Feel like you need to make serious distinctions within the language of science? Maybe brush up on a few key concepts of the subject? Perhaps you feel an article is using word tactics to get people to believe in something false. Scientific American (originally on LiveScience) has a great article highlighting 7 misused science words that are sure to put things into perspective for the public:
The general public so widely misuses the words hypothesis, theory and law that scientists should stop using these terms, writes physicist Rhett Allain of Southeastern Louisiana University, in a blog post on Wired Science.
“I don’t think at this point it’s worth saving those words,” Allain told LiveScience.
A hypothesis is a proposed explanation for something that can actually be tested. But “if you just ask anyone what a hypothesis is, they just immediately say ‘educated guess,’” Allain said.
2. Just a theory?
Climate-change deniers and creationists have deployed the word “theory” to cast doubt on climate change and evolution.
“It’s as though it weren’t true because it’s just a theory,” Allain said.
That’s despite the fact that an overwhelming amount of evidence supports both human-caused climate change and Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Part of the problem is that the word “theory” means something very different in lay language than it does in science: A scientific theory is an explanation of some aspect of the natural world that has been substantiated through repeated experiments or testing. But to the average Jane or Joe, a theory is just an idea that lives in someone’s head, rather than an explanation rooted in experiment and testing.
However, theory isn’t the only science phrase that causes trouble. Even Allain’s preferred term to replace hypothesis, theory and law — “model” — has its troubles. The word not only refers to toy cars and runway walkers, but also means different things in different scientific fields. A climate model is very different from a mathematical model, for instance.
“Scientists in different fields use these terms differently from each other,” John Hawks, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote in an email to LiveScience. “I don’t think that ‘model’ improves matters. It has an appearance of solidity in physics right now mainly because of the Standard Model. By contrast, in genetics and evolution, ‘models’ are used very differently.” (The Standard Model is the dominant theory governing particle physics.)
When people don’t accept human-caused climate change, the media often describes those individuals as “climate skeptics.” But that may give them too much credit, Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, wrote in an email.
“Simply denying mainstream science based on flimsy, invalid and too-often agenda-driven critiques of science is not skepticism at all. It is contrarianism … or denial,” Mann told LiveScience.
Instead, true skeptics are open to scientific evidence and are willing to evenly assess it.
“All scientists should be skeptics. True skepticism is, as [Carl] Sagan described it, the ‘self-correcting machinery’ of science,” Mann said.
5. Nature vs. nurture
The phrase “nature versus nurture” also gives scientists a headache, because it radically simplifies a very complicated process, said Dan Kruger, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Michigan.
“This is something that modern evolutionists cringe at,” Kruger told LiveScience.
Genes may influence human beings, but so, too, do epigenetic changes. These modifications alter which genes get turned on, and are both heritable and easily influenced by the environment. The environment that shapes human behavior can be anything from the chemicals a fetus is exposed to in the womb to the block a person grew up on to the type of food they ate as a child, Kruger said. All these factors interact in a messy, unpredictable way.
Another word that sets scientists’ teeth on edge is “significant.”
“That’s a huge weasel word. Does it mean statistically significant, or does it mean important?” said Michael O’Brien, the dean of the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri.
In statistics, something is significant if a difference is unlikely to be due to random chance. But that may not translate into a meaningful difference, in, say, headache symptoms or IQ.
“Natural” is another bugaboo for scientists. The term has become synonymous with being virtuous, healthy or good. But not everything artificial is unhealthy, and not everything that’s natural is good for you.
“Uranium is natural, and if you inject enough of it, you’re going to die,” Kruger said.
Natural’s sibling “organic” also has a problematic meaning, he said. While organic simply means “carbon-based” to scientists, the term is now used to describe pesticide-free peaches and high-end cotton sheets, as well.
It took me almost a decade of blogging to realize this.
It’s like, my sister used to actually argue with/try to convince her two year old to take a bath. And I would just walk over and stick him in the tub, and he was fine. I didn’t get it; like, why is that even a discussion? Like, maybe some people have time for that shit but c’mon, real folks got bills to pay and shit to do.
And that’s the problem, when you try being nice or trying to convince them of anything, it’s detrimental to everyone because it makes them think their point of view is actually a valid opinion worthy of debate.
Nawwww. That is why I keep my “tone” (lol) consistently punitive and corrective. It’s a wake up slap that hopefully invokes feelings of shame and guilt, which is what a human being is supposed to feel when they’ve done something wrong. And, they don’t like it. They’re not supposed to like it. Why the fuck should they?
Also relevant: maybe that’s why so many racists act like a two year old with a shitty, rashy ass.
Time for the xth repost of one of the best xkcd comics
I totally have to save this one for exactly the right occasion. :)
I got really pissed off in biology this morning.
