Science needs a symbol

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jackdavinci
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Science needs a symbol

Postby jackdavinci » Sat Jan 07, 2012 8:12 am UTC

From a recent editorial (http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328460.300-science-needs-a-universal-symbol.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=online-news) there's a call for science to have a universal symbol. I immediately thought "sounds like something xkcd would have come up with something brilliant, or at least, funny, for). I'd like to think xkcd will be up to the challenge, but I wonder what other faithful readers would suggest.

We have some great symbols already, like the Darwin fish, the old atomic model, the DNA helix, etc. But they tend to favor individual branches of science. Perhaps we need something more universal. I've seen it suggested that the question mark symbolizes the methodology of science, but maybe using the interrabang (combination of ? + !) would include the benefits as well.

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby AvatarIII » Mon Jan 09, 2012 10:47 am UTC

How about a circle, it can simultaneously mean the universe, a galaxy, a solar system, a planetary system, a cell, an atom, and a sub atomic particle.

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby doogly » Mon Jan 09, 2012 2:20 pm UTC

Bah, the Platonists have held sway for too long. I say the gaussian. Or perhaps the error bar. That has the advantages of already being more or less coded in as a capital I in a serif font.
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby mfb » Mon Jan 09, 2012 5:33 pm UTC

The symbol has to use a bit more details than a circle to be recognized.

If you want to represent everything in the icon, you need a theory of everything. But maybe you can just attach a graviton (and the Higgs) to this ;)
The alternative is to represent nothing special, but fundamental concepts like the error bar. Replace the blue bands by a horizontal error bar:
Image

xkcd 54?
I like Image and Image, too, but maybe that is not a good idea for a symbol.

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shawnhcorey
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby shawnhcorey » Mon Jan 09, 2012 7:02 pm UTC

How about:

E = mc²

Almost everybody recognizes that.

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby doogly » Mon Jan 09, 2012 7:04 pm UTC

I may not be last in line to be accused of physicist chauvinism, but surely that would qualify ; )
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby AvatarIII » Mon Jan 09, 2012 7:10 pm UTC

shawnhcorey wrote:How about:

E = mc²

Almost everybody recognizes that.


Yeah but again it has the problem of being too specific to one branch of science.

How about a circle with a dot in the middle?

A circle also has the advantage of bring able to signify mathematics as well.

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Shivahn
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Shivahn » Mon Jan 09, 2012 8:20 pm UTC

Clearly, we should use λ.

We may have to hire some lawyers first though.

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Kang
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Kang » Mon Jan 09, 2012 9:00 pm UTC

Shivahn wrote:Clearly, we should use λ.

We may have to hire some lawyers first though.

How about Ψ then? I always liked Ψ. Or better yet: ξ.

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Scyrus » Mon Jan 09, 2012 11:05 pm UTC

Image

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Magnanimous » Mon Jan 09, 2012 11:28 pm UTC

I like the idea of squaring the circle. That's probably more of a reference to math, though.

Image

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Ibid » Mon Jan 09, 2012 11:41 pm UTC

I'm in support of E=mc^2, or the atom symbol, or a beaker.

Why? Because it's already the recognized symbol of science. If you go type in "science" into google images, you'll get a bunch of atom symbols, type in scientist and it's a bunch of guys in lab coats holding beakers (the lab coat crosses over into doctors too much), and finally in everyday speech E=mc^2 is the only formula most people will recognize, probably more than F=ma. And it's easier to go with what the public already percieves the symbol to be than it is to change it. Brand awareness and such.
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Scyrus » Mon Jan 09, 2012 11:42 pm UTC

Magnanimous wrote:That's probably more of a reference to math, though.


The natural sciences are math applied to the world we perceive. It consists of quantities, structures, falsifiable theories and the like. It all comes down to philosophy really.



