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A pseudoscience is a belief or process which masquerades as science in an attempt to claim a legitimacy which it would not otherwise be able to achieve

on its own terms; it is often known as fringe- or alternative science. The most important of its defects is usually the lack of the carefully controlled and thoughtfully interpreted experiments which provide the foundation of the natural sciences and which contribute to their advancement. Of course, the pursuit of scientific knowledge usually involves elements of intuition and guesswork; experiments do not always test a theory adequately, and experimental results can be incorrectly interpreted or even wrong. In legitimate science, however, these problems tend to be self-correcting, if not by the original researchers themselves, then through the critical scrutiny of the greater scientific community. Critical thinking is an essential element of science.

Some other kinds of defective science

There have been several well-documented instances in which the correction process referred to above was delayed until after the initial incorrect interpretation became widely publicized, resulting in what has been called pathological science. The best known of these incidents are the "discoveries" of N-rays, of polywater, and of cold fusion. All of these could have been averted if the researchers had not been so enthused with their results that they publicized them before they had received proper review by others. Human nature being what it is, there is always some danger of this happening; to discourage it, most of the prestigious scientific journals will refuse to accept reports of noteworthy work that has already been made public. Another term, junk science, is often used to describe scientific theories or data which, while perhaps legitimate in themselves, are believed to be mistakenly used to support an opposing position. There is usually an element of political or ideological bias in the used of the term. Thus the arguments in favor of limiting the use of fossil fuels in order to reduce global warming are often characterized as junk science by those who do not wish to see such restrictions imposed, and who claim that other factors may well be the cause of global warming. A wide variety of commercial advertising (ranging from hype to outright fraud) would also fall into this

2. obsolete. "9944100% Pure: It Floats" This description of Ivory Soap is a classic example of junk science from the 19th century. Not only is the term "pure" meaningless when applied to an undefined mixture such as hand soap. Examples of such theories are quantum theory. but is so much more vivid and easily grasped than the one that supplanted it that it shows no sign of dying out. The low density is achieved by beating air bubbles into it. which would logically encompass all of the evils being discussed here. But in science. or over-simplified expositions of scientific ideas. the term has a much more limited meaning. actually reducing the "purity" of the product and in a sense cheating the consumer. "It's only a theory" In ordinary conversation. a picture that was discredited in the 1920's. Finally. An example would be the statement that electrons revolve in orbits around the atomic nucleus. there is just plain bad science. the word "theory" connotes an opinion. usually because they are not consistent with new observations. at its most egregious it might better be described as deceptive science.category. As theories become more mature. but is commonly used to describe well-intentioned but incorrect. they grow into more organized bodies of knowledge that enable us to understand and predict a wider range of phenomena. Einstein's theories of relativity. Theories that have been shown to be incorrect. incomplete. and evolution. a conjecture. All other theories In other words . It commonly draws upon established principles and knowledge with the aim of extending them in a logical and consistent way that enables one to make useful predictions. but the implication that its ability to float is evidence of this purity is deceptive. or a supposition. All scientific theories are tentative and subject to being tested and modified. A scientific theory is an attempt to explain some aspect of the natural world in terms of empirical evidence and observation. Scientific theories fall into two categories: 1.

a challenge Sciences advance by . evidence of this in the pseudosciences. subjects of intense research small amount of research and Nearly every new finding raises which result in the continual experimentation that is carried out new questions that beg expansion of knowledge in is generally done more to justify exploration. How can you recognize pseudoscience? How to rate a work of pseudoscience is a 30-point checklist directed mainly at archaeology. A theory that cannot be refuted or falsified is not a scientific theory. astrology. In examining the following table. There is little the discipline.) The search for new knowledge The field has evolved very little is the driving force behind the Most scientific fields are the since it was first established. but much of it seems applicable to other fields as well. but as the two diverge more and more from one another. alchemy. "structure-altered" waters (commercial quackery. interpretation of the Bible). The evolution of any scientific field. It is similarly impossible to falsify so-called "creation science" or "intelligent design" because one can simply evoke the "then a miracle occurs" (as in the famous Sidney Harris cartoon) at any desired stage. or of chemistry vs. and these tend to be remarkably consistent across all fields of interest. cultural. the theories that underlie astrology (the doctrine that the positions of the stars can influence one's life) are not falsifiable because they.) UFO-ology (popular is to achieve a more Pseudosciences are more likely to culture and mistrust of complete and more unified be driven by ideological.• • Theories cannot be proven to be correct. there is always the possibility that further observations will disprove the theory. the belief than to extend it. government). certain differences become apparent. science pseudoscience comment Some examples: astrology (from ancient Babylonian The primary goal of science culture. which at one time were single fields that gradually diverged into sciences and pseudosciences. are so vaguely stated that the failure of these predictions can always be "explained away" by assuming that various other influences were not taken into account. it might be helpful to consider examples of astronomy vs. For example. and the predictions that follow from them. A similar set of questions can be found on this Baloney Detection page There is no single test that unambiguously distinguishes between science and pseudoscience. (attempt to justify a literal physical world. Workers in the field In the pseudosciences. Creation Science understanding of the or commercial goals.

