I’m frequently confronted by people who say something like: “Evolution is just a theory – it’s not fact.” This just proves that the person doesn’t actually understand what a “theory” is – I have already blogged on the issue.
- “In science the word theory means an explanation of how the world works that has stood up to repeated, rigorous testing. It’s hardly a term of disparagement.”
Wired has an article on the subject which calls for a change in phrasing:
- For truly solid-gold, well-established science, let’s stop using the word theory entirely. Instead, let’s revive much more venerable language and refer to such knowledge as “law.”
- It performs a neat bit of linguistic jujitsu. If someone says, “I don’t believe in the theory of evolution,” they may sound fairly reasonable. But if someone announces, “I don’t believe in the law of evolution,” they sound insane. It’s tantamount to saying, “I don’t believe in the law of gravity.”
I’ve always felt that the best thing to do is improve people’s understanding. The problem is that getting the message across is really tricky (I blogged about the problem here). This guy reckons that:
- It’s time to realize that we’re simply never going to school enough of the public in the precise scientific meaning of particular words. We’re never going to fully communicate what’s beautiful and noble about scientific caution and rigor. Public discourse is inevitably political, so we need to talk about science in a way that wins the political battle — in no uncertain terms.