Placing E=mc^2 as a universal symbol for science doesn't sit with me. Sure, the public recognizes it, but it takes away focus from scientists other than Einstein, I mean, all contributes to science are important, and without the previous ones we wouldn't make new.
It should be something that honors all scientists equally, something related to the method by which any scientific field progresses, no?

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby doogly » Tue Jan 10, 2012 2:33 am UTC

Error bar! The best!
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby shawnhcorey » Tue Jan 10, 2012 2:43 am UTC

Scyrus wrote:Placing E=mc^2 as a universal symbol for science doesn't sit with me. Sure, the public recognizes it, but it takes away focus from scientists other than Einstein, I mean, all contributes to science are important, and without the previous ones we wouldn't make new.
It should be something that honors all scientists equally, something related to the method by which any scientific field progresses, no?


The lens, then. It is used in the telescope (astronomy , physics), the microscope (biology, medicine, material science) and the loupe magnifier (geology, archaeology, biology). About the only one left out is chemistry.

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby nehpest » Tue Jan 10, 2012 3:04 am UTC

shawnhcorey wrote:
Scyrus wrote:Placing E=mc^2 as a universal symbol for science doesn't sit with me. Sure, the public recognizes it, but it takes away focus from scientists other than Einstein, I mean, all contributes to science are important, and without the previous ones we wouldn't make new.
It should be something that honors all scientists equally, something related to the method by which any scientific field progresses, no?


The lens, then. It is used in the telescope (astronomy , physics), the microscope (biology, medicine, material science) and the loupe magnifier (geology, archaeology, biology). About the only one left out is chemistry.

Chemistry uses microscopes all the time. I know because my first chemistry set included a small plastic microscope; QED.

On a serious note, I like the interrobang as a science glyph. It combines the impetus of science - a good question - with its ultimate reward - the exhilaration of discovery.
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Copper Bezel » Tue Jan 10, 2012 4:53 am UTC

So the author is worried about people politicizing science, thus determines that what science really needs is a bumper sticker? It's a method, or the method, not a motivation. Scientific curiosity is a motivation, sure. But if you're presenting science in general as something you're advocating, that implies the possibility of rejecting it.

My first thought was some sort of stylized microscope, and the lens is far more universal as well as simpler and more attractive. Converging light waves optional (since the point is to symbolize an effort to see and understand, not a particular fact about optics.)
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Qaanol » Tue Jan 10, 2012 5:21 am UTC

Physics: The atom, stylized with nucleus surrounded by three oblique ovals: ⚛.
Chemistry: Erlenmeyer flask, ¾ full of green liquid.
Mathematics: A 30–60–90 triangle with squares on each edge.
Medicine: Caduceus, the staff of Hermes: ☤ (yes yes, it ought to be ⚕, the rod of Asclepius. It isn’t.)
All other sciences: A stamp.

Science in general: perhaps a brain, a rocket ship, a computer, or a truncated normal curve with σ-levels marked. The blackbody spectrum wouldn’t be too bad either.
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Magnanimous » Tue Jan 10, 2012 6:11 am UTC

nehpest wrote:On a serious note, I like the interrobang as a science glyph. It combines the impetus of science - a good question - with its ultimate reward - the exhilaration of discovery.

Ooh, I like this.

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby AvatarIII » Tue Jan 10, 2012 9:18 am UTC

shawnhcorey wrote:
Scyrus wrote:Placing E=mc^2 as a universal symbol for science doesn't sit with me. Sure, the public recognizes it, but it takes away focus from scientists other than Einstein, I mean, all contributes to science are important, and without the previous ones we wouldn't make new.
It should be something that honors all scientists equally, something related to the method by which any scientific field progresses, no?


The lens, then. It is used in the telescope (astronomy , physics), the microscope (biology, medicine, material science) and the loupe magnifier (geology, archaeology, biology). About the only one left out is chemistry.


technically a circle could represent a lens too.

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Hawknc » Tue Jan 10, 2012 10:03 am UTC

You guys, we already have one!

