Brian Blum
September 19, 2017

Can you define “epigenetics,” “convolutional neural networks” or “low Reynolds hydrodynamics?” If you can’t, it’s not your fault. You’re a victim of jargon assumption – the tendency by scientific researchers to include technical terms that they believe everyone understands…but that the layperson most certainly does not.

When scientists write a technical paper, they’re usually thinking of their peers, not the average reader.

Coming to the rescue of scientifically curious laypeople is a new online tool from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and the Holon Institute of Technology called the De-Jargonizer.

Scientists upload their technical papers into the free web product; the De-Jargonizer then runs its proprietary algorithms to mark up the text in different colors to indicate if words are common, uncommon or jargon.

“Disorder,” for example, is returned in black (for common), “physiology” appears in orange (for uncommon), while “functionally recapitulate” is flagged in red for jargon.

The De-Jargonizer bases its analysis on the frequency of words on an Internet news site it references that is designed and written for the public.

Prof. Ayelet Baram-Tsabari. Photo courtesy of Technion Spokesman’s Office

A text can be adequately comprehended by non-scientists only if 98 percent of the words are familiar, says Technion Prof. Ayelet Baram-Tsabari, who led the research with Tzipora Rakedzon.

The average academic abstract contains 14% jargon, the researchers found. Even lay summaries tend to have 10% of their contents in the red (jargon) category.

“Using so many unfamiliar words excludes the very people [the scientists] are trying to engage,” said Baram-Tsabari. “It’s like a sign telling the reader, ‘This is not really for you. You won’t understand it anyway.’”

The De-Jargonizer ranks scientific papers by percent so that scientists can judge how jargon-y it may be.

Tzipora Rakedzon, PhD. Photo courtesy of Technion Spokesman’s Office

The goal of the De-Jargonizer is “to aid in making science and research accessible to the public and to support informed citizenship and more productive dialogue in these complex times for science in society.”

Digital Trends found the De-Jargonizer a bit too sensitive at times, flagging words like “spaceships” and proper nouns as jargon. But like any good algorithm, the De-Jargonizer gets smarter the more it’s used.

The De-Jargonizer, available in English and Hebrew, was described in the journal PLOS One.

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