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Another Plea about Language

  1. Oct 12, 2009 #1
    I'm sure a few remember the wonderful article http://link.aip.org/journals/doc/PHTOAD-ft/vol_60/iss_1/8_1.html [Broken], but I feel like doing some non-constructive complaining that cannot be followed in practice.

    There are some words that are used in a scientific context as well as an every day context where they sometimes mean the exact opposite. I want to personally annihilate the terms "theory", "believe", "higher organisms", "random", "energy", "correlation", "natural", "missing link", "toxic", "chemical", "mercury", "quantum", "consciousness" from the every day vocabulary and a few others that I can't remember at the moment. They are deeply misleading when used in a non-scientific context but I know it will most likely not work in practice.

    Thanks.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 12, 2009 #2
    Perhaps some criteria for the alternatives to these words?
     
  4. Oct 12, 2009 #3

    Office_Shredder

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    I disagree with most of the words selected. Scientific usage of words often comes from non-scientific usage, for example energy. Why should non-scientists have to abandon the word simply because scientists have co-opted it? I don't think many people are actually misled often by the use of the word in ordinary conversation
     
  5. Oct 12, 2009 #4
    Which of those words have "exact opposite" meanings in science and every day context?

    How is talking about the Roman god Mercury misleading?
     
  6. Oct 12, 2009 #5

    lisab

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    There *are* some slippery words out there that mean one thing to a scientist, and another to a lay person.

    For example, a guy came to my door recently selling pest control services. He kept mentioning that the chemicals he uses are "organic."

    Organic pesticide, to a scientist: a bug-killing substance that contains carbon.

    Organic pesticide, to a non-scientist: a "natural" substance that makes bugs go away, certainly safe, maybe even edible :wink:.
     
  7. Oct 12, 2009 #6

    Moonbear

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    Indeed, I think most pesticides are "organic" in the "organic chemistry" sense. :biggrin: They're best sprayed on organic foods, like Cheetos.
     
  8. Oct 12, 2009 #7
    Compare the well-defined usage of "energy" in physics (the ability to perform work) with how the term "energy" is sloppily used in new age, alternative medicine and psychics, for instance.

    Many, many people are misled often by this, everything from creationists to new age quacks. Together, they are a multi-billion dollar industry, praying on peoples' ignorance.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2009
  9. Oct 12, 2009 #8
    Theory (in science): a well-supported explanation that contain laws, inferences, facts and tested hypotheses.
    Theory (in every day sense of the word): a speculation that you make up

    Random (one of its scientific definitions, specially in evolution): without foresight
    Random (in every day sense of the word): unpredictable, anything can happen

    I picked "mercury" because many anti-vaccine conspirators think that thimerosal (a preservative in some vaccines) is the same as the inorganic mercury used in things like thermometers and dental fillings.
     
  10. Oct 13, 2009 #9

    Office_Shredder

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    So your complaint is that people are using these words in what could be misconstrued as a scientific manner. A better argument would be that scientists shouldn't use these words anymore, so that people can't abuse them.
     
  11. Oct 13, 2009 #10

    Integral

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    Recently in a local store looking for some bananas. All I could find were the more expensive "organic' bananas. I asked a clerk where they kept the inorganic bananas. If they are not organic they must be inorganic... No? :devil:
     
  12. Oct 13, 2009 #11
    Maybe scientists should start using their own words instead insisting on new definitions of older ones?

    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php

    Random- "having no definite aim or purpose," 1655, from at random (1565), "at great speed" (thus, "carelessly, haphazardly"), alteration of M.E. randon "impetuosity, speed" (c.1305), from O.Fr. randon "rush, disorder, force, impetuosity," from randir "to run fast," from Frankish *rant "a running," from P.Gmc. *randa (cf. O.H.G. rennen "to run," O.E. rinnan "to flow, to run"). In 1980s college student slang, it began to acquire a sense of "inferior, undesirable." Random access in ref. to computer memory is recorded from 1953.

