Does the way social scientists write stop them being heard?

The commentator Nick Cohen argues in an article this week that many academics – specifically in social sciences and humanities – are unable to write clearly enough for their ideas to be understood. In ‘Academia plays into the hands of the right’, he contends that academics are ignored by the ‘ordinary world’ because of the ‘obscure  theoretical’ terms they use. The piece concludes: “People write well when they have something say. The willingness of too many academics to write badly has told their fellow citizens that they are not worth listening to or fighting for.”

What are your thoughts on this? Is Nick Cohen justified in attacking academics for using theoretical language? How should social scientists respond? Go to the Forum to add your thoughts to the debate.

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yes. the theoretical’ terms are a little obscure in the area of the study of the social science ,this is something we must admit ,but in the same time we should notice that the words used in the reports are “unique”—it is some sambols which is short but can tell us a lot of inforation ,that is to say ,if we do not use this one word,then we should waste a lot of other words to describe it.To say it more clearly ,let us just take an example,If we see an “apple” ,so we say it is an “apple”,because we… Read more »


Jargon should be considered a necessary evil. For a field to define its terms in a productive manner, it needs words its can claim ownership of in able to manipulate them accordingly. Social science is no different from natural science in this. Such language does though erect barriers between us and the public. Its for this reason that ‘popular science’ writing exists.

There are other dangers besides, like jargon’s tendency to prompt navel gazing of dubious social value. As a result, we should always challenge our usage of such terms.


Science produces knowledge. And knowledge if it is to benefit humanity should be translated in a form in which it can be understood by those who can use it. Those who can use it usually are those who are in a position to provide financial and logistical support to those who produce knowledge. No one can force a scientist to write articles that are understandable by a bigger readership, however. Still a scientist should not complain that science is not being supported by non-scientists or society as a whole if only a few scientists can understand each other. Worse, if… Read more »

Haruna M. Aliero

I strongly feel the same that Nick Cohen felt about the Social Sciences. There is no doubt that Social Science researchers are too abstract in their formulation and also guided by unrealistic assumptions. The public will hardly take us seriously until when we begin to work within the context of real life situations, and then our theoretical formulations become practicable.


Catriona posted this question on February 2. It is now April 21 and I find no comments and nothing in the forum that responds to it. What does this mean? Should I jump to conclusions and assume that Nick Cohen was correct – precious few in the social sciences (or arts and humanities) are interested in writing for (or writing about writing for) general readers? Or should I be more conservative and assume that this topic is simply not hot enough to draw the fire of debate and discussion? My opinion on the matter is that Cohen has created a… Read more »

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