This is an extract from my latest blog post, titled "Pseudoscience
So, I guess I should've done this one sooner. Pseudoscience is pretty much the pinnacle of anathema to everything I'm struggling for on this blog (hey, writing dozens of words about stuff as often as five or six times a month is a real struggle sometimes). I'm all about science
, and a worldview based on empirical data and testable theories. I'm an atheist, but the interesting fight isn't just against religion, it's against the irrationality and flawed thinking that underlies all kinds of non-reality-based beliefs and ideas, religion included.
Pseudoscience is what you get when a hopeful but misleading patina of science is used to try and smarten up some ideas which, however nice they might be, have no connection to the real world. It's some phenomenon or notion whose fans will stand by it unwaveringly, regardless of whether it's actually supported by any evidence. Astrology
, for instance, is widely regarded as a pseudoscience. Its claims can be shown to be empty and meaningless once you bring a few actual scientific investigative techniques into it, and its adherents have to sacrifice intellectual honesty to scrape together a flimsy charade of supporting evidence.
Obviously nobody ever thinks that what they're doing is pseudoscience. People don't believe that they're deliberately ignoring contradictory evidence and sticking to unsupported claims long after they've been shown conclusively to be untenable. They're much more likely to think that they're steadfastly fighting an uphill battle for a truth that the rest of the world is too blind to accept. As a result, it's sometimes hard to untangle good, healthy debate and disagreement on the one hand, from actual pseudoscientific nonsense on the other. When people have conflicting ideas, how can you tell if there's a reasonable, scientific difference in opposing parties' interpretations of the data, or if one side's just full of shit?
Well, despite what contradictory views different people might have on Ufology, or Bigfootonomy, or the current deadness-to-aliveness quotient of Elvis Presley, there are some definite protocols and standards which you have to adhere to if you want to legitimately call what you're doing science.
When addressing pseudoscience, it's not really constructive or desirable to simply declare "This entire field of study is bunk", regardless of how tempting it might often be. There's always the possibility that someone may come along and provide a robust scientific theory about something we might have written off as complete crap - and if there's ever any evidence that this is what's happened, we need to be open to it. But a lot of stuff is
bullshit, has no supportive evidence, and isn't likely to anytime soon.
So, rather than simply listing a number of disciplines which are stamped irreparably with the label 'Pseudoscience' and may never be taken seriously by anyone who values their scientific credibility, more common is to provide a list of "red flags" - things which generally indicate poor methodology, irrational and ideology-driven research, and that you would do well to be more than usually doubtful about.
What follows is a list of these things to look out for, which should warn you that proper science might not be at the top of the agenda. I'm taking a lot of cues from similar lists at Skeptoid
, and these three wikis
, but with my own suggestions for how best to calibrate your bullshit detector.
Read this post in full on my blog over here