Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Every Friday, we take a look at a new and interesting scientific term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s word is:
Words in the English language can mean different things to different people. Relying too much on dictionary definitions can lead you astray.
Consider the word dog. I had a dog when I was a kid: a yappy, little Pomeranian with black fur and a white belly. That’s my first mental image whenever I hear the word dog, and my brain extrapolates all other dogs from that starting point. For you, your prototypical dog probably looks different.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the word scientism and try to dissect all the subtle shades of meaning contained therein. On the surface, the term seems simple enough. Scientism is the belief in the profound importance of science. But after spending some time browsing the Internet, I’ve found it can also mean:
- Advocacy of science education or funding of scientific research.
- The belief that taking a scientific approach to other fields of study (history, politics, etc) can improve those fields.
- The belief that science is the best or only source of truth.
- The belief that the only true knowledge is quantified knowledge (i.e. things we can measure). This can be extended to mean that if we can’t measure something, it must not exist.
- The improper use of science, either by making broad claims based upon limited empirical evidence or by misapplying scientific knowledge to unrelated topics.
Whether you approve or disapprove of scientism depends entirely on how you define it. I think most of us would agree that science deserves a special place in our society, just so long as its importance is not overstated or misunderstood.
P.S.: A special thanks to Michelle Joelle for introducing me to this term. Please check out her blog, Stories & Soliloquies, by clicking here.