An issue that often comes up when I edit the work of non-English speakers is the meaning of the English word “scientific”. For many non-English speakers, it means a rigorous, rational approach to an issue based on evidence. However, for English speakers, it has narrower connotations of white-coated people in laboratories full of test tubes or Einstein-like figures at their equations. By “scientific”, many non-English speaking writers seem to actually mean “academic”.
This confusion may arise because the words are the same in some other languages. For example, in German, Wissenschaftcan mean the pursuit of knowledge through physics or chemistry but also from history or economics. Similarly, the French word sciencecan also have a more general meaning of knowledge or learning, as can its Latin root scientia. However, in English, “science” and “scientific” have a narrower connotation: they are used to describe the physical and natural sciences (e.g. biology, chemistry, physics) where falsifiable hypotheses about the natural world are tested using observation and experimentation. The terms can also be applied to the “social” or “behavioural” sciences (such as psychology, anthropology and sociology) which seek to apply the scientific method to human behaviour.
However, in English, the word “scientfiic” is not applied to the historian, the philosopher or even the engineer. Although these disciplines may not be “scientific”, they are certainly “academic”. That is, they are disciplines which rightly exist in a university and argue according to the logical rules of deduction or induction based on referenced evidence. Scientists are, of course, “academics”, but so are other researchers. Similarly, universities are places of academic learning, one part of which is science. However, whether you are a “scientist” or another kind of “academic”, your work is valuable in building our knowledge about ourselves, our world and our place in it.