The Magic Red Pill

Depressed people have to pop pills. It’s currently one of the only ways to manage the disorder. 350 million people around the world suffer from some kind of depression, and those who are fortunate enough to get treated for it are typically prescribed medication that they have to take multiple times a day. The medications may work, but they also come with countless other negative side effects and take weeks to take effect.

What if you could manage your depression with a single pill taken only once? What if this pill had no side effects and started working immediately? Sounds like science fiction, right? Well it’s not. In fact, this “Magic Pill” has been a part of human culture for thousands of years. It’s only recently that scientists are beginning to explore the possibility that magic mushrooms may have therapeutic effects.

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Explaining our new ideas without jargon

Jargon is any word or phrase that loses or changes its meaning when you use it with people who aren’t in your field. It can allow people with shared expertise to communicate complex ideas and concepts precisely and efficiently. But it becomes an obstacle when you want to discuss the work with someone who does not share that expertise, and often, that is the very goal of our science communication.

A few CMU grad students got together and tried to simplify their research descriptions. To make them as simple as possible, we used the rules of the XKCD Thing Explainer: using only the thousand most common English words. As the saying goes, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” While we lose some of the details and nuance in the simplified versions, the process forces us to distill, and consider new analogies for, our research topics.

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