Scientific Terms You Don't Know You're Using Incorrectly

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Terms from the world of science and their technical, scientific definitions - not what we've all been using them for.

When Sarah Palin thinks she's as much of a scientist as Bill Nye, you know that the world needs a reality check. Even if you would never claim to have the same scientific expertise as The Science Guy himself, you probably still think you know more than you do about science. There are a lot of confusing scientific terms that people think they understand, but actually don't. They use them every day, but have no idea they're making fools of themselves.

This list of scientific words you're using wrong will make you realize that you might need to go back to school before you engage in a conversation about basic scientific topics. Or, you could just read this list, and then you'll at least know more than everyone who hasn't! Learn the real meaning of words like hypothesis, proof, and natural, and dazzle your friends at the next brunch.

  • Hypothesis

    How you've been using it: To mean an educated guess.
    What it really means: A proposed explanation for something that can be tested.
  • Theory

    How you've been using it: To mean a possible explanation for something.
    What it really means: An explanation of some part of the natural world which has been repeatedly supported by tests and experiments.
  • Empirical

    How you've been using it: To mean quantitative.
    What it actually means: Based on observation or experience.
  • Significant

    How you've been using it: To mean important or noteworthy.
    What it really means: A result is unlikely to occur by random chance.
  • Scientific Proof

    How you've been using it: To mean evidence that something is definitely true.
    What it really means: It's actually a made up term. Only mathematicians and logicians prove things. Scientists don't consider anything proven, because any idea in science could be overturned with new evidence.
  • Skeptic

    How you've been using it: To refer to anyone who doesn't believe a theory.
    What it really means: Someone who is open to scientific evidence and willing to assess it with as little bias as possible.