This nerdy ginger lad in my class asked my teacher about the beginning of life. And she tried to teach us that EVOLUTION IS A FACT. She started explaining all the organisms in the ocean evolving over time and all this.. I just sat there and didn’t really listen to her.
But, really? I don’t give a shit how many PHD’s she has. She has a degree in fucking yeast. YEAST. I just wanted to say,
“Really, miss? That’s so interesting? Were you actually there? You look bloody good for your age. Do you have a picture or some kind of ACTUAL evidence that you have from the time-period to prove this? NO? REALLY? WHAT BRAND NEW FUCKING INFORMATION! Sit the fuck down bitch. The only things you should have a conversation with is your yeast particles”.
I’m perfectly fine with the whole evolution theory and the details behind it, but it’s when people like my fucking biology teacher who thinks she’s so amazing because she has “Dr.” written in front of her name on a certificate tries to teach it to a class as a FACT when it’s not been proven, nor disproved. I just wanted to punch her.
No one has a degree in fucking yeast. No normal person. Go back to your cave.
This would normally be the part where I calmly explain why you are mistaken, built in with trusty references and links to help you learn more information. But no, I’m not going to indulge you.
You are an idiot.
Just because you don’t understand science, aren’t open to learning it, and don’t seem to understand what a fact is, doesn’t give you the right to dis people who do. Just…go away.
And let me assure you that Daniel Radcliffe knows that evolution is a fact as well.
a girl told me she was pro life yesterday. i told her she was wrong. she got mad at me and said she had a right to her opinion, and i said the human race had a right to throw her to the lions for treason against our species.
like, no, you’re dangerous, fringe, backwards beliefs aren’t protected by a fear of self induced shame should i attack them. i don’t respect your opinions because they’re your opinions. that’s such a dangerous argument. one of my best friends said that those certain arguments don’t exist because they’re “opinions,” and that they’re not facts, and that ethical relativism doesn’t make any one person right on a matter. fuck. that.
i’m not just talking about pro life issues, i’m talking about everything. religious beliefs, political beliefs, economic beliefs…these things are not so subjective. that just gives people the ability to believe that the earth is 5000 years old, and that our promiscuity can accurately measure our moral worth because of some conservative rhetoric they were fed by people who manipulate our system to disseminate their iron age philosophies to us because somewhere along the line democracy got mistaken for “your ignorance is just as good as my knowledge.”
we cannot be afraid to tell people when they’re so wrong. we must resist the urge to commit the faux pas of being rude on the basis of having the courage to enact social justice, and separate blind faith from verifiable fact. every day i’m reminded that people like rick santorum, kent hovind, pat robertson, sarah palin, and glenn beck exist, and believe in their heart of hearts that what they say is true. every day i’m shocked to be reminded that i have friends, old lovers, and relatives who think that the earth was created in less than seven days, around 5000 years ago. take a second to understand what that means. it means that despite the universe of data and research, they say “no, life did not evolve from a common ancestor over a period of three to four billion years ago, because despite the unfathomable amount of evidence, in genesis it says ‘in the beginning…,’ and you have to respect my belief.” i have (very, very few) friends and acquaintances that believe abortion is wrong, that it’s not a woman’s choice. they believe that having sex with someone you’re not committed to spending the rest of your life with is wrong. that if you have sex with more than one person over a short period of time, you’re an intrinsically bad human being. one friend of mine told me women ask to be raped because of the clothes they wear. some people believe that healthcare is not a right, but a privilege “earned” from “hard work.” my ex girlfriend’s dad tried to argue that non citizens, visiting or illegal, should not be given healthcare because they’re not citizens of the united states. he thinks we should abandon our duty to each other as human beings on the basis of nothing more arbitrary than what part of planet earth you were born on.
these, and many, many other dangerous, socially destructive views are enabled because it’s impolite to talk religion and politics. somewhere, somehow, the notion that if we believe something on no other basis that we believe it is true, our views, no matter how harmful, are free from criticism.
this is one of the most dangerous notions that could potentially destroy everything humanity has worked on thus far. it has enabled the GOP to become the most extreme, conspiracy ridden fringe party in our nation’s history, with a platform to potentially turn it’s radical and harmful ideology into public policy.
conservative and hateful rhetoric has had it’s voice because the double standard exists that we must respect their views, while keeping ours silent because they seem “offensive.” there is nothing more offensive than what our enemies espouse daily on radio, national t.v., and on the internet. so please, my followers, i implore you, next time someone says something crazy that advocates something fringe, and dangerous, such as pro life, religious aggression, slut shaming, racism, or any form of bigotry or intolerance, do NOT be afraid to tell them what a fool they are, and why.