1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6? Extinctions

“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.”
Carl Sagan

An article in Scientific America asked an interesting question, Why Don’t We Hear about More Species Going Extinct? There have been a lot of stories about the planet being in the middle of the 6th mass extinction.  Reports are saying that the rate of extinction is as much a 1000 times normal.  If these articles are correct shouldn’t we see articles in the news about species going extinct?  However, I wonder if people even understand the context of mass extinctions?  If asked, what is a mass extinction, could you answer? 

To understand what a mass extinction is, we need to understand life on earth and the fossil record.  All five existing mass extinctions are in the fossil record.  The first life that appeared were microbes around 3.7 billion years ago.  They lived in a world that was quite different from present-day earth.  The atmosphere was almost devoid of O2 (molecular oxygen) and high in things like methane.  Molecular oxygen is highly reactive and will spontaneously react with any oxidizable compounds present.  The early earth was full of oxidizable compounds, any molecular oxygen that did appear was almost instantly removed by chemical reaction.

About 1.3 billion years later the first cyanobacteria evolved, these were the first photo-synthesizers. Over possibly hundreds of millions of years molecular oxygen produced by the cyanobacteria reacted with compounds in the environment until all the oxidizable compounds were used up.  A great example of this is banded iron deposits.  Only when molecular oxygen reacted with all the oxidizable compounds could molecular oxygen begin to accumulate in the environment. 

After another 1.7 billion years the first multicellular organisms, sponges appeared in the fossil record.  Around 65 million years later a group of multicellular organisms called the Ediacaran Biota joined the sponges on the seafloor.  Most of these organisms disappeared around 541 million years ago.  However, the loss of the Ediacaran Biota is not one of the five mass extinction events.  How much of an evolutionary impact the Ediacaran Biota had on modern multicellular organisms is still an open question.  Most of the Ediacaran Biota had body planes quite different from modern organisms.

The next period is especially important; it started about 541 million years ago and lasted for about 56 million years.  The period is known as the Cambrian.  This period is referred to as the Cambrian explosion because all existing types (phyla) of organisms we see in modern life emerged during this period. The Cambrian explosion is also essential because the diverse number and types of organisms that evolved during the Cambrian explosion form the backdrop for mass extinctions.

The first mass extinction occurred 444 million years ago at the end of the Ordovician period.  During this extinction event, 86% of all species disappeared from the fossil record over about 4.4 million years. Global recovery after the extinction event took about 20 Million years

The Second mass extinction occurred at the end of the late Devonian Period.  The Devonian extinction is the extinction that eliminated the Trilobites.  During this extinction event, 75% of all species disappeared from the fossil record over as much as 25 million years

The third and largest mass extinction occurred at the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago.  During this mass extinction, 96% of all species disappeared from the fossil record over 15 million years.  Research suggests that the Permian mass extinction took 30 million years for full global recovery.

The fourth mass extinction occurred 200 million years ago at the end of the Triassic period.  During this mass extinction, 80% of all species disappeared from the fossil record. The Triassic mass extinction appears to have occurred over an incredibly short period, less than 5000 years.

The fifth mass extinction occurred at the end of the Cretaceous period 66 million years ago.  This extinction is by far the most famous of the mass extinctions because it is the meteor strike that killed the dinosaurs.  During this extinction, 76% of all the spices disappeared from the fossil record.  Research suggests this mass extinction only took 32,000 years.

Now that we have looked at mass extinctions what about regular extinctions.  Normal or background extinction rate is the number of extinctions per million species per year (E/MSY).  Current estimates put the background extinction rate at 0.1 E/MSY.  If the the current extinction rate is 1000 times the background extinction rate, then currently the extinction rate is 100 E/MSY.

The current estimate for the total number of species is 8.9 million.  That means that 890 species are going extinct every year or 2.5 species a day.  So why don’t we hear more about spices going extinct if the extinction rate is that high?  First, the current catalog of identified species is 1.9 million, which means there are currently 7 million species (79%) that are undescribed.  That means 700 of the 890 extinctions a year would be in species that scientists haven’t identified.

