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Bugaboo

The Line between Science and Pseudoscience

29 posts in this topic

Posted (edited)

There are so many topics to research, so many debates, so many advancements in science and technology...

I find it rather difficult to distinguish pseudoscientific concepts, crazy ideas, scientific concepts etc.

For example, I have been interested in life extension recently and everyone is keep telling different stories, different opinions... I am no biologist, so how can I understand whatever life extension is pseudoscience or not, even though it sounds feasible from outside? Studying biology would be an obvious answer but there are many topics like this, I can not study everything you know!

Another example is obviously... MBTI theory? Anyway, enough with examples.

What do you think about this? How do you understand whatever a concept is pseudoscience or valid? 

 

Edited by Bugaboo

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2 hours ago, Bugaboo said:

There are so many topics to research, so many debates, so many advancements in science and technology...

I find it rather difficult to distinguish pseudoscientific concepts, crazy ideas, scientific concepts etc.

For example, I have been interested in life extension recently and everyone is keep telling different stories, different opinions... I am no biologist, so how can I understand whatever life extension is pseudoscience or not, even though it sounds feasible from outside? Studying biology would be an obvious answer but there are many topics like this, I can not study everything you know!

Another example is obviously... MBTI theory? Anyway, enough with examples.

What do you think about this? How do you understand whatever a concept is pseudoscience or valid? 

 

Strictly speaking, one shouldn't view hypotheses or scientific theories or beliefs of any kind as being either scientific or pseudoscientific. One's credence - the probability that one assigns to something being true - in a particular belief ought to increase or decrease as the weight of the evidence in favour of the belief increases or decreases.

It can be difficult, but there are some things one can do. First of all, what do scientific authorities such as the National Academy of Sciences, and others, say about it? What is the scientific consensus? That should be one's starting point. One does not have the time to do in-depth research on every topic, so relying on expert consensus is a good heuristic. A scientific theory is going to be more likely to be true in a world in which 95% of experts accept it than in a world in which 35% of experts accept it. Look at position statements from scientific authorities, look at whether studies have been conducted on whether there is a scientific consensus, and consult credible sources such as New Scientist, which often interview many experts. Also look at what the skeptic community has said about the topic: read the Skeptics Guide to the Universe website, or the Neurologica blog, for instance.

Secondly, if one is doing one's own in-depth research, look for credible sources. Start with systematic reviews and meta-analyses in the peer-reviewed scientific literature - if they are available. If not, look at individual studies, but make sure you're looking for studies which add weight to a hypothesis as well as studies which appear to contradict it. Read the studies themselves - don't rely exclusively on media reports, but the media can be a useful tool for finding studies in the first place.

This table is useful, but make sure you're very familiar with a scientific theory or hypothesis before dismissing it as pseudoscience or accepting it as science. 

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Posted (edited)

 

10 hours ago, geniusofmozart said:

 

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This chart is mostly wrong (on both sides). 

The sixth bullet point on the left side would be right, after deleting the words "rigorous and". Science experiments may or may not be conducted rigorously - the scientist may be limited by any number of different factors e.g. lack of funding, lack of resources, lack of time etc.

The chart is mostly about "what is more reliable" vs "what is less reliable". But then, "science" is not a synonym for "reliable", and neither is "pseudoscience" a synonym for "unreliable".

 

Edited by Major Chord

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2 hours ago, geniusofmozart said:

For example, I have been interested in life extension recently and everyone is keep telling different stories, different opinions... I am no biologist, so how can I understand whatever life extension is pseudoscience or not, even though it sounds feasible from outside? Studying biology would be an obvious answer but there are many topics like this, I can not study everything you know!

Another example is obviously... MBTI theory? Anyway, enough with examples.

The chart already posted is a reasonably good start.

The problem with distinguishing science from pseudoscience, however, is that it is difficult for those who are not well-versed in the topic to make the distinctions the chart outlines. Here are some means that non-experts can use to spot pseudoscience.

  • Is it too good to be true? It's probably pseudoscience. Anything that you would really LIKE to be true can be made to look scientific enough that you'll accept the rest of the claims.
  • Is it really scary? There is probably pseudoscience involved. Science is full of scary things that are extremely unlikely to affect you.
  • Does it involve food/nutrition? Almost always pseudoscience. Interestingly, food invokes very moral/emotional reactions from most people. Many religions follow strict dietary laws that aren't based on science, but on their ideas of "cleanliness". Even otherwise non-religious people can be fanatical about food, e.g., vegans.
  • Is it at the center of political debate? Then there is definitely pseudoscience, even if there is real science underlying it. Those who wish to influence policy will point at real science and then say that you disagree with the science (or don't believe in science) because you disagree with their pseudoscientific conclusions.

