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Dichtomous meanings of some words

  1. Feb 1, 2016 #1

    jim mcnamara

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    Dichotomous meanings - word meanings that are generally not congruent at all -
    theory & myth.

    Theory - system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on
    general principles independent of the thing to be explained. (Scientific)


    Theory - an idea, usually spontaneous, intended to justify an action or explain
    a situation. (Everybody else)

    Myth - a traditional story of early history of a people or a story
    explaining some natural or social phenomenon. Usually involves supernatural
    beings or events. (Academic)


    Myth - a widely held but false belief or idea. (Everybody else)

    There are two sets of meanings here - The first of each word's defintions is used
    mostly by academicians and scientists. The second one is the version that most
    everyone uses in daily conversation. For science trained people discussing
    results with non-Science folks using either one of these words has the potential to
    destroy communication. Not just my opinion.

    Why I posted this: does anyone remember a great post from quite a few years back
    that discussed how scientists wreck effective communication this way? Not to say we
    can't find other ways to do this....

    Maybe a link to a Ruth Goldberg editorial in Science?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 2, 2016 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    Not just scientists - its the same with any jargon. Increasing communication between members of the sub-group decreases communication with "everyone else" ... but we could argue that the way everyone else uses language is not "effective communication": is this use of "effective" like the word "true" in "no true scotsman"?

    How would you define "effective"?
    How would you measure it?
    Is there a link to the old discussion? A summary?
  4. Feb 2, 2016 #3
    I think that the most prominent misuse of the scientific meaning of "theory" is by creationists. All the time they say "but evolution is only a theory, it's not a fact!"
  5. Feb 2, 2016 #4
    You're saying you are trying to locate this post or article?
  6. Feb 2, 2016 #5


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    Another often used term is "scientifically proven" and then they come along with a fake study that MMR vaccination causes autism.
  7. Feb 2, 2016 #6

    jim mcnamara

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    @zoobyshoe - Yup. There is an old post where someone quoted an Editorial from AAAS or another journal. And also linked to the article. The post was back before 2010 - I think. Probably further back. The link (and the post) was was on the subject of scientists not communicating because of words like "theory", "believe", and some others. She felt the onus was on scientists speaking about technical subjects to non-technical people to get past these stumbling block words.
  8. Feb 2, 2016 #7
    I'd say your best bet was to try and remember who participated in the thread. They might remember who posted the link or even the name of the thread.

    In the meantime, I found this list of articles (scroll down a bit):
  9. Feb 2, 2016 #8

    jim mcnamara

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    @zoobyshoe Thanks. I've just looked through there, seems like a lot of science education people want to get past issues in communicating.
    One or two might just be what I need.
  10. Feb 2, 2016 #9


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    Nature Chemistry had article on this topic as well. Here's a sample:

    The article also has a pdf with a list of terms in chemistry that can be ambiguous in meaning: http://www.nature.com/nchem/journal/v7/n7/extref/nchem.2288-s1.pdf
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  11. Feb 3, 2016 #10
    I've had a similar conversation on the importance of accurate and unambiguous language on a cow forum...

    The topic in this case was Polioencephalomalacia.. usually abbreviated PEM.. This is all fine and dandy while talking to people who are familiar with the condition, but when talking to the general public, and getting lazy about the definition (Some people were calling it Polio), it opens up a door for undue concern on beef consumers.. Why?
    Polio is an infectious and debilitating disease... It's rightfully something to be worried about if consuming the meat from that animal
    Polioencephalomalacia is a condition due to a dietary mineral imbalance.. there is NO cause for any concern to consume the meat.

    I think whenever talking to the general population, you have to define the meanings of any terms you use clearly... Disambiguate the 'denotation' of a word and it's 'connotation'.
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