries, and then submit your own. Share it with your colleagues, students, or friends and encourage them to explain their research or course material. Read it to your kids as a bedtime story. Have fun! Learn something new about science!

Beyond the 10 hundred words of science challenge itself, I think this is a great vehicle for getting us to be thoughtful about the way we explain our work to each other and to non-scientists. It definitely takes more thought to distill a complex topic down to a jargon-free explanation of the core principles and why they are exciting. And sometimes it takes more words. But, in the end, if it helps people to understand what science is all about, then that effort and those carefully chosen words are totally worthwhile.

P.S. This wouldn’t have been possible without the inspiration from XKCD and the implementation to Theo Sanderson who created the easy and engaging Up-Goer 5 text editor. Thank you both so much.

Categories: public science
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Comments (2)

  1. Jenny Morris says:

    I don’t understand what a tumblr is Chris and Anne, so can I put my attempt here:

    I work on lots of different things at the same time. Most of the time, we are trying to make places better by throwing away bad things but this is quite hard because there isn’t somewhere to put them yet. We want to put them a long way down under the ground so the rocks stop the bad things from getting into the water and air and food. Sometimes we try to explain what is expected to happen a long time from now after we have thrown the bad things away. And sometimes we work out what needs to happen now so that we can store the stuff better until we have somewhere to put it. When we have done this, it will be good but it will take a very long time.

    I had lots of fun explaining consultancy, radioactive waste management and making an environmental safety case for geological disposal without using any of those words! Thanks for distracting me from work on a Friday afternoon 🙂 Not the best English ever but I enjoyed the challenge.

  2. Garry Hayes says:

    I was kind of immersed in work when this started, but coming late into the game, I am very impressed by this great idea you came up with! I wrote one up at http://geotripper.blogspot.com/2013/01/1000-most-common-words-to-describe-what.html and tried to post on the Tumblr page.