Word of the Day: Empirical

By Maeve Maddox

Empirical is an adjective that describes a study or technique that relies upon observation and physical evidence as opposed to theory. It comes from Latin empiricus, “a physician guided by experience.”

“Empirical evidence” is a source of knowledge resulting from observation or experimentation. The most common use of empirical in writing for the general reader is in the expressions “empirical evidence” and “empirical study.”

But the real problem, clearly, is that our nation’s scientists are so focused on other pursuits that they haven’t yet created a hybrid super-hitter. So we provided this blueprint. All the components below were chosen based on stats, reputations and untrained empirical observations. (USA Today)

The databases described below are good choices for finding empirical studies in the social sciences. (University of Washington Bothell and Cascadia Community College library site.)

It is essential that students understand that acceptance of beliefs in science, unlike in religion, is based upon reliable empirical evidence and sound arguments. (Cooper R. A., 2001; The Goal of Evolution Instruction)

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5 Responses to “Word of the Day: Empirical”

  • venqax

    Empirical…relies upon observation and physical evidence as opposed to theory.

    My only problem with this is fear of a potentially misleading comparison of observed evidence being opposed to theory. In science, empirical evidence is what we use to build theory– so theory is the product of empiricism, not opposed to it. Putting it in a way that perhaps muddles that scientific defintion of theory makes things even more difficult when we already have trouble explaining science to the public. E.g., the endless claim that evolution is “just a theory”, and would be perceived as not based on empirical evidencs. Maybe “Empirical…relies upon observation and physical evidence as opposed to intuition, or to revelation, or to speculation”? I very much agree that *empirical* is word and a concept that is vitally important for people today to be familiar with

  • Jamie

    Empirical is a study or technique opposed to theory and relies on observation and physical evidence. This is cool, it can be used when we want to write something just opposed to theory. Thank you!

  • Dale A. Wood

    No, Venqax, you do not understand that “as opposed to” is an idiom in the English language, and the word “opposed” cannot be read literally here, as you have tried to do. (I have seen this kind of a problem with you before.)

    If we write “In Canada, as opposed to the United States,…” this does not mean that Canada and the United States are at war with each other or are in any kind of a conflict whatsoever. The above phrase is merely making a comparison between the two countries. “As opposed to” could be replaced by “in comparison with”, “in contrast with”, or some similar phrase.

    Likewise, “Concerning Scotland, as opposed to England,…” means the same as “Concerning Scotland, in comparison with England,…”

    The phrase, “In Maryland, as opposed to Virginia,…” does not mean that we are starting up the War Between the States all over again.

    “In capitalism, as opposed to communism,…” merely makes the contrast between capitalism and communism, and nothing more sinister than that.
    D.A.W.

  • venqax

    No, Dale, you are DAWing again (this is a new verb I’m coining– dawing woudl be the normal styling). What I said was that I had “fear of a potentially misleading comparison”, not that I was being misled by the comparison. For those of us who deal with students and big chunks of the public regarding science, it is necessary to be extremely cautious about how you use a word like *theory*. And I’m not suggesting that MM or I aren’t well aware of the meanings of all the terms concerned.

    Your examples, though, are not good ones for your point. When you use “opposed to” in the context you are using it, you ARE highlighting by implication the difference between the terms as they compare to each other as if they were opposite poles– front as opposed to back, top as opposed to bottom, or on as opposed to off. So someone unversed could infer empirical vs. theory as empirical vs. non-empirical. I, personally, would not because I know the terms and I know the context within which MM is using them. I am very, very aware when I am dealoing with an idio…m.

  • Vali Jamal

    Forgive me, but how do you choose your Word of the Day? It is to teach us a new word. I have to say I didn’t find one word in your whole 50-days list that I did not know. I am sure that’s true of >90% of your followers. Sorry for being tendentious and sententious!

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