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 Technology, Pro-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
BEING SCIENTIFICAL: POPULARITY, PURPOSE AND PROMOTION OF AMATEUR RESEARCH AND INVESTIGATION GROUPS IN THE U.S. [PDF]