Anne and I have continued to be blown away by the magnitude of the response to Anne’s original challenge to explain your scientific research using only a list of the thousand most commonly used English words. Ten Hundred Words of Science, the tumblr blog we created to manage and showcase the flow of submissions, has now got up to almost 300 responses, with more still arriving. In a post now up at the Scientific American Guest Blog about the whole memetic shebang, we highlight some of the more brilliant and creative examples, although that is but a small sampling of the riches on offer. Check it out here.
As a side note, I’ve noticed a curious bipolarity in reactions to the ‘Up-Goer 5′ phenomenon. Many are genuinely enthusiastic, but some are very dismissive indeed (check out a couple of comments on the Guest Blog post for some fairly typical examples). Partly this seems based on the mistaken idea that we’re arguing that you should actually lecture or write exclusively from the Up-Goer 5 lexicon*. Should you speak like this? No, of course not. The point of the challenge is to see if and how you could, and in the process discover the snarly, hand-wavy parts of the explanations we store in our head – the bits we mentally gloss over with ‘obviously’s and ‘clearly’s and basically ignore until we are trying to pass our wisdom onto others, and realise that they’re not really obvious or clear at all.
This, I believe, is where the challenge comes in: it forces you to take apart the linguistic engine of an explanation, and allows you to identify and remove the ugly bits of jargon that are clogging things up and inhibiting the spark of comprehension; and then, you can put it all back together again, creating a shiny new explanatory framework that enlightens the people you are trying to reach more smoothly. It’s a training aid, not something you use when performing. Although the results are fascinating – and fun.
*Seriously, people. Me, argue for abolishing virtually every word with more than two syllables? Preposterous!