Image

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby idobox » Tue Jan 10, 2012 3:18 pm UTC

What about something like a brain and rays of light?

Science is not about knowledge, it's about using our minds in a logic way to tell what's true and what isn't.
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby AvatarIII » Tue Jan 10, 2012 3:31 pm UTC

idobox wrote:What about something like a brain and rays of light?

Science is not about knowledge, it's about using our minds in a logic way to tell what's true and what isn't.


of course science is about knowledge, knowledge is the goal of science,

how about something like this? it implies the process of thinking, but in it, it also has the cogs which can imply technology, and the human head, to imply biology
Image
Spoiler:
it also has a circle in it.

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby KestrelLowing » Tue Jan 10, 2012 5:14 pm UTC

Kang wrote:
Shivahn wrote:Clearly, we should use λ.

We may have to hire some lawyers first though.

How about Ψ then? I always liked Ψ. Or better yet: ξ.


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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Ixtellor » Tue Jan 10, 2012 5:18 pm UTC

Seems like you need to decide if the symbol is easily recognized universally (E=MC^2)or if you want it to be all encompassing (like the circle).

I would be in favor of a universal symbol, because I think the other would be to abstract and not catch on or be useful.

I think a science beaker would work. I suck at linking images.
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Diadem » Tue Jan 10, 2012 5:20 pm UTC

Science isn't about knowledge, science is about ignorance.

The admission of ignorance is the start of all science. And it's what sets it apart from things like religion or even philosophy. Curiosity is also important, but it comes after the admission of ignorance: "I don't know this, let's find out!". The third pillar is logic. You're not just making up answers or doing random stuff to get an answer, you're going about it rationally.

A good symbol for science should represent those three concepts: Ignorance, curiosity and logic.

The error bar is a pretty good choice. Quantified ignorance.
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby arclight » Tue Jan 10, 2012 5:32 pm UTC

Spoiler:
Image


It's perfect!

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby MarvinM » Thu Jan 12, 2012 3:26 pm UTC

A rallying cry from newscientist. A focus for everything that seeks to subvert us. A banner to support and defend representing everything we believe in. No need to question motives or explain or reason. If they use that symbol they are one of us.

We should probably write down a set of rules for what is and isn't science in a book so we know who can use and wear the symbol. If these definitions aren't fixed they will become currupted over time, science says so. It must be written down once, perfect, immutable, irrepealable, unappealable. I'll help with that. This book will need skill in interpreting for new branches of science in the future, that will need to be done by an elite core of trained scientists, starting with the people that wrote the book.

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Ibid » Thu Jan 12, 2012 4:52 pm UTC

Yeah...no.

See, the thing is that you can have symbols without religion. FedEx is not a religion to anyone but Tom Hanks in Castaway. You can even have movements, with symbols, which are not religions. Gay Pride? Not a religion. Being a Democrat/Republican/Liberal/Tory/Thatcherite/whathaveyou, also not a religion, in spite of being an organised movement with symbols and defined goals.

So the say that as soon as we suggest a symbol to show support of scientific endeavour we're building a new god? Yeah, I'm going to call alarmist bullshit.
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Copper Bezel » Thu Jan 12, 2012 5:07 pm UTC

I don't see religious overtones in it, but as I'd said earlier, I still think a unifying symbol is still implicitly divisive. Am I crazy not to think of science as a movement?

It seems like it would have to be capitalized or something.
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Ibid » Thu Jan 12, 2012 5:13 pm UTC

Notice how it doesn't have to be a movement to have a symbol (see the FedEx example).

