From Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week, written by a couple of paleo types:
Stop writing “scientists believe”
This one is for journalists and other popularizers of science. I see a lot of people writing that “scientists believe” this or that, when talking about hadrons or hadrosaurs or other phenomena grounded in evidence.
Pet peeve: believing is what people do in the absence of evidence, or despite evidence. Scientists often have to infer, estimate, and even speculate, but all of those activities are grounded in evidence and reason, not belief.1
Utter nonsense, and the author himself, Mike Taylor, adds in a footnote, in mouseprint type:
I realize that I am grossly oversimplifying – evidence, reason, and belief can interact in complicated ways in both spiritual and scientific spheres. But my purpose here is fixing poor word choice, not exploring that interaction.
But Mike Taylor is still mistaken. Few people believe anything in the absence of evidence. Questions turn on the nature and quality of the evidence, and how much should be needed to convince a reasonable person.
In addition to doing science, scientists may also believe in the proper, spiritual sense, in which case you are free to explain what certain individual scientists believe. But that’s not how the word “believe” is used most of the time when it comes up in science stories.More.
We don’t know that the “proper spiritual” sense of “believe” is for Mike Taylor, but one wonders what verbs he would substitute for
“Scientists believe that there is an infinite number of universes, and that ours just happens to be fine-tuned for our existence.
“Scientists believe that all life evolved from a single cell 4.3 billion years ago.”
“Scientists believe that Neanderthal man was incapable of creating artwork.”
“Scientists believe that chimpanzees are capable of creating artwork.”
“Scientists believe that consciousness is an illusion.
He suggests, for general use:“surmise”, “reason”, “predict”, or – if you must – “think”. “’Scientists have found,” would be better still.”
Readers, try them in the sentences above and let us know how you fare.
While we are here, one wonders how many words in a glossary for Darwinian evolution either have no meaning or have a meaning that doesn’t really make sense?
See also: Karl Popper on “adaptive” as a tautology
“Speciation” means what exactly? No one can define it but it is the basis of Darwinian evolution.
Why are life forms that persist unchanged called called living fossils? Wouldn’t “durable species” be better?
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