MD vs PhD

Richard Hall rhall at
Wed Jul 2 08:14:10 EST 1997

>In <mark-ya02408000R0107971920520001 at>
>mark at (Mark Brandt, Ph.D.) writes:
>>In article
><Pine.GSO.3.96.970630185345.18895A-100000 at elaine5.Stanford.EDU>,
>>amit mehta <amehta at leland.Stanford.EDU> wrote:
>>>         The common high sounding claims of pursuing scientific truth are
>>> about as meaningful here as those of medical philanthropy.
>>>Scientists also seek invidious comparison but of a different sort.
>>>First, the
>>> surrounding community usually does not penetrate the quasi-mystical
>>>screen  of esoteric terminology, and the scientists do not really give them
>>>the respect which ostentatious displays would indicate.  Hence, in a
>>> meaningful sense, scientists are more vain than physicians. In fact,
>>> little interaction with the surrounding community is required.
>>Tell me, how would you explain, for example, the molecular details of
>>protein synthesis, without using "esoteric terminology"?
>>Is it possible? Yes.
>>However, it either takes a great deal longer, due to the necessity to
>>establish a common language by including the required definitions, or
>>it lacks details. If too many details are left out, the "science" becomes
>>indistinguishable from pseudoscience, which may defeat the purpose of
>>the discussion in the first place.

SHarris wrote:
>   Yep.  Every discipline has its terminology, and disciplines which
>are old, or didn't originate in English speaking countries, tend to
>have a lot of baggage in the way of specialized vocabularies.  Are all
>those terms in ballet and music in there just so that musicians and
>dance instructors can feel important?  And all that math that goes
>along with physics?

>   Medicine does have a unique problem, in that it is profession which
>is forced to explain stuff to a public which ordinarily doesn't give a
>*(&% about that stuff, but is forced to in a particular instance,
>because not doing so will cause intense pain and suffering.  [snip]
rlh comments:

Actually all professions have unique terminology  and grammatical
constructs.  Musicians, plumbers, physicians, lawyers, engineers,
accountants, and scientists have  developed languages for "plying their
art".   Still, professional terminology is more than a convenience to the
specialist and more than a barrier to "outsiders."

What is sometimes called jargon frequently has a conceptual base that makes
the use of specialized  terminology more than just words to be translated.
For example, when a neuroscientist talks about inward currents, a simple
translation might be  "inward currents = a depolarizing ionic current."
Now we have more terms to define- membrane potentials, depolarizing, ionic
current, and current.    (Note that some of the additional terms were not
even included in the initial translation! )  Professional terminology can
be difficult for non-professionals because the language also describes
concepts that have taken years if not centuries to develop.

Conversely, professionals must be more attentive to the needs of the lay
public.  Science and medicine, indeed all professions, benefit  when the
public has a better understanding of what we do and how we "think".  That
is why people like Carl Sagan, Jay Stephen Gould, and others have large
followings.  The rest of us professionals should spend more time working
at making our disciplines accessible to the public.


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