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The Results Of The Economics To English Translation…

January 24th, 2010 · 1 Comment
Press

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.

Tags: Press

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Rev. Pfloyd // Jan 24, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    It was a pleasant surprise to hear you on one of the regular podcasts I listen to. It’s like when the character from one sitcom makes a cameo in another. Do they even do that anymore?

    But I digress. I agree wholeheartedly that I think that academicians of the “dismal science” tend to make their own science dismal with such language. I’m of the mind that something like fundamentals of economics isn’t very well-known in our society and that’s a shame because I think a lot of people get suckered into believing half-truths or outright falsehoods because they lack this knowledge. Professional economists aren’t helping anyone by trying to make their field sound like an abstract on particle physics.

    Thankfully, books like Freakanomics and More Sex is Safer Sex try to highlight the fun side of the field and make it less dismal.

    We already have enough dismal in the world. We should be painting more smiley-faces on things.

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