The second problem is that even with identified species, it is often difficult to know if a species has gone extinct.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) maintains the Red List of critically endangered species.  One of the categories is Possibly Extinct (PE) based on the last time anyone saw an organism.  For example, no one has seen the San Quintin Kangaroo Rat in 33 years, no one has seen the Yangtze River Dolphin in 17 years, and no one has seen the Dwarf Hutia in 82 years.  It is likely that these three spices, along with several others, are extinct.

However, not being seen is not good enough to classify a species extinct.  After all, the Coelacanth was thought to be extinct for 65 million years until a fisherman caught one in 1938.  For a species to be declared extinct, a thorough and focused search must be made for the organism to declare it extinct.  These types of searches require time, personnel, and money.  Therefore, searches don’t often happen.  So with the exceptions of particular cases, like Martha the last Carrier pigeon who died on September 1, 1914, most species go extinct with a whimper, not a bang.

We don’t hear more about species going extinct because even knowing extinctions are occurring, in many cases, we don’t know about them.   Returning to the question of what is a mass extinction, and could there be a 6th happening?

Use the five existing mass extinctions as examples a simple definition of a mass extinction is an event where 75% or more of the existing species become extinct within a short (less than 30 million years) time.  Using the current estimated number of spices, and the current estimated rate of extinction we can calculate how long it will take to reach the 75% mark the answer is 7500 years. Since 7500 years is less than 30 million years, we could be on course for a 6th mass extinction.  However, as Doug Erwin says we are not in the middle of the 6th mass extinction.  If we were in the middle of a mass extinction like Dr. Erwin said cascade failures would already have started in the ecosystem and there would be anything we could do.  However, that is good news we still have time to do something.

What we need is an accurate count of extinct species.  So, do you have a class that could do fieldwork?  There is probably a critically endangered species near you.  Maybe you will even be lucky, and you will find the species then you can help with a plan to save it.

Thanks for Listening to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg

The Raven Paradox and Science

“Anything that thinks logically can be fooled by something else that thinks at least as logically as it does.”
Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless

The democratization of knowledge is a tremendous and empowering idea. The internet plays a huge role in this democratization. The growth and expansion of the Internet are almost unfathomable. The growth of online video is an example of this. In the early stages of the Internet, one small picture could slow your website to a crawl. Now we’re watching 4K YouTube videos at 60 frames per second.

You can find almost anything on YouTube. Need to paint a room in your house there’s a video for that. Want to listen to your favorite band they probably have a channel. Want to know how to build an electric guitar there is a playlist for that. There are even channels focused primarily on teaching science. Some of my favorites are Dianna Cowern’s Physics Girl, Derek Muller’s Veritasium, Michael Stevens’s Vsauce, and Brady Haran’s Numberphile.

However, there are also other channels on YouTube presenting pseudoscience or even outright falsehoods. Did you know that the Flat Earth Society has its own YouTube channel? (No, I’m not linking to it!) As much as we might like the idea of deleting them if we support an open and free Internet and the democratization of knowledge we can’t.

Fortunately, a lot of them are easy to spot. However, what about videos that make a mistake or fall into a logic trap. What about videos recommended by YouTube? Does a YouTube recommendation increase the validity of a video?

The other day a video popped up in my YouTube recommendation feed the title intrigued me “The Raven Paradox (An Issue with the Scientific Method)” the video is by a channel TritoxHD which is a channel about “science, theory, and history!” The video concludes that scientists shouldn’t make overly broad generalizations.

The video centers around the Raven Paradox, which is an argument in inductive reasoning first presented by Carl Gustav Hempel and how it impacts on the scientific method. The raven paradox is interesting from a logical standpoint. The paradox is dependent on logical equivalents from a logical point of view; all A’s are B’s is equal to if not B then not A.

The paradox uses these two statements.

  1. All ravens are black.
  2. Something is not black; then it is not a raven.

Since these two statements are logically equivalent observing one is support for the other. As an example, the flower in my front yard is pink, this flower is not black, and it is not Raven, so this pink flower supports all ravens are black. If you are like most people, your response was just “WHAT!” The idea that dissimilar things can be used to prove each other is where the paradox comes from how can an observation of a flower have anything to do with ravens. Fred Leavitt does an excellent job of explaining how this works in his article Resolving Hempel’s Raven Paradox in Philosophy Now; my interest is in the description of the scientific method.

