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Scientific American-7 Most Misunderstood Word

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#1    cacoseraph

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Posted 29 August 2013 - 05:46 AM

Lay detractors of science often use incorrect definitions or understandings of scientific words to assault the validity of commonly accepted science.  Scientific American attempts to address this very important issue.

Quote

Hypothesis. Theory. Law. These scientific words get bandied about regularly, yet the general public usually gets their meaning wrong.



http://www.scientifi...d-science-words

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#2    DecoNoir

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Posted 29 August 2013 - 06:39 AM

Very good read. I think most of us can agree that "theory" gets tossed around quite a bit on this forum.

I reject your reality, and substitute my own! Mostly because yours is boring as hell.

#3    cacoseraph

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Posted 29 August 2013 - 07:18 AM

I definitely think the scientific and lay community use the word VERY differently.  I disagree with one of the quotes in the article, though.  One fellow said the scientific community shouldn't use some of these words anymore because they have essentially become corrupted.  I think that would be a bad mistake as a policy to instantiate.  It seems like such a policy would facilitate retarding the common languages of man in a sort of scientific speak retreat and increased esotericism.  I think the real meaning of words should just be blunt forced into the public =P


#4    Elfin

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Posted 29 August 2013 - 07:32 AM

What right have scientists got to tell people what is, and is not, the "proper" definition of a word?


#5    DecoNoir

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Posted 29 August 2013 - 07:39 AM

View PostElfin, on 29 August 2013 - 07:32 AM, said:

What right have scientists got to tell people what is, and is not, the "proper" definition of a word?

When the misuse of a word can lead to miscommunication, something that can't just be ignored in science, I'd say they have some degree of authority on the matter.

I reject your reality, and substitute my own! Mostly because yours is boring as hell.

#6    Elfin

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Posted 29 August 2013 - 08:10 AM

View PostDecoNoir, on 29 August 2013 - 07:39 AM, said:

When the misuse of a word can lead to miscommunication, something that can't just be ignored in science, I'd say they have some degree of authority on the matter.

Why are scientists' definitions more authorititive than those of anyone else? They didn't invent those words. In fact, in every single case they hijacked an existing word, and the general public's use of the word remains closer to its original meaning.

http://www.etymonline.com/

1. Hypothesis

1590s, from Middle French hypothese and directly from Late Latin hypothesis, from Greek hypothesis "base, basis of an argument, supposition," literally "a placing under," from hypo- "under" (see sub-) + thesis "a placing, proposition" (see thesis). A term in logic; narrower scientific sense is from 1640s.

2. Theory

1590s, "conception, mental scheme," from Late Latin theoria (Jerome), from Greek theoria "contemplation, speculation, a looking at, things looked at," from theorein "to consider, speculate, look at," from theoros "spectator," from thea "a view" + horan "to see" (see warrant (n.)). Sense of "principles or methods of a science or art (rather than its practice)" is first recorded 1610s. That of "an explanation based on observation and reasoning" is from 1630s.

3. Model

1570s, "likeness made to scale; architect's set of designs," from Middle French modelle (16c., Modern French modèle), from Italian modello "a model, mold," from Vulgar Latin *modellus, from Latin modulus "a small measure, standard," diminutive of modus "manner, measure" (see mode (n.1)).

Sense of "thing or person to be imitated" is 1630s. Meaning "motor vehicle of a particular design" is from 1900 (e.g. Model T, 1908; Ford's other early models included C, F, and B ). Sense of "artist's model" is first recorded 1690s; that of "fashion model" is from 1904. German, Swedish modell, Dutch, Danish model are from French or Italian.

4. Sceptic

also sceptic, 1580s, "member of an ancient Greek school that doubted the possibility of real knowledge," from French sceptique, from Latin scepticus, from Greek skeptikos (plural Skeptikoi "the Skeptics"), literally "inquiring, reflective," the name taken by the disciples of the Greek philosopher Pyrrho (c.360-c.270 B.C.E.), from skeptesthai "to reflect, look, view" (see scope (n.1)). The extended sense of "one with a doubting attitude" first recorded 1610s. The sk- spelling is an early 17c. Greek revival and is preferred in U.S.

5. Nature / nurture

late 13c., "restorative powers of the body, bodily processes; powers of growth;" from Old French nature "nature, being, principle of life; character, essence," from Latin natura "course of things; natural character, constitution, quality; the universe," literally "birth," from natus "born," past participle of nasci "to be born," from PIE *gene- "to give birth, beget" (see genus).

From late 14c. as "creation, the universe;" also "heredity, birth, hereditary circumstance; essential qualities, innate disposition" (e.g. human nature); "nature personified, Mother Nature." Specifically as "material world beyond human civilization or society" from 1660s. Nature and nurture have been contrasted since 1874.

