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Welcome to the Wikiversity learning project about Pseudoscience.

A pseudoscience adopts some of the forms that are associated with science, but not the scientific method.

How can you recognize pseudoscience?[edit | edit source]

The following are asserted as signs of pseudoscience.

  • Has the subject shown progress?
  • Does the discipline use technical words such as "vibration" or "energy" without clearly defining what they mean?
  • Would accepting the tenets of a claim require you to abandon any well established physical laws?
  • Are popular articles on the subject lacking in references?
  • Is the only evidence offered anecdotal in nature?
  • Does the proponent of the subject claim that "air-tight" experiments have been performed that prove the truth of the subject matter, and that cheating would have been impossible?
  • Are the results of the aforementioned experiments successfully repeated by other researchers?
  • Does the proponent of the subject claim to be overly or unfairly criticized?
  • Is the subject taught only in non-credit institutions?
  • Are the best texts on the subject decades old?
  • Does the proponent of the claim use what one writer has called "factuals" - statements that are a largely or wholly true but unrelated to the claim?
  • When criticized, do the defenders of the claim attack the critic rather than the criticism?
  • Does the proponent make appeals to history (i.e. it has been around a long time, so it must be true)?
  • Does the subject display the "shyness effect" (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't)?
  • Does the proponent use the appeal to ignorance argument ("there are more things under heaven … than are dreamed of in your philosophy …")?
  • Does the proponent use alleged expertise in other areas to lend weight to the claim?

source of this list

adapted from Lee Moller's on-line article "BCS Debates a Qi Gong Master," Rational Enquirer, Vol 6, No. 4, Apr 94 (published by the British Columbia Skeptics Society)

See, however, What is Pseudoscience, Scientific American, by Michael Shermer. Shermer, after presenting the demarcation problem, then devolves into using a social test, i.e., pseudoscience is to be recognized by how "working scientists" respond to it. This is circular, similar to the above list. How do scientists determine what is pseudoscience? And, indeed, do they care? Shermer makes the point that:

individual scientists (as distinct from the monolithic ‘scientific community’) designate a doctrine a ‘pseudoscience’ only when they perceive themselves to be threatened—not necessarily by the new ideas themselves, but by what those ideas represent about the authority of science, science’s access to resources, or some other broader social trend. If one is not threatened, there is no need to lash out at the perceived pseudoscience; instead, one continues with one’s work and happily ignores the cranks.

Which also applies to those sometimes called "pseudoscientists."

Then Shermer comes to the core:

Any "scientific" group presenting a theory as fact when there is no evidence to back up the theory can be called a "Pseudoscience".
Adopting a theory as true withbout [sic] factual evidence to prove the theory as fact is Pseudoscience. When a "scientist" has to "fill in the gaps" or extrapolate based on observation where there is not concrete evidence to justify or prove the theory [s/he] pursues a Pseudoscience.

Shermer is describing pseudoscientific practice, which can exist in any field of inquiry. He's talking about "adopting a theory as true," when, in fact, adoption of theories as true is not science, it's a practical heuristic, not an absolute. We adopt, as true, theories, when the evidence for them passes some threshold; however, science suggests questioning what we regard as true, and there is no end to this process; we abandon the question for practical reasons, not for absolute ones. That is, scientifically, we never actually know "truth." We generate theories and test their predictions, but a false theory can generate true and even accurate predictions, the classic example is the Ptolemaic model of planetary motion.

A deeper meaning of pseudoscience would be a set of beliefs that are held as if they were "scientific," and typically using the language and trappings of science, but that are not questioned or tested, and that are often untestable. This practice was called Cargo cult science by Richard Feynman.

Case studies[edit | edit source]

Readings. Read the Wikipedia article on pseudoscience and the List of topics characterized as pseudoscience.

List and discuss any examples of pseudosciences that you think should not be on this list.

Are there other alleged pseudosciences that should be added to the w:List of topics characterized as pseudoscience?

Creation science[edit | edit source]

Alternative medicine[edit | edit source]

Conspiracy theories[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

External resources about pseudoscience[edit | edit source]