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Why is the Cell Theory still a Theory?

  1. Dec 8, 2007 #1
    Hey everyone,

    I was reading a Biology text and it mentioned the Cell Theory, and at the same moment I thought of this question. Why do we still consider it a theory, if we have seen it occur many times by observing microscopes of differing abilities. Shouldn't we consider it a fact now that we have viewable proof? Or is Biology just different from some of the other sciences, or is there something I haven't been taught yet about this theory?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 8, 2007 #2

    D H

    Staff: Mentor

    The word theory in science means something quite different from the current lay meaning. In a lay context people use theory ("I have this theory ...") when they really mean "I have this wild-assed guess" (aka WAG). The word theory means something very, very strong in science. Quantum theory and Einstein's theories of relativity in physics and the theory of evolution and cell theory in biology are anything but WAGs.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2007
  4. Dec 8, 2007 #3
    Oh I see, well that clarifies it up quite well with me. I also like the word WAG (wild-assed guess) :) . Thanks for the information D H.
  5. Dec 8, 2007 #4
    I have this theory....
    never mind.

    Here is a definition of 'theory'

    So of course, it's not a WAG.
  6. Dec 9, 2007 #5
    According to National Academies of Science, a scientific theory is:


    "Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses."
  7. Dec 10, 2007 #6

    jim mcnamara

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    This and the meanings of some other words and statements, like model, or 'we believe', cause scientists a lot of unnecessary problems when they are communicating to folks outside science. By problems, specifically, I mean the lay person gets a completely wrong idea of what the science guy is communicating. And it is not really the fault of the layperson.
  8. Dec 10, 2007 #7


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    There was a thread the other day with a very nice paper about exactly this language problem... can't find it though. Perhaps someone can post the link here (I promise I'll bookmark it right away)
  9. Dec 10, 2007 #8
    As it sounds from you discussion, the main problem is how scientists relate their findings. Then why don't we create an organization such as IUPAC, seeing as they have done a great job in making sure chemists can talk b/w each other perfectly. We could have an organization that takes care of delivering information to the masses in the correct manner.
  10. Dec 10, 2007 #9
    Belief and Knowledge - A Plea About Knowledge
  11. Dec 10, 2007 #10
    Part of the problem with understanding terminology or jargon is the language itself. English uses verbs as nouns, and their meanings get confused constantly. Like the word "action", can mean a thing or a process. We do this all the time, and don't make it clear which sense we are implying (the action or the thing the action produces).
  12. Dec 10, 2007 #11
    That is a valid point and it is true; I have noticed it myself. But then the English language itself is complex because people don't tend to try their best at English in school, especially people who think they plan on going into a field such a math or science - we all tend to try and get past the course without putting much effort into it.
  13. Dec 10, 2007 #12


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    Be careful not to confuse terminology WITH jargon. This is precisely the reason it is important to keep in mind the very exacting definitions required in science, and why we spend a lot of time making sure students understand the terminology as it differs from lay usage. Jargon is NOT "terminology", it's sloppy usage and shortcuts in language. It's something that folks working together will understand, but is not appropriate in formal writing, because it does lack clarity.
  14. Dec 10, 2007 #13
    I've used this particular linguistic tool myself, at university and in the computer industry.
    I've built PC's, installed OSes of all flavours, on systems large and small, and I know what you mean about jargon, usually it's a fairly precise tool, until someone uses it out of it's context.
    At it's worst, someone gets the wrong jargon confused with the right jargon. So maybe someone else ends up doing something time-wasting.
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2007
  15. Dec 20, 2007 #14
    i guess its still a theory because there is no absolute proof. uh.....thats it, thats all. all this rant about blah blah still didnt answer his question. which was, why is it still a theory, and why do we not consider it an absolute fact? well, if it were absolute fact, im sure they would call it that. so its still a theory because there must still be something that doesnt completely fit with the rest of the building blocks, so to speak. there are always exceptions to the rule, hence why nothing is absolute. is the absolute the fact that there are no absolutes.? hmmmmmm
  16. Dec 20, 2007 #15


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    Jimmy, have you read any of the reactions in the thread (I can especially recommend the paper linked to by Moridin)? Because then you would have understood that scientists use the word "theory" to refer to a widely accepted and experimentally thoroughly tested model; unlike our everyday use of the word theory which you are using in your answer.
    The point of a (scientific) theory is that there are no exceptions (if there are, you need a better theory that includes them naturally), though a theory might have a limited range of application (for example, Newtons theory of classical mechanics).
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