The phrase ‘necessary and sufficient’ blamed for flawed neuroscience

Editorial in Nature:

In his 1946 classic essay ‘Politics and the English language’, George Orwell argued that “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”. Can the same be said for science — that the misuse and misapplication of language could corrupt research? Two neuroscientists believe that it can. In an intriguing paper published in the Journal of Neurogenetics, the duo claims that muddled phrasing in biology leads to muddled thought and, worse, flawed conclusions.

The phrase in the crosshairs is “necessary and sufficient”. It’s a popular one: figures suggest the wording pops up in some 3,500 scientific papers each year across genetics, cell biology and neuroscience alone. It’s not a new fad: Nature’s archives show consistent use since the nineteenth century.

Used properly, the phrase indicates a specific relationship between two events. For example, the statement, “I’ll pay for lunch if, and only if, you pay for breakfast,” can be written as, “You paying for breakfast is necessary and sufficient for me paying for lunch.”

But, argue Motojiro Yoshihara and Motoyuki Yoshihara, use of the phrase in research reports is problematic, and should be curtailed.

More here.