Titer is not a verb

5 August 2008

Today I received an email from Clontech Laboratories with the subject line “Titer your virus in under four hours!”.  I have little faith in a company that cannot compose a grammatically correct email.

Titer is a unit of concentration. It is not a verb, and therefore it is incorrect to write ‘titer your virus’. You may ‘determine the titer’ or ‘titrate your virus’ (titrate IS a verb).

This example is one of the many incorrect usages of language which pervades science. Here’s another one: “The data looks accurate”. What is wrong with this? Data is plural; the singular version is datum. You may write “The data look accurate”, or “The datum looks accurate”, but not “the data looks accurate”. In today’s world, data is nearly universally used for both singular and plural forms.

What is the difference, you may ask, as long as the science is correct? Science is all about precision. If you cannot speak or write precisely, it is not likely that you will be able to produce precise scientific data.