How does The Raven Paradox relate to the scientific method? Our YouTuber and others have suggested that many if not most hypotheses are of the format all A’s are B’s. In this case, the YouTuber makes his first mistake when he takes All ravens are black as a hypothesis.  The video states that the hypothesis is the first step in the scientific method, this is not true.

I like to think of the scientific method is a cycle that we can enter from any point, so there isn’t a first step. However, if you think of the scientific method linearly the first step is to ask a question.

Two representations of the Scientific Method one circular the other liner.
Two representations of the Scientific Method one circular the other liner.

Following in the raven example the question would be “Is there a trait that all ravens share?” Then you’d go out and observe ravens. This step is necessary because a hypothesis is a prediction based on observation. So, if you need observations to make a hypothesis, the hypothesis can’t be the first step. Our YouTube author even states that a hypothesis is a prediction based on observation.

An important thing to know about the hypothesis all ravens are black is that while very rare there are white (albino) or cream (leucistic) colored ravens.

Modified from Raven by Marcin Klapczynski, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Modified from Raven by Marcin Klapczynski, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The argument concerning the paradox is twofold one, to “prove” the hypothesis you must observe every single raven, I’ll come back to this latter. Two, you can observe hundreds even thousands of ravens and never see a white raven and therefore conclude that all ravens are black incorrectly.

Let’s suppose you examine 50 ravens and they were all blacks you come up with the hypothesis all ravens are black. You then go out and examined 5000 ravens, and they are all black. What is the problem, while we don’t know the exact numbers there are 4 or fewer albino ravens worldwide out of a total population of 16 million. That means that your probability of seeing an albino raven is 0.000025%. 

Beyond the small chance of seeing a white raven, there is another problem with the approach. Observing Ravens to see if they are black is an experiment that is designed to prove the hypothesis.  Specifically observing 5000 black Ravens is a result that is consistent with the hypothesis, this type of research doesn’t provide any information on alternative hypotheses.

With science, supporting or consistent data is of a lower value. Experiments that focus on disproving a hypothesis always have a higher value. They have a higher value because they eliminate alternative ideas which strengthen the validity of the remaining hypothesis. Additionally, a hypothesis is only scientific if it can be disproven.  Which means if you try to disprove a hypothesis and can’t the likely hood that the hypothesis is pointing at something real is stronger.

Let’s briefly get back to the issue of testability, since all ravens are black requires an examination of all ravens something that is impossible the hypothesis is untestable and is therefore not a scientific hypothesis. 

In the end, this the video uses the Raven Paradox to say that scientists can overreach and should be careful of generalizations. However, this argument is problematic because it is dependent on the definition of a hypothesis which is not complete.  The hypothesis all ravens are black is not a valid hypothesis. The author states a hypothesis is a prediction based on observations. I would say a prediction that is consistent with observations. Additionally, a hypothesis must be testable. Lastly, a hypothesis must be falsable or able to be proven incorrect to be a scientific hypothesis.

While I would like to see the YouTube logarithm not suggest things that are incomplete or oversimplified beyond usefulness, I suspect that will not happen.  Like I have stated before we need to focus on teaching students how to evaluate information.  I suspect most of the problems with the video come from things being oversimplified. As Einstein said, “Simplify everything as much as possible but no further.” Concerning basic education, I think we’ve taken the scientific method further. We tend towards being very simplistic in how we present the scientific method. We need to do a better job of teaching the basics if our students don’t know the foundation how can we hope to teach them the specifics.

Thanks for Listening to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg

Tell Me a Story

“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”
Graham Greene

Story it’s an interesting word like so many words in English it has many meanings.  If you look in the Mariam Webster’s Dictionary, the word story has 18 definitions if you include the sub-definitions.  We use story a lot in the sciences.

How do I know when my research is ready for publication?  You’re ready for publication when you can tell a story.  How will I know when I’m prepared to write my dissertation?  You’re prepared to write your dissertation when you can write a complete story. The answer to many a question is when you can tell a story.

