As a science communicator and ex-science teacher, the most common criticism I hear from academic scientists about my work is that it’s “dumbed down.” I just read the same phrase in this fascinating but infuriating account in PLoS ONE of the results of a survey of biologists and physicists about science outreach. I had such a knee-jerk rage reaction that I needed to stop and consider why I hate it so much. It strikes me as condescending and elitist. Scientists who consider communication to non-science audiences “dumbed down” imply that non-scientists don’t understand science jargon because they are stupid. This is kind of the same feeling I get watching Americans yell baby talk to anyone who looks foreign or speaks with an accent. They’re not stupid or deaf. They just don’t speak your language. And that goes for other scientists who aren’t specialists in your exact field of study. How many physicists understand what I’m talking about when I’m saying this new protein is a toll-like receptor?
Fellow science communicators, how do you respond when a scientist comments that a popular science piece is “dumbed down”? Do you have a handy phrase or two to substitute?
UPDATE: replies from the Twitterverse
— Dirk Hanson (@Dirk57) May 10, 2012
— Michael Eisen (@mbeisen) May 10, 2012
— Sunfell (@Sunfell) May 10, 2012