As a science journalist, I like to think of myself as science literate. Even if I’m not familiar with a topic, I don’t tend to be scared by jargon or stumble over the odd acronym – I know they must mean something and I don’t mind asking (either a person or Google) to find out.
But over the past couple of days I’ve been confronted by powerpoint slides crammed to the edges with graphs and equations, text so miniscule it’s more like glancing at a newspaper from a distance, and sentences dense with acronyms. There’s even been the occasional bit of passive voice.
Now this is a conference for researchers, and no doubt scientists in the same or similar fields haven’t found such language or content to be a barrier – in fact, in many cases, speakers have been complimented on their presentation before I’ve even begun to digest it. The conference is an excellent opportunity for scientists to get together to discuss their areas of research interest, and in some cases communities have been making headway with setting up international collaborations – a great thing to see.
But if I can’t understand something, then doesn’t that mean that a researcher from another field might not be able to? Would a health researcher interested in disaster reduction be inspired by a graph plotting tsunami velocities, for example?
Seems like a barrier to interdisciplinary research to me.
Katherine Nightingale, South-East Asia news editor, SciDev.Net