Pseudoscience

unscientific claim that is wrongly presented as scientific
Franciszek Rychnowski developed this instrument at the start of the 20th century, to measure a "cosmic energy".

Pseudoscience is any alleged body of knowledge, methodology, belief, or practice claiming to be scientific or made to appear scientific, but not adhering to the scientific method.

QuotesEdit

  • A good rule of thumb for diagnosing an activity as pseudoscientific is the existence of ad hoc explanations: “my telepathic powers aren’t working today because of a force field emanating from the hostile talk-show host.” There are no “bad-gravity days” and there are no days when your TV set stops working because electromagnetic waves feel hostility.
  • Using the term pseudoscience, then, leads to unnecessary polarization, mistrust, disrespectfulness, and confusion around science issues. Everyone—especially scientists, journalists, and science communicators—would better serve science by avoiding it.
  • Although pseudoscience is a fairly common epithet, it is not exactly universal. Scientists do not just call anything they do not like “pseudoscience.” They are perfectly happy to declare many of their peers’ work to be “bad” or “substandard” science. “Pseudoscience” is used in a targeted way, at certain times, and against specific enemies. This implies that there is no unified pseudoscience; the various doctrines labeled “pseudosciences” over the last two centuries actually have very little in common with one another besides being hated by assorted scientists.
    • Michael D. Gordin, The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe (2012), p. 2
  • “Pseudoscience” is an empty category, a term of abuse, and there is nothing that necessarily links those dubbed pseudoscientists besides their separate alienation from science at the hands of the establishment.
    • Michael D. Gordin, The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe (2012), p. 206
  • As long as we have science, we will have a process of demarcation that happens every day in the laboratories, field sites, and classrooms of the world. Scientists will decide that some claims are relevant for their research and that some doctrines are not—sometimes so much so that they will be dubbed “pseudoscientific.” This is inevitable, and it is ineradicable. Scientists will always demarcate, because part of what science is is an exclusion of some domains as irrelevant, rejected, outdated, or incorrect. And the more successful science becomes, the more outsiders will want to participate in the process. Some of these will be hailed as brilliant; some others will be run out of town on a rail; most will simply sink without a trace. “Pseudoscience” is not some invasive pathogen that has contaminated contemporary science but that can be fully expunged from the organism with more scientific literacy or better peer review. Pseudoscience is the shadow of science; it is cast by science itself through the very fact that demarcation happens. If pseudoscience is inevitable, then combating it becomes problematic. Either the combatants resemble Sisyphus, pushing the rock up the hill only to have it tumble back down again, or the Æsir, battling the forces of darkness that besiege Valhalla at Ragnarök (and eventually losing).
    • Michael D. Gordin, The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe (2012), p. 209-210
  • There is an important lesson in this. All so-called pseudoscientists believe they are simply scientists, albeit ones with heterodox views marginalized by the mainstream. (They aren't necessarily right—many people have mistaken self-conceptions.) But to be a scientist, you need to behave like one, and one thing scientists do constantly is, well, demarcate. Velikovsky and his peers knew there was an edge to legitimate science, and they policed it very carefully, just like "establishment" scientists did and continue to do.
    I have come to think of pseudoscience as science's shadow. A shadow is cast by something; it has no substance of its own. The same is true for these doctrines on the fringe. If scientists use some criterion such as peer review to demarcate, so will the fringe (creationists have peer-reviewed journals, as did Velikovskians). The brighter the light of science—that is, the greater its cultural prestige and authority—the sharper the shadow, and the more the fringe flourishes.
  • We can sensibly build science policy only upon the consensus of the scientific community. This is not a bright line, but it is the only line we have. As a result, we need to be careful about demarcation, to notice how we do it and why we do it, and stop striving for a goal of universal eradication of the fringe that is frankly impossible. We need to learn what we are talking about when we talk about pseudoscience.
