Jargon
by on Monday, March 10, 2014  (2 comments)

I was listening Friday to a TED Radio Hour podcast and an engineer was on there, describing prosthetic technology straight out of science fiction movies. He developed this technology. He was obviously an extremely intelligent person.

When being interviewed for this podcast, he didn't need to use all kinds of big terms that would just confuse almost every listener. He was able to describe our nerve connections and how they attach and communicate to muscles with analogies to real world things that the lay person could understand. The nerve is like a telephone line. When the muscle it connects to is taken away, it's like removing the phone from the line. You can plug in another muscle just like you can plug in another phone.

I had already started writing this blog post before listening to that podcast. As I listened to him describing nerves and muscles like telephone lines and telephones, I thought of this post. This engineer was the perfect example of what I was writing about.

Let's compare this engineer to many of the running "experts" we see online these days. They drop terms like LT, VO2max, ATP, glycolysis, mitochondria, so on and so on without explaining what they mean. Do you know what they mean when they use these terms? Does it concern you that they don't explain these terms? It concerns me even when I know what they mean.

Does the individual using these terms want you to understand what they are saying? Does the individual truly understand what they are saying?

If the individual doesn't want you to understand what they are saying, how valuable is what they are saying to you? People who are secure with themselves know that you need at least a basic knowledge of what is being discussed to get the full value of the discussion. Maybe you don't need to know all the scientific details but you need to know, for example, that your mitochondria are the parts of your muscles where energy stored in your body is combined with oxygen to produce the energy your muscles actually use. Just using the term mitochondria is meaningless but explaining it in this way gives you insight on why having more and larger mitochondria is critical.

Likewise, if the individual doesn't truly understand what they are saying, does it mean anything? Sure, having more and larger mitochondria is a good thing. Or is it? If you don't have some understanding of what mitochondria are, how do you know?

When reading a person's writings or listen to a person speaking, if you don't understand the terms they are using, don't assume they are too smart for you and you just trust them. Challenge them to explain what they mean. If they truly understand, they will be able to do so in a way nearly everyone can understand. Just like the engineer. If he can explain advanced prosthetics in a way anyone can understand, anyone who knows their subject matter should be able to do the same. If they can't or won't, I'd question their knowledge of the subject matter or their self confidence.

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2 comments
Diane

TED talks are generally very good! I always find it refreshing when someone can boil down complex issues to layman's terms. That's when you know they are truly competent. :)

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Ryan
Diane: I always find it refreshing when someone can boil down complex issues to layman's terms. That's when you know they are truly competent. :)



Precisely! If you can explain the complexities of your area of expertise to someone who has no knowledge of or training in that area and it makes sense to them, you are truly an expert.

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