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The Weasel Claim Definition Essay

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Definition and Examples of Science Writing

science writing

Updated October 28, 2016.


(1) The term science writing refers to writing about scientific subject matter, often in a non-technical manner for an audience of non-scientists (a form of journalism or creative nonfiction ). Also called popular science writing. For more information, visit the website of the National Association of Science Writers .

(2) Science writing may also refer to writing that reports scientific observations and results in a manner governed by specific conventions (a form of technical writing ).

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More commonly known as scientific writing .

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations (Definition #1)
  • "Because science writing is intended to be entertaining enough to capture the continued interest of potential readers, its style is much less somber than the usual scientific writing [i.e. definition #2, above]. The use of slang. puns. and other word plays on the English language are accepted and even encouraged.

"Distinguishing between science writing and scientific writing is reasonable—they have different purposes and a different audience. However, one would be ill advised to use the term 'science writing' or 'popular writing' in a disparaging way. Writing (or providing consultation for others who are writing) popularized accounts based on scientific research should be an important part of every scientists's outreach activities. The wider community is essential to adequate support for scientific endeavors."
(Janice R. Matthews and Robert W. Matthews, Successful Scientific Writing: A Step-by-Step Guide for the Biological and Medical Sciences. 4th ed. Cambridge University Press, 2014)

  • An Example of Science Writing: "Stripped for Parts"
    "Sustaining a dead body until its organs can be harvested is a tricky process requiring the latest in medical technology. But it's also a distinct anachronism in an era when medicine is becoming less and less invasive. Fixing blocked coronary arteries, which not long ago required prying a patient's chest open with a saw and spreader, can now be accomplished with a tiny stent delivered to the heart on a slender wire threaded up the leg. Exploratory surgery has given way to robot cameras and high-resolution imaging. Already, we are eyeing the tantalizing summit of gene therapy, where diseases are cured even before they do damage. Compared with such microscale cures, transplants—which consist of salvaging entire organs from a heart-beating cadaver and sewing them into a different body—seem crudely mechanical, even medieval."
    (Jennifer Kahn, "Stripped for Parts." Wired. March 2003. Reprinted in The Best American Science Writing 2004. edited by Dava Sobel. HarperCollins, 2004)

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  • On Explaining Science
    "The question is not "should" you explain a concept or process, but "how" can you do so in a way that is clear and so readable that it is simply part of the story?

"Use explanatory strategies such as. - Active-voice verbs
- Analogies and metaphors
- Backing into an explanation, that is, explaining before labeling
- Selecting critical features of a process and being willing to set aside the others, as too much explanatory detail will hurt rather than help. "People who study what makes an explanation successful have found that while giving examples is helpful, giving nonexamples is even better.

"Nonexamples are examples of what something is not. Often, that kind of example will help clarify what the thing is. If you were trying to explain groundwater, for instance, you might say that, while the term seems to suggest an actual body of water, such as a lake or an underground river, that would be an inaccurate image. Groundwater is not a body of water in the traditional sense; rather, as Katherine Rowan, communications professor, points out, it is water moving slowly but relentlessly through cracks and crevices in the ground below us.

"Be acutely aware of your readers' beliefs. You might write that chance is the best explanation of a disease cluster; but this could be counterproductive if your readers reject chance as an explanation for anything. If you are aware that readers' beliefs may collide with an explanation you give, you may be able to write in a way that doesn't cause these readers to block their minds to the science you explain."
(Sharon Dunwoody, "On Explaining Science." A Field Guide for Science Writers. 2nd ed. ed. by Deborah Blum, Mary Knudson, and Robin Marantz Henig. Oxford University Press, 2006)

  • The Lighter Side of Science Writing
    "In this paragraph I will state the main claim that the research makes, making appropriate use of 'scare quotes ' to ensure that it's clear that I have no opinion about this research whatsoever.

    "In this paragraph I will briefly (because no paragraph should be more than one line) state which existing scientific ideas this new research 'challenges.'

