Accessibility of information

One weekend in the beginning of this year I visited a friend of mine and there I had to do a little bit of coursework. I read some of the questions aloud as to discuss the topics with my friends, but I got an answer that marked the beginning of these ponderings. They asked, if the question was actually a very simple matter formatted in a very complicated way. The question was about a very specific ecological function of a species, so my initial thought was that there is no simpler way to ask it, without changing its factual content. The thought however stayed lingering in my mind and eventually I thought they just might be right. It is very difficult to simplify complex processes and events without altering their substances, but maybe it should be possible after all.

Conveying information in an efficient way is not a question whether they’re not communicated enough and through enough different routes, but it is a question whether the texts are written in ways people can understand them. Academic articles, journals and books are plenty, but often quite difficult and even dull for the reader. There are long and tedious sections about specific methods used in the study, they often include complex calculations and formulas and most importantly, the language and the vocabulary can be very difficult to understand. These aspects can build a barrier between information and people, and especially people without academic backgrounds or the time and interest to put into the texts.

Scientific articles bring a lot of important information to light, for example things about climate change and how to adapt to it. Understanding it is vital for a lot of people of whom only some are accustomed to reading these types of texts. Plenty of people in important positions in companies, cities, and governments are making decisions concerning climate action, without thorough understanding on the events themselves. Of course, nobody should have to understand absolutely everything, but a lot of the times vital information should be able to be conveyed in a very understandable form. The difficulty lies precisely there – how can one translate very complex and specific issues into a simpler form without changing the message?

To sort of translate academic texts surely is complicated and it has a lot of risks but being able to convey these very vital messages scientists have to the public and to policymakers should be important enough to cover for the effort. I don’t think we have the luxury of gatekeeping interesting findings within certain scientific or academic communities, as they are often affecting everything and everyone by now. I also don’t think this is done deliberately, but it is more of a consequence of time, resources and even money. It is difficult to simplify complicated issues and surely it would take a lot of time, so it becomes a question of responsibility as well. What authority is responsible for making sure vital information reaches people? Who’s to pay, if the scientists should write doubles of their texts to have more understandable versions published? Does everybody even have a right for information, if they are not ready to put work and effort into understanding it? There is also a question, whether everyone should even need to know everything scientists publish but discussing that should only be case related and it should definitely not be something chosen by others, than the readers themselves.

I understand these thoughts are very incomplete, but I feel that these questions are even more important to discuss as science is making progress and the language used in academic and scientific texts is developing. Information is power, and the ability to reach information is not something that should only be held by a few. It would be beneficial for everybody if this inequality could be reduced by focusing on making the language used more understandable and simple.

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