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A science dictionary

A tongue-in-cheek dictionary of science-related terms in a similar vein as the computer-related Jargon file.

academia
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 peer review.
Rumoured to comprise all scientists worldwide; but if this is true, how can there be independent scientific proof?
academic
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 records.
achievement
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 wishful thinking).
belief
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.
conference
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 circular reasoning.
This notion is popular with skeptics for discrediting heretics.
crank
See heretic.
cynicism
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.
evidence
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.
fact
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.
handwaving
A method of proof (sense 2) which favours physical exercise over brain activity.
Hanlon's razor
The principle of favouring stupidity over malign intent as an explanation for a sociological observation.
heretic
Non-skeptic.
hypothesis
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.
impact
The propensity of an academic journal to boost the prestige of the authors of papers published in it, irrespective of the actual research.
inference
One step in a proof, leading from an intermediary premise to an intermediate conclusion.
institution
An organisation or (rarely) person so prestigeous as to be the subject of much belief.
interpretation
(1) The act of turning evidence into an arbitrary result.
(2) A hypothesis which is the result of (1).
Compare speculation.
irrationality
When someone else is forced to take decisions without having been provided with relevant information. Oppose rational.
knowledge
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.
obligation
A forfeitment of free time which travels down the social hierarchy. Contrast achievement.
observation
A purportedly objective view of reality which forms the basis of much science.
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, wishful thinking.
peer review
The tweaking of scientific reports before publication by someone other than the authors in order to increase social acceptance.
politics
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 academia.
prestige
See social status.
prize
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 prestige.
professor
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.
proof
(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.
publication
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.
qualification
The appearance of an ability, usually conferred by an official piece of paper from a respected institution.
rational
What people consider themselves. Oppose irrationality.
realism
A popular mix of cynicism and wishful thinking.
science
(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 academic institutions, publications and eminent scientists.
scientist
(1) Someone who spends much of her or his time on personal scientific work. See student.
(2) Someone engaged in, associated with, lobbying for, qualified at, or handwaving about science, however loosely defined. Compare senior scientist, eminent scientist, professor.
senior scientist
Someone whose contribution to science is considerable thanks to his or (more rarely) her right to guest authorship.
selection
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).
skepticism
Belief in an arbitrarily chosen null hypothesis.
sociology
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.
speculation
Someone else's disagreeing with you when there is no evidence to speak of.
statistical inference
Speculating on the basis of statistics when an inference is not possible due to lack of data.
statistics
A field of mathematics dealing with statistical ensembles. Wishful thinking leads many to use it to speculate about single instances instead.
student
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.
stupidity
The only known infinite real-world quantity.
tolerance
Recognition that there is more than one possible null hypothesis.
truth
See belief.
uncertainty
Part of a question not answered by evidence. Oppose knowledge. See also Occam's razor, null hypothesis.
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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