6. Significant

1570s, from Latin significant-, stem of significans, present participle of significare (see signify). Earlier in the same sense was significative (c.1400). Related: Significantly. Significant other (n.) attested by 1961, in psychology, "the most influential other person in the patient's world."

7. Natural

"person with a natural gift or talent," 1925, originally in prizefighting, from natural (adj.). In Middle English, the word as a noun meant "natural capacity, physical ability or power" (early 14c.), and it was common in sense "a native of a place" in Shakespeare's day. Also in 17c., "a mistress."

Edited by Elfin, 29 August 2013 - 08:11 AM.


#7    DecoNoir

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Posted 29 August 2013 - 08:19 AM

View PostElfin, on 29 August 2013 - 08:10 AM, said:



Why are scientists' definitions more authorititive than those of anyone else? They didn't invent those words. In fact, in every single case they hijacked an existing word, and the general public's use of the word remains closer to its original meaning.

http://www.etymonline.com/

1. Hypothesis

1590s, from Middle French hypothese and directly from Late Latin hypothesis, from Greek hypothesis "base, basis of an argument, supposition," literally "a placing under," from hypo- "under" (see sub-) + thesis "a placing, proposition" (see thesis). A term in logic; narrower scientific sense is from 1640s.

2. Theory

1590s, "conception, mental scheme," from Late Latin theoria (Jerome), from Greek theoria "contemplation, speculation, a looking at, things looked at," from theorein "to consider, speculate, look at," from theoros "spectator," from thea "a view" + horan "to see" (see warrant (n.)). Sense of "principles or methods of a science or art (rather than its practice)" is first recorded 1610s. That of "an explanation based on observation and reasoning" is from 1630s.

3. Model

1570s, "likeness made to scale; architect's set of designs," from Middle French modelle (16c., Modern French modèle), from Italian modello "a model, mold," from Vulgar Latin *modellus, from Latin modulus "a small measure, standard," diminutive of modus "manner, measure" (see mode (n.1)).

Sense of "thing or person to be imitated" is 1630s. Meaning "motor vehicle of a particular design" is from 1900 (e.g. Model T, 1908; Ford's other early models included C, F, and B ). Sense of "artist's model" is first recorded 1690s; that of "fashion model" is from 1904. German, Swedish modell, Dutch, Danish model are from French or Italian.

4. Sceptic

also sceptic, 1580s, "member of an ancient Greek school that doubted the possibility of real knowledge," from French sceptique, from Latin scepticus, from Greek skeptikos (plural Skeptikoi "the Skeptics"), literally "inquiring, reflective," the name taken by the disciples of the Greek philosopher Pyrrho (c.360-c.270 B.C.E.), from skeptesthai "to reflect, look, view" (see scope (n.1)). The extended sense of "one with a doubting attitude" first recorded 1610s. The sk- spelling is an early 17c. Greek revival and is preferred in U.S.

5. Nature / nurture

late 13c., "restorative powers of the body, bodily processes; powers of growth;" from Old French nature "nature, being, principle of life; character, essence," from Latin natura "course of things; natural character, constitution, quality; the universe," literally "birth," from natus "born," past participle of nasci "to be born," from PIE *gene- "to give birth, beget" (see genus).

From late 14c. as "creation, the universe;" also "heredity, birth, hereditary circumstance; essential qualities, innate disposition" (e.g. human nature); "nature personified, Mother Nature." Specifically as "material world beyond human civilization or society" from 1660s. Nature and nurture have been contrasted since 1874.

6. Significant

1570s, from Latin significant-, stem of significans, present participle of significare (see signify). Earlier in the same sense was significative (c.1400). Related: Significantly. Significant other (n.) attested by 1961, in psychology, "the most influential other person in the patient's world."

7. Natural

"person with a natural gift or talent," 1925, originally in prizefighting, from natural (adj.). In Middle English, the word as a noun meant "natural capacity, physical ability or power" (early 14c.), and it was common in sense "a native of a place" in Shakespeare's day. Also in 17c., "a mistress."

I'll agree with you on day to day between laymen. In which case I'd say most of us wouldn't have a problem understanding the others meaning. However I can see problems arising when there is deference in meaning in an academic discussion, where parties might have completely different ideas going on. I'd say this can be remedied with people having some familiarities with meanings depending on circumstances. An academic going into a conversation at a casual gathering should ease up a bit, and a layman going into an academic gathering might want to brush up on word usage a bit.

I reject your reality, and substitute my own! Mostly because yours is boring as hell.

#8    ShadowSot

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Posted 29 August 2013 - 08:33 AM

Words have different definitions depending on their context. There are words that mean different things n the context of the machining field I work in than they do in the general public. The article seems to be saying that these words have a specific meaning in a scientific context, and that these words are misunderstood by the general public when they see them being used in a scientific context.
Instead they use the common usage of the word instead, and there lies the confusion.

