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cacoseraph

Scientific American-7 Most Misunderstood Word

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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.

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

via IFLS: https://www.facebook.com/IFeakingLoveScience

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

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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

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

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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.

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Posted (edited)

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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Add "organic" to the list.

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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.

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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

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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
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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.

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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?

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[...] 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. .[....

What would be your idea about Quantum Spinal Alignment? How you will understand that? In your own words.

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What would be your idea about Quantum Spinal Alignment? How you will understand that? In your own words.

I'm pretty sure there has been a failure in communication here... but i'll play along.

Without looking it up, I immediately think this would be predatory pseudoscience. Generally speaking, so called alternative medicines that have the word "quantum" in them are not actually based in science and generally have no scientific proof of efficacy.

If your post was intended to foster the discussion on communication in science, great. But it would be massively off topic to debate the merits of alternative medicines.

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I love when companies talk about making a quqntum revolution. Both because of how they misuse the word and how it usually ends up being an accurate description of the change they have made to their products.

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Best quote in the whole article;

"Uranium is natural, and if you inject enough of it, you're going to die," Kruger said.

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Botox is all natural.

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I'm not sure I understand the OP, but for misused words in commerce, the words "free" and "pure" are worse than "quantum" or "natural," although they are bad. You can also add "improved" and "super."

Such words to my mind in commercial speech are worse than obscenities, although not as bad as use of children and animals, and, of course, the eternal actor saying they used the product and it worked miraculously.

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As used today in working practice, what once was a "law" is now a "theory," and what once were "facts" is now "data." Popular usage is still in the nineteenth century.

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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?

The real problem is scientists redefining words, then telling the rest of us that the old definitions are wrong. If they just want to use their own jargon among themselves, that's fine. All groups do that, not only as a means to help communication between members but also to exclude others. But no other group, at least in modern times (the Church did it in the middle ages), try and impose their definitions on the rest of us.

An obvious solution would be to put the word "scientific" before a term, unless it was clearly obvious by the context (e.g. in a scientific paper). So, for example, whereas the original definition of "theory" is an idea that might explain something, and this is still how the word is used by almost everyone, if scientists want it to mean something completely different, they should always say "scientific theory". One does wonder, however, why they chose to redefine it in such a radical way. Seems quite perverse, almost asking for trouble.

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The real problem is scientists redefining words, then telling the rest of us that the old definitions are wrong. If they just want to use their own jargon among themselves, that's fine. All groups do that, not only as a means to help communication between members but also to exclude others. But no other group, at least in modern times (the Church did it in the middle ages), try and impose their definitions on the rest of us.

An obvious solution would be to put the word "scientific" before a term, unless it was clearly obvious by the context (e.g. in a scientific paper). So, for example, whereas the original definition of "theory" is an idea that might explain something, and this is still how the word is used by almost everyone, if scientists want it to mean something completely different, they should always say "scientific theory". One does wonder, however, why they chose to redefine it in such a radical way. Seems quite perverse, almost asking for trouble.

I don't think the explicit "scientific" is requisite in the average case. When one is reading about science stuff it is pretty much understood. The fact is that the "ambiguity" is leveraged by folks with agendas that aren't copacetic to the actual findings of real science. An accidental misunderstanding/misuse could quite easily be overcome by just the slightest bit of education. A durable miscommunication seems much more like the result of nefarious plots rather than a happenstance fallacy of verbiage.

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I don't think the explicit "scientific" is requisite in the average case. When one is reading about science stuff it is pretty much understood. The fact is that the "ambiguity" is leveraged by folks with agendas that aren't copacetic to the actual findings of real science. An accidental misunderstanding/misuse could quite easily be overcome by just the slightest bit of education. A durable miscommunication seems much more like the result of nefarious plots rather than a happenstance fallacy of verbiage.

A bit of education with regard to what, and directed at whom? The actual meaning of the word, or the scientific redefinition of it?

If some people deliberately push their own particular meanings for words, e.g. scientists or anti-scientists, that is not the fault of the word itself, nor the vast majority of people you just use it normally.

And what on earth does "copacetic" mean?

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