Things like "life extension" are usually too good to be true. Lifespans have been getting longer naturally, as our knowledge of nutrition and medicine have expanded.

MBTI? It's technically a pseudoscience, but not radically so. The main problem is that it is a trademarked system, and there is therefore an inherent resistance to updating it to conform to new scientific results. It's not radically a pseudoscience, however, because it doesn't differ too much from the Five Factor model of personality, which has a more solid scientific foundation. You can use MBTI to gain a layman's understanding of psychological types that is reasonably useful, but it doesn't have a firm enough foundation to clarify debates about things like, "How is feeling different from thinking?" The Five Factor Model provides coherent answers to similar questions, because each axis of measurement is well-defined.

In the other direction, it is possible to characterize real science as pseudoscience or otherwise being invalid, when many people really don't like what the science says. IQ is a good example of this. It's a very strong psychological metric that is very predictive, even more so that the Five Factor model, but people don't like that a "mere test" can make those kinds of predictions.

In short, if people are getting emotionally worked up, instead of (for example) just rolling their eyes at another crank, then you're probably dealing with pseudoscience.

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Posted (edited)

It can indeed be quite difficult, especially when the person claims conclusive experimental evidence that no one apparently attempted to replicate. I am currently grappling with the extraordinary claims of Mae-Wan Ho and her perspectives on biophysics and the properties of water. It seems quite legit, reasonable, interesting, testable and all, then she mixes in things like homeopathy, cold fusion, mobile phones EM waves and cancer risks, and other things we haven't found to work, sprinkled with a generous dose of mysticism. So it's definetly not mainstream, but the reviews I found don't seem to be particularly hostile, a lot even compare her work to that of Schrödinger's "What is Life?".

Find and read the critics that have been levied against a claim. More often than not, you will find at least someone who disagrees. If the reasoning is sound, try to find a response from the ones who made the initial claim. Rinse and repeat until a side seems on shakier ground than the other. It's definetly not a fool proof method, but it can shoot down some of the arguments that seem quite strong and reasonable but that turn out pretty weak by experts' standards.

Edited by slade19

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The line is most clear in peer reviewed work, the replication of which is documented in peer reviewed work... the more the better.

But even this falls far short of certainty, as, for example, the failing fortunes of anthropogenesis as a primary climate driver illustrate.

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Science can be tested, replicated and it's based on evidence and it's open to debate through different methods and conclusions trying to identify personal / bias with use of inductive and deductive reasoning and with posibility to refutation.
Pseudocience only are manifested only in people who believe it is difficult to detect and refute ie not based in logic (Example the elves could describe as something that is difficult to catch, describe, without logical bases and could never be refuted or analized and without basics).

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I wonder if Please login or register to see this link. can be aligned with pseudoscience according to the previous opinions?  If you use structure and patterns created, then by what rules do we rule out the subjectivity of the statements concerning the psychology in science by opinion? I do believe moving forward in science is important.....regardless of those opinions.

 

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It seems to me that as reason wanes with age one becomes more pseudo-scientific.

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On 6/16/2017 at 5:50 PM, Monte314 said:

 

But even this falls far short of certainty, as, for example, the failing fortunes of anthropogenesis as a primary climate driver illustrate.

Could you tell me how a young earth creationist could ever have an accurate view of earth science?

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My views on the origins of the Earth, the Universe, and Life are not "scientific".  

I really don't have much to say about Earth "Science", so-called... except that it does not seem to me to meet the criteria that qualify a body of knowledge to be regarded a "science".  This is why it has been so easily, and so thoroughly, politicized.

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It's science if it follows the scientific method. That means there is an observation, a hypothesis, experimentation, observation, and analysis. All pseudoscience fails at one or more of these steps, often by failing to develop a valid experiment or ignoring/fabricating results. Or just skips the process entirely.

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15 minutes ago, Monte314 said:

I really don't have much to say about Earth "Science", so-called... except that it does not seem to me to meet the criteria that qualify a body of knowledge to be regarded a "science".

That's what one would say of any "science" one knows very little about. If conclusions don't please people, I am pretty sure the scientificity of the field that spawned them is not going to be exempt from the long list of poor attack vectors people will use to challenge them.

18 minutes ago, Monte314 said:

This is why it has been so easily, and so thoroughly, politicized.

