Originally Posted by Irishman
Agreed. But that is why non physicists have such a hard time with this stuff. These words come packed with all sorts of inherent assumptions about what they mean and how they work. When a scientist uses a specialized use of the word to convey one element of the concept they are trying to express, it is only natural for the non-specialist to try to extend the concept with all the analogies that come with those words. That is how communication usually works. So when it doesn't work, it is exceptionally frustrating, and thus leaves the non-specialist think the scientists must be full of it, or are pulling a big prank on the rest of us.
So part of the burden for the scientist trying to use these words to laypeople to explain what they are talking about is the burden to caveat that the words being used are fuzzy approximations to drag out one element of what they mean to convey, and not intended as direct analogues that one can extrapolate with. They must try that much harder to make their examples and analogies and descriptive models limited and precise. Because the layperson cannot be expected to know what you mean by "expanding" when what you mean is not getting larger, but getting less dense.
As a long-time worker in a technology field, I totally get where you are coming from. If the researchers, who are thoroughly steeped in the high-end math and can regale each other for hours—but sound, to the outsider, as if they are speaking Martian—try to reduce their findings to a form comprehendible by the layman, they must, perforce, use analogies, metaphors, models and other simplifying devices. These devices, unfortunately, will always describe only a part of the reality, and that, imperfectly.
The researchers do have, at their disposal, words which precisely describe the concepts they are trying to convey. These are called "Jargon."
So, the dilemma which the populizer finds him/her self in is this: Use words and ideas the average listener is familiar with, knowing that much of the precision will be lost or distorted; Or use words which exactly describe the reality of their research, but concerning which the lay public is unaware, and resents all this "Gobbledy-Gook."
If there is a middle road, I am not aware of it being used to any great success.
It is not that the researchers are being intentionally obtuse by relying on the mathematical description—that is
the reality. The models and analogies which are constructed cannot be extended beyond their purview without some degree of breakdown. And, it happens all too often that the general public sees a simplified explanation and extends it well past the breaking point, then complains when he catches the researcher in a "contradiction," which was nothing of the kind.
Witness all the "My problem with Relativity..." action.