    "If the research is about a potential cure, or a solution to a problem, this paragraph will describe how it will raise hopes for a group of sufferers or victims.

    "This paragraph elaborates on the claim, adding weasel-words like 'the scientists say' to shift responsibility for establishing the likely truth or accuracy of the research findings on to absolutely anybody else but me, the journalist. "
    (Martin Robbins, "This Is a News Website Article About a Scientific Paper." The Guardian. September 27, 2010)

  • Other articles

    Language Of Advertisement текст перевод

    Language Of Advertisement

    1. Students, and many teachers, are notorious believers in their immunity to advertising. These naive inhabitants of consumerland believe that advertising is childish, dumb, a bunch of lies, and influences only the vast hordes of the less sophisticated. Their own purchases are made purely on the basis of value and desire, with advertising playing only a minor supporting role.
    Advertisers know better. Although few people admit to being greatly influenced by ads, surveys and sales figures show that a well-designed advertising campaign has dramatic effects. A logical conclusion is that advertising works below the level of conscious awareness and it works even on those who claim immunity to its message. Ads are designed to have an effect while being laughed at, belittled, and all but ignored.
    A person unaware of advertising's claim on him or her is precisely the one most defenseless against the adwriter's attack. Advertisers delight in an audience which believes ads to be harmless nonsense, for such an audience is rendered defenseless by its belief that there is no attack taking place.

    A weasel word is a modifier that practically negates the claim that follows. The expression "weasel word" is aptly named after the egg-eating habits of weasels. A weasel will suck out the inside of an egg, leaving it appear intact to the casual observer. Upon examination, the egg is discovered to be hollow. Words or claims that appear substantial upon first look but disintegrate into hollow meaninglessness on analysis are weasels.
    "Helps control dandruff symptoms with regular use." The weasels include "helps control," and possibly even "symptoms" and "regular use." The claim is not "stops dandruff."
    "Leaves dishes virtually spotless." You are supposed to think "spotless," rather than "virtually" spotless.
    "Listerine fights bad breath." "Fights," not "stops."

    The unfinished claim is one in which the ad claims the product is better, or has more of something, but does not finish the comparison.
    "Magnavox gives you more." More what?
    "Supergloss does it with more color, more shine, more sizzle, more!"
    "Ford LTD - 700% quieter." When Ford was asked to substantiate this claim, they revealed that they meant the inside of the Ford was 700% quieter than the outside.

    "Water is wet" claims say something about the product that is true for any brand in that product category. The claim is usually a statement of fact, but not a real advantage over the competition.
    "Great Lash greatly increases the diameter of every lash."
    "Rheingold, the natural beer." Made from grains and water as are other beers.
    "SKIN smells differently on everyone." As do many perfumes.

    The vague claim is simply not clear. The key to the vague claim is the use of words that are colorful but meaningless, as well as the use of subjective and emotional opinions that defy verification.
    "Take a bite and you'll think you're eating on the Champs Elysees." Can you imagine trying to either prove or disprove such a claim?
    "For skin like peaches and cream."

    This kind of ad uses some sort of scientific proof or experiment, very specific numbers, or an impressive sounding mystery ingredient.
    "Easy-Off has 33% more cleaning power than another popular brand." "Another popular brand" often translates as some other kind of oven cleaner sold somewhere.

    WEASEL WORD: definition of WEASEL WORD and synonyms of WEASEL WORD (English)

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    definitions - WEASEL WORD

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    1. an equivocal qualification; a word used to avoid making an outright assertion

    definition (more) analogical dictionary Weasel word

    For the term "weasel word" in Wikipedia, see Weasel words.

    This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page .

    A weasel word (also, anonymous authority ) is an informal term [ 1 ] for equivocating words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim, or even a refutation has been communicated.

    For example, an advertisement may use a weasel phrase such as "up to 50% off on all products"; this is misleading because the audience is invited to imagine many items reduced by the proclaimed 50%, but the words taken literally mean only that no discount will exceed 50%, and in theory, the vendor is free not to reduce any prices and still remain faithful to the exact wording of the advertisement, as "up to 50" most literally means "any number from 0 to 50 inclusive".

