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Take the Pledge: I Won’t Use Map-room Jargon!

April 20, 2011 Filed under Blog, Featured, Posters, Presentations, Reviewing, Writing 


If you regularly attend discussions in the weather-map room, subscribe to weather or storm-chaser discussion lists, or have reviewed articles for Weather, Monthly Weather Review, National Weather Digest, or Weather and Forecasting, then you have been exposed to it. Map-room jargon. Often the speakers of map-room jargon don’t even know what they are doing. (I am avoiding the urge to turn map-room jargon into map-room jargon by using the acronym MRJ!)

Jargon can be used for several purposes.

  • To obscure the real physical processes involved in the weather scenario, possibly because the processes are not known or not quantifiable, but also because the authors are intending to obfuscate their lack of knowledge through the use of the jargon.
  • To name some process or feature that hasn’t been described before. Such jargon may be a useful tool to convey a complicated concept with a simple phrase (e.g., cold front), or it may be a way for a selfish author to canonize his or her name in posterity.
  • To invoke a colorful term to describe a well-known process. Usually, this is simply to show off.
  • To indicate membership in a select group, possibly to exclude others.

Examples of map-room jargon include:

“Strong upper-level dynamics were responsible for the rapidly developing surface cyclone.”: The problem here is the word dynamics (you’ll also see the words support and energy appearing in this context, as well). What does it mean? Strong upper-level vorticity advection? If so, say that. Be more precise in your language.

“The low-level jet played a primary role in the resulting convection.”: Many problems exist with this sentence. First, what does it mean for some object to play “a primary role” in a process (convection) that requires three ingredients to occur (lift, instability, and moisture)? Is the author saying that one is more important than the other? Second, is it even possible to quantify this statement? What is the relative importance of the low-level jet to the convection? If the jet were 5 m/s weaker, would the convection not occur? Third, the exact role the low-level jet played is unstated. Was it the supply of moisture that was important? Was it the low-level wind shear that was important? So, I hope you see that avoiding such words as “role”, “forcing”, “activity”, and others listed in Table 10.4 of Eloquent Science hinder precise scientific communication.

Please, take the pledge with me. Eliminate map-room jargon from your scientific writing, email chat groups, and map-room discussions. If you see someone else using map-room jargon, encourage them to use more physically based thinking and language. By cleaning up our language, we respect the physical processes acting in the atmosphere, we force ourselves to understand the atmosphere better, and we demand higher expectations of ourselves and our colleagues.

Do you think map-room jargon is a problem in our science of meteorology?

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