Pseudo Science

Thought that uses the trappings also used by scientific investigators to prop itself up.

Example: Ufology. Yes, there are as-yet unexplained flying things in the sky, and no, some of them are not "psychological aberrations" of the viewers. But making up elaborate stories about them is not the same as investigating them.

Another Example: Many people make a career out of debating things that do not use the trappings of science. Treating as pseudo-science speculation that is internally coherent, but impossible to test (like ExtremeProgramming, see DogmaticFallacy), is PseudoScience.

Superstring theory also has this character: i.e. speculation that is internally coherent, but impossible to test. Should it be considered science or pseudoscience?

That's just science-in-process. Sometimes you have a theory, sometimes a model. Figure out a test for your model, and it's a theory.


Another amazing example: http://ascension2000.com/DivineCosmos/08.htm

The term "pseudoscience" is ironic. Should not science be all-encompassing, all-evaluating? If theories seem to lead to incoherent or unlikely conclusions, that's "rejected suppositions" for you. The only reason I can think of for using the word "pseudoscience" is fear. Common people trust so much in science, whatever that means, that even calling something science gives it more value. So if some theory is suspicious to begin with (as they most are), scientists try to resist it as pseudoscience, either to protect common people from the bad theory's influence or to keep the imago of science up. Sadly, they end supporting the scientific hegemony, which is quite strong already (whether this is good or not, is controversial).

What makes the difference between "controversial theory" and "pseudoscience" is whether the scientist is very intelligent or not. Unfortunately, the more intelligent he is, the less peers will be able to tell. Still, most who think they have a revolutionary theory are wrong.

Another interesting point: theories themselves cannot be pseudoscience, their presentations can be.


This conception of PseudoScience has interesting consequences. It means that the atomic theory when it was first proposed (by Democritus or the Pythagoreans) should be categorized as such. I really wonder if notions that try to restrict scientific thinking (rather than aid it) are at all conducive to progress.

The ancient Greeks weren't using the ScientificResearch system (hypothesize/test/reproduce/model/repeat), so they had no science to pseudo from.

It seems that you have found a flaw in my reasoning. However, I don't agree that science equates with your idea of 'the ScientificResearch system' (see ScientificMethod).

And, as every skeptic will doubtless tell you, some speculation bears fruit.

I would go further and say that the business of scientific research cannot even begin without speculation. In the scientific tradition, conjecture can no more take a back seat than logic or empiricism.

I don't condone the kind of cheating and swindling that usually falls under the heading of PseudoScience. But all attempts I have seen at segregating nonsense, deform and mutilate scientific tradition in the process. -- ChrisSteinbach

I think a difference lies in making the distinction between speculation and fact. Speculations are part of the true scientific process, but when one presents speculations as fact, then it's pseudo-science. In the case of Ufology, the "alien visitation" theory is just a speculation, as there are many other possible explanations of those flying things. For ExtremeProgramming, I'm more inclined to categorize it as "art" rather than "science". If someone comes up and says that ExtremeProgramming has been scientifically (N.B.) proven to be a good or bad method, without giving suitable evidence, I'll immediately say he's a pseudo-scientist. -- TkChia

A science that confines itself to the realm of hypothesis is a paralyzed science. In practice, we speak of, act on, and progress by means of scientific facts. These 'facts' range from the almost directly observable to indirect observations of theoretically proposed entities. The MythologyOfScience suggests that science faces dichotomies such as fact and theory, reality and illusion without fencing itself in to a know-all or know-nothing philosophy. -- ChrisSteinbach


Pseudoscience violates conventional facts

How about "a theory which simultaneously and radically violates both conventional knowledge (data) and understanding (theories, frameworks, paradigms) of the world"?

The FermiParadox shows how Ufology violates both data and theory. Also, psi powers violate ScientificMaterialism? as well as being completely unobserved. -- RichardKulisz

I don't think that is sufficient to dismiss the possibility of alien visitors. It is over-speculation. We just simply don't know what is out there.

