I previously mentioned the Youtube channel It’s okay to be smart by Joe Hanson, which presents bite-sized chunks of general science, specifically his catch-phrase “Stay curious”. Another catch-phrase is “[Name/pronoun] did a science”.

In the movie The Martian (but not the novel, which I recently bought, partly to research this), astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) is stranded on Mars after his crewmates think that was killed during an emergency evacuation. He survives (obviously), then records a video outlining what he must do to survive, partly to clarify his own thoughts and partly for any future mission which might find him (dead). He concludes: “In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m faced with only one option: I’m going to have to science the shit out of this”.

Science is usually an uncountable noun. We don’t have one science or two sciences, we have science. But many uncountable nouns can be used countably to mean “one instance of X”. We don’t have to say “physics is a science” because everyone accepts that it is, but people on the internet say “psychology/economics/politics is a science” or ask “is psychology/economics/politics a science?”. Most definitions call them social sciences rather than sciences. Note the difference between politics (which is what politicians do) and political science (which is what researchers do). Economic science doesn’t seem to be a thing but there are degrees in psychological science, differentiated from those in psychology … somehow. (Compare “I did a psychology/economics/politics”.) In my final year of high school, the only requirement for our choice of subjects was choosing at least one humanities subject and one science subject, or one humanity and one science. I did the less usual combination of music, maths and physics. I spent most of my working life as an English language teacher and now I’m a legal editor. 

But Joe and the scientists he talks about don’t really do “a science”; they do “an experiment”, or many of them. And they also do “science”. 

Alongside this, many nouns become verbs, to greater or lesser degrees of acceptability. (Compare “I’m going to have to psychology/economics/politics the shit out of this” and “I’m going to have to psychologise/ psych/economise/politick the shit out of this”.)

Last thought: agricultural science is obviously the science of the lambs!

PS 13 Sep: The next day, Youtube suggested a video from a music theorist who uses the nom de internet 12 Tone, titled My Brand-New Take On Four-Chord Loops, but whose thumbnail reads “I did a music theory”. I don’t know whether theory was originally uncountable or countable, but obviously a theory is much more common than a science. The first problem is saying a music theory rather than a theory about music. The second is saying did a music theory rather than … I don’t know what one usually does with theories. One can have a theory, but does one make, devise, formulate or come up with it?


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