Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Faith, Science, and Stem Cells: What's that Term Again? (Part 6) [Serge]

Others in the series.

Whereas I previously posted about confusion regarding scientific and faith-based claims, this next part is more disturbing. Anyone can make a mistake in making a faith-based claim and claiming that it is scientific. However, the ESCR and human cloning debate has also illustrated a clear attempt at deception which is intentionally designed. All one has to look at is the terminology used.

I believe there should be two responsibilities for scientific education: the discovery of empirical truths and the accurate dissemination of such truths to the general public. The accurate determination of scientific truth necessitates the very precise language used by scientists. Any reading of a scientific journal by one unfamiliar with the terms used can be a frustrating experience. However, scientists often change the precise technical jargon with more lay-person based descriptions in order to help the public understand the truths being reported.

This is very common in my work. I recently dictated an operative report for a patient with a minimally displaced fracture of the right mandibular body and the left mandibular subcondylar region necessitating the procedure of a closed reduction with Erich arch bar stabilization along with a period of rigid intermaxillary fixation. If my partners read the report they would know exactly what the diagnosis and treatment were. However, I don't believe I used any of those terms when describing the diagnosis or the procedure to the patient. I told him that he had broken his jaw in two places and that I needed to wire him shut for a time for him to heal properly.

The terms "broken jaw" and "minimally displaced mandible fracture" are pretty much synonymous. Yet using the more formal term to a patient without explanation would be confusing. Also, there are many in the public who believe that a "fracture" is somehow better than a "break". If I used this knowledge in order to deceive my patient, I would be guilty of malpractice. If I told him that his jaw was only "fractured" when I did not think that he correctly understands that term - I would not be living up to my responsibility.

In short, using technical terms in order to deceive instead of accurate available lay terms is wrong. Likewise, using terminology in ways that deceive an unsuspecting public should be the goal of science to avoid and expose in all instances. Instead, as we will see, the "scientific" establishment endorses such behavior in the name of scientific advancement. I want to look at a number of examples, but we will start with the word "cloning" next post.

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