Simplifying Language: Connecting the World’s Knowledge to Every Individual


A scientist is awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the mechanistic study of DNA repair is encouraged to interact with the general public about his groundbreaking research and to inspire the next generation of young scientists to advance humanity’s pursuit of scientific knowledge. How will he communicate his message in order to inspire and to invoke curiosity so that young adults can understand the significance of scientific advancement of humanity and want to become future scientists?



A medical student crammed for an examination on the topic of cardiovascular and learned about the anatomy, diseases and symptoms of the heart, and the mechanisms of the drugs involved in the treatment. Years later, he became a certified doctor and a patient sits in his office with a serious heart condition the patient is unaware of. How will the doctor communicate with the patient in such a way that the patient can understand and involve the patient in the treatment regime to increase patient awareness, treatment compliance and come up with the best possible method of treatment?


On the left, an optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey shows Cygnus X-1, outlined in a red box. Cygnus X-1 is located near large active regions of star formation in the Milky Way, as seen in this image that spans some 700 light years across. An artist's illustration on the right depicts what astronomers think is happening within the Cygnus X-1 system. Cygnus X-1 is a so-called stellar-mass black hole, a class of black holes that comes from the collapse of a massive star. New studies with data from Chandra and several other telescopes have determined the black hole's spin, mass, and distance with unprecedented accuracy.

A renowned physicist gained new insight on physical matter being swallowed up by a black hole. He theorized that materials may not have all been swallowed up by the black hole and instead traces exist on the event horizon. How will he communicate this significant abstract concept with the general public without losing their attention in a way that they can understand within their reality and expand their perspective of experiencing the wonders of the universe?



What do all of these scenarios have in common? It involves a specialist or someone with an uncommon body of knowledge who has spent years perfecting their craft interacting with someone who may have never studied the field before or know the subject’s set of terminologies. What steps could they take to simplify the communication of their technical knowledge into something more understandable for the general public as well as young people with limited experiences and exposure to the subject while still retaining the core message?


The importance of writing at a lower grade level:  increasing commercial popularity, increasing social shareability, and increasing content understandably.



Some of the best works of best-selling authors are written at a lower writing level than one would expect. A lower writing level positively correlates with commercial popularity as a greater number of the population are able to understand the text. Yet, as we get older and progress through the education system and become accustomed to writing at a higher grade level with complex vocabulary, and subject specific jargons about difficult concepts, we are given the illusion that we have matured and have become better writers and communicators. When we finally reached the pinnacle of our career and became one of the top experts in our field, it is as if only 50 people in the world could understand our work.



Within the past few decades, massive growth in scientific knowledge has driven the knowledge frontier into unknown territory creating sub-fields within disciplines yet the knowledge discovered is not trickled down to the general public who are the taxpayers that fund these projects through government grants. If the general public can understand and appreciate the significance of such groundbreaking research, then politicians would publicly fund these research projects in order to gain voter support and strengthen their national economy through innovation in the long term.


How do we find the balance between talking in exact scientific language filled with jargon that the general public does not understand and the abstract political ‘change’ Obama speech during the US elections which seems to appeal to almost every one of Barack Obama’s supporter’s imagination, life circumstances and reality in order to maximum the benefit of our work for humanity?

(A thought experiment) Imagine yourself designing a game and choosing how difficult to make each game level. If only 50 people in the world can complete the game, and you wish for commercial success, the chances of this occurring are low, as most people will have given up due to the game being too difficult to play and unplayable.


How to Increase Global Collaboration across Different Disciplines:


The world is moving towards a more collaborative model where the boundaries across different disciplines vanish and new fields emerge from a combination of two or more fields and people of different backgrounds from science to business to design work together across countries, oceans and continents. How do we eliminate the misunderstandings between different groups who may not share the same language and/or method of communicating? How do we debate on common issues with different interest groups when the experts specialize in their own domain without understanding of other alternative perspectives outside of the accepted views within their industry? How do we form a common basis of communication to facilitate greater understanding and knowledge exchange?



Now back to the example of a black hole mentioned in the opening third example.  In 2015, Stephen Hawking, a renowned Nobel Prize winning physicist had a new theory that says information from a black hole is not stored inside the black hole but on its boundaries or the event horizon? How does one explain such an abstract concept to a younger audience or the general public without losing a majority of its meaning or becoming too complicated to understand?

Using everyday examples, analogies, and thought experiments:

Using analogies:


I have two friends named Jack and Jill and they both love eating junk food. I could predict what they had eaten based on what they previously ate and the junk food packaging. Jill eats the junk food while leaving the packaging in a neat pile for me to examine. Jack, on the other hand, eats everything so I am not able to tell what he has eaten. However, I noticed even though Jack eats everything including the food packaging, he is also quite a messy eater. I could tell what food he has eaten by examining traces and bits of food around the corner of his mouth.

Relating back to Hawking’s black hole theory, the black hole (Jack) might not have left traces of information (food) but one can look at the event horizon of a black hole (the corner of Jack’s mouth), to find traces of information (food) to examine about what has been absorbed (eaten).

Using thought experiments:


Albert Einstein, one of the greatest and most well known Nobel Prize winning scientists in modern day history idolized for his uncombed silky white hair and his insight into the macro and microscopic universe with one of his most widely known theories being the theory of special relativity.  While the average physicist might explain the complex concepts with higher level mathematics, cryptic formulas and physics, Einstein explained relativity as a thought experiments that even a 5 year old can comprehend about the concept of time dilation. He imagined two sisters one of which remained on earth and the other who left Earth’s reference frame and traveled at the speed of light on a spaceship. While 30 years has passed on Earth and the Earth twin has aged 30 years, the time traveler twin would have only experienced two Earth years pass when the twin returned from space.

Using everyday examples:


The Panama Papers was a leak of 11.5 million confidential documents from the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca spanning 214,000 offshore companies where very wealthy individuals from celebrities, politicians, businessmen, and arms dealers hide their wealth from the eyes of the public, tax authority and even their spouses ranging from legitimate privacy reasons to illegitimate reasons ranging from tax evasion, hidden assets from divorce court to shady business dealings. How does one explain such a sophisticated concepts to a younger audience or the general public?


Imagine yourself back in your childhood elementary school. Every one of the kids owned a piggy bank that they put their allowance, birthday money, lunch money, and money earned from chores into. The mom of each kid managed the piggy bank by checking each week the amount of money in their kid’s piggy bank. Thomas’ parent does not go into his room and since he has a big room, he decides that he would help other kids by safekeeping the other kids’ piggy banks. Some kids at school started to have two piggy banks. One found at home which their mothers kept an eye on and one with Thomas. One day, Thomas’ mom entered his room and found that he has many piggy banks. She asked Thomas why he has many piggy banks and he confessed that he was safekeeping them for his classmates. The parents of the children were called to Thomas’ home to reclaim the piggy banks. While some piggy banks were kept for legitimate reasons such as Cindy saving money for a present for her mother’s birthday, other kids did not have such innocent motives. Jeff used his piggyback to keep money away from the eyes of his mother so that he could buy candy that his mother forbids him to eat. John used his piggy bank to keep stolen money from his mother’s purse. Andy bullied other kids and kept their lunch money.


When we simplify the language used to communicate with the general public or a younger audience, we remove the barriers of understanding across different disciplines. When people can understand something they can make more informed decisions, rally in your cause, and develop a greater appreciation of what the world has to offer.

To further enhance our way of communicating to people outside of our domain, we should combine different methods of communication with the use of diagrams, drawings, and graphs in addition to simplifying language and increasing readability.