Anything can be politicized, if political minded people feel they need to get involved. As a reminder, the example you used is very very largely uncontroversial everywhere, except for your country. I think this speaks more to the constant special interests meddling occuring in the US than it could regarding whether or not earth science is a "science".

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Posted (edited)

36 minutes ago, Monte314 said:

My views on the origins of the Earth, the Universe, and Life are not "scientific".  

I really don't have much to say about Earth "Science", so-called... except that it does not seem to me to meet the criteria that qualify a body of knowledge to be regarded a "science".  This is why it has been so easily, and so thoroughly, politicized.

You have this amazing delusion that whole bodies of science, with millions of working scientists behind them, are completely wrong.

You are incapable of judging the criteria in question.  It is akin to having a Flat Earther weigh in on space travel.

Edited by Kisai

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Mr. K, I did not say that "whole bodies of science... are completely wrong"... nor anything from which such could be reasonably inferred. You seem to be incapable of judging the criteria in question.

---------------

Slade19:  What are the Fundamental Laws of this earth "science"?  The handful of established, rigorous, infinitely precise, immutable principles from which the rest of this "science" flows?

I don't just mean a corpus of generally unsystematic observations, broadly organized into ad hoc categories, and expressed in prose (rather than mathematical formulae).

I mean Fundamental Laws characteristic of an authentic SCIENCE, such as Maxwell's Equations for electricity and magnetism; Euclid's Postulates for Euclidean Geometry; Kepler's Laws of planetary motion: The Laws of Thermodynamics; The Unversal Gas Law; Newton's Laws of Motion, and their refinement by Einstein; The Law of Constant Composition in Chemistry; the Conservation of Mass/Energy; the Constancy of c in a vacuum... the Laws of Organic Chemistry for Biology... and we could go on, and on.

What are the Fundamental Laws of this earth "science"?

 

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11 minutes ago, Monte314 said:

Mr. K, I did not say that "whole bodies of science... are completely wrong"... nor anything from which such could be reasonably inferred. You seem to be incapable of judging the criteria in question.

Perhaps you should photoshop a serpent's tongue over the dog's.  Or perhaps you can explain how Y.E.C. is synchronized with our scientific knowledge of the universe.

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2 minutes ago, Monte314 said:

Mr. K, I did not say that "whole bodies of science... are completely wrong"... nor anything from which such could be reasonably inferred. You seem to be incapable of judging the criteria in question.

---------------

Slade19:  What are the Fundamental Laws of this earth "science"?  The handful of established, rigorous, infinitely precise, immutable principles from which the rest of this "science" flows?

I don't just mean a corpus of generally unsystematic observations, broadly organized into ad hoc categories, and expressed in prose (rather than mathematics).

I mean Fundamental Laws characteristic of an authentic SCIENCE, such as Maxwell's Equations for electricity and magnetism; Euclid's Postulates for Euclidean Geometry; Kepler's Laws of planetary motion: The Laws of Thermodynamics; The Unversal Gas Law; Newton's Laws of Motion, and their refinement by Einstein; The Law of Constant Composition in Chemistry; the Conservation of Mass/Energy; the Constancy of c in a vacuum... the Laws of Organic Chemistry for Biology... and we could go on, and on.

What are the Fundamental Laws of this earth "science"?

 

You named quite a lot of them. There is no reason why we can't apply basic physics to earth. Earth Science means applying chemistry, physics, and biology, to the study of earth as a physical object. I don't understand what's the problem with that. Earth science measures chemical reactions rates, magnetism of the crust, temperature, pressure, velocities and humidity of air masses; it uses radioactive decay, materials mechanical properties, Fluid mechanics...If you insist on a specific formalism to earth science then I guess the omega-equation to infer the vertical velocity of air masses, the Herlofson thermodynamic diagram...

But this is a silly argument Monte. You can argue all you want for the complexity of the system it studies, but denying that it has a strong formal backing is dead in the egg.

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I knew this would be your response... "it's an eclectic field which draws from many areas."  

But the same is true of many mundane areas of human endeavor that we do not, and with very good reason, call "sciences".  One might conclude from your answer that there is really nothing that fundamentally distinguishes earth "science" from any of these.

But you are right: this is a silly argument.  I'm just making a big deal out of something I don't actually care about, and (as Mr. K said), something about which I know next to nothing... perhaps nothing at all.

So, I will concede to you and Mr. K, that Earth Science is a bona fide Science, in the same sense as Pbysics, Chemistry, and all those other petty pasttimes that fall so far short of the purity, beauty, and intellectual grandeur of Mathematics... the Queen of Sciences(*).

