A science dictionary
A tongue-in-cheek dictionary of science-related terms in a similar vein as the
computer-related Jargon file.
- Worldwide loosely-knit community quite effective at lobbying for funds and
using the proceeds for scientific ends. Subject to interesting
social dynamics involving publications,
institutions, conferences and
- Rumoured to comprise all scientists worldwide; but if this is
true, how can there be independent scientific proof?
- A member of academia; by virtue of the former, a
scientist (sense 2).
- academic fraud
- Serious misbehaviour of an academic. For non-academic consumption
defined to include guest authorship, multiple publishing,
plagiarism and other offences; while in practice action against an offender
requires a much higher threshold. Instances of academic fraud tend to be
reported in ways almost completely opposite to scientific
publications, notably leaving no permanent publicly accessible
- An intangible with positive connotation which travels upward the social
hierarchy until it reaches a senior scientist who uses
skillful politics to turn it into prestige,
prizes and/or funding. Contrast obligation.
- anecdotal evidence
- An exemplary or quantitatively negligible amount of evidence.
Disproves a general rule with which it conflicts. Often construed to prove
nothing, because life would be much easier if it did (see
- The comforting certainty of an absolute truth. Often supported by complex
inference graphs containing large numbers of cycles (see
circular reasoning). These days most frequently accorded
to whatever calls itself science.
- circular reasoning
- Method of proof based on circular reasoning.
- A get-together of academics which allows newbies to learn about the
subject, others to have a paid vacation and senior
scientists to dodge their obligations at home. Often held at
popular holiday destinations.
- conspiracy theory
- A cynical hypothesis based on disputing large
amounts of common tenets such as all intermediate stages of
- This notion is popular with skeptics for discrediting
- See heretic.
- Lack of wishful thinking.
- eminent scientist
- Someone whose private opinion is considered more relevant to scientific
questions than other's evidence. See also
proof by intimidation.
- Facts, observations or other bits and pieces
contributing to non-mathematical proofs.
- exact science
- A discipline the results of which are true and are claimed by its practitioners
to be useful. Contrast inexact science.
- See belief.
- famous person
- In academic jargon, a good friend.
- feudal system
- An early form of a student-professor relationship
lacking in sophistication. For instance, erring feudal subjects would be
denied their livelihood directly rather than the
qualification necessary to get a job to make a living.
- guest authorship
- The illegitimate appearance of someone's name as an author on a
publication, with the consent of the other authors. Widely
considered not to apply to senior scientists for
publications of subordinates or any others they have heard of before
publication, or eminent scientists for any publications.
See also academic fraud.
- A method of proof (sense 2) which favours physical exercise over
- Hanlon's razor
- The principle of favouring stupidity over malign intent as an
explanation for a sociological observation.
- A claim or statement which may or may not be true. It is safe to assume any
hypothesis has a non-empty set of supporters.
- inexact science
- A discipline the results of which would be useful if they were true but which
are not. Contrast exact science.
- The propensity of an academic journal to boost the prestige of the
authors of papers published in it, irrespective of the actual research.
- One step in a proof, leading from an intermediary premise to an
- An organisation or (rarely) person so prestigeous as to be the
subject of much belief.
- (1) The act of turning evidence into an arbitrary result.
- (2) A hypothesis which is the result of (1).
- Compare speculation.
- When someone else is forced to take decisions without having been provided with
relevant information. Oppose rational.
- See belief.
- null hypothesis
- Something considered true until proven otherwise. Often confused
with proven fact.
- obedience to authority
- Tendency to exacerbate inequality by those at the wrong end of it. Rarely
mentioned in public by academics decrying other forms of
irrationality because they are not.
- A forfeitment of free time which travels down the social hierarchy. Contrast
- A purportedly objective view of reality which forms the basis of much
- Occam's razor
- The belief that the world is simple until someone proves that it isn't.
Provides anecdotal evidence of people's tendency to prefer simplicity over
uncertainty. Compare null hypothesis,
- peer review
- The tweaking of scientific reports before publication by
someone other than the authors in order to increase social acceptance.
- The collusion of influential individuals to achieve a mutually satisfactory
outcome to a given situation. The prime pastime of
high-status individuals in any social group, including
- See social status.
- A congratulatory present awarded to a senior scientist by
his or her friends for having employed a capable junior scientist or
student or a similar stroke of luck. A token of
- A senior scientist who has so many
obligations that (s)he cannot possibly contribute personally to
any of them. Sole exceptions to this rule are actions which have to be
performed personally, like lobbying, politics, and travelling
round the world to hobnob with colleagues.
- (1) In mathematics and (more rarely) other natural sciences, a detailed
explanation why a given premise implies a conclusion.
- (2) In any other context, anything which someone is incapable of distinguishing
from (1), in other words anything whatsoever.
- proof by intimidation
- A method of proof (sense 2) based on the invocation of an alleged
private opinion of an eminent scientist.
- A written communication of academic results. Often
believed blindly, except by academics working in the same field who
are not authors, by whom it is disbelieved blindly. Rumoured to be
reproducible, though no one has the time to try.
- The appearance of an ability, usually conferred by an official piece of paper
from a respected institution.
- What people consider themselves. Oppose irrationality.
- A popular mix of cynicism and wishful
- (1) The process of learning and proving general tenets about reality
and notions thought relevant to it.
- (2) Anything which someone is incapable of distinguishing from (1), in other
words pretty much anything.
- (3) As a widespread special case of (2), blind belief in
publications and eminent scientists.
- (1) Someone who spends much of her or his time on personal scientific work.
- (2) Someone engaged in, associated with, lobbying for,
qualified at, or handwaving about
science, however loosely defined. Compare
senior scientist, eminent scientist,
- senior scientist
- Someone whose contribution to science is considerable thanks to his or (more
rarely) her right to guest authorship.
- Choosing between conflicting bits of evidence, unless done by
yourself. Both selection and detecting it in opponents is very popular in
non-mathematical proofs (sense 2).
- Belief in an arbitrarily chosen null hypothesis.
- A scientific discipline dealing with human behaviour and its
deviation from rationality. Provides rich pickings for those
knowledgeable at it to discredit those who are not (see
selection). See also selection,
wishful thinking, prestige,
obedience to authority.
- social status
- What people aspire to.
- Someone else's disagreeing with you when there is no evidence to
- statistical inference
- Speculating on the basis of statistics when an
inference is not possible due to lack of data.
- A field of mathematics dealing with statistical ensembles.
Wishful thinking leads many to use it to
speculate about single instances instead.
- In theory, someone whom a professor has an
obligation to teach; in practice, someone who has an obligation
to work for a professor. The kind of scientist for
whom scientific work takes up the largest share of hours worked.
- The only known infinite real-world quantity.
- Recognition that there is more than one possible null
- See belief.
- Part of a question not answered by evidence. Oppose
knowledge. See also Occam's razor,
- wishful thinking
- People's tendency to prefer convenience over evidence.
- Well-liked for discrediting dissenting opinions by persons who
know for a fact what others secretly wish for.
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