jargonBy Claire

It has come time for me to start thinking about writing up some of my modelling results. In preparation, I am going back through the literature to get an idea of the layout of a model paper, and the types of things I need to address.

Having read almost exclusively paleo proxy papers for the last few months, I was completely unprepared for the mental assault that reading modelling papers would cause.

Why can’t people just say what they mean?!

Having struggled through the first few pages of a paper, I came across this particular sentence, that completely stopped me in my tracks,

“We have identified here the zonally integrated mass flux into the equatorial thermocline as the zonal integral of the Sverdrup transport convergence, neglecting changes of the Indonesian throughflow and the fact that the Sverdrup transport is a baratropic transport, rather than a near-surface transport into the thermocline.”

Now, when I read this sentence the first time, I had no idea what it meant. By the second and third time, I at least understood the general gist of what the author was getting at, but honestly, I still have no idea what it actually means.

In my field, the people who make the records from ice cores, tree rings, stalagmites, sediment cores etc, a.k.a the “proxy people” and the people who model the records using climate models, a.k.a. the “modellers”, don’t really speak to each other a lot. These are two distinct fields of research. You’re either a proxy person, or a modeller, but rarely are you both. There has been a push in recent years to combine the two fields more, since they are essentially both working on the same problem, but just using different tools, however, they still remain largely separate.

I, for one, blame jargon.


In any scientific field, you have certain buzz words that you need to understand and use in order to succeed. If you don’t understand these words then you wont understand the scientific literature and you wont get very far at all.

However, the learning curve into climate modelling is SO steep, that many proxy people simply don’t even bother with it. When you try to read about modelling studies that sound relevant to your work, and you’re bombarded with sentences like the one above, no wonder the fields don’t mix.

I am attempting to include both models and proxy work in my PhD thesis, which means that I need to be across all the jargon. It took me a long time to understand proxy jargon, like “proxy”, but I finally have most of it figured out. Now that I’m trying to write up some model work, I am faced with a learning curve all over again, trying to firstly understand, and then write myself in what can only be described as a dialect of English.

So I put forward this suggestion. Why can’t we just say what we mean?

Life, and in particular, science, would be so much simpler if people stopped trying to sound smart, and just focussed on communicating their results.

I don’t need to know that you “applied a freshwater flux of 1Sv across the region of North Atlantic Deep Water formation.”. Just say that you added freshwater to the North Atlantic.

I don’t care that you “slabbed your speleothem about the central growth axis”. Just say that you cut a stalagmite in half.

Please. I’m begging you. Just say what you mean. People, and especially struggling grad students, will thank you for it!