It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things.
-Terry Pratchett

#9    Elfin

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Posted 29 August 2013 - 10:37 AM

View PostShadowSot, on 29 August 2013 - 08:33 AM, said:

Words have different definitions depending on their context. There are words that mean different things n the context of the machining field I work in than they do in the general public. The article seems to be saying that these words have a specific meaning in a scientific context, and that these words are misunderstood by the general public when they see them being used in a scientific context.
Instead they use the common usage of the word instead, and there lies the confusion.

A confusion wholly the fault of the scientists, for taking perfectly normal words and redefining them. Worse, as the whole tone of the article makes clear, they then try and tell us that their special meanings are the "true" meanings, and the rest of us need to be educated to know this.


#10    Emma_Acid

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Posted 29 August 2013 - 01:28 PM

Add "organic" to the list.

"Science is the least subjective form of deduction" ~ A. Mulder

#11    ShadowSot

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Posted 29 August 2013 - 05:53 PM

View PostElfin, on 29 August 2013 - 10:37 AM, said:



A confusion wholly the fault of the scientists, for taking perfectly normal words and redefining them. Worse, as the whole tone of the article makes clear, they then try and tell us that their special meanings are the "true" meanings, and the rest of us need to be educated to know this.
I disagree, the confusion comes from unexpert people reading materials meant for proffesionals or those who are keenly interested. In the case of the word theory this has been pureposfully misused by creationists as a point of rhetoric.
And the point of the article seems to be rather that scientists shoul just retire these words, as the words have such a different meaning between the general public and proffesionals it is pointless to try to preserve them as scientific terms. I know there has been a somewhat unpopular idea among scientists to adopt new terminology to better deal with the public.

It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things.
-Terry Pratchett

#12    Einsteinium

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Posted 29 August 2013 - 06:05 PM

View PostElfin, on 29 August 2013 - 10:37 AM, said:

A confusion wholly the fault of the scientists, for taking perfectly normal words and redefining them. Worse, as the whole tone of the article makes clear, they then try and tell us that their special meanings are the "true" meanings, and the rest of us need to be educated to know this.

Do you just flat out dislike scientists? They did not 'redifine' the words entirely, they just defined the words more precisely and exact, which is what is required for scientific discussion.

-eins


#13    Elfin

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Posted 29 August 2013 - 11:08 PM

View PostEinsteinium, on 29 August 2013 - 06:05 PM, said:

Do you just flat out dislike scientists? They did not 'redifine' the words entirely, they just defined the words more precisely and exact, which is what is required for scientific discussion.

-eins

Not at all, but I dislike anyone who redefines a word, then tells me I am ignorant for not using the word in that way. They are at perfect liberty to redefine any word they like, as we all are. I think from now on I'll redefine the word "custard" to mean the planet Venus (or vice versa). The problem comes when they tell us we're wrong for sticking to the older definition.

Edited by Elfin, 29 August 2013 - 11:09 PM.


#14    cacoseraph

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Posted 29 August 2013 - 11:52 PM

View PostElfin, on 29 August 2013 - 11:08 PM, said:

Not at all, but I dislike anyone who redefines a word, then tells me I am ignorant for not using the word in that way. They are at perfect liberty to redefine any word they like, as we all are. I think from now on I'll redefine the word "custard" to mean the planet Venus (or vice versa). The problem comes when they tell us we're wrong for sticking to the older definition.

The scientists didn't steal the word from public use.  I can still say I have a theory about something and it will be more or less understood to be an idea without any proof behind it.  The problem is that word theory, in a scientific setting, means something else.  That is perfectly fine and happens in pretty much every area of specialized knowledge or skills.  The problem is that anti-sciencers will then try to make like the word only has its common meaning, not its rarefied meaning, and then use that as a point in favor of whatever their position is.


Also, consider what happens when a whole new vocabulary is created.  In the field of law that has kind of happened, where there are a lot of latin terms used to avoid confusion with english terms.   I think that has made law even less approachable than science for lay people.


#15    ShadowSot

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Posted 30 August 2013 - 12:42 AM

View PostElfin, on 29 August 2013 - 11:08 PM, said:



Not at all, but I dislike anyone who redefines a word, then tells me I am ignorant for not using the word in that way. They are at perfect liberty to redefine any word they like, as we all are. I think from now on I'll redefine the word "custard" to mean the planet Venus (or vice versa). The problem comes when they tell us we're wrong for sticking to the older definition.
Again, the article is actually talking about dropping words and developing new ones because the words, which has a specialized use in science which has a different meaning in the general public like some of the things in my own field, create confusion when trying to convey scientific understanding to the general public. So, what is your real problem here, and how would you fix it then?

It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things.
-Terry Pratchett





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