Firstly I would like to address a concern with the question in hand, ‘layman’ and ‘scientists’ should not be viewed as separate entities, but opposite ends of the same continuum. Individuals fortunate/unfortunate enough (you decide!) to be included under the umbrella of ‘Scientists’ were not born ‘Scientists’, but a lay person, no different from anyone else. They may have benefitted from inherited genotype that has flourished throughout their development in environments belonging to science, and may have developed phenotypic qualities that distinguish them from the general population: such as a higher level of IQ, an increased vocabulary, and a preference to have their trousers pulled excruciatingly high! But the aforementioned points should not, and cannot hand them the exclusivity to psychological research. There is a lot of research in the field that is largely beneficial to the ‘average-Joe’, for example, during our Social Psychology module last Semester we were introduced to literature that is invaluable as it can be fully applied to Job Interviews, for example Asch’s (1946) discovery of central and peripheral traits, Kelley’s (1955) ‘personal constructs’ and other valuable tools to be employed such as implicit personality theories and cognitive algebra. Literature such as this, during an economic recession alike the one we are experiencing now, could give the ‘average-Joe’ a fighting chance when applying for jobs and being interviewed. It is blatant that the main barrier to entry for the layman is without doubt, to me, the lack of parsimony (there is some irony in the word parsimony, not being parsimonious surely!) in many research papers.
Throughout my time as an undergraduate, I have encountered vast numbers of reports in which the content is illegible as the result of overused jargon and long-winded explanations, which are seemingly inappropriate considering all undergraduates, can be considered ‘laypeople’ to begin with. I fully understand that in certain circumstances only scientific words are befitting, and I also realise that the APA stipulates that you write scientifically and posits guidelines for the field. But what ever happened to Occam’s razor? Is Psychological research becoming overly concerned with is reputation as a ‘pseudo-science’ in the broader field of science?
Occam’s razor is named after William of Occam, who first wielded his famous razor against “the superfluous elaborations of his Scholastic predecessors”. In its original form, it states that “Nunquam ponenda est pluralitas sin necesitate,” which, approximately translated, means “Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity” (Tornay, 1938).
His principle of parsimony has since been “incorporated in the methodology of experimental science in the following form: given two explanations of the data, with all else being equal, the simple explanation is preferable” (Blumer et al., 1987). Occam’s razor is often considered one of the fundamental tenets of modern science, (Domingos, 1999) when applied, it makes experimental research easier for people (both scientists and laypeople) to understand, remember and use. Blumer et al. (1987) provide us with some explanation as to the circumstances by which the razor should be used, consider the phrase “with all else being equal”. The aforementioned phrase corroborates a point made in the introduction of this blog, when researchers are faced with many ways of explaining the same phenomenon they should opt for the most parsimonious explanation; converse to an explanation that appears to have heavily featured the use of a thesaurus. The use of parsimonious explanations in these circumstances would largely benefit the ‘layperson’ without any loss of meaning; which is undoubtedly important as simplicity and comprehensibility are not always equivalent (Domingos, 1999).
To summarise, it is highly pretentious to consider scientists and laypeople as ‘separate entities’, as every scientist began their career as a layperson; indicating the existence of a continuum of some sort. Research can feel off-limits for the majority of laypeople, and there are barriers haltering their access to the research. The main barrier is the overly complex explanations of phenomena, and the lack of parsimony. Occam’s razor stipulates that when all else is equal, one should opt to use the means of explanation that is the clearest, and simplest.