Math, Science & Technology
Characteristics of Pseudoscience
Modified from: Moller, Lee, "BCS Debates a Qi Gong Master," Rational Enquirer, Vol 6, No. 4, Apr. 94.
“A pseudoscience is an established body of knowledge 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.”
Lower, Steven. "Pseudoscience." Chem 1 Concepts . 29 Aug. 2005. 21 Jan. 2006
One of the most confusing things about pseudoscience is the "proof." The practitioners of this fake field claim that they have indisputable "proof" confirming their beliefs. The anecdotal evidence seems to show a 100% success rate. This "evidence" is often so compelling that the average citizen cannot help but believe, and when trusted newspapers and television news programs report this information as fact . . .
Below is a list of questions you should ask yourself when investigating a new "scientific" topic. These questions will help you to separate the good science from the sham.
- Has the subject shown progress over the years?
- Does the discipline use technical words, such as "vibration" or "energy" or others, without clearly defining what they mean?
- Would accepting the tenets of a claim require you to abandon any well established physical laws?
- Are popular articles on the subject lacking in references?
- Is the only evidence offered anecdotal in nature?
- Does the proponent of the subject claim that "air-tight" experiments have been performed that prove the truth of the subject matter, and that cheating would have been impossible?
- Are the results of the aforementioned experiments successfully repeated by other researchers?
- Does the proponent of the subject claim to be overly or unfairly criticized?
- Is the subject taught only in non-credit institutions?
- Are the best texts on the subject decades old?
- Does the proponent of the claim use what one writer has called "factuals" - statements that are a largely or wholly true but unrelated to the claim?
- When criticized, do the defenders of the claim attack the critic rather than the criticism?
- Does the proponent make appeals to history (i.e. it has been around a long time, so it must be true)?
- Does the subject display the "shyness effect" (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't)?
- Does the proponent use the appeal to ignorance argument ("there are more things under heaven … than are dreamed of in your philosophy...")?
- Does the proponent use alleged expertise in other areas to lend weight to the claim?
Look for other characteristics of pseudoscience under the “Balloney Detection Page: http://www.physics.smu.edu/%7Epseudo/baloney.html
Another useful site is http://www.chem1.com/acad/sci/pseudosci.html