The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Features

December 4, 2013

Take that, selfie! 'Science' also tops

NEW YORK (AP) — Look alive, selfie. There’s another word of the year that’s not all about you.

While Oxford University Press, the British publisher of the Oxford dictionaries, declared those little smartphone self-portraits its winner last month, the folks at Merriam-Webster announced “science” on Tuesday.

Oxford tracked a huge jump in overall usage of selfie, but Merriam-Webster stuck primarily to look-ups on its website, recording a 176 percent increase for science when compared with last year.

“The more we thought about it, the righter it seemed in that it does lurk behind a lot of big stories that we as a society are grappling with, whether it’s climate change or environmental regulation or what’s in our textbooks,” said John Morse, president and publisher of Merriam-Webster Inc., based in Springfield, Mass.

Science, he said, is connected to broad cultural oppositions — science versus faith, for instance — along with the power of observation and intuition, reason and ideology, evidence and tradition. Of particular note, to Merriam-Webster, anyway, is fallout from the October release of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.”

Gladwell, a popularizer of scientific thought and research in best-sellers and The New Yorker magazine, takes on the challenges of obstacles and the nature of disabilities and setbacks in the book. But he leaves science itself — according to some critics — as a rhetorical device for his main mission of storytelling.

The tweets, blog posts and online commentary about the book — yay and nay — proliferated as Gladwell hit the road to promote it. Peter Sokolowski, a lexicographer and editor at large for Merriam-Webster, called the Gladwell dustup a symptom of where science stands today.

With the explosion of information and technology, are we all scientists?

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