  • Understanding the scientific fringe as a necessary shadow of the professional scientific consensus not only emphasizes the intimate connection between the sciences and those doctrines variously labeled pseudosciences, it also refocuses our attention on the causes of the phenomenon. When someone makes shadow puppets on the wall, our eyes are naturally drawn to the striking, cleanly outlined shapes of rabbits and ducks, but that is not where the action is. Similarly, I suggest the pseudosciences are not real in themselves; they are defined by external projection. The important thing to watch is not the shadow, but the hand. It not only is the source of the shadows; it is also the more fascinating and complex phenomenon of the two. The fringe not only shadows the core, it is continuous with it, and the most effective way to deal with attacks from the latter is to ensure that the former is in good working order.
  • 'Tis strange how like a very dunce,
    Man, with his bumps upon his sconce,
    Has lived so long, and yet no knowledge he
    Has had, till lately, of Phrenology
    A science that by simple dint of
    Head-combing he should find a hint of,
    When scratching o'er those little pole-hills
    The faculties throw up like mole hills.
    • Thomas Hood, Craniology, reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 597.
  • The problem of demarcation between science and pseudoscience has grave implications also for the institutionalization of criticism. Copernicus’s theory was banned by the Catholic Church in 1616 because it was said to be pseudoscientific. It was taken off the index in 1820 because by that time the Church deemed that facts had proved it and therefore it became scientific. The Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party in 1949 declared Mendelian genetics pseudoscientific and had its advocates, like Academician Vavilov, killed in concentration camps; after Vavilov’s murder Mendelian genetics was rehabilitated; but the Party’s right to decide what is science and publishable and what is pseudoscience and punishable was upheld. The new liberal Establishment of the West also exercises the right to deny freedom of speech to what it regards as pseudoscience, as we have seen in the case of the debate concerning race and intelligence. All these judgments were inevitably based on some sort of demarcation criterion. And this is why the problem of demarcation between science and pseudoscience is not a pseudo-problem of armchair philosophers: it has grave ethical and political implications.
  • Through certain vagaries of history, some of which I have alluded to here, we have managed to conflate two quite distinct questions: What makes a belief well founded (or heuristically fertile)? And what makes a belief scientific? The first set of questons is philosophically interesting and possibly even tractable; the second question is both uninteresting and, judging by its checkered past, intractable. If we would stand up and be counted on the side of reason, we ought to drop terms like "pseudo-science" and "unscientific" from our vocabulary; they are just hollow phrases which do only emotive work for us. As such, they are more suited to the rhetoric of politicians and Scottish sociologists of knowledge than to that of empirical researchers. Insofar as our concern is to protect ourselves and our fellows from the cardinal sin of believing what we wish were so rather than what there is substantial evidence for (and surely that is what most forms of "quackery" come down to), then our focus should be squarely on the empirical and conceptual credentials for claims about the world. The "scientific" status of those claims is altogether irrelevant."
    • Larry Laudan, "The Demise of the Demarcation Problem", in Cohen, R.S.; Laudan, L., Physics, Philosophy and Psychoanalysis: Essays in Honor of Adolf Grünbaum (1983)
  • The term “pseudoscience” has become little more than an inflammatory buzzword for quickly dismissing one’s opponents in media sound-bites. … When therapeutic entrepreneurs make claims on behalf of their interventions, we should not waste our time trying to determine whether their interventions qualify as pseudoscientific. Rather, we should ask them: How do you know that your intervention works? What is your evidence?
    • Richard J. McNally, "Is the pseudoscience concept useful for clinical psychology?". The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice (2003)

See alsoEdit

Philosophy of science
Concepts AnalysisA priori and a posterioriCausalityDemarcation problemFactInductive reasoningInquiryNatureObjectivityObservationParadigmProblem of inductionScientific methodScientific revolutionScientific theory
Related topics AlchemyEpistemologyHistory of scienceLogicMetaphysicsPseudoscienceRelationship between religion and scienceSociology of scientific knowledge
Philosophers of science PlatoAristotleStoicism
AverroesAvicennaRoger BaconWilliam of Ockham
Francis BaconThomas HobbesRené DescartesGalileo GalileiPierre GassendiIsaac NewtonDavid Hume
Immanuel KantFriedrich SchellingWilliam WhewellAuguste ComteJohn Stuart MillHerbert SpencerWilhelm WundtCharles Sanders PeirceHenri PoincaréPierre DuhemRudolf SteinerKarl Pearson
Alfred North WhiteheadBertrand RussellAlbert EinsteinOtto NeurathC. D. BroadMichael PolanyiHans ReichenbachRudolf CarnapKarl PopperW. V. O. QuineThomas KuhnImre LakatosPaul FeyerabendJürgen HabermasIan HackingBas van FraassenLarry LaudanDaniel Dennett


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