BBC proves scientists are more fun

Today the Beeb offered proof that scientists (and science journalists) are more fun than world news journalists. The proof is in the vocabulary.

My newsreader collected this headline from the Science/Nature RSS feed at 9:43 AM:


Less than one minute later, the World Edition RSS feed offered this headline:


Same article, two different headlines. And if you were to look at the headlines without knowing which feed they originated from, you could be forgiven for guessing that it was the snooty, over-educated science writers who came up with the boring “whale faeces” headline.

This is the great fallacy perpetuated on us by anti-science forces! They want you to believe that science is dull, dry and dusty, that only elitists go into those fields, and that they spend their time demanding money for studies that nobody else can understand while throwing around ten-dollar (or ten-euro) words such as invagination, sessile, and taphonomic.

But the truth is right there in those headlines. Scientists throw around words like poo. I speak from personal laboratory experience when I say that many scientists prefer the word poo — and its less polite relatives — to the more proper term of faeces. And you don’t even want to hear us discuss reproductive processes or behaviors.

No, it’s not the scientists who are boring. But it is the scientists who demand specifics rather than uninformative generalizations. Look at those headlines again. The Science/Nature headline uses CO2, meaning carbon dioxide — a specific greenhouse gas. But the World Edition uses the general term “greenhouse gas,” which could be CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, or any number of other gases. It’s not an inaccurate headline, but it’s not very useful either. It also refers to whales, which could be any species, rather than specifying sperm whales.

However, it does wrap itself in authority by using the word faeces. Sounds official, doesn’t it?

Scientists don’t need false authority. They need accuracy and fun, in that order. (Also cheap food and beer, but that’s a different blog post.)

The headline for the actual article, by the way, is a hybrid of these two. It specifies CO2 and sperm whales, but declines to use the word poo. Which tells me that while presenting a very proper public face on its web site, the BBC is secretly sharing its sense of humor with a specific subset of readers: those who have subscribed to the Science/Nature RSS feed. More proof, if you needed it, of how cool scientists and the sciences really are.

About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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5 Responses to BBC proves scientists are more fun

  1. Kugai says:

    Well it certainly catches your eye; which I think was the point of doing it that way.

  2. Ana_ñ says:

    I don’t think that science is dull, dry and dusty, on the contrary. But I wonder what happens with other BBC RSS feeds (Technology, Business, Health, etc.) versus World Edition RSS feeds. Do they change headlines in function of their specific readers?

    They are many specialized languages that need some sort of translation when talking with laypersons. Think about lawyers (no offence intended but I suppose it is an example very far from scientific language). And I guess that they use different terms when talking between them (like your laboratory talk) than when they have to write a legal document. Well, I have no idea in this particular case, but this double language is not uncommon in other fields.

    As for the accuracy, it’s true that it usually diminishes in the “translation” made by general journalists. Obviously, we need good communicators explaining scientific topics in an accurate and fun way… Oregon Expat.

  3. That’s an amazing post. Thanks a lot

  4. Spain 1 Germany 0 – I personally was on the side of the germans, but in all honesty spain played a superior game. If we can see just one more command performance from spain, if they can bamboozle Holland in the same manner on Sunday we will have new world champions!

  5. Ana says:

    Talking about different headlines; today:

    BBC – Homepage: “BP says oil has stopped leaking from Gulf well”

    [In Spanish] BBC Mundo – Internacional: “BP todavía no canta victoria” (translated more o less: “it’s still too early for BP to sing its praises”)

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