A lady telling a gripping story to young women and children. Mezzotint by V. Green, 1785, after J. Opie. Credit: Wellcome Collection, CC BY
A lady telling a gripping story to young women and children. Mezzotint by V. Green, 1785, after J. Opie. Credit: Wellcome Collection, CC BY

Why a story?  A story is a very efficient way to teach something.  A properly constructed story helps us understand what is going on by logically presenting information and highlighting the links and connections between separate facts and events.  There is even a word for this storification in the paper Storification in History education: A mobile game in and about medieval Amsterdam the authors talk about the advantages of storytelling in History,

“In History education, narrative can be argued to be very useful to overcome fragmentation of the knowledge of historical characters and events, by relating these with meaningful connections of temporality and sequence (storification).” (Computers & Educations Vol 52, Issue 2, February 2009, p449.)

Storification also makes sense in regards to working and short-term memory.  Working memory and short-term memory are transient; permanent information storage takes place in long-term memory.  However, they are both critical to the establishment of long-term memory.  Information enters the memory system through Short-term memory, and processing and connections happen in working memory.

Unlike long-term memory, both short-term and working memory have limits on their capacity.   Recent work suggests that the size of working memory is 3 – 5 items.  For example, I could reasonably be expected to memorize a list of letters; H, C, L, I, and Z. I know some of you were going to say seven items as in the magical number seven, I break down the changes in our understanding of working memory in another blog post, you can read about it here.

However, we can quickly see a problem with 3-5 items; I can also remember a sentence, “All the world’s a stage” this sentence has 18 characters 19 if I count the apostrophe. I can hold this sentence in short-term memory.  I can remember these 18 characters due to a process called chunking coined by George Miller in his paper The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information.  Miller describes it as “By organizing the stimulus input simultaneously into several dimensions and successively into a sequence of chunks, we manage to break (or at least stretch) this informational bottleneck.” (Psychology Review Vol. 101, No. 2 p351)

In our example’s words are chunks; specifically, each word is a list of letters that have a specific meaning.  If I were to present that list of letters to you in a different way as zilch, it would be much easier to remember. Chunking is the same idea behind storification or storytelling; you are organizing the information into related chunks to make it easier for the mind to remember and digest.

With all the complicated information in a scientific paper, A story is a perfect format to present new scientific knowledge.  A scientific paper starts with an abstract which gives an overview. Then the paper has an introduction which places the new information in context with the old. Then we show the experiments (in the order that explains the information the best. not necessarily chronologically). Lastly, there is a summary that reiterates the new information in context with the old and what directions the research could go next.

A faculty advisor of mine once described writing a science paper as tell them what you are going to tell them, tell it to them, then tell them what you told them.  That might seem a bit excessive, in fact, I once had a non-science faculty member after hearing this triple approach to paper writing say, “what are scientists stupid?”  I think it’s a smart strategy, after all, have you ever had a teacher tell you how many times you need to hear something to commit it to memory? (I always heard it was three)

There is one thing I find quite strange about storytelling in science education.  It seems to me that helping students make connections and tie information together is the most important in the earliest stages of education — for instance, the steps of education that use textbooks.  However, the writing of most current science textbooks presents information as separate chunks.

Like I have said in previous blog posts the reason for writing the modern textbook as independent chunks are so we can use the textbook in any class and any order. However, if we want textbooks to be as useful as possible shouldn’t they be written as a story?  We should write the textbook so that we group information into meaningful chunks, we should write the textbook so that we present information in ways that reinforce the relationships and dependencies between new information and preexisting knowledge.

What do you think is the lack of storytelling harming modern textbooks?  Has our desire to produce textbooks (commercial and open source) that can be used in as many different classes as possible hurting the usability of the modern textbook?  Can we create textbooks that are storified or would they be unusable in current courses?  However, if a storified textbook helps the students learn and if we can’t use them in current courses is the problem with the textbook or the course?

Thanks for Listing to My Musings

The Teaching Cyborg

The Gardeners Keep Changing My Tree of Life

“You’ll be tempted to grouse about the instability of taxonomy: but stability occurs only where people stop thinking and stop working.”

Donald P. Abbott


My Ph.D. is in biology regardless of everything else I’ve learned or what my current job is I generally think of myself as a biologist. A lot of what biologists do involve using model systems or organisms. A model organism is an organism that has some trait or benefit that makes it particularly useful to answer certain types of scientific questions. For instance, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster produces large numbers of offspring and can easily be stored in small spaces making it an excellent system for genetics.  The Zebrafish Danio rerio is a vertebrate that develops from eggs and has transparent embryos making it an excellent model system for vertebrate organ development.  The information learned from model systems improves understanding of other organisms and biology in general.

