In case you didn’t see the first time, NPR’s Planet Money blog had a contest for an “economics to english” translation of a particularly jargon-filled paper abstract. I am proud to say that I won this contest, though, as I stated in my AEA speach, I still contend that the translation of “We spent our entire research grant on weed and a thesaurus” is really the best.
The prize for winning said contest was participation in a Planet Money podcast, which aired on December 23. (I had missed it originally because I was at my parents’ for the holidays, so I didn’t know it was out there until a friend mentioned it to me a few days ago.) Some commentary:
- While my friend said that he liked the podcast, I think it could have gone better- I felt like I had to keep interrupting to get a word in. I also didn’t much like that the author of the paper was advocating for the necessaity of technical terms for precision at the same time that he was using said terms imprecisely. (scale vs. scope, for example)
- I find the disparity between the comments on the original post and the comments on the podcast to be interesting. The comments on the original post are generally of the “people use too much jargon when they are trying to obscure a point or don’t really understand a subject” variety, whereas the comments on the podcast are more along the lines of “jargon is necessary to communicate to others within a discipline.” I think, to a large degree, it is more important for economics then other fields to be somewhat accessible to the outside world- after all, I can use my iPhone without knowing how it works, but it’s much harder to use what economics has to offer without understanding the subject. Also, even as someone within the discipline, I had to put serious thought in to understand what the paper was trying to say, and while some papers are just plan difficult to follow because they cover difficult topics, the abstracts really don’t need to be difficult as well.
- There are often issues with readbility that have little to do with jargon and technical terms, and this paper could have been presented in a much clearer way even if the specific terms were not omitted.
Also, for your amusement, the academic sentence generator referred to in the podcast can be found here…and some people have no sense of humor.