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Plain English Please

July 1, 2014

I overheard what my doctor said to interns:

“Patient needs to reduce his intake of myoglobin because the p-value of contracting acute myocardial infarction is below that of 0.05.”

Why do doctors speak like that to each other? Are they (borrowing a phrase from To Kill a Mocking Bird) puttin’ on airs to beat Moses?

To put it simply, it really means that “patient should eat less red meat to reduce his chance of getting a heart attack.”

But if doctors or scientists for that matter, do not speak like that, they lost precision, something much needed in their scientific research.

Let’s take the example of “red meat” instead of myoglobin.  Most people will not have any problem knowing beef and mutton are red meat, and chicken and fish are not. But when it comes to pork, some think pork comes out a little more whitish than red.  So maybe it’s alright to eat Pork even though doctor has advised against eating red meat?  It’s true that certain part of the pig has much less myoglobin but pork will still never qualifies as “white meat”.

So speaking in Plain English might be good for the layperson (or patient) but it tends to lead to misunderstanding.  Lest some people read into the word too much and start to label “pink meat”, or worse, assume that salmon is as bad as red meat due to its colour.

So speaking in Plain simple language may be good, but always consult the experts and never interpret it anyway you deem fit. Such is true for “medical/health” words, it’s certainly true in Physics, Mathematics and even Theological Studies.

“Form does not differ from MU; MU does not differ from form. Form itself is MU; MU itself is form” - 心经

Some people, without knowing deep enough, claimed they know what sunyata is simple because it was written as “kong”, or MU or emptiness. Intellectualizing on the mere syntax or semantics is a very dangerous thing.


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