[Coral-List] scientific papers are getting harder to read; faith in technology

Dennis Hubbard dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu
Tue Sep 22 13:28:24 UTC 2020


This brings my thoughts back to "Good Morning Vietnam" and one of Robin
Williams rants on military acronyms..... "The IG in consultation with the
AG, has decided that NC personnel cannot exchange IOC documents without
prior authorization from both SOC and OBS." I suggest the same path for
getting permission to create a new acronym.



On Mon, Sep 21, 2020 at 10:54 AM Douglas Fenner via Coral-List <
coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:

> Papers are increasingly impenetrable
> <
> https://nature.us17.list-manage.com/track/click?u=2c6057c528fdc6f73fa196d9d&id=7f46b33ac4&e=190a62d266
> >
> From obscure acronyms to unnecessary jargon, research papers are getting
> harder to read – even for scientists. Statisticians analysed the use of
> acronyms in more than 24 million paper titles and 18 million abstracts and
> found that the use of acronyms is commonplace and on the rise
> <
> https://nature.us17.list-manage.com/track/click?u=2c6057c528fdc6f73fa196d9d&id=a8ad389bf9&e=190a62d266
> >.
> Of the roughly 1.1 million acronyms identified, the vast majority (79%)
> were used fewer than 10 times in the scientific literature. “Scientists
> love to write these acronyms,” says statistician Adrian Barnett, “but other
> scientists don’t necessarily pick them up, and they end up hanging around
> and causing a lot of confusion.”
> Science is getting harder to read
> https://www.natureindex.com/news-blog/science-research-papers-getting-harder-to-read-acronyms-jargon
> I think most of it is deliberate.  This article seems to think that getting
> more people to read the paper and more people outside your specialty to
> read it is a good goal.  I think many scientists see impressing their
> colleagues and especially reviewers as an important goal.  And jargon
> impresses them and increases the chances your paper will be accepted.  Gene
> Shinn related on coral-list long ago that he submitted his first geology
> paper to a journal and it was rejected.  He showed his paper to his
> advisor, who said 'you didn't use any technical terms.  Put in technical
> terms and submit it to a different journal.'  He did and it was accepted.
> Of course the different reviewers may have been part or all of the reason
> for the difference, but technical terms may have made the difference.
>      So tell me why we use acronyms at all?  In online journals it saves
> zero print costs, because there are no print costs.  They rarely make
> anything more intelligible.  Scientists make new ones up all the time.
> People often include acronyms in their posts on coral-list, and sometimes
> don't say what they mean.  I then write them offline and point out that
> most people are unlikely to know what it means.  Often they don't reply,
> sometimes they say "sorry" but they never post a message to say what it
> means.  I think I will start calling people out publicly on coral-list for
> not defining their acronyms.  Good reviewers of papers do not allow
> acronyms that aren't defined.  Coral-list has as much obligation to make
> messages understandable.  Isn't that the purpose?  Please show
> consideration for your readers and define your acronyms.
> Technology has essentially made the modern world.  It has built whole
> industries, it has made a few people incredibly wealthy, it employs huge
> numbers of people.  Interesting comment in an article entitled "America is
> Trapped an a Pandemic Spiral", and I quote:
> "It’s more compelling to hope that drug-resistant bacteria can be beaten
> with viruses
> <https://www.nature.com/news/phage-therapy-gets-revitalized-1.15348> than
> to stem the overuse of antibiotics
> <
> https://www.ted.com/talks/maryn_mckenna_what_do_we_do_when_antibiotics_don_t_work_any_more?language=en
> >,
> to hack the climate
> <
> https://e360.yale.edu/features/geoengineer-the-planet-more-scientists-now-say-it-must-be-an-option
> >
> than
> to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, or to invest in a doomed oceanic
> plastic-catcher
> <
> https://www.theverge.com/2019/1/9/18175940/ocean-cleanup-breaks-plastic-pollution-silicon-valley-boyan-slat-wilson
> >
> than
> to reduce the production of waste. Throughout its entire history, and more
> than any other nation, the U.S. has espoused “an almost blind faith in the
> power of technology as panacea,” writes the historian Howard Segal
> <https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/utopianstudies.28.2.0231>.*
> <
> https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/09/pandemic-intuition-nightmare-spiral-winter/616204/#Correction2
> >
> Instead
> of solving social problems, the U.S. uses techno-fixes to bypass them,
> plastering the wounds instead of removing the source of injury—and that’s
> if people even accept the solution on offer."
> https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/09/pandemic-intuition-nightmare-spiral-winter/616204/
>       And that reminded me that sometimes technology goes wrong.  Boeing,
> one of what are in effect only two manufacturers of large commercial
> airliners in the world, and one of the US's largest manufacturing
> corporations, nearly destroyed itself with it's mistake in the 737 Max
> computer system, killing over 400 people in the process.  News had lots of
> stories about self-driving cars until a Google self-driving car drove over
> and killed a woman, and suddenly those articles disappeared.  Then there's
> the old joke about Microsoft:  Bill Gates says to the head of GM 'if you
> made cars like we make computers, you would be selling them for $200.'  The
> head of GM replies 'if we made cars like you make computers, they would
> crash every 5 minutes.'  Anybody ever have a computer problem?  Isn't that
> technology, and does it inspire blind faith?
> Cheers,  Doug
> --
> Douglas Fenner
> Lynker Technologies, LLC, Contractor
> NOAA Fisheries Service
> Pacific Islands Regional Office
> Honolulu
> and:
> Consultant
> PO Box 7390
> Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA
> The toxic effects of air pollution are so bad that moving from fossil fuels
> to clean energy would pay for itself in health-care savings and
> productivity gains
> <
> https://nature.us17.list-manage.com/track/click?u=2c6057c528fdc6f73fa196d9d&id=c9f70ba54f&e=190a62d266
> >
>> even if climate change didn’t exist.  In the US alone, decarbonization
> would save 1.4 MILLION lives in the US alone.  And save $700 Billion a
> year.
> https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2020/8/12/21361498/climate-change-air-pollution-us-india-china-deaths
> "mitigating climate change is the critical wedge to set coral reefs on a
> recovery trajectory"  Duarte et al 2020 Rebuilding marine life Nature
> "Already, more people die  <http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/hazstats.shtml>from
> heat-related causes in the U.S. than from all other extreme weather
> events."
> https://www.npr.org/2018/07/09/624643780/phoenix-tries-to-reverse-its-silent-storm-of-heat-deaths
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Dennis Hubbard - Emeritus Professor: Dept of Geology-Oberlin College
Oberlin OH 44074
(440) 935-4014

* "When you get on the wrong train.... every stop is the wrong stop"*
 Benjamin Stein: "*Ludes, A Ballad of the Drug and the Dream*"

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