The politics of buzzwords at the interface of technoscience, market and society: The case of ‘public engagement in science’

Bernadette Bensaude Vincent

Emerging technologies such as genomics, nanotechnology, and converging technologies are surrounded by a constellation of fashionable stereotyped phrases such as ‘public engagement in science’, ‘responsible innovation’, ‘green technology’, or ‘personalised medicine’. Buzzwords are ubiquitous and used ad libitum by science policy makers, industrial companies in their advertisements, scientists in their research proposals, and journalists. Despite their proliferation in the language of scientific and technological innovation, these buzzwords have attracted little attention among science studies scholars. The purpose of this paper is to try to understand if, and how buzzwords shape the technoscientific landscape. What do they perform? What do they reveal? What do they conceal? Based on a case study of the phrase ‘public engagement in science’, this paper describes buzzwords as linguistic technologies, capable of three major performances: buzzwords generate matters of concern and play an important role in trying to build consensus; they set attractive goals and agendas; they create unstable collectives through noise.


Measuring mumbo jumbo: A preliminary quantification of the use of jargon in science communication

Aviv J. Sharon, Ayelet Baram-Tsabari

Leaders of the scientific community encourage scientists to learn effective science communication, including honing the skill to discuss science with little professional jargon. However, avoiding jargon is not trivial for scientists for several reasons, and this demands special attention in teaching and evaluation. Despite this, no standard measurement for the use of scientific jargon in speech has been developed to date. Here a standard yardstick for the use of scientific jargon in spoken texts, using a computational linguistics approach, is proposed. Analyzed transcripts included academic speech, scientific TEDTalks, and communication about the discovery of a Higgs-like boson at CERN. Findings suggest that scientists use less jargon in communication with a general audience than in communication with peers, but not always less obscure jargon. These findings may lay the groundwork for evaluating the use of jargon.