    Believe- O.E. belyfan, earlier geleafa (Mercian), gelefa (Northumbrian), gelyfan (W.Saxon) "believe," from P.Gmc. *ga-laubjan "hold dear, love," from PIE base *leubh- "to like, desire" (see love). Spelling beleeve is common till 17c.; then altered perhaps by influence of relieve. To believe on instead of in was more common in 16c. but now is a peculiarity of theology; believe of also sometimes was used in 17c.

    Theory- 1592, "conception, mental scheme," from L.L. theoria (Jerome), from Gk. 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." Sense of "principles or methods of a science or art (rather than its practice)" is first recorded 1613. That of "an explanation based on observation and reasoning" is from 1638. The verb theorize is recorded from 1638.


    Natural- c.1300, naturel, "of one's inborn character, of the world of nature (especially as opposed to man)," from O.Fr. naturel, from L. naturalis "by birth, according to nature," from natura "nature" (see nature). Meaning "easy, free from affectation" is attested from 1607. As a euphemism for "illegitimate, bastard" (of children), it is first recorded 1586, on notion of blood kinship (but not legal status). The noun sense of "person with a natural gift or talent" is first attested 1925, originally in prizefighting. Natural-born first attested 1583. Natural order "apparent order in nature" is from 1697. Natural childbirth first attested 1933. Natural life, usually in ref. to the duration of life, is from 1483. Natural history is from 1567 (see history).


    Conscious- 1601, from L. conscius "knowing, aware," from conscire (see conscience); probably a loan-translation of Gk. syneidos. A word adopted from the Latin poets and much mocked at first. Sense of "active and awake" is from 1837.


    Toxic- 1664, from Fr. toxique, from L.L. toxicus "poisoned," from L. toxicum "poison," from Gk. toxikon (pharmakon) "(poison) for use on arrows," from toxikon, neut. of toxikos "pertaining to arrows or archery," and thus to a bow, from toxon "bow," probably from a Scythain word that also was borrowed into L. as taxus "yew."
     
  13. Oct 13, 2009 #12
    I suppose, but the terms are useful and well-defined in their scientific context.
     
  14. Oct 13, 2009 #13
    How are these two definitions the exact opposite? They're pretty similar.
    So you want to keep people from using the word "mercury" in a non-scientific context because of a few conspiracists?
     
  15. Oct 13, 2009 #14

    Garth

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    For a mis-understood phrase how about "quantum leap" meaning a very big step, whereas 'quanta' are actually very small......

    Garth
     
  16. Oct 13, 2009 #15

    Office_Shredder

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    A quantum leap is very large when you compare it to the normal continuous changes we normally experience. It's meant to indicate that it is a discontinuous jump, not that the particle has traveled far
     
  17. Oct 13, 2009 #16
    Actually, they could not be more different. Evolution, for instance, is without foresight, yet not everything can happen and predictions can be made.
     
  18. Oct 13, 2009 #17
    So in the scientific context, randomness can be predicted?
     
  19. Oct 13, 2009 #18
    In this specific usage? Yes, just because something happens without foresight or intentionality does not mean that it is not predictable. The fixation of alleles for antibiotic resistance in bacteria in a population is one example.
     
  20. Oct 13, 2009 #19
    This still does not differ greatly from the common definition. No one thinks that when they roll some dice "anything can happen", the dice aren't suddenly going to turn into turtles, and obviously people bet on the outcomes so they must feel as though these events are predictable to some degree. In fact the average person's perception of 'random' is probably far more finite than what we would find in evolution.

    The only gripe I have ever heard about the use of the term 'random' is that people do not use it in a proper mathematical context (true random) and/or often use it to refer to things that are hardly random at all.
     
  21. Oct 14, 2009 #20

    Garth

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    True, quantum leaps are large compared with infinitesimal changes but are still very small compared to changes we observe in everyday life.

    The phrase is often used in everyday parlence to mean a large discontinuous advance, even in scientific reporting such as in http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/print/3428.

    Garth
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
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