Can We Talk? Citizens Dislike Jargon

Comedienne Joan Rivers's familiar line "Can we talk?" is now featured as one of the public-service announcements heard inside New York City taxicabs encouraging riders to buckle their seat belts. Rivers's "can we talk," "we're-in-this-together," "let's-get-down-to-business" approach quickly and effectively establishes rapport with the people she is addressing. Her approach is one the scientific community should consider as we strive to be heard by our fellow citizens and our elected representat

Mary Woolley
Mar 15, 1998

Comedienne Joan Rivers's familiar line "Can we talk?" is now featured as one of the public-service announcements heard inside New York City taxicabs encouraging riders to buckle their seat belts.

Rivers's "can we talk," "we're-in-this-together," "let's-get-down-to-business" approach quickly and effectively establishes rapport with the people she is addressing. Her approach is one the scientific community should consider as we strive to be heard by our fellow citizens and our elected representatives.

Can we talk about how to frame these conversations?

First, we must keep in mind that words matter. Over the years scientists have erected significant language barriers between disciplines, and even higher ones between scientists and nonscientists. Many nonscientists simply don't understand scientific jargon, so we should refrain from using it outside scientific contexts.

Surveys show that while nonscientists know NASA and FDA, they do not know other science-based federal agencies that sponsor research and especially don't know them...

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