a1 University of Leicester School of Education, Leicester LE1 7RF.
This paper is about how the motto of the Royal Society has sometimes been misread, but it is also about how such a misreading could arise at all, and why it persists. I argue that the error is intimately associated with a traditional view of scientific language as a medium for descriptive reporting, a view which has been very influential in schools, and is consequently perpetuated in the public understanding of science. Much new scholarship confirms that this ‘straightforward’ view of what scientists do can no longer be accepted at face value, and that the role of language in science is more intimate and subtle in its interpretive and persuasive qualities. A renewed study of the motto is interesting in itself, but it will also serve to introduce these wider matters. Perhaps it may help some more teachers to escape from those received ideas about language which have restricted the range of learning activities in school science, and discouraged a full attention to the words in which scientists choose to express their ideas.