Science Definitions

The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary
Vidal Sassoon


Research Papers

They write... They mean...
It has long been known that... I haven't bothered to look up the original reference.
...of great theoretical and practical importance ...interesting to me.
While it has not been possible to provide definite answers to these questions... The experiments didn't work out, but I figured I could at least get a publication out of it.
Typical results are shown... The best results are shown...
Three of the samples were chosen for detailed study... The results of the others didn't make sense and were ignored.
...handled with extreme care during the experiments. ...not dropped on the floor.
It is to be hoped that this work will stimulate further work in the field. This paper isn't very good but neither are any of the others on this miserable subject.
Although some detail has been lost in reproduction, it is clear from the original micrograph that... It is impossible to tell from the micrograph.
Presumably at longer times... I didn't take the time to find out.
The agreement with the predicted curve is...
as good as could be expected
These results will be reported at a later date. I might get around to this sometime.
The most reliable values are those of Jones. He was a student of mine.
It is suggested that...
It is believed that...
It may be that...
I think...
It is generally believed that... I have such a good objection to this answer that I shall now raise it.
It is clear that much additional work will be required before a complete understanding... I don't understand it...
Unfortunately, a quantitative theory to account for these effects has not been formulated. ...neither does anybody else.
Correct within an order of magnitude. Wrong
High purity...
Very high purity...
Extremely high purity...
Spectroscopically pure...
Composition unknown except for the exaggerated claims of the supplier.
The W-Pb system was chosen as especially suitable to show the predicted behavior... The fellow in the next lab had some already made up.
Thanks are due to Joe Glotz for assistance with the experiments and to John Doe for valuable discussions. Glotz did the work and Doe explained what it meant.

Attributed to C.D. Graham Jr. (1957). Metal Progress 71: 75.

Phases of a Project

1. Exaltation
2. Confusion
3. Disenchantment
4. Search for the guilty
5. Punishment of the innocent
6. Distinction for the uninvolved


A pseudo scientist, who uses undetermined suppositions, indefinite theories, and inexpressible hypotheses; which are based on unreliable information uncertain quantities, and incomplete data; derived from non-reproducible experiments and incomplete investigations; using equipment and instruments of questionable accuracy, insufficient resolution, and inadequate sensitivity, to arrive at timid, tentative cloudy, abstruse, and non-committed conclusions prefaced by the phrase, "it depends".

Attributed to Douglas J Robinson "robinson at"

