Scientific Semantics Versus Public Semantics

Science works from existing language and makes it more specific. This causes problems with words like "velocity" and "theory" when communicating with muggles.

Folksonomies: science language semantics

Science Manipulates Language to Make it More Precise

Let us consider two spheres moving in different di- rections on a smooth table. So as to have a definite picture, we may assume the two directions perpendicu- lar to each other. Since there are no external forces acting, the motions are perfectly uniform. Suppose, further, that the speeds are equal, that is, both cover the same distance in the same interval of time. But is it correct to say that the two spheres have the same velocity? The answer can be yes or no ! If the speedo- meters of two cars both show forty miles per hour, it is usual to say that they have the same speed or velocity, no matter in which direction they are travelling. But science must create its own language, its own con- cepts, for its own use. Scientific concepts often begin with those used in ordinary language for the affairs, of everyday life, but they develop quite differently. They are transformed and lose the ambiguity associ- ated with them in ordinary language, gaining in rigor- ousness so that they may be applied to scientific thought.

From the physicist's point of view it is advantageous to say that the velocities of the two spheres moving in different directions are different. Although purely a matter of convention, it is more convenient to say that four cars travelling away from the same traffic round- about on different roads do not have the same velocity even though the speeds, as registered on the speedometers, are all forty miles per hour. This differentiation between speed and velocity illustrates how physics, starting with a concept used in everyday life, changes it in a way which proves fruitful in the further development of science.


The example is "velocity" which in common parlance is the same as "speed," but in science it means "speed and direction."

Folksonomies: science language semantics lexicon


The Difference in How the Public and Scientists Use "Theory"

The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence. Many scientific theories are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics)...One of the most useful properties of scientific theories is that they can be used to make predictions about natural events or phenomena that have not yet been observed.


In common usage, it is the equivalent of an educated guess, in science, it is nearly synonymous with the facts it is built on.

Folksonomies: science two cultures semantics