A Terry Science Experiment

This weekend, I attended Future Directions in Science Journalism, a unique collection of scientists, journalists, and a few others that were just interested in the future of…you guessed it.

Although there was no shortage of interesting fodder for discussion at the conference, one particular chord rang loud and clear among all the journalists in the crowd: the definition of “theory”. Theory means very different things to scientists and the public. Furthermore, as it seems to me, many scientific words have been either anthropmorphized or over generalized by journalists, and thusly have taken on altered, unique definitions in the collective public mind.

Being a good scientist, I thought I’d test this out. So please, Terry readers, define the following list in the comment section (in your own words…no cheating and looking it up online, or looking at the other people’s comments!)

  • Nature
  • Ecology
  • Genome
  • Theory
  • Scientific method
  • Statistical uncertainty

I’ll provide the proper definitions after.


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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: davidsemeniuk.com

4 Responses to “A Terry Science Experiment”

  1. Joanne

    I’m scared to comment because your “challenge to readers” is too much like a test. I hope I don’t fail! I couldn’t resist piping up, though, because I’m worried about the disconnect between the language of science and that of popular culture. The value of of the word theory is a great example. As a scientist, I strongly value theories because they are well tested explanations that are built on many many facts. A theory, for example, holds much more value in my mind then a single fact (something that I know to be true) because it explains so many things. However in popular culture, the use of the word theory seems to focus on the uncertainty that is inherent in all scientific endeavor. I hope that as scientists we can get better at communicating what we mean when we say, “theory.”

  2. Barry Landis

    That’s interesting.

    I read an MIT study on something called “blinking words”…ie words that shift meaning in organizations..’s in “The Dance of Change” I think..Clearing those up always seemed worthwhile, since a lot of it has political roots….and clearing the words probably does a lot to clear the environment. Fritjob Capra clarifies the word “Sustainability” in this lecture….


    I’ll do the word “theory”..I’m not a scientist..I always thought of a theory as an unproven explaination for something.


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