    Another example is a letter of recommendation where the letter writer states "I cannot recommend this person highly enough", which would ordinarily be taken to mean that no amount of recommendation is sufficient to communicate the high stature of recommendation, while at the same time it could literally mean that there is no recommendation at all.

    In other cases, words with a particular subjective effect are chosen. For example, one person may speak of "resistance fighters" or "freedom fighters", while another may call the same subjects "terrorists". The underlying facts are the same, but a quite different impression is given.

    The use of weasel words to avoid making an outright assertion is a synonym to tergiversate. [ 2 ] Weasel words can imply meaning far beyond the claim actually being made. [ 3 ] Some weasel words may also have the effect of softening the force of a potentially loaded or otherwise controversial statement through some form of understatement, for example using detensifiers such as "somewhat" or "in most respects". [ 4 ]

    The expression weasel word derives apparently from the egg-eating habits of weasels. [ 5 ]

    An article published by the Buffalo News attributes the origin of the term to William Shakespeare 's plays Henry V and As You Like It . in which the author includes similes of weasels sucking eggs. [ 6 ] The article also claims that this is a misnomer, because weasels do not have a mandible suitable for sucking eggs or blood. [ 7 ]

    Regardless of whether weasels in fact suck eggs, a belief that they do implies an egg shell devoid of its contents. Thus, words or claims that turn out to be empty upon analysis are known as "weasel words". The expression first appeared in Stewart Chaplin's short story "Stained Glass Political Platform" (published in 1900 in The Century Magazine ), [ 8 ] in which they were referred to as "words that suck the life out of the words next to them, just as a weasel sucks the egg and leaves the shell". Theodore Roosevelt attributed the term to Dave Sewall, claiming that Sewall used the term in a private conversation in 1879. [ 9 ] Winston Churchill wrote: "The reserve of modern assertions is sometimes pushed to extremes, in which the fear of being contradicted leads the writer to strip himself of almost all sense and meaning." Current examples include governing parties in various countries commenting upon their country's financial state with statements such as "the budget deficits we inherited" rather than specifically blaming their predecessors.

    Additionally, the definition of the word 'weasel' includes: n. a sneaky, untrustworthy, or insincere person; v. to manipulate shiftily. [ 10 ] A weasel word (or phrase) can quite likely be understood to come from a position of intending to manipulate the communication, in a sneaky or underhanded manner.

    In the political sphere, this type of language is used to "spin " or alter the public's perception of an issue. In 1916, Theodore Roosevelt argued that "one of our defects as a nation is a tendency to use. 'weasel words'; when one 'weasel word' is used. after another there is nothing left". [ 11 ]

    • "A growing body of evidence. " [ 12 ] (Where is the raw data for your review?)
    • "People say. " (Which people? How do they know?)
    • "It has been claimed that. " (By whom, where, when?)
    • "Critics claim. " (Which critics?)
    • "Clearly. " (As if the premise is undeniably true)
    • "It stands to reason that. " (Again, as if the premise is undeniably true—see "Clearly" above)
    • "Questions have been raised. " (Implies a fatal flaw has been discovered)
    • "I heard that. " (Who told you? Is the source reliable?)
    • "There is evidence that. " (What evidence? Is the source reliable?)
    • "Experience shows that. " (Whose experience? What was the experience? How does it demonstrate this?)
    • "It has been mentioned that. " (Who are these mentioners? Can they be trusted?)
    • "Popular wisdom has it that. " (Is popular wisdom a test of truth?)
    • "Commonsense has it/insists that. " (The common sense of whom? Who says so? See "Popular wisdom" above, and "It is known that" below)
    • "It is known that. " (By whom and by what method is it known?)
    • "Officially known as. " (By whom, where, when—who says so?)
    • "It turns out that. " (How does it turn out?¹)
    • "It was noted that. " (By whom, why, when?)
    • "See why more of our trucks are sold in Southern California than in any other part of the country." (Southern California is a big vehicle market.)
    • "Nobody else's product is better than ours." (What is the evidence of this?)
    • "Studies show. " (what studies?)
    • "A recent study at a leading university. " (How recent is your study? At what university?)
    • "(The phenomenon) came to be seen as. " (by whom?)
    • "Some argue. " (who?)
    • "Up to sixty percent. " (so, 59%? 50%? 10%?)
    • "More than seventy percent. " (How many more? 70.01%? 80%? 90%?)
    • "The vast majority. " (All, more than half—how many?)

