Terms that have different meanings for scientists and the public
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*Inspired by this post: http://blogs.agu.org/mountainbeltway/2011/10/17/words-matter/, this is a crowd sourced collection of words that have different meaning for scientists and the public. Please feel free to add entries to the bottom. Avoid jargon that has no common usage, this list is specifically for terms with multiple meanings. Words in bold are from the original list. Additional suggestions for better choices are welcome.
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Please add new entries to the bottom of the list, don't rearrangePlease note that we're focusing on terms that legitimately have multiple meanings, not just terms that are poorly understood"Better Choice" when communicating to the public, strict definitions and equations may not be the best option for outreachNotesContributors are invited, but not required, to add their name to this list:
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Andrew David Thaler
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Scientific TermGeneral Meaning/PerceptionBetter ChoiceJoonas Mäkinen
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Kimberly Clarke
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abstractvague, intangibleSummary, Take home message
Bryan Maloney
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acceleratespeed upSonia Furtado Neves
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accommodationplace to sleep/change to make someone more comfortablefocusing of the eye's lensJohn Aspinall
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aerosolspray cantiny airborne particleGeorge Collins
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alcoholbeerpreservative, rubbing alcohol, drinking alcohol, etc. Bryan Maloney
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amplificationsomething that makes music louderincreasingMarc Percher
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anomalyabnormal occurencechange from long-term averageBrian Glanz
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anti-bioticsoap, hand sanitizer, kitchen cleanersterilizer, agent to kill microbesTom Smerling
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assayjudge, essayanalyze, a method used to testMichael Bowen
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attractionliking someone a lotbeing pulled towards each otherJeffery James
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bacteriadirty, unhealthy, infectious agentsmicroscopic organisms, microbesCaitlin Wiltshire
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basicsimple, easy[of research] not applied, fundamental, alkalineKevin Yaroch
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biasdistortion, political move, prejudiceoffset of an observationAngela A. McComb
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blindunable to seelacking an exit
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blind teststumbling around randomly?experiment designed to eliminate bias
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carbohydratespasta, potatoesgroup of natural molecules made of only carbon, hydrogen and oxygenCricket Darby: cartoonhumorous graphic or visual jokebrief schematic
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chaoticdisorganizedlack of pattern, difficult to predict Cricket Darby: platformraised horizontal surface??
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chemicaltoxic substance, poison, synthetic compoundsany molecule / chemical element, emphasize that 'chemical free' is practically impossiblefeel close to, empathize withjoining of atoms via electron sharing in a molecule
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cleavagegap between breastsbreak apart, slicing of molecules, division of cells, brittle fracture
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climateweatherlong-term trends in weather
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cloneduplicate whole organisms which will turn evilduplicate a piece of DNA, copy of genetic information
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cloninghuman duplicationgrowing bacteria with inserted DNA, generating new genetic elements by cut-and-glue of DNA
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confidencecertaintywithin an acceptable range
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conservedprotected, pickled, canned[of a gene or trait] present in similar forms in different organisms, almost unchanged throughout a group's evolution
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constraintlimit freedomlimit uncertainty
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controlauthorityunaltered comparison, duplicate sample without test substance
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cosmopolitansophisticated, urbanwidely distributed in an ecosystem
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criticalpoint at which stuff goes wrongpoint at which interesting things happen
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culturea way of life, behavioral traits, clubgrowth or sample, out of body growth of living tissue
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depressant induces depressionreduces the activity of a specific part of the body or brain
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differentiatedistinguish two or more objectsfind the slope of
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drugillegal substancesmedicine, medically active
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E. colitainted water, food poisoning, feceslaboratory culture, microbe
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energy conservationfrugality, efficiencyThe fact that energy can't be created or destroyed, only converted
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enhanceimproveintensify, increase
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errormistake, wrong, incorrectdifference from exact true number, range in which we believe the value of the measured quantity to be
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estimateguesseducated guess/extrapolate from well understood results, assumption from the available information
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evolveGrow stronger/more complex (usually in terms of an individual)accumulation of gradual changes within a population, survival of most successful variant, change over time
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exoticglamorous and unusualnon-natives species, invasive species; rock transported a long distance (e.g. by a glacier)
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experimentguinea pigs, lab ratscontrolled test
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exponentialgreatly increaseda mathematical relationship
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fitnessstrength, power, healthreproductive success
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fluxchanging, unstablebe explicit - flow of mass, energy, etc.