 

 

(*) As quoted in Gauss zum Gedächtniss (1856) by Wolfgang Sartorius von Waltershausen; Variants: "Mathematics is the queen of sciences and number theory is the queen of mathematics. She often condescends to render service to astronomy and other natural sciences, but in all relations she is entitled to the first rank."

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4 minutes ago, Monte314 said:

I knew this would be your response... "it's an ecclectic field which draws from many areas."  

But the same is true of many mundane areas of human endeavor that we do not, with very good reason, call "sciences".  I conclude from your answer that there is really nothing that fundamentally distinguishes earth "science" from any of these.

But you are right: this is a silly argument.  And, I'm just making a big deal out of something I don't care about, and (as Mr. K said), something about which I know next to nothing... perhaps nothing at all.

This is still a silly argument, since it's the direct application of physical theories to Earth as an object. Nothing else. It's not so much an eclectic field as a focused application of the principles you and I mentioned to the Earth.

You asked what were the "The handful of established, rigorous, infinitely precise, immutable principles from which the rest of this "science" flows?" and I respond "Physics". From electromagnetism, thermodynamics, organic and inorganic, solid state, aqueous, gazeous chemistry, Materials science, and virtually every other area in it is used. And they all somehow agree, even when you get fossils and other biological considerations into it, or biochemistry at the scale of the biosphere. Seems pretty damn robust to me.

That's like saying forensic science isn't a science because it uses chemistry, motion mechanics and biology ("eclectic"), and doesn't have infinitely precise principles of its own. Hell we could even apply the same idea to biology since you reject all the evolution part, it's just an eclectic field drawing from physics and chemistry and a "corpus of generally unsystematic observations, broadly organized into ad hoc categories, and expressed in prose".

 

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"This is still a silly argument, since it's the direct application of physical theories to Earth as an object. Nothing else. It's not so much an eclectic field as a focused application of the principles you and I mentioned to the Earth."

Do you mean to say that *every* "application of physical theories to some entity" constitutes  a "science"?  Since "nothing else" is needed?

This definition is so broad, I think, it makes the term "science" meaningless... since it applies to virtually everything.

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5 minutes ago, Monte314 said:

"This is still a silly argument, since it's the direct application of physical theories to Earth as an object. Nothing else. It's not so much an eclectic field as a focused application of the principles you and I mentioned to the Earth."

Do you mean to say that *every* "application of physical theories to some entity" constitutes  a "science"?  Since "nothing else" is needed?

This definition is so broad, I think, it makes the term "science" meaningless... since it applies to virtually everything.

What, the rigorous empirical study of a physical natural object within a falsifiable theoretical framework is not sufficient? This field, like others, uses Physics to make testable, falsifiable claims about a specific object's properties, aiming to understand it better. Isn't organic chemistry the application of physical chemistry to a specific element (carbon)?

Why wouldn't the study of a class of objects be a science Monte? Can I study stars as objects, and planets as objects as well, or does that fall outside of science for some reason? Or take neurosciences, a field entirely focused on a single part of a physical object.

I think this would be easier if you clarified what a "science" is to you.

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I conceeded the main point several posts back, so I think we are done.

 This has been an interesting discussion, but I need to take a break.  I have been given a large data collect, and asked to apply my N-dimensional movie algorithm to assess a new technique for clinical assessment of hyper-spectral EEG's.  Sadly, this doesn't leave much time for me to argue here about whether or not I know what "science" is.

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14 minutes ago, Monte314 said:

I conceeded the main point several posts back, so I think we are done.

Didn't see it before. I don't know how you make edits without it appearing as such.

 

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There are no well tested treatments for human life extension. What there are is a lot of experiments with lower animals. That is because these can be tested whereas it would take 50 years to get the results form a human study. There are some human results, such as that with metformin, which where found by accident.

It is quite relevant to the Earth Sciences debate above. In that the mechanisms seen in lower animals may carry over to the human one. But as medicine shows, often they do not. due to differences in the system. Certainly doing the experiments does count as science.

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Depends on what you mean by "science". Science can mean "what follows the laws under which the universe operates", "the study of the laws under which the universe operates", "the body of books and other things recorded by people referred to as scientists", "the current consensus of those called scientists in the modern day", "that which tries to achieve a rational understanding of truth", "that which follows the scientific method", and more.

Pseudo-science just means "that which purports to be science but is not", which could be purported to be scientific using any one of science's definitions, and not by another definition.

Something could also be pseudo-science by one of those definitions of science, and yet scientific by another, and by another, neither.

So as you can see, the lines are extremely unclear.

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