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unscientific claim that is wrongly presented as scientific

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.


  • 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will always demarcate, because part of what science is is an exclusion of some domains as irrelevant, rejected, outdated, or incorrect.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
  • '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)

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