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I sometimes read the adjective armchair used together with some scientific discipline. For example, armchair physics, armchair biology, armchair chemistry.

From the usage I've seen I get at least some vague idea what it is intended to convey. Often it is used for somebody who gain his "expertise" without moving from his armchair, so basically they talk about something they do not know much about. But in some instances I've seen this might be simply interpreted as differentiating between experimental and theoretical science.

Question: What does this phrase mean? Is this always used in a disparaging way?

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It is an idiomatic usage of armchair most often in a disparaging way:

used to refer to a person who knows, or says they know, a lot about a subject without having direct experience of it:

  • an armchair critic/gardener/traveller

(Cambridge Dictionary)

From Philshi-Archive Armchair Science.

We define the notion of armchair science – roughly, a concentration on the development of idealized theory with only a loose relation to possible empirical application, and in particular with no particular real- world target in mind.

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