September 11, 2008

Ecological economics, Resilience Science, and literacy

This is from a letter to Nature (The verbosity epidemics) by Rebecca Grais and coauthors:
The terminology used in the field of public health has developed into a code that is nearly incomprehensible. Commonplace vocabulary includes "capacity-strengthening," "harmonization and alignment," developing the "fiscal space" for countries "under stress" or with "special needs," using "cluster strategies," and "partnerships" between "NGOs, FBOs, CBOs." But what do these terms actually mean?

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria's Guidelines for Proposals (Round 7) is riddled with confusing language that puzzles even proficient English speakers and encourages misinterpretation. The response to frequently asked question number 76 (What is meant by "technical and management assistance"?) is "This phrase is intended to capture relevant forward-looking activities and costs identified as being appropriate to support and manage efficient, effective, equitable, and transparent implementation arrangements".

Unfortunately, this new language is contagious.
This is from What is pseudoscience? by Jason Braithwaite and John Jackson:
One reason that theories from pseudoscience are vague and untestable is that the language used by the proponents is far too vacuous itself. This often results in a ‘theory’ that is so conceptually slippery it becomes difficult to identify what is actually being argued – or how one might test it.[...]

Poor writing often reflects poor thought and poor understanding. Whenever one encounters flowery and verbose language it is likely the authors / speakers do not fully understand what they are talking about. Verbose language is used to fill-in the gaps of knowledge by making it sound as if something profound and insightful is being said, when in fact the sentence rarely goes anywhere!
This is the glossary from the "About us" page of the Resilience Alliance website:
Adaptability – the capacity of actors in a system to manage resilience, either by moving the system toward or away from a threshold that would fundamentally alter the properties of the system, or by altering the underlying features of the stability landscape (change the positions of thresholds, and the ease of movement of the system).

Adaptive Cycle - a metaphor of systemic change that proposes that systems cycle through four phases: rapid growth, conservation, collapse, and re-organization.

Complex Adaptive Systems – systems with inherent uncertainty in their dynamics that tend to have multiple stable states and that exhibit self-organisation.

Panarchy – a nested set of adaptive cycles at different scales, that exhibits cross-scale interactions.

Resilience – the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance, undergo change and still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks.

Social-ecological system – an integrated system in which the dynamics of the social and ecosystem domains are strongly linked and of equal weight .

Transformability – the capacity to create a fundamentally new system when ecological, social and/or economic conditions make the existing system untenable.

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