Dear Mass General Research Community,

Susan A. Slaugenhaupt, PhD

Welcome to the October edition of From the Lab Bench!

This month we are happy to bring you highlights from our Art of Talking Science competition, including two slides that Carl Zimmer shared with us during his keynote presentation, and a video of our winner, Patrick Purdon, PhD, from the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine.

Patrick has done a great job of making his science entertaining, and there’s a good reason why he puts so much effort into his presentations. He knows that he is facing an uphill battle in attempting to convince people that it’s time to rethink the way anesthesia is delivered.

When we talk about the importance of science communication, we're not just talking about speaking to the general public. It's also important to clearly communicate with your colleagues, grant reviewers, the editorial teams of academic journals and government policymakers.

Did you know that as of January 2015, only 10% of the members of Congress came from a background in the STEM disciplines, and only two members had doctorate degrees in the natural sciences? It’s unsettling to think that crucial decisions about science policy and funding are often made by lawmakers with little or no background in the field.

We can't fix this overnight. But we can continue to advocate for science by effectively communicating the significance of our work—whether we are investigating the expression of a protein in a cell line, or conducting a clinical trial on a new treatment for depression.

We already know the significance of the research we do in our labs and clinics. Our challenge is to make sure the rest of the world does, too.

Until next month,


Susan A. Slaugenhaupt, PhD
Scientific Director,
Mass General Research Institute

Art of Talking Science Participants and Judges
Pictured, from left, are Anna Fitzloff (American Repertory Theater), Patrick Purdon (MGH), Victor Fedorov (MGH), Carl Zimmer (New York Times, STAT), Jeffrey Moran (MIT), Michelle Frank (Harvard), Carey Goldberg (WBUR)*, Len Small (Nautilus Magazine), Jonathan Jackson (MGH), Tracy Underwood (MGH), Emily Lindemer (MIT), Volha Liaudanskaya (Tufts) and host Susan Slaugenhaupt (MGH).

Terms that mean different things to scientists
and to the general public

In Carl Zimmer's keynote presentation, he shared a table from Physics Today highlighting some words that scientists use in their work all the time, but which have a different meaning to the general public. Here are some examples:

Scientific Term Public Meaning Better Choice
enhance improve intensify, increase
aerosol spray can tiny atmospheric particle
positive trend good trend upward trend
manipulation illicit tampering scientific data processing
uncertainty ignorance range
error mistake, wrong, incorrect difference from exact true number
scheme devious plot systematic plan
anomaly abnormal occurrence change from long-term average

See the complete list
*Taken from "Communicating the Science of Climate Change," by Richard C. J. Somerville and Susan Joy Hassol, Physics Today, October 2011


Advice on words for scientists who want to write

(This quote is from Rob Dunn, author of The Wild Life of our Bodies.)

"Tritrophic is not a real word.

Your reader does not know the words tritrophic, ecological assemblage, genomics or parthenogenesis.

That is not because your reader is dumb. It is because scientists made up those words and never told anyone but other scientists.

Don’t underestimate the intelligence of your readers. Readers can be very clever, but it is not their job to know all of the words that you and the twelve people you call colleagues made up."


Patrick Purdon, PhD, delivers the winning presentation at our Art of Talking Science Event during HUBweek last month.
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