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The Making of Medicine

The Curse of Knowledge

Have you heard of the curse of knowledge? It’s the notion that people forget what it’s like not to know something, and it’s one of the greatest challenges of my job. I try to get the press to come talk to our researchers and doctors, but then I have to make sure the researchers and doctors can discuss their incredibly complex work in a language people can understand. I’m asking a lot of them: Communicating in a fashion you normally don’t is difficult enough, but especially when you’re trying to simplify stuff you take for granted. Imagine trying to describe the Internet if no one knew what a computer was.

As such, I spend a lot of time explaining that they should avoid words they use every day, such as “phenotype” or “embolism.” Younger folks tend to have less trouble – they haven’t yet been stricken by the curse of knowledge. I tell them to remember while they can. It’s a good skill to have.

With research funding on the decline and an alarming skepticism about science on the rise, we can’t afford to speak only one language any more.

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