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My kid told me recently, she "likes to do science" at school. Though happy about her interests developing into the right direction, I was irked by the phrase itself. I don't think, science can be done, but her teacher, apparently, uses the expression regularly.

This was not the first time I saw and heard it. There were, for example, excited reports about Hubble telescope "doing amazing science".

Similarly irksome to me was the moment in "Martian", in which the protagonist says at some point, that he shall "science the shit out it" -- as if "science" were a verb. (The movie contains multiple other annoying moments, but those are all off-topic here.)

It seems wrong even for a colloquialism... Am I right, or is this all perfectly normal English?

Thanks, everyone, for the helpful answers, insightful comments, and commendations. I'll use the asker's privilege to reply here instead of individually.

  • The little educatee was referring to her love of doing Scientific experiments at school (melting chocolate in your palm can, apparently, be quite fascinating in the 1st grade).
  • After some contemplation, I'll try to explain my dislike with something better than "sounds wrong":
    1. The only times I've encountered the expression, it was used by slines -- people undereducated for some reason or another. Never by an actual scientist, nor anyone, whose command of English I would accept as authoritative. Also, I've never seen it in an actual English-language book -- only online or spoken.
    2. Since my first reason is a barely-veiled appeal to authority, here is another one: Science is not something that can ever be completed. So it seems wrong to refer to the practicing of (or participating in or partaking of) it as doing -- because it can never be done. An earlier movie-heroine once did an entire city, but, because it was, at least in theory, possible to eventually accomplish the challenge, that was an acceptable use of the verb.
  • @peter-shor, for the second of the above reasons, the expression is meaningless, in my opinion.
  • @edwin-ashworth, the dictionary may be right in the 13th and 14th usage cited. But what about my first reason -- why haven't I encountered the expression in a decent book or speech?
  • @joetaxpayer, yeah, me got wot she ment, know what'cham saying? I'd like her speech to be proper (grammatically correct) -- not merely understandable. She can always slide into vernacular after growing up.
  • And, yes, "doing Math" seems just as irksome -- for the same reasons listed above. Unless it is short for something like "doing Math homework", which in this case it was not.
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closed as unclear what you're asking by Drew, Mazura, RegDwigнt Mar 29 at 20:01

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What would you call "doing science"? – Peter Shor Mar 26 at 16:52
My problem with your child's use of the phrase is that I think of "doing science" as an imprecise/colloquial way of saying "making scientific discoveries", i.e. performing scientific research. This is presumably not what your child is talking about. (Also, it's questionable how "wrong" a colloquialism can be.) – Kyle Strand Mar 26 at 20:53
As for The Martian, part of why intended humor of the sentence comes from the "improper" use of the word "science". – Kyle Strand Mar 26 at 20:56
You can do floors, walls, dishes, laundry, knitting, and math. There's absolutely no reason why you cannot do "science" as well. – Hot Licks Mar 28 at 1:57

Collins doesn't even mark this usage of 'do' colloquial:

do ... v ...

  1. (Professions) (tr) to work at, esp as a course of study or a profession: he is doing chemistry; what do you do for a living?.

  2. (Education) (tr) to work at, esp as a course of study ...: he is doing chemistry; [what subjects are you taking?]

The 'Hubble telescope "doing amazing science" ' is more colloquial, but far from unacceptable in an informal register. But this time, I'm really surprised AHDEL doesn't flag for register, especially given their example:

do ... v trans 1.

... c. To perform the tasks or behaviors typically associated with (something), especially as part of one's character or normal duties: That talk show host just doesn't do subtle.

[For the legalistic, minor reformatting and improvement of example have been carried out.]


There is a now-famous adage 'You can now verb any noun'. "... science the shit out [of] it" is non-standard, but quite acceptable, and even well-received, in certain informal registers.

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And Science was once a new term. Otherwise Hubble would be naturally philosophizing the shit out if . – mgb Mar 26 at 18:53
+1 for "you can now verb every noun". – Vim Mar 28 at 1:58

Before Adam SmithLionel Robbins gave the formal definition of Economics as a study of unlimited human wants and scarce resources that may have alternative uses, most Economics teachers used to say this: Economics is what Economists do.. In other words, the application comes before the theory and ideas are formalized into a proper subject.

In your case, I'd say "Science is what Scientists do" though that may be a very broad statement to make. Since there are multiple branches of science like physics, chemistry and even computer science, some may be more amenable to analysis whilst others are more likely to be studied as practical sciences.

If you take computer programming for instance, a huge number of programmers out there are not CS graduates. They learn the craft of programming by coding and compiling programs and running them. So to answer your question, Science can indeed be done.

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Adam Smith published An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776, but it's not clear that he formulated the definition you cite. Also, please note that the Webpage "Scarcity Definition of Economics" attributes a very similar quotation to Lionel Robbins: "Economics is the science, which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means, which have alternative uses." In any event, I doubt that, prior to 1776, Economics teachers used to say "Economics is what Economists do"? – Sven Yargs Mar 27 at 22:05
@SvenYargs Indeed, I was confusing Lionel Robbins with Adam Smith. Been quite long time since I studied Economics, thanks for pointing that! Though Adam Smith is generally regarded as father of Economics, Robbin's definition is pretty much accepted as standard in a lot of elementary text-books, at least the ones I studied anyway. – Prahlad Yeri Mar 27 at 23:01

First, whether or not it's grammatical, you knew just what she meant, right? I find that usage to be colloquial and likely to be around for a while. It's morphing an adjective into a noun, in my opinion. No one would blink to "I am doing science homework" or "I have science class next." On further reflection, doing math probably doesn't irk you quite the same way, as it implies that one is solving a math problem. And for math, it's pretty clear what's happening, where science is such a broad field, your finely tuned (for English) ear rejects a similar usage.

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So, you believe that "science" isn't already a noun? – Scott Mar 26 at 18:02

Your second reason doesn't really hold water. Doing isn't restricted to tasks that can be done as in completed. For example "At this rate I'll be doing these dishes for the rest of my life". Equally there's nothing wrong with having done something in the past without having completed it ("I've done a lot of cycling").

Having worked in science and engineering for quite a few years, doing science seems perfectly reasonable. It's not something we'd say a lot, but "we've had a play with it and it seems to work so now it's time to do real science" would be plausible

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Good question, no science can't be done in a sense that...

I can't science science!

This is why the word science gets modified with:


As in your first example. The word is not inherently a verb, and thus needs to be modified by usage of done.

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