They evidence. for example) for support. once shown to be credible. often invoke authority (a famous name. Observations or data that are not consistent with current scientific understanding. Have you noticed how selfstyled psychics always seem Observations or data that are not eager to announce their consistent with established beliefs predictions for the new year. generate intense interest among scientists and stimulate additional studies. and leads to bitter disputes or even schisms. Have you ever noticed how proponents of pseudoscientific ideas are more likely to list all of the degrees they have? Phrases such as "energy Pseudoscientific explanations tend Scientific explanations must vibrations" or "subtle energy to be vague and ambiguous. In science. meaningless. the person who shows that a generally accepted belief is wrong or incomplete is more likely to be considered a hero than a heretic.commonly seek out counterexamples or findings that appear to be inconsistent with accepted theories. how many of last years' predictions were correct? Enthusiasts incorrectly take the The major tenets and principles of logical impossibility of the field are often not falsifiable. link . disproving a pseudoscientific and are unlikely ever to be altered priniciple as evidence of its or shown to be wrong. validity. but they are essentially dubious contexts. Science is a process in which each principle must be tested in the crucible of experience and remains subject to being questioned or rejected at any time. often be stated in clear. almost always by own merits. to accepted dogma is often considered a hostile act if not heresy. fields" may sound impressive. tend to be ignored or actively but never like to talk about suppressed. based on individuals who are not in contact existing knowledge and on with mainstream science. accommodating themselves to change as new information is obtained. Pseudoscientific concepts tend to Scientific ideas and concepts be shaped by individual egos and must stand or fall on their personalities. invoking scientific terms in unambigous terms.

rigor. Government in an attempt to prevent panic and/or to maintain control over citizens. The individuals who believe themselves to be unfairly thwarted by the scientific community are very often so isolated from it that they are unable to appreciate its norms of clarity. often by giving people the illusion of having some direct control over their lives. Steven Dutch's article When the Cranks Rule. But mythology has always been an important part of human culture.S. A good summary of some of the consequences can be found in Prof. and consistency with existing science. to commercial scams. The real reason that new devices or new theories get thrown aside is that the arguments or evidence adduced to support them is inadequate or not credible. Does the "establishment" actively suppress new and unconventional ideas? Anyone who has been around for long enough has encountered statements like these: • • An inventor's design for a device that utilizes water as a fuel has been bought up and suppressed by the oil companies. and to cult-like organizations such as scientology. chiropractic. • • Claims of these kinds are frequently made and widely believed. "Alternative health" techniques (homeopathy. Worst of all.Why is it important to recognize pseudoscience? Many scientists' ordinary response to pseudoscientific claims is simply to laugh at them. especially by those who are inclined to see conspiracies around every corner. Editors of scientific journals and the reviewers they call on to assess the worth of submitted papers reject out-of-hand anything that comes from persons who are not members of the scientific "establishment" or which report results not consistent with presently-accepted science. This can lead to their becoming advocates for various kinds of health quackery. There is little if any evidence for any of these claims. . chelation therapy— you name it!) are actively suppressed by the medical profession or the pharmaceutical industry in a desperate attempt to serve their selfish interests. they can pressure political and educational circles to adopt their ideologies. Reports of unidentified flying objects (UFO's) are suppressed by the U.