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forceeffort, violencebe explicit when discussing mass times acceleration
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gene/genome defining trait, identitycoding region, information about how to build or regulate part of an organism
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genericcheap, low-qualitycommon
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genetic modificationfranken-food, monstersbe specific about the gene and the experimental organism
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hypothesisguesseducated guess, informed prediction that will be tested, calculated guess
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immortalgod-likeable to replicate indefinitely
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integratebring togetherfind the area under
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Large-scaleBroad in scope, greater areacloser to actual size; closer to 1:1 ratio; smaller area on a map
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lawlegal mandatefundamental principle
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layignorant, uninformednon-specialist, general public
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manipulationillicit tamperingscientific data processing
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massiveenormoushas mass, lacks internal structure
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modeldiorama, fashion modelcomputer simulation, mathematical equation that has been tested against known quantities, example capturing a specific situation
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momentumsocial trend, popularitybe explicit when discussing mass times velocity
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mulefemale horse+male donkeysterile hybrid
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mutantX-men, abnormalchange in gene, genetically different from others
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negative reinforcementpunishment for a negative behaviorremoval of adverse condition, removal of punishment
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nominalsubstandardPerforming within expected parameters.
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normalizemake ordinaryrescale
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off-label/unlicensed druguntested/unauthorised drugdrug used to treat a condition other than the one it's generally used for
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optimistic hopefulnot likely
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order of magnitudeFactor of 2About 10 times larger or smaller
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organicnatural, FDA Organic Labelcarbon-containing molecule, specific reaction
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perturbanxious, unsettled, confusedalter pattern
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positive feedbackgood response, praiseself-reinforcing cycle
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positive trendgood trendupward trend
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potencystrength, effectivenessstrength of a drug's effect relative to the dose
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powerstrength, authorityability to reject false negatives, rate of work, product of multiplying a number by itself
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predictionability to see the future perfectlycalculated guess based on previous data
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primerbase coat of paint, instructionsshort strand of DNA for making copies, starting point of a process
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probablelikelyinclude a measure of probability
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problemdifficultyquestion, challenge
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proofabsolute evidencevalidation of a statement by specified rules
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proteinmeat, cheese, body building supplementstiny biological machines (enzymes), biological scaffolds (structural proteins), organic self-active tool
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quantum changesudden change, big changethe smallest possible change
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racehuman racessub-group of a species of population, strain, ethnicity/ancestryrace - often confused with ethnic identity
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rainforestpristine, edenic jungledescribe the region/ecosystem
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randomproceeding without purposeunpredictable, some probability of multiple options
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recentrelative to human time scalespecify time scale - hundred, thousands, millions of years
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relativityeverything is relativeexplicit reference to theory of relativity
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researchliterature search, summaryexperimentation, project
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retardedmentally handicappedslowed down, delayed
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robotTerminator, job-stealerremote operated vehicle, pipetting machine, etc.
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scaledevice to measure weightsize or scope
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schemedevious plotsystematic plan
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sensitivitydelicateaccuracy of measurement
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signindication, astrological signplus or minus sign
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significantmeaningful, importantstatistically supported, proven to be correct with a certain probability, less than 5% chance of being wrong
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small-scaleLimited in scope, smaller areaRatio smaller than 1:1; larger area on a map
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solutionthe means to solve a problema solvent with a substance disolved in it
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