Casual and Scientific Use of “Theory” and “Law”

Casual and Scientific Use of “Theory” and “Law”

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Captions are on! Click CC at bottom right to turn off. Some words used casually have different meanings
than when used scientifically. I’m going to give you an example. When I was younger, I noticed that sometimes
after it rained, I’d find earthworms in puddles. And I’d wonder—why are these earthworms
coming out of the soil where they are safe and risking their very lives in these puddles?! I mean, I was pretty sure they didn’t like
being in the puddles; they were getting stuck in them for some reason. Keep in mind this was before the age of googling
information, and I came up with all kinds of ideas. Maybe the earthworms actually were crazy about
water, but they didn’t know how bad it was out there until they found themselves stuck
in a puddle. Maybe when it rained, the water flooded their
underground tunnels, but it somehow confused or disoriented them so instead of digging
down they dug up, launching themselves into a puddle. Either way, it was my job to rescue them,
because hey, earthworms are pretty cool. Something I can add to my resume. My ideas about why earthworms ventured out
when it rained were not really correct. If anything, maybe one of these ideas could
have been used to develop a hypothesis, which I could have decided to test. A hypothesis can be defined as a suggested
explanation that I could then test. But, see, back when I was a young kid, I would
have told you that these were my own personal theories. And that’s the problem with this word “theory.” The word “theory” tends to be casually
used in this way in everyday life all the time; I’m sure you’ve heard your friend
say before, “I have a theory about that…” When using the word “theory” in everyday
life, “theory” might be an opinion, hunch, or guess. You might say you have a theory about why
there is a water stain on a ceiling or why sushi is amazing but it’s important to understand
that you are using the word “theory” very casually. See, a scientific theory is a very different
thing. A scientific theory is an explanation supported
by scientific evidence. It’s fortified by facts. It’s been tested, repeatedly. And if you want a more detailed definition
of a scientific theory, we have a link in our video details to recommend. The thing is, a scientific theory cannot be
dismissed as “just a theory.” In order to reach the level of scientific
theory, a scientific theory must be backed by science facts and evidence supporting it,
with repeated testing. There are many theories in science. There’s a theory of the atom- atomic theory. There’s the theory of general relativity. There’s the cell theory that we frequently
talk about in many of our videos. Now while scientific theories can be disproven
or modified, it is important to understand that the word “theory” in science has
such a different meaning than the casual use of the word “theory.” When I was younger, I used to think that theories
one day could graduate into laws. I think my misconception had something to
do with me learning how a bill becomes a law and somehow I thought scientific theories
followed a similar path. I’m really not sure where I got this misconception. But in case you have it too, scientific theories
do not graduate into scientific laws. They can’t. Because they’re completely different things. One is not more powerful than the other either;
the word “law” might sound more fancy but it’s not—they truly are just different
things. But they are both very important in science. Scientific laws tend to describe a natural
phenomena; whereas a scientific theory can provide a scientific explanation for it. Many scientific laws are even represented
mathematically. For example, Newton’s second law of motion
shows how acceleration is related to the force and mass of the object. It can be written mathematically here. But as a law, it tends to describe…not explain
why. Since we tend to specialize more with biology,
let’s not forget about Mendel’s laws. He’s often called the father of genetics:
he has three laws that you can explore: law of the segregation of genes, law of independent
assortment, and the law of dominance. These laws describe phenomena happening with
his pea plant experiments. And while these laws each describe a natural
phenomena, they don’t give an explanation of why the phenomena happens. As a side note, that actually would have been
really hard to do as DNA wasn’t yet understood in his time. Understanding how the casual use of the word
“theory” differs from the scientific use of the word “theory”…as well as understanding
how theories and laws are different things…are all really important in science. Sometimes I wish science had a different word
from “theory” just because the casual everyday use of that word is so different
from the scientific use of that word. And before we go…in case you also have had
been curious this whole time about why earthworms may come out when it rains and may find themselves
in puddles…check out some further reading suggestions that mention different researcher
hypotheses in the video description. It’s pretty fascinating. Well, that’s it for the Amoeba Sisters,
and we remind you to stay curious.

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