What is “Scientifical”?

Scientifical is used on this website to mean attempting to be scientific but not achieving it.

The Urban Dictionary has two useful definitions of “scientifical”:

  • A term used to describe a situation when someone has mixed up or mispronounced words.
  • A way to make yourself sound intelligent when you have no idea what you are talking about.

So, a person/group can use scientific words inappropriately or act in what appears to be a scientific way because it sounds sophisticated and smart. Mimicking science is not the same as doing science. This might also be referred to as being “sciencey”.

Scientifical” is a good word to describe what most amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs) do. These groups study hauntings, hunt for ghosts and monsters, investigate UFO sightings and search for paranormal phenomena and frequently claim to be scientific in their approach.

Being scientifical can be deliberate or accidental. Advertisers will be deliberately scientifical in order to sell a product or look credible. ARIGs and other people who say they are pursuing inquiry might end up being scientifical by attempting to investigate in the most solid way possible but they are actually not being rigorous enough in their activities.

Characteristics of being scientifical is to use imagery, words and actions that people commonly associate with scientific research. Here are some examples of each:

Imagery:  lab coats, people with glasses, chemistry equipment, electronic gadgets, computers, molecules.

      

Words: “quantum,” “frequency,” “energy,” “scientific method,” “resonance,” “harmonic,” and names for ingredients that sound like chemicals such as Activinol TechnologyPro-Retinol A and pro-firmyl in cosmetics, and oscillococcinum – a nonexistent organism touted as a remedy for the flu.

Add the ending “-ology” to any word to make it sound like a serious science – “iridology,” “ufology,” “cereology”. Processes are described in terms that sound like genuine scientific processes but are nonsensical – “boost your immune system,” “resonate with your body’s natural frequencies,” “unblock your energies,” “detoxify”, “enhanced molecular deliver of DNA protection

Actions: TV and print ads use graphics that appear to show chemical changes, demonstrations of simple experiments, acting serious, being methodical, suggesting that a process is complicated or requires extensive training to understand or perform.

What’s wrong with being scientifical?

Use of imagery, words and actions that suggest science is in no way evidence that whatever is being explained actually is based in science. Science is not so superficial. The processes in scientific research are rigorous and, in order to establish reliable knowledge, research must be done by people who are trained in research methods.

Being scientifical (instead of scientific) is harmful. It gives the illusion of providing trustworthiness.

Scientificalness works because not many people are familiar with genuine scientific processes, legitimate terms and definitions of technical words. Instead, the general public sees science in terms of these simplified stereotypes. Unfortunately, science is a professional field that is now too highly specialized to be accessible to the average person.

How can you determine if it’s science or scientifical?

First, look for the signals. Do they use fancy-sounding words, are they using the standard science imagery and actions as described above? Are they selling a product or trying to be taken seriously? Are they actual trained scientists?  Here are some subjects that are commonly scientifical:

Cosmetic and beauty product labels and advertisements,

Alternative medicine, complimentary health processes and dietary supplements,

Paranormal researchers (ghost hunters),

Science-themed films or fictional TV shows (about natural disasters, monsters and mysteries),

Ideology-based “science” (Intelligent design, global warming denialists, environmental activism, animal rights activists).

Second, you will find online and published critiques of all of the above that will give you the other side of the story and punch holes in the tissue-thin veneer of science being sold to the audience. Being aware of how advocates are trying to convince you of their goodness or reliability is an important guard against not being “blinded by science”.

For other examples and information on being scientifical, see all posts in this category here.

9 thoughts on “What is “Scientifical”?”

  1. You wrote: “Being scientifical (instead of scientific) is harmful. It gives the illusion of providing trustworthiness.”

    When have amoral scientists been less than trustworthy?

    The answers to this question are legion. A few vivid responses are:

    1.) Human Radiation Experiments
    2.) Tuskegee syphilis experiment
    3.) Creation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weaponry

    Science is not the best answer. Sometimes, it is not even a good answer. Science is helpless and hopeless when it comes to paranormal (supernatural) phenomena for a myriad of reasons and reasonings.

    Try reading “Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us…” by David H. Freedman.

    The time to be especially wary is when experts weigh in on topics where the answers are unknown.

    1. I have taken a graduate level class in scientific ethics and have conducted ethics training for professional geologists. I am well versed in this subject. This is a different time and situation than that in which those experiments took place. 1 and 2 would never be allowed today, even animal experimentation is much more controlled. As for 3, science did not dictate what others would do with their discovery.

      Science ALWAYS give us is the most true answers to questions. However, it may not be the “right” answer in terms of our society. Other considerations must always be given.