Although I would qualify science as a movement. Perhaps the defining movement of the past two hundred years. The worldview that things can be explained, should be explained, that decisions and statements should be made with evidence. Rationalism is another name for it.
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby shawnhcorey » Thu Jan 12, 2012 5:39 pm UTC

If science is a movement, then our education system really sucks.
Last edited by shawnhcorey on Thu Jan 12, 2012 7:04 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Copper Bezel » Thu Jan 12, 2012 6:14 pm UTC

Ibid wrote:Although I would qualify science as a movement. Perhaps the defining movement of the past two hundred years. The worldview that things can be explained, should be explained, that decisions and statements should be made with evidence. Rationalism is another name for it.

Well, that is what rationalism is. I'm not convinced that that's what science is. I'd see science as a concept (that happens to be a conceptual framework and that rationalism happens to value.) If that's the case, you might as well be advocating "the circle."
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Puppyclaws » Fri Jan 13, 2012 5:55 pm UTC

Ibid wrote:Although I would qualify science as a movement. Perhaps the defining movement of the past two hundred years. The worldview that things can be explained, should be explained, that decisions and statements should be made with evidence. Rationalism is another name for it.


As far as rationalism being the defining movement of the past 200 years, serious [citation needed]

Also, that's not science. That is the view of almost every living person, ever, with varying definitions of evidence. If you start with the view that "evidence" is defined as "measurable things in the material world," i.e. empirical reality, you're starting to talk about positivism, which is at least a world view that not everybody holds, but is still not the same thing as science or something that all scientists hold to be true.

And this pretty much goes to why science shouldn't have a symbol. It's not really a unified thing in the first place, unlike FedEx, gay rights, et al. And a symbol would just be co-opted by people who believe Intelligent Design is "science" anyway.

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Charlie! » Sat Jan 14, 2012 3:37 am UTC

Puppyclaws wrote:
Ibid wrote:The worldview that things can be explained, should be explained, that decisions and statements should be made with evidence.

Also, that's not science. That is the view of almost every living person, ever

Careful not to presume something is common just because it's a good idea, or to generalize from the people that you know to everyone ever. People have an amazing ability to believe what they want to be true.
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Eternal Questionner » Sat Jan 14, 2012 6:25 pm UTC

The circle's great, but as already agreed, too simple. As shawnhcorey suggested, a lens is in improvement of that. However, better still would be to incorporate the lens into something more recognisable, something which already has some meaning in the public eye. Something which would represent the scientific method - while also being easily modified to refer to any specific field.

I give you:

Spoiler:
SymbolForScience.gif
SymbolForScience.gif (3.85 KiB) Viewed 6483 times


To modify for any particular field, you can simply put the object of interest (be it Earth, a person, an atom, or a formula) inside the ring.

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby poxic » Sat Jan 14, 2012 6:56 pm UTC

Spoiler:
index.php20110724-22047-58b7hk.png
I am ashamed that I know this meme.
index.php20110724-22047-58b7hk.png (6.1 KiB) Viewed 6472 times
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby Joeldi » Sun Jan 15, 2012 7:44 am UTC

I'm thinking a convex lens focusing light onto a circular area, containing an interrobang, in the general case, and other symbols for specific areas. Water molecule for chemistry, cell for biology, Doctor Manhatten's symbol for physics etc.

Science.png
Science.png (5.92 KiB) Viewed 6407 times


I can barely use The Gimp, especially with no mouse, but you get the idea.
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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby JWalker » Mon Jan 16, 2012 7:47 am UTC

I don't believe science needs a symbol, but if there were to be one, I would suggest this, but with a better color scheme:

proof911.gif
proof911.gif (1.02 KiB) Viewed 6302 times


It contains a proof of the Pythagorean theorem, but you have to think critically to see it. Its easy enough that most people should be able to see it immediately but contains one of the most widely used results in science and mathematics. I believe this is a good choice because it is visually simple, but forces you to think scientifically to understand it in a simple enough way that most people can do it.

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Re: Science needs a symbol

Postby HungryHobo » Mon Jan 16, 2012 12:10 pm UTC

I think we should use this:
Image

it's already what a lot of people think of when they think of "science" plus it's cool.
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