Is the Word “scientific” Overused?


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In this edition I want to give a little warning. Sometimes the words “science” or “scientific” are used to increase the value of certain claims, even if the use of these terms is not justified.

There are many claims out there that give the appearance of being scientific but they are not. Sometimes claims are shrouded in fancy language and sophisticated vocabulary – very serious sounding stuff. “It’s gotta be true, it sounds so scientific!” The media is full with claims that sound scientific but are not.

Please get me right. I’m not saying that the claims that are made are always necessarily wrong. Sometimes these claims are given a higher credibility by wrapping them in a language that people associate with science. Why do they do that? In many societies of this world natural science has a very high standing and reputation. After all, medical and technological progress can be largely attributed to the natural sciences and engineering. We consciously or sub consciously realize this of course. It is now possible to increase the credibility of certain claims by associating them with science. How many times have you seen that some products are advertised by people dressed in a white lab coat? If a scientist says that it works well, then it’s gotta be true!

This is what you call reference to authority. This reference to authority in itself is not a problem, if the authority justifies the claim using reasoned arguments. It starts to become problematic if the reference to authority alone is used as a justification. If only the reference to authority is used to justify a claim, then it starts to become the so-called ad hominem fallacy. “He is a well-known scientist, therefore he must be right.” In the ad hominem fallacy the person himself/herself is used as a justification and not the argument of the person.

Boris Podolsky, a co-worker of Albert Einstein, criticized the over usage of the word “scientific” especially in advertising. If you want to sell a product, just add the phrase “it’s scientifically proven”. And if you use a couple of fancy, scientific sounding words, the people really get impressed by it and start buying the product. The product becomes prestigious and its value increases. One has to be careful not to be blinded by fancy words. And this is where we have a link between science and the use of language.

I want to cite from Podolsky’s article “What is Science” that he wrote in 1965:

“In recent years the power of Science has received such popular recognition, that the adjective scientific attached to merchandise or statement is known to give to such merchandise or to a statement prestige having definite advertising value. As a consequence the words Science and scientific are frequently abused by those who find it profitable to borrow reputation instead of earning it.” Boris Podolsky (1965), The Physics Teacher, Vol 3, Issue 2 pp. 71-73

1 Response to Is the Word “scientific” Overused?

  1. M.ROLF

    The word ‘Scientific’ , it does appear a number of times just to give more emphasise. Many a times as mentioned by Oliver it is used in advertising the products. There is a difference though in the way you look at it , the more the word is used , is it not losing its credibility , at one point of time if all products start having the word ‘scientifically tested’ or something related , its going to be a disaster. Who is going to bell the cat . It ain’t that easy for there are many things that have their stability because of Belief. There are many out there who believe in the word scientific so it would stay strong . Too much of anything is going to be good for nothing .

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