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Pseudoscience

One oI my interests is pseudoscience. There are a couple oI lines I like to draw, between science and
nonscience, and between nonscience and pseudoscience. I think science is a good thing, pseduoscience is
a bad thing, and nonscience can be anything in between.
Let's start with science. Ultimately, my philosopher Iriend tells me, it is an impossible job to cleanly
deIine science such that everything which is science is inside the line you draw, and nothing that isn't
science is inside. Ok. So I have some Iuzzy boundaries Ior inside vs. outside. Some things might move
more cleanly inside, in time, and others will start Iuzzy and then move outside. For the most part, though,
the Iuzziness doesn't cause me problems.
Inside science we have things where people are trying to understand the natural universe, using sharable
methods and data, and is subject to Iurther testing. Each oI those elements is important. Science is about
understanding. Making use oI your understanding (say to build a better computer) is engineering. This is
one oI the many good things that isn't science. Science is about the natural universe. II you're discussing
the nature oI God, whether there is one, etc., you're over in theology, not science. II you, say, have an
experiment where only you can get a certain result, and iI I stood next to you and looked I wouldn't see
what you did, then you've leIt science. The most diIIicult part, Ior both scientists and non-scientists, is the
last -- whatever your conclusions and understanding are today, you have to be open to new data that will
cause you to revise yourselI tomorrow.
This last is perhaps the quickest method to Iind pseudoscience. The related point is, in science you don't
start with your answer. The Ilat earth and young earth sites over in the 20 links game all start with their
conclusion that the earth is Ilat, or young, and then assemble whatever arguments they can, however
contrived and ultimately dishonest, to support their conclusion. A useIul question, then, is "What
evidence would cause you to change your mind?". II there's none, the person isn't interested in the
science.
Having divided to science and nonscience, keeping in mind that 'nonscience' is not a slam, it's time to
think about pseudoscience. I've got a shelI or two oI examples on my bookcases at home. Essential to
being pseudoscience is that the authors/Ians/... have to claim that they are indeed doing science. Baseball,
painting, theater, plumbing, ... are all good areas and aren't science. But it's also the case that none oI
them claim to be science. In baseball, I think the designated hitter rule is bad. This isn't a matter oI
science; no evidence you present will (at least nothing I've heard in 40 years on the topic) change my
mind. But no problem, it isn't science.
Where we get to the pseudoscience is with the claim that it is science, even though it Iails to be science.
So, Ior instance, it is possible that the earth really is Ilat -- iI we're being scientiIic we have to be open to
the possibility that tomorrow we'll get a batch oI Iresh inIormation about optics, gravity, etc., that will
lead to the conclusion that the earth is Ilat aIter all. But the Ilat earthers are maintaining it in spite oI the
Iact that there is not such evidence now.
Perhaps my Iavorite pseudoscience is biorhythms. It's something that couldhave turned out to be science.
The problem only being that when it didn't, the believers didn't stop believing that it was. The idea here is
that your body has certain rhythms (which it does in some things) that could predict whether you were in
better or worse shape, and more or less accident prone. We're ok so Iar -- the topic is natural universe, the
data are sharable (did people have more accidents, when were they born, where were they in their
biorhythm(s), etc.). But when it came down to comparing the observations to the predictions, it Iailed.
There were some problems with the idea (ex: how did the body maintain such a precise timing oI the
rhythms over a liIetime?), but iI the predictions accorded with observation, that's ok. Just means more
research is needed, this time to answer those questions.
I Iirst read about this in the 1970s. At that time, one oI the books mentioned that there really was a lot oI
data in support oI the idea, but it was in a steamer trunk on a ship that sank during World War II. Bit
puzzling that with almost 30 years since the sinking the proponents hadn't managed to Iind more data, but
I was younger then and it didn't strike me as odd as it should have. In the mid-1990s, I looked again
(Iorget the reason) and a recently published book was repeating the steamer trunk story. Come on!
Another 20 years on, 50 years aIter the event, the Ians still hadn't managed to Iind new data. This is 'the
dog ate my homework', not science. II a process that is supposed to be going on today can't be supported
with observations today, you've lost the 'sharable data' part oI being science.
Pseudoscience is unIortunately common when you start looking Ior inIormation about climate. On the
other hand, most oI it is Iairly easy to identiIy, being not even as close to science as the biorhythm
business.
*Actually, I think there's one category missing, I'd add d) to your three.

a) Science
b) Non-Science
c) Pseudo-science
d) Anti-science (whose study is sometimes called agnotology)

The distinction, to me, is that people engaged in pseudo-science think they have an explanation Ior
something, and it doesn't work, and data doesn't support it, and Ior it to be true may well requires
overturning big chunks oI well-established science.

Anti-science tries to make some elements oI science just disappear, typically by creating doubt, and
sometimes by employing the results oI pseudo-science. The latter is especially amusing when someone
doing anti-science points at several mutually-contradictory pseudo-science eIIorts to cause conIusion
about real science.

Hence, in climate, I think Svensmark's ideas on cosmic rays might have been non-science, but have more
likely moved into pseudo-science. Likewise Abdusamatov on solar causes, and I think Jaworowski on
CO2, and a Iew others.

These might be called "scientist with an idea that just doesn't make it", but they stick to it long aIter the
evidence against it is overpowering."

I'd say that in climate, anti-science is much more prevalent, and sometimes use pseudo-science arguments
as well, or point at them.