Theory vs Scientific Theory

Often at the CFDC, we get a lot of questions regarding what exactly a "theory" is. It appears that there is a lot of misunderstanding, and misinformation about this topic, so this post is going to address just that; the incorrect use of a word.

A theory and a scientific theory are two different things. A theory (defined by is "A supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained". In other words, a theory is a thought or an idea, surrounding something or someone. An example of this would be this theory about "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (seriously, it's pretty cool!). 

Now to define scientific theory. Defined by, "A scientific theory summarizes a hypothesis or group of hypotheses that have been supported with repeated testing". Basically, scientific theory is a way of explaining something in science that is widely accepted as fact due to the research, testing and data backing it up. An example of a widely accepted scientific theory is gravity. 

"When used in non-scientific context, the word 'theory' implies that something is unproven or speculative" ( The misuse of the word creates a fair amount of confusion for those who are not familiar with it. And this is exactly the problem we at the CFDC are trying to address. 

Another question that is asked at the CFDC is what exactly constitutes "scientific testing". It is actually called the Scientific Method and is fairly simple to understand and accomplish. The scientific method is "A method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses"( Scientific method can be broken down to this; form a hypotheses, and test it out. If it works, test it again, if it doesn't, refine your hypotheses and repeat the steps.

It is through this process that we pass the simple theory, and arrive at the scientific theory. 

Click here for more misused words in science and over here to learn more about the scientific theory! 

Make sure to visit the CFDC to #discoverfossils

Paige Ready
Museum Assistant