    ¹It is important that real examples do not in fact explain, at a later stage of the argument, what exactly is meant by "it turns out that"; the whole needs to be looked at before it can be decided that it is a weasel term.

    A 2009 study of Wikipedia found that most weasel words in it could be divided into three categories: [ 13 ]

    1. Numerically vague expressions (e.g. "some people", "experts", "many")
    2. Use of the passive voice to avoid specifying an authority (e.g. "it is said")
    3. Adverbs that weaken (e.g. "often", "probably")

    Other forms of weasel words include:

    Generalizations and non sequitur statements

    This article may contain original research . Please improve it by verifying the claims made and adding references. Statements consisting only of original research may be removed. (April 2008)

    The vagueness of a statement may disguise the validity or the aim of that statement. Generalizing by means of quantifiers. such as many or better. and the passive voice ("it has been decided") conceals the full picture in that it avoids the necessity of providing attribution. (If one were to put "it has been decided" into active voice, one would need to supply an actor: "X has decided".)

    Non sequitur. Irrelevant statements are often used in advertising to make it appear that the statement is a beneficial feature of the product or service being advertised. Example: "The official coat hanger of a sports team". This statement announces a paid endorsement with the aim of suggesting that the quality of the coat hanger is superior to others. The statement does not, however, offer any evidence in support of its claim - there is not necessarily a link between the quality of a product and a paid endorsement. Some generalizations are considered unacceptable in writing. This category embraces what is termed a "semantic cop-out ", represented by the term allegedly. [ 14 ] This phrase implies an absence of ownership of opinion, which casts a limited doubt on the opinion being articulated.


    Extrapolating through the use of grammatical devices such as qualifiers and the subjunctive can be used to introduce facts that are beyond the proof of the cited work. This is a legitimate function of language, which resembles weaseling. When it is impractical to enumerate and cite many individual works, then the use of these grammatical devices conforms to the standards established by tradition. For example: "For scientists as for so many others, evolution served as an example of a fundamental challenge to long-held convictions".

    Also rhetorically valid is the use of the neuter pronoun it and the adverb there as impersonal dummy subjects. as when an author intends to distance himself/herself from the work, or to separate one part of the text from another:

    • "At the beginning, it was the train that was late."
    • "It was a matter of total indifference that. "
    • "After the end of the Californian gold rush, there were many ghost towns ."
    • "There are people who wash very infrequently."

    The personal pronoun one. as a subject or an object in formal speech, that refers either to oneself or as a generalization to anyone in a similar situation, may also be used justifiably to distance a speaker from a subject.

    • "One wonders what else was being discussed that evening."
    • "What can one do in circumstances such as these?"
    Passive and middle voice

    The passive voice and middle voice can both be used in English to avoid blame. A passive construction occurs when the object of an action is made the focus of the sentence (by moving it to the front). In some cases, the agent (the subject in active voice, usually indicated by "by" in the passive voice) is missing altogether, as the sentence "mistakes were made by the politicians", for example, has been curtailed deliberately to "mistakes were made."

