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Science language becoming less formal – a good thing or no?


From a Nature editorial:

Do the academics of the Internet age still communicate as stiffly as their colleagues did at the time of the Apollo programme? Or, heaven forbid, has some scruffy informality crept into scholarly discourse?

Yes, and no, according to an illuminating new analysis. Formal language is largely intact, the study finds, give or take a mildly more tolerant attitude to split infinitives and initial conjunctions. Yet there has been an explosion in the use of the first-person pronouns in academic papers by biologists. What, we wondered, is that all about?

Ah, at last, a question UD News can answer with confidence: It’s “all about me.”

The traditional scientist preferred an anonymous style out of a sense of standing on the shoulders of giants, the inevitable uncertainty of new finds in the light of still further finds, and a desire to work without distraction. It was about the science not the personality.

Perhaps modern biologists, under increased pressure and competition, do not feel confident that merely stating their case is enough. Personal language builds a connection to the reader and helps, ultimately, to persuade. We think so. Don’t you? More.

Yes, yes. We do think so. Elsewhere, that is called propaganda. Cut it out. A stimultiong personality does not make any proposition in science more true.

The comments so far are most interesting; it sounds like many of the respondents do not recognize the problem: Once it’s aboutthenm, it isn’t about science. But maybe that was a decision that they had implicitly made a long time ago.

See also: Royal Society evolution meeting cautioned against cheers and boos Quite rightly, too. A science meeting is not a football game.

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