Intelligent Design News Peer review

Shocka! Needless complexity in academic writing?

Spread the love

File:A small cup of coffee.JPG Please tell us it’s not true.

From the Atlantic:

In 2006, Daniel Oppenheimer, then a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University, published research arguing that the use of clear, simple words over needlessly complex ones can actually make authors appear more intelligent. The research garnered him the Ig Nobel Prize in literature—a parody of the Nobel Prize that, according to a Slate article by the awards’ creator, Marc Abrahams, and several academics I consulted, is always given to improbable research and sometimes serves as a de facto criticism or satire in the academic world. (Oppenheimer for his part believes he got the award because of the paper’s title: “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly.” The title made readers laugh, he told me—and then think.) Ultimately, Oppenheimer says the attention the Ig Nobel brought to his research means it’s now being used to improve the work of students in academic writing centers around the country.

A disconnect between researchers and their audiences fuels the problem, according to Deborah S. Bosley, a clear-writing consultant and former University of North Carolina English professor. “Academics, in general, don’t think about the public; they don’t think about the average person, and they don’t even think about their students when they write,” she says. “Their intended audience is always their peers. That’s who they have to impress to get tenure.” But Bosley, who has a doctorate in rhetoric and writing, says that academic prose is often so riddled with professional jargon and needlessly complex syntax that even someone with a Ph.D. can’t understand a fellow Ph.D.’s work unless he or she comes from the very same discipline. More.

It also creates windows for sloppy research, fraud, and embarrassing Sokal-style hoaxes (deliberately getting rubbish published in peer-reviewed journals, in order to demonstrate the vacuity of a field).

Many suspect that the complexity is more often a talkaround for something awkward. Here, for example, it seems that they just mean “We mistook hybridization for evolution.” No one is going to blame them, one hopes, if they would just admit it.

See also: Life continues to ignore what evolution experts say

Follow UD News at Twitter!

2 Replies to “Shocka! Needless complexity in academic writing?

  1. 1
    daveS says:

    Semi-OT (although it does involve hybridization and some discussion of the species concept): More on the Coywolf.

  2. 2
    Robert Byers says:

    Thats funny. I note that and concluded that also because I read a lot of geomorphology paperss. They really do smartword it up. Its not the Queens English or common parlance at all. They do think that they need to smartword it up to be credible or just right. Its on purpose for effect and not for need.
    Its obvious and its Oppengeimer and friends who are slow to point it out and so it has gone on too long.
    yts pretence to the prestige of scientific accomp[isment without being worthy on the merits. Its natural however.

Leave a Reply