What's a Good Word for "Legitimate" Fringe Science

I’m stuck for a term here. What’s a good word for a scientific idea that has gained some support among reputable specialists, but has not yet garnered widespread acceptance–or widespread out-of-hand dismissal? I’m not talking about woo here like ESP or intelligent design. I’m talking about something like string theory–a subject that has enough support for Cambridge University Press to publish textbooks about it, but not enough support to be accepted by almost everyone in the field. Ideally, whatever term I’m looking for would have been applied to almost any idea of any complexity at some point until it garnered enough support to be generally accepted (like quantum theory) or dismissed (like Lamarckism). What word is it I am looking for here?

Cutting edge?


There’s nothing wrong with “What if?” scientific speculation. To be worthwhile, it mustn’t contradict established observational data. i.e., it must not be contrafactual. Flat Earth theories are not valid speculation; String Theory is.

Bleeding edge. Theoretical.

“Speculative” is good, though it still seems to conjure woo when I think of it. Perhaps that’s just me.

Roger Penrose, the mathematician and physicist, categorizes scientific theories (in his “Emperor’s New Mind”) as “Superb,” “Useful,” or “Tentative” (with tentative being the ones that are on the fringe, but not over the line).

Emerging technologies.

“Controversial” would be accurate, except in the U.S. it has too many negative connotations from “teach the controversy.”

How about “radical”? I see that term in some discussions of string theory.

Ooh. I like tentative. Better than theoretical (which isn’t necessarily on the fringes). Bleeding edge sounds more like the most current. The rest of those offered just all carry the woo connotation for me.

One word is conjecture. I would use that to describe string theory. In mathematics a conjecture is often quite respectable. Right now there is a question involving something called the abc conjecture which someone has claimed to prove, but no one has understood the argument.

What’s the matter with unproven? *Fringe science *is an awful term lumping together unproven science and things that are not science. If scientific method is in use than it is science even if unproven.

Here we say we are working on the foreskin of science. Make from this what you will.

Well, just don’t get your work mixed up with those guys who are on the cutting edge, because that never ends well.

Good question!

I’ve sometimes used the phrase “academic controversy” or something like that to differentiate between disagreement within an established group of experts from criticism from outside that group.

A big problem is that in theory, anyone can do “real” science; it’s just that in practice in this day and age virtually all useful science happens in an academic or industrial research setting. By its nature, pseudoscience goes through the motions and tries to emulate real science, and so it’s often very difficult to explain the practical differences between it and real science. Talking about an “academic” versus a “non-academic” controversy separates disagreements among people who are more or less recognized experts in their field from controversies raised by people who aren’t, without having to get into the difficult minutiae of who is or isn’t a “real” scientist. Although it will certainly leave one open to accusations of snobbery.

The problem with things like “cutting edge” is that at least colloquially it simply implies new work that hasn’t spread to the entire community but doesn’t necessarily imply uncertainty or disagreement within the community.

If you’re thinking of science not as a mode of inquiry but as a body of knowledge, which unfortunately many people do, the difference between unproven science and things that aren’t science at all is probably a bit too subtle. Particularly if the “not science” thing in question wraps itself in a pseudoscientific veneer. String theory and intelligent design are both, literally speaking, unproven theories.

Things like this are often identified by the prefix “crypto-”.

If we’re voting, I like “tentative”

This lends new significance to the sage expression “don’t stick your dick in the crazy.”

What’s wrong with:


a set of beliefs or theories that have not yet been tested adequately by the scientific method but which are otherwise consistent with existing science; a new science working to establish itself as legitimate science

Astrobiology and memetics are often considered protosciences.


How about ‘interesting’?

But we’re not talking about whole disciplines, are we, like those are, we’re talking about out-there theories in already-established disciplines.

(And memetics belongs with astrobiology the way aether theory belongs with quantum mechanics, IMO)