The Ultimate Scientific Dictionary

Activation Energy The useful quantity of energy available in one cup of coffee.
Atomic Theory A mythological explanation of the nature of matter, first proposed by the ancient Greeks, and now thoroughly discredited by modern computer simulation. Attempts to verify the theory by modern computer simulation have failed. Instead, it has been demonstrated repeatedly that computer outputs depend upon the color of the programmer's eyes, or occasionally upon the month of his or her birth. This apparent astrological connection, at last, vindicates the alchemist's view of astrology as the mother of all science.
Bacon, Roger An English friar who dabbled in science and made experimentation fashionable. Bacon was the first science popularizer to make it big on the banquet and talk-show circuit, and his books even outsold the fad diets of the period.
Biological Science A contradiction in terms.
Bunsen Burner A device invented by Robert Bunsen (1811-1899) for brewing coffee in the laboratory, thereby enabling the chemist to be poisoned without having to go all the way to the company cafeteria.
Butyl An unpleasant-sounding word denoting an unpleasant-smelling alcohol.
CAI Acronym for "Computer-Aided Instruction". The modern system of training professional scientists without ever exposing them to the hazards and expense of laboratory work. Graduates of CAI-based programs are very good at simulated research.
Cavendish A variety of pipe tobacco that is reputed to produce remarkably clear thought processes, and thereby leads to major scientific discoveries; hence, the name of a British research laboratory where the tobacco is smoked in abundance.
Chemical A substance that: 1) An organic chemist turns into a foul odor; 2) an analytical chemist turns into a procedure; 3) a physical chemist turns into a straight line; 4) a biochemist turns into a helix; 5) a chemical engineer turns into a profit.
Chemical Engineering The practice of doing for a profit what an organic chemist only does for fun.
Chromatography (From Greek chromo [color] + graphos [writing]). The practice of submitting manuscripts for publication with the original figures drawn in non-reproducing blue ink.
Clinical Testing The use of humans as guinea pigs (see also PHARMACOLOGY and TOXICOLOGY).
Compound To make worse, as in: 1) A fracture; 2) the mutual adulteration of two or more elements.
Computer Resources The major item of any budget, allowing for the acquisition of any capital equipment that is obsolete before the purchase request is released.
Eigen Function The use to which an eigen is put.
En The universal bidentate ligand used by coordination chemists. For years, efforts were made to use ethylene-diamine for this purpose, but chemists were unable to squeeze all the letters between the corners of the octahedron diagram. The timely invention of en in 1947 revolutionized the science.
Evaporation Allowance The volume of alcohol that the graduate students can drink in a year's time.
Exhaustive Methylation A marathon event in which the participants methylate until they drop from exhaustion.
First Order Reaction The reaction that occurs first, not always the one desired. For example, the formation of brown gunk in an organic prep.
Flame Test Trial by fire.
Genetic Engineering A recent attempt to formalize what engineers have been doing informally all along.
Grignard A fictitious class of compounds often found in organic exams and never in real life.
Inorganic Chemistry That which is left over after the organic, analytical, and physical chemists get through picking over the periodic table.
Mercury (From Latin Mercurius, the swift messenger of the gods). Element no. 80, so named because of the speed of which one of its compounds (calomel, Hg2Cl2) goes through the human digestive tract. The element is perhaps misnamed, because the gods probably would not be pleased by the physiological message so delivered.
Monomer One mer (compare POLYMER).
Natural Product A substance that earns organic chemists fame and glory when they manage to synthesize it with great difficulty, while Nature gets no credit for making it with great ease.
Organic Chemistry The practice of transmuting vile substances into publications
Partition Function The function of a partition is to protect the lab supervisor from shrapnel produced in laboratory explosions.
Pass/Fail An attempt by professional educators to replace the traditional academic grading system with a binary one that can be handled by a large digital computer.
Pharmacology The use of rabbits and dogs as guinea pigs (See also CLINICAL TESTING, TOXICOLOGY).
Physical Chemistry The pitiful attempt to apply y=mx+b to everything in the universe.
Pilot Plant A modest facility used for confirming design errors before they are built into a costly, full-scale production facility.
Polymer Many mers (compare MONOMERS).
Prelims (From Latin pre [before] + limbo [oblivion]). An obligatory ritual practiced by graduate students just before the granting of a PhD (if the gods are appeased) or an MSc (if they aren't).
Publish or Perish The imposed, involuntary choice between fame and oblivion, neither of which is handled gracefully by most faculty members.
Purple Passion A deadly libation prepared by mixing equal volumes of grape juice and lab alcohol.
Quantum Mechanics A crew kept on the payroll to repair quantums, which decay frequently to the ground state.
Rate Equations (Verb phrase). To give a grade or a ranking to a formula based on its utility and applicability. H=E,for example, applies to everything everywhere, and therefore rates an A. pV=nRT, on the other hand, is good only for nonexistent gases and thus receives only a D+, but this grade can be changed to a B- if enough empirical virial coefficients are added.
Research (Irregular noun). That which I do for the benefit of humanity, you do for the money, he does to hog all the glory.
Sagan The international unit of humility.
Scientific Method The widely held philosophy that a theory can never be proved, only disproved, and that all attempts to explain anything are therefore futile.
SI Acronym for "Systeme Infernelle".
Spectrophotometry A long word used mainly to intimidate freshman nonmajors.
Spectroscope A disgusting-looking instrument used by medical specialists to probe and examine the spectrum.
Toxicology The wholesale slaughter of white rats bred especially for that purpose. (See also CLINICAL TESTING, PHARMACOLOGY).
X-Ray Diffraction An occupational disorder common among physicians, caused by reading X-ray pictures in darkened roomsfor prolonged periods. The condition is readily cured by a greater reliance on blood chemistries; thelab results are just as inconclusive as the X-rays, but are easier to read.
Ytterbium A rare and inconsequential element, named after the village of Ytterby, Sweden (not to be confused with Iturbi, the late pianist and film personality, who was actually Spanish, not Swedish). Ytterbium is used mainly to fill block 70 in the periodic table. Iturbi was used mainly to play Jane Powell's father.

From somewhere at UMass/Lowell, pre-mid 1990s. From the RHF archives as selected by Brad Templeton, Maddi Hausmann and Jim Griffith.

Interestingly Named (IMHO) Units of Measurement

Sverdrup Water Flow: 1 million cubic metres of water per second per square kilometre
Poise Viscosity: 1 gram per centimetre per second