2011-01-21 12:29:46Style Guide for Basic Rebuttals and Technical Jargon to watch for
John Cook


For newcomers to the Authors Forum, here is an explanation of how the Basic Rebuttals forum works. This is where we write plain english versions of the more advanced, technical rebuttals. The purpose is to write versions understandable to the layperson, the general public. The general procedure to add a basic rebuttal is as follows:

How to add a Basic Rebuttal

  1. First make sure noone is already working on the rebuttal you wish to write. Go to the Rebuttal List to see a list of all the skeptic arguments.
  2. Find your skeptic argument. In the Basic column, you will see whether your argument is already published (green), claimed by another author (blue) or unclaimed (red). If unclaimed, click the Claim link to claim it.
  3. Now you can write your rebuttal. The usual procedure is to start from the intermediate rebuttal and parse it into plain English. However, this is a creative process and you may have better ideas on how to communicate the subject. If you think the intermediate rebuttal needs an update, feel free to start a new thread on the Intermediate Forum with your suggestions.
  4. Once you've written your rebuttal, start a new thread here on the Basic Rebuttals forum. The general policy is to title your thread "Basic Rebuttal" followed by the argument # and the name of the argument.
  5. Then authors will post feedback on your rebuttal. When authors deem your rebuttal fit for public consumption, they will give your thread a green thumb. Generally, when your thread gets 5 thumbs, it gets published as a blog post and also published as a rebuttal to that skeptic argument (eg - a Basic tab is added to the Basic/Intermediate/Advanced tabs).
  6. If your thread languishes without feedback, feel free to bump it (eg - post a response to that thread) to remind everyone that your thread still exists. Or worst case scenario, email me at john@skepticalscience.com if I haven't got around to posting feedback yet.
  7. Once published, you're very welcome to publish your rebuttal elsewhere. All content on Skeptical Science is under a Creative Commons license so they're free to be published elsewhere.

Style Guide for Basic Rebuttals

  • Avoid acronyms. If you have to use them, use the full worded version first followed by the acronym then use the acronym subsequently. Eg - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
  • Avoid technical words that have different meanings to the layperson. See below for Technical Jargo to watch out for.
  • Images should be as simple as possible. Unlike peer-reviewed figures which seek to communicate as much information as possible, images for the general public need to contain only enough info to tell a clear story. If you need help getting hold of data or plotting a graph, ask on the forum and we'll help create a simpler graph.
  • Captions should be simple, not too much technical detail but still link to the original source.

Technical jargon to watch out for (and suggested substitutes)

Scientists use many words that mean something very different to much of the public. Source: Improving How Scientists Communicate About Climate Change

Technical term Substitute Reason
Enhanced greenhouse effect Increased greenhouse effect Enhanced means better
Aerosols Small atmospheric particles Aerosols are associated with spray cans
According to theory According to our physical understanding of how this works A theory is just an unsubstantiated hunch
Positive trend Upward trend Positive is seen as a good thing
Positive feedbackSelf-reinforcing cyclePositive is seen as a good thing
SpatialSpaceToo geeky
Even more geeky
AnthropogenicHuman causedAnthropo-whoosy?
Uncertainty Range Uncertainty means we don't know what's going to happen
Human activity “contributes” to global warmingMost of global warming is caused by human activity
Makes it sound like human activity might be only a minor contributor
Climate debateThe urgent challenge of human-induced climate changeReinforces the mistaken notion that there is a debate about basic issues that are settled science
RadiationEnergy or Heat Radiation
Radiation is about X rays and Chernobyl for much of the public
RiskGlobal warming is not a risk but a realityA “risk” often connotes a low-probability event, something that might happen but is not likely
2011-01-21 21:07:28


I think that the word "energy" is over-used:

- covers too much

- often used instead of the more accurate "power"

I would suggest to use the term "heat radiation" instead of "radiation". I think people can get their minds around that.


2011-10-19 09:58:01Crowd sourced list like this
John Cook


There's a google doc crowd sourcing this type of vocabulary