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Home > iSGTW 9 December 2009 > Word of the week - Transparent

Word of the week - Transparent


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All too often, common words take on new and unexpected meanings within a scientific or technical discipline. And to the uninitiated, this can be incredibly confusing.

The word ‘transparent’ is a great example of such a word. The most basic definition for transparent is ‘see-through.’ In other words, allowing light and information to pass through.

When journalists say that we should strive to be transparent, we mean that we should strive to provide readers with details on how we got our information and reached our conclusions.

In the computing world, however, the word takes on an entirely different meaning. In fact, you could say it takes on the opposite meaning.

When a developer says that a science gateway should be transparent, that means that the scientists who use the gateway should not need to know anything about how it works. Any black box system would be considered likewise ‘transparent,’ with information entering and exiting, but no clues as to what is happening in between.

So the next time the word transparent is used in a computing context, watch out. It may not mean what you think it means.

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