4 comments on “2/19/15: Science-Mindedness 1 – The Language Limbo

    • That’s certainly an interesting thought. To be clear, you suggest communicating only in person: do you mean eliminate all other forms of written and recorded communication as well? Solely throwing away computers and phones will not restrict people to direct, in-person communication, since they could still write letters, read books, listen to audio recordings, watch television and movies, etc. Assuming that we restrict ourselves to only direct, in-person contact, I would agree that we would likely succeed in reducing the possible avenues for confusion (i.e.: you can’t have confusion as a result of differences in written and spoken word if you don’t have written words), so I can see your argument. I have three major concerns with this potential solution: 1) I am not sure how to estimate if the reduction in types of ambiguity will translate into an appreciable reduction in confusion, 2) I don’t know how feasible it will be to implement, since we must eliminate many industries (no more computers and phones) and existing communication structures of our current society, and, most importantly, 3) I am not confident that the benefit gained by reducing the possible avenues for confusion will outweigh the intellectual, social, and economic losses incurred. It seems to me that life would become a large game of “telephone,” (ironically, since they would no longer exist) where anything heard 3rd, 4th, 5th… to nth hand would be unlikely to resemble the original message. I like the thought, though. It’s good to try thinking outside of the box; big ideas drive creativity and discussion, so thanks! Do you have reason to think people would actually become better at communicating? Could our economy survive the loss of those industries? Do you think the benefits outweigh the costs? Other thoughts?

  1. This doesn’t pertain to the comment above, but this is something that I’m dealing with now and figured it somewhat related. Even language within the scientific community can be ambiguous and confusing, especially when using computer programs. As scientists, many of us have to use multiple programs to analyze our data in different ways. Although many of these programs use the same exact information and type of data, the files have to be formatted differently most of the time. It’s great that we even have these programs available for us to use, but I’m sure many of us have been stuck for hours just going through the motions of changing the format for another program to read. It would be great if we could use this time for interpreting our analyses rather than formatting our data sets. People have been starting to make shortcuts so we can be more efficient with our time, but this is an ongoing annoyance. Can we re-program existing programs and only create new programs that read the same file formats? I don’t know how possible this is, but it would be amazing!

    • That’s a great point, which gives me a neat idea. Requiring a certain format/language for all new programs and converting all old programs to a new language may be a daunting, seemingly-impossible task. But what about creating an accreditation organization/procedure to “certify” programs that meet certain language/formatting requirements? Then programmers could find a centralized rubric for the formatting and language expected in their programs, and they could submit their programs for evaluation. We would not require accreditation of programmers, of course, but the option would give researchers a means of finding consistent, compatible software for their analyses. It might also encourage programmers to strive to meet accreditation standards, making their programs more functional and marketable. Extrapolating the accreditation idea beyond scientific computer programs to other scientific communications could hold a lot of promise. For an example of concept, look into the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA): an accrediting institution that has had, in my opinion, a tremendously positive impact on the zoo community.

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