On the other hand. and at Wegner. and Barry Marshall (bacterial origin of ulcers). the idea that continents could float around was too hard to accept at a time when nothing was known about the interior structure of the Earth. Nevertheless. and the evidence he presented was rejected as inadequate. see this National Center for Science Education page that profiles the difficulties faced by scientists such as Barbara McClintock (genetic recombination). the world of science has been reluctant to accept some important challenges made by its own members. but they laughed at Galileo. it was more a case of challenge to religious doctrine that forced him to recant his assertion that the Sun. and of quantum theory (which developed in several stages). Lyn Margulis (endosymbiosis and evolution). achieved rapid acceptance when they were first presented. and it did not become generally accepted until about 50 years later.J. or in the case of general relativity. In all of these cases the new theories provided credible explanations for what was previously unexplainable. and he became a laughingstock for several years until more definitive evidence became available. is at the center of the solar system. Well. Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift was bitterly attacked when it was first published in 1915. the even-more-revolutionary concepts of specialand general relativity.. Thomson discovered evidence that the atom is not the ultimate fundamental particle and could be broken up into smaller units. and the tools for confirming them existed at the time. But even in more recent times.. with Galileo. even Thompson himself was reluctant to accept it. and before the technology needed to apply it had become available. would soon become available. at Thompson. Others had made similar proposals based on the way the continents of Africa and South America could be fitted together. Some interesting places to look . and not the Earth. This was especially common before the scientific method had been developed. they didn't exactly laugh.. as did Louis Pasteur's germ theory of disease. but Wegener was the first to make a careful study of fossil and geological similarities between the two continents. There have been innumerable cases in which the world was simply not ready to accept a new idea. When J.

Junk Science Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assult on Science Threatens Your Health . the idea is to cast doubt on scientific studies that threaten their Valerie Saxion vitamins yahoo groups zeno Grab this swicki from eurekster. and generally weird ideas. pseudoscience. More details in this New Scientist craniometer ."It's been my policy to view the Internet not as an 'information highway. Some useful tools What is truth? Not a simple question to answer.a review of this popular and highly misleading 2004 film. Critical Thinking A compilation of Web-based resources on the subject. but this excellent page at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy will help show you the way." —Mike Royko This quote from the late columnist was found at Donald Simanek's site -. perpetual motion.a wonderful collection of links that contains many references to science fraud.and questionable science is the topic of this anonymous essay.this 2008 book by David Michaels provides a glimpse of tactics used by industry to manipulate science and influence public policy. fringe medicine. Bad-science examples in the various disciplines (Alistair Fraser) How to deal with Bad Science "What the Bleep Do We Know?" .' but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies. Pseudoscience and Quackery SWICKI search androstenedione anorexia nervosa buache Catherine Diodati cults ear candling Eric Head fairtaxassociation friendsoffreedom herbs junk scince Patrick Flanagan pig pills inc pseudoscience psychic surgeon quackwatch. Ten myths of science: Reexamining what we think we know. Just as the tobacco industry did in the 1950's.

This site can nevertheless serve as a source of student exercises on the fine art of critical the HomeoWatch site is more critical.This Wikipedia article presents a good overview and thorough history with many references. JunkScience. this is what happened to create the public scare about so-called "second-hand site on commercial water-treatment pseudoscience (magnetic water treatments. According to the 1998 Washington Times article Pseudoscience going up in smoke. Canadian Quackery Watch . page on bogus "structure-altered waters" for the alternative health market.a compendium of horrendous examples AquaScams ." racial pseudoscience Medical pseudoscience.a good source for solid information on medical flim-flam such as amalgam dental filling removal. Water Cluster Quackery . compounded by what many would consider a bias not atypical of the author's affiliation with the Cato Institute and FoxNews. fringe medicine QuackWatch .many good articles on alternative health scams HealthWatcher . Of course.a well organized anti-health-scam site maintained by a Canadian doctor Homeopathy . etc.) Common errors in the use of statistics can transform science into junk science. Junk science in the courtroom .com: "All the junk that's fit to debunk" .and you will find it in abundance here— unfortunately. even Pasteur is not immune to Web-based rants such as this one which attempts to refute the Germ .

