Monday, May 9, 2011

Hellenologophobia

I've known for a long time that science can be intimidating to people. It intimidates me sometimes and I read and write about science topics everyday. But I had never considered the idea that the words used in science would spark an actual phobia. Yet there is such a thing - Hellenologophobia is the fear of Greek terms or complex science terminology (I know its true, because the Internet told me so.) 

To describe the sensation of fear you could talk about any number of things: wide eyes, arms and legs frozen stiff (paralyzed in fright, if you will,) rapid heart beat, pain, sweating, surprise, shock, something sudden, dangerous, deadly, dark, loss of breath, holding your breath, breathing heavily. Something scary.

Not my favorite, but not THAT scary. Photo by Erin Podolak
There are two things that I would say particularly freak me out: spiders and people jumping out of the dark. The spiders are relatively self-explanatory, I mean some spiders can kill you, they crawl on you, and they could be anywhere. People jumping out of the dark comes from the idea of things jumping out of my closet, made all the more scary by the fact that in movies bad things always happen when someone jumps out from a dark corner to attack. 

But would I say that these are fears? Not really. I take no special precautions in life to avoid spiders or dark enclosed spaces. I might flail quite a bit should I find a spider on my clothes, but that is hardly comparable to a phobia. By definition a phobia is a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it. 

So what about those who suffer from Hellenologophobia? Is the idea of encountering a scientific term so horrifying that all steps should be taken to avoid any chance of "chromatin" or "genome" from crossing your path? For some people, it is. I am not a therapist, or in any way, shape or form qualified to offer medical advice, but if you want to learn more about phobias I suggest checking out the Mayo Clinic's webpage dedicated to phobias it has a lot of great information. I will also stress that if you think you are suffering from a phobia, you should consult a physician who specializes in mental health to get a real, informed opinion. 

But anyway since the idea of science seeming scary and unapproachable to the public is largely why I have this blog, realizing that there are people who suffer from a condition of fearing the words used to describe science reminded me why I do what I do. What scientific research takes place, and what discoveries are made is something I have no control over, but the words used to describe it all - that I can control. The words are what I have spent so much time specializing in, hoping to make them less scary. 

I want to make science less intimidating, and show people who might not have a science background that science stories are interesting and important. I've been wondering lately if I'm actually any good at science communication or if I should switch tracks (like that is possible with half a Master's degree.) I wonder sometimes if loving what I do is enough to counter the fumbles I make, the beginners mistakes, the idea that I am so far from being a "brilliant" writer that I will never get anyone to pay me for a science story. I hope it is, because I don't want to stop making sense of the words and taking the fear out of science.
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For the record: Chromatin is a material made up of protein, RNA and DNA that the chromosomes of eukaryotes (multi-celled organisms) are made of. (Chromosomes are very small structures, found in the nucleus (center) of most cells that carries the genetic code.)
A Genome is the set of chromosomes in a cell that represents the complete set of genes and genetic information (the DNA) that it takes to make that organism. Humans typically have 46 chromosomes - 23 from the mother and 23 from the father.

3 comments:

  1. I never heard of this -- kudos for demystifying it for everyone. The fact that the phobia exists reinforces the need for good science writers. Hopefully, media outlets will realize this before cutting science out of their coverage.

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  2. Should science be less intimidating? Yes, but only for those who do not want to do it for a career. Science literacy is a huge problem (We should pay teachers better nationally, like we do in WI, or used to anyway.)
    Science is not always fun and should be a little scary for some people. I don't want to see mad scientist reality shows, what a disaster!

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