The right amount of pedantry

This is a questions I’ve been wondering about ever since I first attempted to communicate with people who didn’t know all the stuff I did.

Just how pedantic should I be? Just how much scientific accuracy is it OK to sacrifice for the sake of readability?

I am a pedant by nature. Chalk it up to Asperger’s if you like, but when I write about anything remotely technical, I take the utmost care not to give misleading impressions or misuse terminology. For instance, I’ll guarantee you you will never see me use “genetic code” to mean anything other than this (source: Wikipedia):

The genetic code is the set of rules by which information encoded in genetic material (DNA or mRNA sequences) is translated into proteins (amino acid sequences) by living cells.

The code defines how sequences of three nucleotides, called codons, specify which amino acid will be added next during protein synthesis.

The genetic code is not “information in DNA”, “DNA sequence”, or whatever other vague concept journalists like to apply it to. I get disproportionately pissed if I see it misused. Likewise, I’ll tie myself in knots rather than blur the distinction between a gene and its gene product. A Hox gene doesn’t regulate other genes, the resulting Hox protein does; and a homeobox encodes, not is, a homeodomain. If I dug through my forum and blog posts, I could list many more examples of my absolutely anal attitude towards terminology.

Am I overdoing it? It’s a good bet most people who might stumble on this blog are not molecular biologists, and I’m as sure as sure can be that my creationist “audience” over at Christian Forums wouldn’t know what a gene was if it came with an info board like animals in the zoo. By making these technical distinctions, am I just causing more confusion? Am I turning off potential readers? Is it better for me as a science communicator to go the journalist route and not give a shit whether I was talking about a gene, or the protein – or RNA* – it contains the instructions for?

(And – would I hate myself for it?)


*See, I just had to add that. Because not all genes encode proteins, and somehow that matters in a post that has nothing to do with genes. If you didn’t know what I was talking about, this footnote is pretty much it.

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