Word of the Year

In contrast to the much derided, but pop culture appropriate, decision that selfie was the word of the year, the editors of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary have chosen science as their Word of the Year.

HUZZAH! Maybe.

As it turns out the editors of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary picked science for reasons that have very little to do with the merits of science:

The editors link science, a word users looked up 176% more than last year, to political discussions of climate change and education, as well as Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, criticized as a misrepresentation of science. – Quoted by Dan Amira

This made me wonder. When they say “science“, what do they mean? Science is a notoriously difficult term to define. So, I contributed to science’s look up stats myself. Here is the first (and most applicable) definition from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online:

knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation

That is not bad, but I can’t say I’m completely happy with this definition. I don’t want to put words in the mouths of dead geniuses, but I don’t Karl Popper or David Hume (especially not David Hume) would be completely happy with this definition of science either. The sticking point is the word facts. which is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online:

something that truly exists or happens

Science is a process of sorting through possibilities and uncertainties. It is about establishing what is more likely than unlikely. Facts is a tricky word that implies a certainty – a Big T Truth – that is not really a part of the scientific enterprise.

Don’t worry. I fixed it for you:

knowledge about or study of the natural world through experiments and observation

*Hat tip to Kathleen Raven

Author: Josh Witten


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