There is very little that is exact in this world. Even science has its grey areas. However, various key words that scientists use have exact meanings. Yet outside of the scientific field, some of these words are used in an incorrect sense. Here we look at six scientific words that are misused the most by the general public:
1) Theory: For some, a theory is no more than an unproven idea. In science, they are well tested and are 'true' after many scientific experiments. OK, theories are never fully 'true' but they have evidence that supports the original idea, demonstrating their “trueness".
2) Model: In science a model is a way of quantifying a particular natural event to help us understand it better. Scientists spend a lot of time studying and changing their models to make them as precise as possible. For example, the broad agreement on climate change comes from models that are constantly changing.
3) Skeptic: Skeptics should not be people who just go against mainstream science because it suits their agenda. True skeptics look at all of the scientific evidence available and analyze it without bias. When the evidence says something, skeptics can accept the outcome before them, until new evidence is presented.
4) Significant: Outside of science, 'significant' is normally used in the same way as 'important'. Inside the science, though, especially in relation to statistics, this is not the case at all. Therefore the term 'statistically significant' which is frequently used in science does not necessarily mean that a finding or result from an experiment is important; this depends on many variables. It might actually not be important at all.
5) Natural: 'Mother nature is best' is a saying you often here. By extension, so everything 'natural' is better for us compared to processed products and medicines that come from pharmaceutical companies; or so it goes. That's because 'nasty' chemicals are used by such industries. What some people forget is that chemicals are natural, too. Water, salt and sugar are all chemicals. And too much of any of those can kill us, just like those nasty (and natural!) chemicals from factory laboratories.
6) Chemical: So now for those 'evil' chemicals. In case you still haven't got it from reading the above, chemicals are natural — they are everywhere in nature and essential for life. Yes, some chemicals can instantly kill us, but too little of others and we will also die. It's time to start viewing chemicals not as nasty, but just part of everyday life. If not, then stop breathing!
Prepared by: Jonathan Zur