Both “scientific” and “academic” describe an activity or an event related to research, investigation and exploration which will be resulted in outcomes contributing to the advancement of humanity. “Academic” and “scientific” activities are undertaken and events are organized in universities, research centres, laboratories, institutes and other governmental or non-governmental organizations.
The main difference between “scientific” and “academic”
Both terms quite often are used interchangeably, but there is a distinct difference between the two. The term “scientific” should be primarily used to identify and describe an activity or an event in the fields of natural and exact sciences, such as physics, mathematics, chemistry or biology. It will be very normal to use the term “scientific” to describe a conference in astrophysics or a summer school in theoretical physics.
Usually, mainly in non-English speaking countries, the term “scientific” is used also to describe events and activities in humanities and social sciences, which is a wrong way. For example, it is not right to describe a conference in literature or history as “scientific”. In this case, to describe an event or activity in humanities or social sciences it is better to use the term “academic ”instead of “scientific”.
Accordingly, the term “academic” describes any activity or event in humanities, social sciences as well as natural and exact sciences. It is possible to say “academic conference in history” and “academic conference in physics”.
So the main difference between the “scientific” and “academic” is that the “academic” is used to describe any academic activity or event in any field of academic activities, but the term “scientific” should only be used to describe events and activities in the fields of natural and exact sciences.
The usage of the term “scholarly” instead of “academic”
Not very often, but sometimes, the term “scholarly” may also be used to describe conferences and other activities in the field of humanities and social sciences. It will not be grammatically and comprehensively correct to say “scholarly conference in chemistry”, but a “scholarly conference in history” is a correct way to describe the event. It is always appropriate to use "academic conference" instead of "scholarly conference" or "scientific conference".
How to define the differences between “scientific”, “academic” and “scholarly”?
An interesting method to define the right usage of the right term is to ask a question if the person who is undertaking research in a particular field is a scientist or a scholar.
Someone whose expertise is in medieval literature would never be called a scientist, but the correct term to describe her/him will be a scholar. So the activities in the field of medieval literature are scholarly activities not scientific. Will someone engaged in research activities in the field of bioengineering be called a scholar? Of course no, and the correct term to describe her/him will be a scientist. And, just as in the case of the usage of the term “academic”, to describe someone, regardless the field of activities the term “academician” may be used and anyone engaged in any academic activities in humanities or exact sciences may be called an “academician”.
To conclude the terms “scientific” and “scientist” are used to identify and describe an event, activity or a person engaged in natural/exact sciences. The terms “scholarly” and “scholar” are used to identify events and people in the fields of humanities and social sciences. And, the terms “academic” and “academician” may identify and describe any person or event in any field of research activities. Anytime the context is doubtful it will be a correct decision to use the term “academic” and “academician” to avoid misunderstandings and to sound academic.
Published on Jan 11, 2021