Translation for Understanding

I work in public health which, as you’ve heard me complain, can be a bit dry.

We talk about very complicated subjects and the people who do most of our talking have numerous advanced degrees and understand those subjects at a very high level. The problem with this is that the people that need the information generally don’t have the background or education to follow along with those conversations. So we have communicators to “bring down the reading level.” We are translators. We transform “public healthy language” into “plain language.” (This is one of my favorite things to do at my job. I make knowledge available to the masses. I educate, I inform, I empower.)

Traditionally this wasn’t much of a priority. An older gentleman in a white coat says something and the public had been trained to believe that information. In a world where information was scarce, it was easy to take information presented in some sort of official format and accept it as right, as gospel.

We don’t live in that world anymore though. Information is anything but scarce. We are buffeted by information from all sides of every discussion. Every arguer on every side has piles of supporting information, some well written, some poorly written, some debunked, some unproven, and only some correct. For folks who have trouble deciphering information, imagine trying to wade through mountains of arguments, all of it contradicting other arguments.

I see an opportunity. We can be that translator. We can reestablish ourselves as the place to turn when people need real unbiased information. I’m not the only one that thinks there’s a role for someone to take charge:

Even some of the most forward-thinking media folks are saying the same thing:

The journalist has not been replaced but displaced, moved higher up the editorial chain from the production of initial observations to a role that emphasizes verification and interpretation.

Working between the crowd and the algorithm in the information ecosystem is where a journalist is able to have most effect, by serving as an investigator, a translator, a storyteller.

There are a number of things that need to happen for us to embrace this role, first of which is to accept the gospel of plain language. But we can do more. In this age of social media, it’s not enough to reactively talk like a normal person. This brings me to the money link: Sense About Science. SAS is a new tool intended to decipher, translate, demystify scientific information. But more than just scientific information, but also the scientific process that got us that information. What does peer review mean? Is a particular study valid? What does that mean for me?

Because really, isn’t that why we do what we do? Science for science’s sake is good, but science for the good of the public–the good of the person–is divine.

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