Technobabble

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It's not a doughnut, it's er, uh, a quantum transmutational tachyon-powered toroidal flux graviton-protected device!
We control what
you think with

Language
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Said and done
Jargon, buzzwords, slogans
Style over substance
Pseudoscience
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Popular pseudosciences
Random examples
Not to be confused with a deepity — which has pretenses to complex concepts, rather than to complex words.
If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.
—anon

Technobabble describes arguments that use the language (jargon) of science without actually being in any way scientific (sciencey, not scientific).

Technobabble uses terms from mathematics, science, or engineering incorrectly, in order to create a false sense of technical solidity around a field or concept. When real terms are used, it is similar to equivocation.

For example, homeopathy advocates use terms like "nano-particles" and "quantum" as special pleading to talk around the obvious problem that typical homeopathy dilutions exceed the Avogadro limit, by which point effectively none of the original material will remain. These are sciencey-sounding arguments but they have no actual scientific basis.

The purpose of technobabble is to replace the childish word "magic" with the stylish word "technology". Arthur C. Clarke said that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"; the phrase "sufficiently advanced" in the above is believed unnecessary by technobabblers. Patience and education are the only ways to cure the disease.

Explanation[edit]

Woo[edit]

Cranks, quacks, and denialists often intentionally misuse terms of art to confuse their marks, who often don't understand the specific technical definition of what may be an otherwise familiar term. A particularly egregious example of this is the denigration of a scientific theory (where "theory" is a term of art) as "just a theory" (using the more common but less authoritative understanding of the word). This often leads to cargo cult science where the fancy words are there, but they're used incorrectly. Quantum mechanics is one aspect of science that suffers at the hands of this quite badly. Users of quantum woo misinterpret uncertainty, waveforms or various other hypotheses behind the counter-intuitive phenomena described by quantum theory.

Sometimes cranks will even just invent their own terms. "Toxin", for example, when used in alternative medicine and detox is practically a meaningless term that refers to any number of chemical substances—even when they aren't necessarily toxic by the technical definition used in toxicology (and that's if they ever mention what the toxins actually are).

As such, technobabble is an epitome of the style over substance fallacy. Technobabble is very popular with quack doctors and New Agers, who have come up with "treatments" like "DNA upgrades" and "tachyon-infused water". Many such quacks, most notably Deepak Chopra and Gary Zukav, are notorious for abusing the word "quantum", playing on quantum mechanics' reputation for being difficult to understand to avoid having to give an explanation for their snake oil. Conspiracy theorists also do this, and can even technobabble themselves, coming up with spurious and unlikely evil functionalities for technology they and their fans do not understand.

Fiction[edit]

It's some sort of chromodynamic module powered by a tri-polymer plasma."[1]
—B'Elanna Torres, Star Trek Voyager episode "Prototype")

Technobabble in fiction, especially science fiction, is used to cloak the impossibility (by our knowledge of science) of materials, technologies, or devices without really explaining them. (Star Trek's Heisenberg compensator is a prime example of this; The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's Infinite Improbability Drive is another example). It is also often used as a deus ex machina to get written out of a corner they have written themselves into.

Star Trek writers are particularly notorious for this shameless dress-up, often simply asking the show's actual science advisers for exotic terminology to shove into dialog rather than whether it is in any way appropriate, though to be fair the often cited "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow" example comes from Doctor Who not Star Trek.

If combining terms up in nonsensical ways à la "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow" or proposing that our scientific understanding is not up to addressing the issue there is are the old standbys of Unobtainium,Wikipedia's W.svg Handwavium,Wikipedia's W.svg or a rarely used scientific name: DHMO.

Sometime the technobabble is really good at cloaking itself in the garb of science. For example, the short-lived Threshold (TV series)Wikipedia's W.svg uses the properties of 4-dimensional physics and triple-stranded DNA to explain nearly all the aliens' abilities and those they have converted but even it produces nonsense. For example, it is stated that the aliens' effort is to save life on Earth from the radiation produced by the collision of two neutron stars 400,000 years ago which a letter from NASA confirms… the problem is that light itself is a form of radiation so for NASA to see that the collision has occurred means that the radiation wave has already hit Earth!

Moreover, how would aliens — no matter how technologically advanced — be able to build 4-dimensional objects when they (and us) are effectively trapped in 3-dimensional space?

Reverse Technobabble[edit]

The same is true in reverse: when a debater uses technical or scientific knowledge to obfuscate the central argument by calling into question the use, application or context of each and every technical term, definition or concept presented by their opponent. In this way, the opponent is left defending their use of terms, definitions or concepts rather than their overarching argument: as such, this tends to segue into red herring semantic arguments. Technical nitpicking is a common technique in actively delaying, and ultimately suspending, any opportunity for a debater to properly verbalize their position.

Related concepts[edit]

Using terms few understand doesn't make you seem more intelligent. It makes what you're trying to say less clear.
Peter BoghossianWikipedia's W.svg[2]

Genuine jargon[edit]

"Jargon" or "term of art" involves technical words (or phrases) that have a specific meaning in a specific field, often one that may not be obvious to outsiders. When attempting to make a meaningful contribution to a field, it is generally very important to understand that field's terms of art, lest one be branded a fool within the field for basing one's entire position on a misunderstanding.

Jargon often comes under fierce criticism for being inaccessible to the non-expert, lay public. Opponents accused jargon-users of complicating prose and of enforcing a sort of elitism. However, such words can be essential in science to quickly and unambiguously describe a process, experiment or result. For example, the term "adiabatic" refers to a process where heat is not transferred between an object and its surroundings, and its definition implies quite a few other things - here one word gets across the meaning, and indeed more meaning, than a simple explanation itself. When definitions are, in fact, very precise and a brief, then a simple and accessible description in place of a "term of art" might leave ambiguity.

Management speak[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Management speak.

Management speak is a method of concealing ignorance by using large words which other people aren't able to understand.[3] It is often used in board meetings and presentations, and is also used by politicians who want to a) pretend they know what they're talking about or b) want people to zone out so they can slip in something controversial without anyone noticing or c) just feel special.[4] It is sometimes known as "jargon", although jargon can just as well be a collection of specialized terms of art which, unlike management speak, isn't used primarily by bullshitters.

A well-crafted management-speak phrase may morph into a full-blown management fadWikipedia's W.svg.

The words utilize (use), paradigm (theoretical framework or just a slogan), innovate/innovation (getting new ideas, or pretending to), and synergy (literally anything) crop up often. Blue sky thinking and pushing the envelope are often-utilized strategies for facilitating the reinvention of interactive paradigms and promoting synergetic out-of-the-box methodology.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Translation: "It's a colour-changing part running off a very hot flame from a mixture of three plastics."
  2. https://twitter.com/peterboghossian/status/832870593213009920
  3. Weird Al made a song using nothing but management speak
  4. 50 office-speak phrases you love to hate