Future of scientific discourse and education

tree of knowledge1How well do you think people outside of your department could understand your primary literature? Outside of academia? What do you think about constantly reading through rigid, link-less, old-fashioned PDF files?

We can only know if the meaning of our work has been understood by others if we receive feedback, i.e. the interpretation of others of our work. If we want our work to withstand the test of time, and still carry the meaning we intend it to further down the road, it is time we harness the power of technology and benefit from public feedback at all stages of the scientific process. To accomplish this, we will have to reconsider the topic of accessibility. I, along with my co-authors, Benjamin Smarr, Chris Shaver, and David Jay, have developed this interactive article to both comment on these issues, as well as serve as an example of how to better convey scientific information.

You are cordially invited to interact with these questions and ideas here. (And if you would really prefer a PDF version, I would oblige.)

In addition to the uses for technology and applications in education mentioned in this article, also hear UC Berkeley’s computer science professors Armando Fox and David Patterson talk about their approach for revolutionizing online education with MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses), Berkeley Resource Center for Online Education, and edX in collaboration with MIT, check out edx.org.

Image by Benjamin Smarr.

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  1. Anna

    I’m curious if anyone has suggestions for how to reduce jargon and thereby increase accessibility of research. Sharing ideas between disciplines has value, but it might also come at the expense of productivity/efficiency. We only have limited brain space, and spending time and energy trying to understand the details of other fields means less time to actually make progress within a field. Division of labor can be really useful sometimes.

  2. ucbkt

    It’s only jargon if you’re not interested in it. What percentage of the anti-science jargon masses are nevertheless passably comfortable with the jargon used in:

    Computer parts, products and services; cooking, Pokemon (or Magic the Gathering, etc.), cars’ innards, guns, most sports, sewing/textiles, architecture, “design”, and every multiplayer online game ever.

    How many “know-nothing red-necks” join the military and come out speaking military technology jargonese? Thousands every year. And lots of non-rednecks, too.

    Get REALLY into any activity, and there’s jargon. And it’s not a problem. For some, it’s called geeking out (or riffing, or whatever). For others, it’s called doing your job.

    Not everyone is universally conversant in every area, and few are perfectly fluent in one area, but it all works out. You learn more when you need to know more. It’s a matter of personal interest and investment in a particular topic area, given the universal truth that a person’s time, money, and attention span are finite.

    So the problem with increasing science literacy is not jargon. It’s interest. What, in the here-and-now, comparable to the jargon-heavy topics listed above, does one stand to gain by learning about a particular area of science?

    Find an answer that appeals to millions (or, better yet, billions), and we’ll be well on our way to a better society.

  3. Nick Matzke

    Is that a tomato tree? 😉

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