I like doing outreach. I like talking to non-scientists about science, but I’m a relative newbie in science, so the powers-that-be rarely let me give bigger talks to bigger groups. So I frequently find myself watching more senior scientists give talks to non-scientist audiences.
And I am sick of seeing the same trite, tired, ineffective, cliched slides and hearing the same words from each of them.
Henceforth, I propose that we, as concerned scientists, kill and bury the following cliches. This list will never be complete, and I welcome proposals for additions:
1) The Moore’s law slide.
Yes, the cost of sequencing DNA has gone down. It’s gone down fast. It’s gone down faster than it “should.” Why in the world do we care? This ain’t no economics lecture. It used to matter because of the mythical $1000 genome and how close we were to that. We hit it; there were no parades. How about we instead show the rate of production of DNA sequence in hard drives? Or terabytes? Or petabytes? As an aside, the government is good at some things, and quality slide aesthetics seems to not be one of them.
2) “Junk DNA.”
Call it the Jason Voorhees of genomics metaphors for the number of times it’s been killed and revived only to be killed again. Whoever decided that, just because we didn’t know what this DNA was doing, it meant it was junk ought to feel shame. So very much shame. Your mother gave you this DNA, and it was important to her that you have it, so it should be important to you. People who call it “junk DNA” don’t love their mothers.
3) “Dark Matter of the Genome.”
This is tied up in the recently departed junk DNA accusation. As “junk DNA” gets zombified, a new term has cropped up to admit that, okay, it’s not junk, but we don’t know what it does. Biologists have borrowed a highly defined term from cosmology to describe pieces of the genome with unknown function but known presence. It’s at least better than “junk DNA,” so it’s more like hating your great aunt than hating your mother.
4) The GWAS SNP slide.
There. Is. No. Information. In. This. Presentation. It used to be cute when you could see that you’re pointing out stuff on chromosomes. It used to be cute when there were only a couple colors and a couple regions you cared about. It used to be cute before Calibri. Now, it looks like someone spilled sprinkles on their mom’s team-building memos. What’s the point? There are exact counts of SNPs. There are bar charts that show how many pieces of DNA are correlated with a disease. If you need to rely on a confusing slide to express that genomics is confusing, you miiiight be a scientist.
Okay, end rant. Who’s got more OLDCRAP for me to hate on?
11/16/2015: Back with some new O.L.D.C.R.A.P.
5) Mouse “avatars.”
To study an individual patient’s tumor, some of its cells can be grown in mice. This is technically called a “patient-derived xenograft” and is a tool to give researchers enough cells to do certain tests on. Forgivably, communicators have looked for better, less alien-invoking terms. Sadly, they’ve settled on “avatar.” I know two things about avatars: one, you used to have to pick one when signing up for websites, and two, they’re big blue aliens. The word evokes nothing about treating disease or helping much of anything. It doesn’t convey concepts better than does “model” or “mousey growing system.”