Since listening to Stephen Pound MP on the news the other evening, I’ve been looking for an excuse to apply the word caliginosity. Why? Because it is one of a number of words to be rendered redundant by (I think) the Collins English Dictionary. Apparently, in this age of increased storage capacity media, there isn’t enough ‘room’ to justify continued dictionary inclusion of such underused words. Language evolves: words arise from other words, but, inevitably, some words (species) become extinct. However, conservation efforts can also be applied, and Pound the ‘Word Champion’ (presumably as in one who champions words, rather than a winner of some Scrabble competition) was publicising the case for saving caliginosity.
So I thought about the definition of science. How, if we could perhaps somehow equip the lay public with a simpler understanding of what science is, and what it can and tries to do, that people would be less susceptible to culturally-tweaked knee-jerking. Instead, science is often regarded as an activity practiced by arrogant, socially-inept, immoral über-boffins doing dirty work on behalf of secretive governments or clandestine atheists with a hidden agenda. Well, I guess some are; but most of us, I would argue, are modest, humble, curious, conformist types trying to earn a crust. To the lay public, science is a caliginous art (Yyyessss!), obfuscated by those caliginously devious practitioners of pseudoscience: creationists, marketeers, astrologers, and such caliginousness.
Caliginous means dark, gloomy, shadowy, misty, dim. I don’t mean science is a dark or black art, as in something malevolent, or that the public perceive it as so (well mostly). And I don’t refer to the fact that much of science is ambiguous – a necessary property of science, because it promotes the scepticism that drives it. Communicating much of it is inevitably complicated, particularly across discursive boundaries. However, communicating what it is might help. It isn’t easy is it? And I don’t think many who actually work in science could offer up here. With increasing specialisation of scientific sub-disciplines, scientists now are afforded little, if any, time to worry about philosophy, sociology or history of science.
I’m reaching, aren’t I? I just happen to like caliginosity.
Is the word derived from Caligula?
You’re the ones who don’t realize you’re doing dirty work on behalf of secretive governments or clandestine atheists with a hidden agenda. Don’t worry, though. You’re still useful, so we won’t feed you into the LHC until at least next year.
Cath, according to the OED this is the etymology:
ad. L. caliginos-us ‘misty’, f. caligin-em mistiness, obscurity: cf. F. caligineux.
However, communicating what it [science?] is might help
I think a lot of science bloggers are doing just that, as you did in this post. Writing about the culture of science and the world of science can do as much good as writing about the science itself, when it comes to demonstrating to the world at large that scientists are not all madmen (some are women, even!) with blue liquids gurgling in beakers and decapitated rats strewn about. In my daily trawling of the internet, I have noticed at least as many people writing about the culture of science as those writing about research results. In my mind, that’s a very good thing.
Or the other way round, Cath?
The logical extension then, Bob, is that we’re all just pawns in the chess game of life. And there’s me believing we ‘scientists’ were the ones best equipped to see through the mist (???).
Anna, I agree that practicing and illuminating the sociology of science is beneficial and necessary (and it gives directionless, bemused types like me an excuse to write). But I’m not sure that is what I was doing, at least not advertently (which I guess means I was then). I was trying to hit on defining science. I might come back to this in a future piece.
Meanwhile, here’s some music: Robert Plant’s version of The Youngblood’s Caliginousness, Caliginousness.
Oh, I thought at first you were talking about callipygous
Ha ha! Now there’s a word we should challenge Henry to get into Nature!
Decorum dictates that I’d never publicly discuss callipygian scientists. Well…