The ability to effectively communicate a complex idea is one of the many things that separate man from the lesser animals. Animals do communicate to a degree, like a dog that raises his hackles to make himself appear larger than he is to a potential foe, but complex communication is beyond their capacity.
Effective communication is something that fascinates me. It is what I try to do every week with this column. I aim to take an idea that I have in my sometimes feeble mind and communicate it logically to all who read this column. I try to communicate the thoughts that are in my mind, or at least some of them.
I've tried to communicate controversial ideas (to some) like why conventionally grown food is just as wholesome as organic food, why the philosophy of animal rights is flawed and why genetically modified foods are indeed a benefit to society and not the evil that some hysterical people paint them to be. When I communicate controversial ideas, it often makes people mad. If that is the case, one could argue that I failed since my goal is to communicate an idea, not an insult. Occasionally, some of the people whom I make mad will even communicate with me.
Some say that President Obama hasn't communicated very well with the American people about the economy. I think his communication skills are just fine; it's his economic policies that stink. It seems that I've just communicated my political leanings.
Communication in a weekly column, while important and fun, is not nearly as critical as some of my communication. I communicate with clients, mostly farmers, about problems they may have with an animal or maybe even an entire herd. Good communication can be the difference between a successful treatment and a failure. While failure doesn't happen often, it can be costly when it does.
Routinely, I have to communicate a complex disease process to a client in order to help him or her understand what's wrong with a cow or herd. In veterinary school, we had to learn scientific names for everything from anatomy to disease processes. It seems like a pain in the neck to the young veterinary student, but there's actually a very good reason for it.
It was communicated to us that when we discuss a case with a professional colleague in a different geographical area, the local vernacular may not exactly get the point across. Let's say I want to consult with a colleague about, for example, a case of sudden hair loss in a calf. Since "hair loss" is a very nonspecific term, my colleague won't adequately understand what I'm describing. If I use the medical term "telogen effluvium," my colleague will automatically envision the poor calf that lost its hair over the face and legs.
But I can't expect my clients to understand scientific jargon. When I talk jargon to my clients, most of them look at me like I'm speaking Martian. I usually give them the same look when they are trying to describe the inner workings of farm equipment to me.
Jargon gets a bad name sometimes, but it is actually vitally important. All of the scientific literature is written so that no matter what corner of the globe a veterinarian or any professional is from, if there is a scientific paper published on a topic of interest, he or she can understand it. If I have a question about, let's say, problems with cryopreservation of stage 7 bovine blastocysts, I can go to the scientific literature and find the answer — if it exists. The jargon is standardized so there is no confusion in the communication of the idea. Then nobody can say, "What we've got here … is failure to communicate."