I'm at the Force 2016 conference in Portland, which is about the future of research communications and e-scholarship. Clear communication of research findings is imperative for many reasons -- from persuading funders to support a project to informing the public about how a new finding can improve their lives.
A major barrier to clear communication is the "curse of knowledge"-- once we know something it is very hard to realize that not everybody else knows it too. Getting outside our own heads is, and will always be, a challenge.
To illustrate this Christie Nicholson of the Alda Center presented the enclosed two sentence description of a Red Sox - Yankees game in 2010. There's so much implicit knowledge packed in these two sentences, which we realized by trying to explain it to people who are not familiar with basbeball.
You need to know all these things to understand this passage fully:
That the Yankees and Red Sox are fierce rivals
What rivalry means
That baseball is divided into divisions called "innings," which are themselves divided into a "top" and "bottom"
That the home team bats at the bottom of each inning
What a home team is
What the object of baseball is
How the field is arranged
How the game is played
What an "ace reliever" is
What a one-out walk accomplishes
What one out means
How many outs are needed to end the inning
What "strike out swinging" means
Why this ended the game
And many other things too, no doubt. Whew! No wonder people default to jargon and in-group talk.
Making something truly clear to someone who has no context for it is hard. But it's not impossible if we consciously and deliberately step outside yourselves.
Charles S. Hirsch, New York City's Chief Medical Examiner on September 11, 2001, passed away last Friday. He was 79.
In 2001 I was living in Evanston. I must confess that I was not aware that Hirsch immediately led the charge to identify victims of the attacks, breaking his own ribs at Ground Zero in his rush to the scene. By 2005 I was living in Manhattan. One day I found myself at Todaro's, the inimitable deli on 2nd Avenue that is near NYU Medical Center. (I worked in the library.) Hirsch was on the faculty at NYU, and his facility to inspect the victim's remains was at the southern tip of the medical center complex. There he was at Todaro's, and we briefly struck up a chat.
The humility and courtesy of the City's Chief Medical Examiner was wonderful. Hirsch offered the usual apologies for never entering the library anymore, I offered the usual assurances that this was ok as long as he had the information he needed.
Later I attended a talk by Hirsch at the Medical Center, where he gave an update on his progress and offered anew his promise to never ever give up in his quest to identify the remains. He kept it.
Geoffrey Stone is out with a tart Huff Post about how the Senate Republicans should address the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Stone, formerly the Dean of the University of Chicago Law School and still a professor there, knows whereof he speaks.
Stone's main contention is that the "advise-and-consent" function of the Senate requires confirmation of Supreme Court nominees who are qualified and within the mainstream of jurisprudence. Garland easily and gracefully passes both of these tests. Thus, says Stone, the Senate should expeditiously confirm Garland.
Of course, the GOP is still refusing to hold a hearing on Garland's nomination. In their telling, the next President should determine this nomination because we are in an election year. Of course, Presidential terms last for four years and Presidential responsibilities are in force for the entire length of that term.
The GOP's argument is laughably pathetic. The real reason for the stall, of course, is to preserve a conservative Supreme Court after the death of Antonin Scalia.
In Stone's view, such considerations should not matter. Garland is qualified, Garland is mainstream, Garland should be confirmed.
I'll grant the Senate GOP a little more slack. Hold the hearing, and then vote to deny Garland a seat on the court. If he's so objectionable, have the courage of your convictions.