The phrase "scientifically based research" seems to be grammatically incorrect.


In the jargon of the No Child Left Behind Act there is a phrase "scientifically based research," and that phrase is used a lot. It seems to be an incorrect grammatical structure. It also seems to be logically incorrect, because the word "research" is the noun modified by "scientifically" and "based," where it should be "science based research" not "scientifically based research." (Let me give a related example; think of, say, "opinion based research" as an alternative to the phrase "science based research." We would not say "opinionated based research," where that is clearly incorrect.) Anyway, my gut tells me this phrase is grammatically and logically incorrect. Can you help me explain why this is phrase is incorrect?

phrases asked Jun 10 '13 at 09:00 Jack New member

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Brother, regarding your statement "We speakers of American English are more accustomed to hearing an adverb as a noun modifier...": sorry, but adverbs cannot modify nouns (adjectives, other nouns, and pronouns do that. You wouldn's say "a slowly/hesitatingly/scientifically (all adverbs) answer," would you?

link answered Jun 10 '13 at 18:41 Elin Tomov Contributor

Busted! I should have said/meant to say adjective as based is the past tense of the verb to base.

Brother DaveJun 11 '13 at 02:25

Elin, let me look into this further tomorrow, it's been a long day - it may just be fixed by deleting the word "noun" and leaving modifier; as adverbs DO modify verbs and "based" is the past tense of the verb to base.

Brother DaveJun 11 '13 at 02:42

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The phrase "scientifically based research" is grammatically correct. Here is why: "research" is the noun modified by "based," which is a past participle used as an adjective; "scientifically" is an adverb modifying the adjective "based." Adverbs are used to modify verbs, other adverbs, or adjectives. For comparison, see exactly the same structure in the phrase "slowly cooked meat."

link comment answered Jun 10 '13 at 15:44 Elin Tomov Contributor

"Science" is a noun, "scientifically" is an adverb, "research" (in this usage) is a noun. You can, in certain instances, modify a noun with another noun, i.e. Yogi’s pic-a-nick table. Both picnic and table are nouns. Boo-Boo eats his meal with a soup spoon. We speakers of American English are more accustomed to hearing an adverb as a noun modifier… it just sounds better, so an adverb is probably used more often.

However, more broadly (and in your case) "science," as defined, takes in the entire universe, from elephant research to microbe experimentation, whereas "scientifically based research" is specific to the research within the document (in this case) to which you are referring; thus scientifically based research is correct in this instance.

Interesting question, well put. Believe it or not, there is an entire Wikipedia entry discussing this term as used in the NCLB Act, and it has become quite a cause célèbre:

link comment answered Jun 10 '13 at 15:57 Brother Dave Contributor

Thank you for your answers, but I am still not liking the phrase. You see, "research" IS science, and vice versa. Though I am aware of your "type of words" analysis (i.e. I hear what you are saying there), but the "connotations" or "denotations" of the words and their use together in this phrase is like fingernails scratching on a chalkboard to me. It's like they are saying "scientifically based science," which clearly sounds absurd -- but by the rules you set-out I understand that the phrase would be "grammatically correct."

link edited Jun 15 '13 at 17:37 Jack New member

Jack, I agree with you about the connotation. At first glace, it sounds weird. However, "science" and "research" are not the same at all! Research involves work done to study and find facts about something, and this "something" may or may not be a science (e.g., research on literature (not really a science)).

Joyce FSep 11 '13 at 03:49

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When I first heard this term, I did get Jack’s fingernails-on-blackboard analogy! Does it mean research that has a scientific basis

link comment answered Sep 11 '13 at 03:51 Joyce F Contributor

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