and tests of its validity. 1998: 75(11) 1399-1404. kooks and loons on the Net".Chem. and Other Heterodoxies is described (and can be purchased) at this U. Fringe Archaeology . New York.Theory of disease! Pathological science Nicholas Turro's page has a fine discussion of this topic with many references.Ed. arranged into more than 100 categories. Jim Loy's Peudoscience Page nicely organized by topic and sub-topic.A Guardian article on the Piltdown Man fraud and other hoaxes Illustration by Ted Chesky [link] Pseudoscience books Henry Bauer's book Science or Pseudoscience: Magnetic Healing. P. See Using bad science to teach good chemistry by Michael Epstein. J. Putting Pseudoscience to work. you can be happily lost in here for a long time! This pseudoscience page by Edward Lipson offers a well-organized wealth of links on many areas of pseudoscience. psychology.Keith Matthews' Cult Archaeology site covers everything from von Däniken to lost continents The Scientific Exploration of Astrology contains links to variety of critical articles on astrology. 2000) from Physics Today.. Science Hoaxes . crackpots. Park (Oxford U. Psychic Phenomena. This review of Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud by Robert L. its history. Pseudoscience is an exceptionally wellorganized set of links to "cranks. Illinois Press site. Quilt art by Barbara Olson: Atlantis: an ancient message [link] .

paranormal. Eccentric Beliefs.published by the Skeptics' Society Skeptical Inquirer "The magazine for science and reason"." [link] general interest and fun to read. detection Dr. Translations into several other languages are available. delivering the healing frequencies back The following two magazines are of to the solution. but the many link titles seem to cover just about every form of pseudoscientific weirdness. Skeptical information links . Both sites provide searchable links to past articles.a wellorganized collection of links by Jim Lippard.S. published by CSICOP.. Stephen Barrett on what makes people vulnerable to quackery Magazines "Put a pair of earphones around your mixed gallon of clustered distilled water and play the CD . Dowsing for dollars: some thoughts on B. This excellent site by a professor of philosophy at Sacramento City College contains hundreds of skeptical definitions and essays on occult. Amusing Deceptions and Dangerous Delusions. Weird The Anders Mad Scientist page is not easy to classify. one or both should be on the subscription list of any school library.Skepticism and debunking The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Critical Survey of Questionable Therapies. supernatural and pseudoscientific ideas and practices with references to the best skeptical literature. Pseudoscience in the news . Skeptic .

and won't attract spam.718 for a physically impossible motionless electromagnetic generator. New York Times 30 April 2002) Opponents of the scientific method try very hard to appear in debates with scientists. Reuters) The investigators conclude that the clinical effects of homoeopathy are compatible with placebo effects. which has long been regarded as an ally of the theory of evolution.The increasing willingnness of Americans to put faith ahead of science represents a growing divide from the rest of the world. But Is It Quantum Physics? (Dennis Overbye. Believe it or not (Nicholas D. NY Times 9 July 2005) An influential cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. even when evolution is in the curriculum it may not be in the classroom. Man. Kristof. New York Times 15 August 2003) . 2005). Laurie Goodstein. Odds Are Stacked When Science Tries to Debate Pseudoscience (Lawrence Kraus. Merely being on the same stage represents a victory. it's mostly free and well worth it. which is supposed to snatch free energy from a vacuum. Far Out. Or teachers themselves avoid the topic. is now suggesting that belief in evolution as accepted by science today may be incompatible with Catholic faith Evolution Takes a Back Seat in U. Don't worry. Classes (Cornelia Dean.Note: access to stories that have appeared in the New York Times and other newspapers may require registration. Down the Rabbit Hole Evolution debate spawns a saucy monster The theory that a "Flying Spaghetti Monster" created the world is demanding equal time along with Intelligent Design in Kansas biology classrooms. New York Times 1 Feb. New study says homeopathic medicines don't work (Jeremy Lovell. Leading Cardinal Redefines Church's View on Evolution (Cornelia Dean. fearing protests from fundamentalists in their communities. In districts around the country. And major power companies have sunk tens of millions of dollars into a scheme to produce energy by putting hydrogen atoms into a state below their ground state .362. The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science (San Francisco Chronicle) The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is investing close to a million dollars in an obscure Russian scientist's antigravity machine. although it has failed every test and would violate the most fundamental laws of nature.S. Teaching guides and textbooks may meet the approval of biologists. but superintendents or principals discourage teachers from discussing it. NYT 14 Mar 2006) thoughts on What the Bleep. The Patent and Trademark Office recently issued Patent 6.