helen-louise (baratron) wrote,

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It's physicochemical!

Having given up and gone to bed two and a half hours ago, work is now happening. Well, WHATEVER - I don't care what time the clock says if I have a concentration span and am able to get useful work done. However, I am now reading an article by this man who is obsessed with the word physicochemical, and it's annoying me greatly. I'm not joking about his obsession - on the same page, we have:
"the physicochemical features of protein folding"
"the physicochemical basis of protein folding"
"the same physicochemical features of the polypeptide chains" and
"under the physicochemical conditions found in the living systems".

The reason it's annoying me is that physicochemical is a horrible kludge of a word. Technically, it means "relating to physics and chemistry"; but in practice, the features that are being described are entirely physical - as in "relating to physics". But they don't use the word "physical" in these papers for two reasons:

1) Virtually no one reading the paper would describe themselves as a physicist. You'll get a lot of Physical Chemists, a few Chemical Physicists, and a few Biophysicists - but no unmodified Physicists. (Also, the word "physicist" now looks like it's spelled wrongly through having been typed too many times, hmmm). The author doesn't want to alienate readers by implying that these mysterious but very important properties are all to do with physics - even though they are! (We're talking about very basic properties such as electrostatics, here - opposite charges attracting and same charges repelling. Electrostatics cover at least 90% of the "physicochemical" features being referred to in this context).

2) When people read the word "physical" next to "features", many people will jump to thinking in terms of what the molecules look like. After all, my physical features include brown eyes and long hair. Non-physicists don't immediately associate the word "physical" with physics!

So instead, this horrible made-up word appears to try to stop biologists and biochemists* freaking out at/being confused by the mention of physics.

Have I mentioned recently how much I hate the division of science into three main and a handful of ancillary subjects? There's a huge amount of physics in chemistry, a huge amount of chemistry in biology, and even quite a bit of physics in biology (though I'm not sure there's too much biology in physics); while materials science crosses over everything. Students tell me "I love biology" / "I hate physics" without being aware of how much of one subject is in the other. Tell me you hate a topic - I'll happily accept "I hate electricity" / "I hate Newtonian mechanics". But don't tell me you hate an entire discipline until you've learned how much nifty cell biology and functioning of the nervous system is due to basic physics.

This rant has been brought to you by the letter P for physicochemical, and the letter C for cold. Which it is. 2.4 deg C outside right now, brrr!

* Interesting note: I no longer know what I am. I used to be a Physical Chemist. Then I was either an Atmospheric Physicist or an Environmental Chemist. Now I could be a Biochemist or a Molecular Biologist or a Chemical Biologist or a Medicinal Chemist... Woo, interdisciplinary!
Tags: chemistry, literature report, rants

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