by Tim Jones
A friend and I were discussing our tendency to hedge our bets when writing about science, for example: “The effect is somewhat observed“, “Our results are relatively consistent with”, “We conclude that our writing predominantly sucks”. These vagaries pollute our prose and muddle the mind of our readers. But is it necessary? Let’s start by addressing why scientists feel the need to be so inconclusive. First, science really is uncertain, and nobody wants to give an audience full of braniacs, geeks, and know-it-alls, a reason to think they don’t realise this. Second, writing is an act of psychology, because you don’t know what your readers know or don’t know, so you have to pre-empt the inevitable knowledge gap between you and them. The problem is that it’s impossible to determine the size of this gap and so the default position is to assume a chasm.