    • "Mistakes were made." The names of the persons who made mistakes is being withheld and the intention of weaseling is obvious.
    • "Over 120 different contaminants have been dumped into the river." A more precise number of "contaminants" might have avoided the impression of weaseling, even though we might never know who the "dumpers" were.
    • "It has been suggested that this article or section be. "

    A related issue is the stylistic qualms of linguists and teachers who discourage the passive voice being used too frequently. [ 15 ] [ 16 ] However, in the sentence

    "One hundred votes are required to pass the bill",

    the use of the passive voice is not necessarily connected with weaseling. The phrase, "100 votes are required to pass the bill", is probably a statement of fact, that it is exactly 100 votes that are needed for the passing of the bill, and it might be impossible to predict where these votes are to come from. For a statement to be a weasel expression, it needs other indications of disingenuousness than the mere fact that it is expressed in the passive voice.

    The scientific journal article is another example of the legitimate use of the passive voice. For an experimental result to be useful, anyone who runs the experiment should get the same result. That is, the identity of the experimenter should be of low importance. Use of the passive voice focuses attention upon the actions, and not the actor (the author(s) of the article).

    Examples of weasel words using the middle voice are:

    • "It stands to reason that most people will be better off after the changes."
    • "There are great fears that most people will be worse off after the changes."
    • "Experience insists that most people will not be better off after the changes."

    Not all sentences using the middle voice are necessarily weasel words. The above sentence: "It stands to reason that most people will be better off after the changes", is clearly an instance of redundancy rather than weaseling. There is no need for "it stands to reason. " All that is needed is: "More people will be better off after the changes". What is relevant is what has been said before or is going to be said afterwards in the context of the discussion where the sentence occurs.

    Style is another point more important in the discernment of the use of middle or passive voice. The above sentence: "There are great fears. " would have been better in the passive voice: "It is feared that most people will be worse off after the changes". The passive voice is the more logical choice here for the reason that this sentence would not stand on its own, but would occur in the course of a discussion. If the reasoning behind the sentence is so obvious within the discussion that it does not need substantiating by citing thousands of sources then the passive is perfectly alright.

    In business

    Weasel words may be used to detract from an uncomfortable fact, such as the act of firing staff. By replacing "firing staff" with "headcount reduction", one may soften meaning. [ 17 ] Jargon of this kind is used to describe things euphemistically .

    In certain kinds of advertisements. words are missing or withheld deliberately to deceive the buyer. Words such as more or better are misleading due to the absence of a comparison:

    • ". up to 50% off." (How many items were actually decreased in price by half? The statement holds true even if the price of only one item is reduced by half, and the rest by very little or none.)
    • "Save up to $100 or more!" (What exactly is the significance of the $100? It is neither a minimum nor a maximum, it just sits arbitrarily somewhere in an undefined range.)
    • ". is now 20% cheaper!" (Cheaper than what? The last model? Some arbitrarily inflated price?)
    • "Four out of five people would agree. " (How many subjects were included in the study?)
    • ". is among the (top, leading, best, few, worst, etc.)" (Top 100? Best in customer service/quality/management?)
    • ". for a fraction of the original price!" (This wording suggests a much lower price even though the fraction could easily be 99/100 or 101/100)
    • "More people are using. " (What does that mean in numbers?)
    • "Nothing Is Stronger/Longer Lasting/Safer" (How many are equally as strong/long lasting/safe?)
    • "Lose 20 pounds in 3 weeks" (20 pounds of what? Water, muscle, bone, money?)
    Articles and books

    In Report on Unidentified Flying Objects (1956), U.S. Air Force Captain Edward J. Ruppelt described astronomer Dr. J. Allen Hynek's report on the death of Air Force Pilot Thomas Mantell in pursuit of a UFO as "a masterpiece in the art of 'weasel wording'." [ 18 ]

    Carl Wrighter discussed weasel words in his best-selling book I Can Sell You Anything (1972).

    Australian author Don Watson devoted two volumes (Death Sentence and Watson's Dictionary of Weasel Words ) to documenting the increasing use of weasel words in government and corporate language. He maintains a website [ 19 ] encouraging people to identify and nominate examples of weasel words.

    Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, talks much about 'weasels' (conniving business people) in one of his books, named accordingly: Dilbert and the Way of The Weasel (2002).