Plain Language in the Sciences
Scientific illiteracy abounds in the U.S. Evidence includes a recent National Science Foundation study showing that:
- Fewer than 50% of adults understand that the Earth orbits the sun yearly.
- Only 21% of adults can define DNA.
- Only 9% of adults know what a molecule is.
- One in 7 adults—25 million people—cannot locate the US on an unlabeled map.
- A third of Americans believe in astrology—and do not understand that astrology is not scientific.
But despite widespread scientific illiteracy, the public confronts many important science-based choices, including many issues affecting their personal health. For the public to make smart decisions, they must understand the issues. Plain language is one of our best tools for improving scientific literacy and encouraging wise decision-making by the public on science-based issues.
External links are shown with a "".
Scientists Need Plain Language, by Lily Whiteman, expresses concisely why scientists need to use plain language when they write for the public.
Best Practices for Communication of Science and Technology to the Public, a conference held March 6-8, 2002 at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD. Conference presentations are posted on the site.
Worlds Apart: How the Distance Between Science and Journalism Threatens America's Future —a report by journalist Jim Hartz and former NASA scientist Rick Chappell on the communication gap between scientists and the media.
You can get a lot of information about communication in science from the online library of The International Network on Public Communication of Science .
NASA's bibliography of books, articles, and websites on the public understanding of science, communicating science, and science education is a useful source of information.
You can access the online home edition of The Merck Manual , which is written in everyday language, for free from this site. The Manual is an excellent example of effective science communication.