The application of knowledge from one organism to another works because of the relatedness of all living things. Taxonomies are used to understand the relatedness of organisms. Taxonomies name “scientific name,” organize, and define an organism’s relationship to everything else. The full scientific name of an organism contains 8 or 9 names depending on whether you are using a Domain (Bactria, Archaea, and Eukaryotic) hierarchy. When using taxonomies to determine relatedness the more names, two organisms share, the closer they are on the tree.

I must admit as a student I found taxonomies rather dull. I’ve never really enjoyed topics that seem to be taught exclusively by memorization and regurgitation. One of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had with taxonomies occurred in the research lab, not in the classroom.

As an undergraduate, I researched the zebrafish, a small freshwater fish that is used extensively in developmental and toxicology research.

Zebrafish Image source Wikimedia Commons Author Azul
Zebrafish Image source Wikimedia Commons Author Azul

When I first started to start working on zebrafish their scientific name was Brachydanio rerio.  Shortly after I started working with them, it was proposed and approved that the name change from Brachydanio rerio to Danio rerio, or to list their full name

  • Kingdom: Animalia
    • Phylum: Chordata
      • Class: Actinopterygii
        • Order: Cypriniformes
          • Family: Cyprinidae
            • Subfamily: Danioninae
              • Genus: Danio
                • Species: rerio

Changing things like scientific names can confuse people, how can scientific information change? There are lots of different types of scientific knowledge, and generally, only scientific facts and laws are immune to change.

In science, as we learn new information, we change our interpretations to account for that new information, just ask Pluto. One of the things that have changed a lot in Biology is the tree of life (taxonomies) or how we understand the relatedness of life. When I was in high school, we learned that all life fit into five kingdoms; monera, protista, fungi, plantae, and animalia. Then the tree of life looked like this.

Tree of life showing the 5 Kingdoms Model. Image is based on Biology The science of life volume 3.
Tree of life showing the 5 Kingdoms Model. Image is based on Biology The science of life volume 3.

At this time almost all the classifications were based on physical traits. By the time I was in my undergraduate education, this began to change thanks to the work done by Carl Woese, who used DNA sequences to organize life, his tree looks like this.

Tree of life based on Carl Woese's genetic Analysis. Image source Wikimedia commons By Eric Gaba
Tree of life based on Carl Woese’s genetic Analysis. Image source Wikimedia commons By Eric Gaba

This process continues to change with additional trees and models put forth regularly.

The problem I currently have is on the educational side. I was reading a current intro biology textbook, the tree used in the book looks a lot like Carl Woese’s tree.  However, in the layout of their book they use a word, it’s all over the textbook. The word is prokaryote it is used to classify all single-cell organisms that don’t have membrane-bound nucleus Pro = “before” Kary = “nucleus.”

I hate the word prokaryote as a means of classification from my point of view it is less than useless. I think it can be damaging. In the current textbook, bacteria and archaea are grouped as prokaryotes, because they are both single-cell organisms that lack membrane-bound nuclei. However, that is about where the similarities end. Bacteria and archaea use different chemistries for their cell walls and plasma membranes. They package their DNA differently some archaea even having histones like eukaryotes. Currently, we believe archaea are more closely related to eukaryotes than bacteria. Categorizing bacteria and archaea together under a single term suggests an evolutionary closeness that is not there.

After all, if we look at the full names of several single-celled organisms

Table show the full scientific name of three single celled organisms.
Table show the full scientific name of three single celled organisms.

the word prokaryote does not appear anywhere in the scientific names.

When we are teaching students, it is essential that we don’t unintentionally introduce miss-conceptions.  We should be teaching bacteria and archaea as the distinct groups they are. They should have independent sections in textbooks.  The terms we use in education must have real meaning, and it turns out for a process of taxonomic relatedness lacking a membrane-bound nucleus should not mean things are classified together. When we teach science, when we write about science (textbooks), we need to make sure our language has meaning. We need to stop using groupings and classifications because they are convenient, it gives false impressions about relatedness.  Let’s all get together and kill the term prokaryote and make it easier for students to understand how organisms are related.


Thanks for Listening to My Musings

The Teaching Cyborg





So, You Think You Recognize the Words, But Do You?

