Scientists Furious with AFA

Scientists have an awful tendency to overuse complex, confusing, or otherwise indecipherable acronyms in their work. Thankfully, a plucky group of, uh, scientists, is here to try and keep them in line.

It’s something of an inside joke among scientists to come up with fun acronyms like MAYONNAISE (a morphological components analysis pipeline for circumstellar disks and exoplanets imaging in the near infrared). Those aren’t the real issue, though: In research published in the journal eLife, Australian scientists found that scientists overuse simpler, smaller acronyms that have multiple different meanings, making scientific papers unreadable.

Of course, some science acronyms are lifesavers. It would be insufferable to write deoxyribonucleic acid every time we talked about DNA, and memorizing the cringeworthy “Completely Automated Programmable Turing-test to tell Computers and Humans Apart” would shut down CAPTCHA tests overnight. So, these and other bafflingly-complex acronyms like ESPRESSO (Echelle Spectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet- and Stable Spectroscopic Observations) aren’t really the problem.

Those examples are useful tools to streamline communication, not make communication impossible.

Queensland University of Technology Professor Adrian Barnett and Dr. Zoe Doubleday from the University of South Australia are on the war path. Despite repeated calls for scientists to reduce their use of acronyms and jargon in journal papers, the advice has been largely ignored, their findings show in a paper published in eLife. Their study shows scientists show no sign of stopping scientists' incessant, inscrutable acronymization.

"For example, the acronym UA has 18 different meanings in medicine, and six of the 20 most widely used acronyms have multiple common meanings in health and medical literature," according to Dr. Zoe Doubleday. "When I look at the top 20 scientific acronyms of all time, it shocks me that I recognize only about half. We have a real problem here."

Entrenched writing styles in science are difficult to shift and excessive acronym use points to a broader communication problem in science, Dr. Doubleday says, but journals could help stem the trend by restricting the number of acronyms used in a paper.

"In the future it might be possible - software permitting - for journals to offer two versions of the same paper, one with acronyms and one without, so that the reader can select the version they prefer."

Let's face it, if scientists can't understand each other, what chance have the rest of us got? It would be good news if they could suppress the urge to use AFA's (Another F***ing Acronym) and make everything clearer, both for themselves and us.

Original source: Futurism and

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