      Scientific laws do not apply when you invoke an entity that can disrupt them at will. So, it can not address supernatural phenomenon.

      The time to be especially wary is when experts weigh in on topics where the answers are unknown.

      Especially when those “experts” have labeled themselves as such and do not have the backing of accumulated knowledge to back it up, such as ufologists and psychic researchers.

  2. So basically you are saying that it’s only science when “approved” persons engage in it. If you have a PhD and a dozen letters after your name, it’s scientifIC, but if you don’t have those it’s scientifICAL…basically an extended “appeal to authority”.

    You are also declaring that certain subjects are prima facie NOT scientific (ghosts, ufos, etc). This is convenient for you because it allows you to take any attempt to approach the topic with scientific rigor and slap it with your made up “scientifical” label so you can continue to dismiss the subject out of hand.

    VERY convenient for so-called “critical thinkers” to be able to do that, no?

    1. Science is training. That is crucial. Anyone can use a scientific method. But when they go by what “science” they’ve seen on TV depictions, that’s fake, it’s false.

      Science is an earned authority. It takes a while to learn how to conduct experiments the correct way, eliminate bias, construct a research protocol, assess source material. Just like anyone can’t call themselves a physician, or plumber or dentist, not anyone can call themselves a scientist, in the true sense of the word.

      I’m not declaring anything about those subjects. There is a VERY clear way to do them in a scientific manner. It’s just not being done by most people, especially those on TV.

      Answer to your last question. No. Quit reconstructing what I said.

      1. I’m not buying it. I understand that it takes a certain degree of technical training to mix chemicals in lab, etc, but there is NO special training beyond simple equipment operation required to take readings with standardized devices (such as the EMF detectors, etc used in modern para-psychological research), or to cast tracks, take photographs, collect and document hairs and scat, interview eyewitnesses, etc in the case of “monster hunting”.

        These are things that any reasonably dedicated lay researcher is perfectly capable of doing without someone with 20 letters after their name looking over their shoulder.

  3. It’s not that the process is wrong, Greg, but the conclusions that you derive from those processes and readings that differentiate “scientifical” from “scientific”. Using tracks as an example; I’m pretty sure a bare human foot print belongs to a human because humans are known to exist. In the case of ghost hunting, you are measuring an effect but you can’t be certain that it indicates the presence of a ghost as is commonly thought of, such as a dead person’s spirit or demon. The untrained researcher makes a few biased leaps of faith when deciding that something is either this or that when the so called evidence never results in verifiable proof.

  4. I enjoy the debate and as a skeptic, I have to agree, that most, if not ALL, of the paranormal based TV shows these days are solely based on hearsay and innuendo, first-person experience (no other witnesses) and with most the of the personalities on these shows using pseudoscience as a basis for their conclusions. They will often jump from a blurred, controversial image to an implied “fact” that something exists. Pure speculation, at best. Time and time again, these episodes end with someone’s wits and perceptions being tested, emotions running high (for purposeful dramatic effect–solidifying the viewer’s belief that it must be true, if the investigator says and “feels” it is), and ending with a no-show event that can, inevitably, only be pondered (the mystery remains to be solved–eventually). All very subjective, but it makes for great entertainment, right? When something doesn’t quite make sense, at least we have these shows to give us a quick answer, validate our own personal experiences or beliefs, and keep the mystery and myth alive–for good ratings and more spin-offs ($$$!)! Ah, the wonder of “reality” TV!

    I’m sure there’s many people who have experienced very strange phenomena on this planet, and many interesting books have been written about them (the Bible included). Just because you don’t have the scientific background to understand these strange occurrences, doesn’t make an event a supernatural or paranormal one. If you never enjoyed the sciences or history in school, you’re probably likely to be bored by true scientific theory.

    When the aliens arrive, bigfoot gets shot and hauled into a newsroom, or angels or my long-dead Grandma knock on my door or haunt me, then I’ll have to revise my opinion. Then again, I might just write a book about it! ;-)

  5. I am always irritated by most Dove product advertising. They usually have some ridiculous “scientific” experiment to show that their product is better. “We dipped these paper strips in soap and in dove to show what happens to your skin..” Huh?! They have used these same type idiotic “tests” in their ads for years, so it must work to sell products, but it’s so dumb!

  6. I love it, but you missed the most common of all….the word “science, scientific, scientifically”, ad nauseum, to legitimize questionable stuff such as “creation science”. Being a trained (some would differ) archaeologist/anthropologist and gimlet-eyed observer, I noted long ago that such words almost never appear in the serious literature, and I can’t recall the word ever having been used at a conference – or over beers. Only non-scientists fall into that trap. Keep up the good work!

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