If we scientists have a God, he is Quantus, the champion of quantitative reasoning (who I imagine looks like Mercury, but with winged sneakers and a portable PC). Our numerical description of nature marks our intellectual style. But outside our temple, Quantus and his computer can't help much. In the wider world, as we teach, sell a research program, or explain medical risks to an anxious public, we must rely on the same insubstantial vehicles used by advertising copywriters and humanities professors: words.

I like numbers as well as anyone but words have special meaning for me. My parents painfully learned English as adults and passed on to me their hard-won appreciation of their adopted tongue. Because I love the English language, I think about how it connects with science. How many of the words that we bandy about are understood by nonscientists? Can we count on scientific literacy?


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