A common complaint amongst scientists, particularly those who deal with creationists, is that the general public and media often misuse the word “theory”.
In science a theory arises when a hypothesis (or series of hypotheses) has been repeatedly tested and found to be a true description of the physical world. One example is the Kinetic Theory of Matter which specifies that the world around us is 1) Made of of tiny particles (atoms/molecules); 2) That these particles move relative to each other; 3) There are forces of attraction between particles. This theory was developed from, and verified by, many different observations of how matter behaves in the physical world.
However, I sometimes wonder if scientists themselves are too free with the use of the word “theory”. Over the last couple of years I’ve heard the terms “String Theory” and “the Multi-verse Theory” used quite a bit. Are there any physicists out there who can confirm whether or not theory is the correct term for these areas or would hypothesis or model be better terms? Are these terms used in physcis circles or just the media description of them?
And to all the scientists reading this, what do you consider to be theories in your area of expertise? Biology has the Theories of Evolution and Natural Selection, which are supported by mountains of observations, but what else?
In chemistry I would include:
The Kinetic Theory of Matter
Transition State Theory
Valence Shell Electron Repulsion Theory
Molecular Orbital Theory