Ah, but ScientificMaterialism? is PseudoScience. See the June 2002 Skeptic's column in ScientificAmerican.

-- AppealerToAuthority

The KuhnParadigmShift is all about how science progresses by breaking away from conventional wisdom and understanding. Even if you don't completely subscribe to Kuhn's philosophy (and there are good reasons not to), it is worth noting that the most exciting scientific breakthroughs really are this radical. -- ChrisSteinbach

Kuhn paradigm shifts break away from conventional understanding by basing themselves on conventional, though unassimilated, facts (knowledge, data). A conventional fact is one that is accepted as true, not necessarily one that is assimilated into a theory or paradigm. (Otherwise there would be no point in adding 'violates conventional facts' to the definition of pseudoscience.) -- rk

Yes, I see what you mean. Even a compelling and well-argued theory needs (eventually) to find points of attack in reality. Or, to put it another way, theoretical projections that don't (or are not expected to) receive a response from reality are of limited interest. But pseudo-scientists often demonstrate their abilities in a very conventional manner. The bending of a spoon via telekinesis can be verified with simple observation statements.

This leads me to perhaps a better definition of PseudoScience. A pseudo-scientist is one who poses as a scientist by faking what might pass for scientific evidence. A trickster. Those that try to practice science and fail to deliver results, or fool themselves into thinking they have done, are only incompetent scientists, not pseudo-scientists.

Why do I prefer this definition? Because many scientific theories violate conventional facts, again in a very ordinary sense. Consider EddingtonsTwoTables where a table at once appears to be solid and 'mostly emptiness'. -- ChrisSteinbach

It depends on your intuition. If you've dealt with filters, strainers and other such regularly, then you can develop an intuition about how 'mostly empty' objects can be substantial to each other. So if you've developed a good intuition about this, you'll have little problem understanding an "insubstantial" table. OTOH, I think DavidChalmers is right in that science doesn't address the existence of qualia. Science tells us what feels substantial and what doesn't, but it doesn't explain feeling why substantial objects feel substantial in the first place. -- rk

Yes. But if you accept that an intuition can be developed to solve the problem, then you must also accept that a conflict with conventional facts is neither incorrigible nor decisive. -- cs
Part of the definition of PseudoScience must be that it's proponents are intellectually dishonest; they use (aspects of) the ScientificMethod but only to support their claims, and would be unwilling to conclude that their theories might be wrong, no matter the weight of evidence. Anyone who has tried to hold a scientific debate with a creationist, for example, knows this is true. -- AlainPicard

Discussion moved to EvolutionIsPseudoscience?


I added some musing on what drives humans to seek out PseudoScience by mentioning my recent experiences with proponents of Vastu and Astrology. Right now it's on my GarnetChaney page, but I'll move it onto it's own page if it is judged to be OnTopic.


Often times, PseudoScience preys on the anti-intellectual leanings of society at large--many laypersons are suspicious of scientists, and it's often suggested that much scientific discourse is layers upon layers of obfuscation piled upon each other--a mammoth conspiracy which is undertaken to defraud the public (out of research money, I suppose). Unfortunately, some scientists occasionally behave in an unethical fashion, lending some credence to this sort of stuff.

Not all such arguments come from pseudo-scientists--politicians are fond of attacking science which they find inconvenient to their political agendas; labelling scientific discourse as "gobbledygook" or "claptrap" is an example of this form of argumentation. See ScienceShouldBeEasy.

But some pseudo-scientists engage in this as well--generally those who, in order to advance their pet theory, have to discredit the prevailing theory, and find themselves unable to do so with the conventional ScientificMethod.

A fine example of this is found here: http://pages.sbcglobal.net/louis.savain/ Indeed. Someone who says "These unarguable facts squarely and decisively refute. . ." is begging the question. I can't remember ever seeing an "unarguable fact"
See wikipedia article: http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudoscience
See CargoCult, ScientificMethod, CarlSagansBaloneyDetectionKit

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