Wednesday, January 02, 2008

"Only" a Theory

There aught to be a marketing firm for Science. If there was, I think the first thing they'd suggest is that scientists stop using the word "theory" -- as in "the Theory of Evolution," or "the Germ Theory of Disease," or "the Theory of Continental Drift."

Most people hear the word "theory" and think it's a synonym for "opinion." 9/11 conspiracy nuts have theories about how the Illuminati flew holographic airplanes into buildings that they had packed with explosives, and those wacky scientists have their theories on how monkeys evolved into self-deluded, paranoid 9/11 conspiracy nuts. Right?

Nope. The Truthers have a bunch of hypotheses. They'd be on their way to having a scientific theory if they made testable predictions based on their hunches, and then performed carefully controlled and independently reviewed experiments that showed what was predicted. Then they'd have to wait at least a couple of decades to let other people try to disprove or validate their results (or for other people to come up with alternative hypotheses to explain them).

It's hopeless to train people to say "I have a hypothesis on why the cat is barfing on the sofa" rather than "I have a theory..." Science should come up with another word; "Scientific Law" doesn't work (laws are abitrary human-made ideas, changed at the whim of our lawmakers). A word that means "something that is as close to correct as we can figure out, given our current level of understanding of how the world works." Maybe "Reality:"

The Reality of Continental Drift. The Germ Reality of Disease. The Reality of Evolution. Hmm, maybe there's a reason I'm a computer geek and not in marketing...

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