Three of the top most misunderstood science terms
Science is filled with a lot of terms that may not mean what most people think they mean. Here are a few commonly misinterpreted terms that come up quite often and how scientists use them.
People like to think that science has the definitive answer on matters, and that if a scientist is uncertain, their research is lacking. But actually, nothing in science is absolutely certain. Instead, science creates a deeper understanding of the complex world we live in, and our understanding is constantly being updated and improved upon. As an example, scientists cannot say they’ve “proven” that climate change is caused by human activity; instead they will say, “that’s what the data suggests,” which is as certain as they can be. So the next time you hear someone ask, “Where’s the proof?” remember that scientists never claim they are “absolutely certain” about something, so they’re not going to get their proof.
The term “theory” gets a bad rap among the public. Individuals will often dismiss scientific theories, such as the theory of evolution, as “just a theory,” or a guess. But a scientific theory is not a guess – it is an understanding of some aspect of the world, based on a set of facts. The theory of evolution, for example, just like germ theory and Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, is not a guess. It’s an understanding of how life as we know it came to be based centuries of observation of our natural world – it’s a scientific theory.
Most people automatically equate bacteria with germs, but the truth is, most bacteria are not disease-causing. Bacteria are microscopic, single-celled organisms that live within us and all around us; some of them even have beneficial effects on human health. But because we hear the word “antibacterial” all the time, as in soaps and other sanitizers, and since we tend to fear what we cannot see, we often blame bacteria and other microbes for our ills without considering their true role in the world.