I am sometimes amazed that human beings have any ability to communicate. Have you ever heard the statement “My blue is different than your blue”? One of the ideas behind this statement is if I take a blue object the way my brain processes that color is different than the way your brain processes it. This idea that perception might affect the ways each of us views the world is different from the technical definitions. With my science background, I might define blue as “light with a wavelength between 492-450 nm”. While the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines Blue as “1: of the color whose hue is that of the clear sky”.

Perception is not the only point to complicate communication. If you and I had just met and I showed you this cup of tea and said the word “solbränna.”

A cup of tea with milk, in a white cup on a white saucer. The saucer also holds two think rectangular cookies. It all sits on a maroon cloth.
A cup of tea with a cookie Photo by Paul Bowney, CC BY 2.0

Would you know what the word meant? Do I mean tea, cup, saucer, cookie, liquid, hot, how many options are there? Think about it for a while and see what you think. (Take your fingers off the keyboard I didn’t say Google the word!)

I could continue with different ideas showing the complexities of human communication. However, I think this should be good enough to highlight why I think it is amazing any two people can communicate at all. Yes, I hear you “At least within a given group it’s easy. We learn to speak using the same words as everyone else”. Okay, I’m going to give you a list of words.

  • Theory:
  • Law:
  • Insult:
  • Abstract:
  • Significant:
  • Sensitive:

These are all words in the English language. Words that most people can define. In fact, from an educational standpoint, most people knew these words before they started college. So, let me ask you when you’re teaching or giving a presentation do you think about the meaning of the words you are using? Perhaps more importantly do you think about what definitions your audience might be using?

What got me thinking about this was a recent debate I saw about the theory of evolution. What got to me was the fact that the two individuals were talking about two entirely different things. In fact, one of the most common arguments against evolution involves the word theory. People state that we can ignore evolution, or we should teach other things than evolution because after all evolution is just a theory. So, let’s get back to the list of words have you thought about them? What are your definitions?

Did you come up with these definitions?

  • Theory:
    • an unproved assumption: conjecture
  • Law:
    • a binding custom or practice of a community
  • Insult:
    • to treat with insolence, indignity, or contempt
  • Abstract:
    • disassociated from any specific instance
  • Significant:
    • having meaning
  • Sensitive:
    • receptive to sense impressions

How about these definitions?

  • Theory:
    • is a more or less verified explanation accounting for a body of known facts and phenomena.
  • Law:
    • A virtually irrefutable conclusion or explanation of a phenomenon.
  • Insult:
    • An injury, attack, or trauma.
  • Abstract:
    • A condensation or summary of a scientific or literary article or address.
  • Significant:
    • In statistics, denoting the reliability of a finding or, conversely, the probability of the finding being the result of chance.
  • Sensitive:
    • Responding to a stimulus

No matter which set of definitions you choose you are correct. The first set comes from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, while the second set comes from my high school science textbook (interestingly many of these words are not in college texts) and Stedman’s Medical Dictionary. The reason for these different definitions is that in science or any intellectual pursuit existing words are often given new meanings to meet the needs of the field. Since these definitions apply to specific fields, they are not necessarily the general definitions that the public knows.

Let’s apply this to our two debaters if we look at what each said we can see the differences. When the scientist said the theory of evolution he meant “Evolution is a phenomenon that is supported by many scientific studies and experiments over a long period of time.” When his opponent said the theory of evolution, he means “A guess as to how life came to exist as it is.” While I’m not suggesting everyone would have suddenly agreed with each other about the whole concept of evolution if they had taken a little bit time to clarify their meanings they at least could have debated the actual experimental studies of the topics (I know its a dream).

These differences in definitions are one of the reasons it is so important to learn and teach the language of your field. However, when you’re designing your lessons or planning an article do you ever stop and think about what your audience already knows? If you seem to have problems communicating with someone, do you think about how your definitions may vary from there’s? Does your field have definitions outside the common parlance? Do you think about this enough when you are communicating? Lastly, why don’t we use the most powerful of all language tools and coin new words when we need them? It might make communication a little bit easier.  After all, things are just going to get worse, according to this New York Times article, the word Run now has 645 meanings.


Thanks for listening to my musings

The Teaching Cyborg


P.S. The word “solbränna” means tan the color of the tea, did you get it?