The words we use every day, matter– whether we are talking to a friend, explaining something at our jobs or discussing an important problem. The same is true in science. Words have the power to transform the way we think about the world and deal with scientific challenges.

This is why scientific literacy is so important. Using technical terms to describe problems and their solutions ensures that we are talking about things accurately and completely. Misusing words can create confusion, especially when it comes to already-confusing science language. Understanding scientific language and concepts can help all of us apply knowledge, think critically and contribute to bettering society.

In partnership with the Canadian Space Agency, the Canadian Science Literacy Week is held September 17–23. This week-long tribute to scientists is complete with tons of scientific activities to help us learn about the world around us and improve our scientific literacy. We encourage all citizens to check out these activities and learn even one new thing about the world of science to improve how we communicate about our universe.

Commonly misused scientific terms

There are a number of technical and scientific terms that are used incorrectly in everyday life. Understanding the true meaning of these words and phrases and the difference between their scientific applications and what they may be used for in layman’s terms is critical to understanding and discussing the scientific problems of today.

  • Theory: In general speech, people often assume a theory is merely an idea and has little to no credibility. However, a scientific theory is something that has been tested repeatedly to explain an aspect of the natural world. In the scientific community, a theory is considered true, even though it is not a “law” and cannot be absolutely proven.
  • Chemical: A chemical is incorrectly considered a bad thing and harmful to human health. In science, everything is a chemical –even water and air. Everything made from atoms is a chemical that can be studied in chemistry, whether it is a pure element or a mixture. Some chemicals are bad for you, but others are necessary for human life.
  • Natural: In a healthy food store or online recipe, “natural” usually indicates that something is good for your body or healthy, but this isn’t the case in science. Natural compounds, or ones found in nature, aren’t always healthy for you, and not everything unnatural (man-made) is unhealthy.
  • Organic: Similar to “natural,” the word “organic” in a store may indicate that a food is free of pesticides or chemicals. In science, if something is organic, it actually means that it is carbon-based, which gives it an entirely different meaning.
  • Skeptic: People who are skeptical, such as all good scientists, are very open to scientific data and assess it with careful consideration without blindly adhering to one train of thought or another. In everyday language, however, “skeptical” tends to indicate someone who is doubtful or in denial of science without assessing the facts.
  • Significant: In science, “significant” is usually used to refer to something being “statistically significant,” meaning it is unlikely to occur by chance. However, “significant” is often used by the general public to indicate something is important, which is an incorrect use of the term.

One of our company’s principals is to improve scientific literacy. We believe knowledge brings more awareness and understanding to scientific challenges our world faces.

If you’d like to learn more about scientific literacy and education, contact SoilAdvocates at

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