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A pseudoscience is any body of knowledge purporting to be either both factual and scientific, or of an even higher standard of knowledge, but which fails to comply with scientific method.

Motivations for the advocacy or promotion of pseudoscience range from simple naivety about the nature of science or of the scientific method, to deliberate deception for financial or other benefit. Some people consider some or all forms of pseudoscience to be harmless entertainment. Others, such as Richard Dawkins, consider all forms of pseudoscience to be harmful, whether or not they result in immediate harm to their followers.

Table of contents
1 Classifying Pseudoscience
2 Pseudoscience Contrasted with Protoscience
3 The Problem of Demarcation
4 Examples of Pseudoscience
5 Non-Pseudoscience Nonsense
6 See Also
7 External Links

Classifying Pseudoscience

Typically, pseudoscience fails to meet the criteria met by science generally (including the scientific method), and can be identified by a combination of these characteristics:

Pseudoscience is distinguishable from revelation, theology or spirituality in that it claims to offer insight into the physical world by "scientific" means (i.e., most usually in accordance with the scientific method). Systems of thought that rely upon "divine" or "inspired" knowledge are not considered pseudoscience if they do not claim to be scientific or to overturn well established science.

Pseudoscience Contrasted with Protoscience

Pseudoscience also differs from protoscience. The latter may be defined as speculation or hypothesis which has not yet been tested adequately by the scientific method, but which is otherwise consisent with existing science or which, where inconsistent, offers reasonable account of the inconsistency. Pseudoscience, in contrast, is characteristically wanting adequate tests or the possibility of them, occasionally untestable in principle, and its supporters are frequently strident in insisting that existing scientific results are wrong. Pseudoscience is often unresponsive to ordinary scientific procedures (e.g., peer review, publication in standard journals). In some cases, no one applying scientific methods could disprove a pseudoscientific hypothesis (i.e. untestable claims) and failure to do so is often cited as evidence of the truth of the pseudoscience.

The boundaries between pseudoscience, protoscience, and "real" science are often unclear to non-specialist observers. They can even be obscure to experts. Many people have tried to offer objective criteria for the term, with mixed success. Often the term is used simply as a pejorative to express the speaker's low opinion of a given field, regardless of any objective measures.

If the claims of a given pseudoscience can be experimentally tested it may be real science, however odd, astonishing, or intuitively acceptable. If they cannot be tested, it is likely pseudoscience. If the claims made are inconsistent with existing experimental results or established theory, it is often presumed to be pseudoscience. Conversely, if the claims of any given "science" cannot be experimentally tested it may not be a real science, however odd, astonishing, or intuitively acceptable.

In such circumstances it may be difficult to distinguish which of two opposing "sciences" are valid; for example, both the proponents and opponents of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming have recruited the help of scientists to endorse contradictory "scientific" positions, because of differing political goals. This enlistment of science in the service of politics is sometimes called "junk science".

Such fields as acupuncture and lucid dreaming may be categorized as protosciences; there is a reasonable expectation that as they are experimentally examined, they may produce some scientifically valid results. They are, at least, accessible to experimental examination.

The Problem of Demarcation

After more than a century of active dialogue, the question of what marks the boundary of science remains fundamentally unsettled. As a consequence the issue of what constitutes pseudoscience continues to be controversial. Nonetheless, reasonable consensus exists on certain sub-issues. Criteria for demarcation have traditionally been coupled to one philosophy of science or another. Logical positivism, for example, espoused a theory of meaning which held that only statements about empirical observations are meaningful, effectively asserting that statements which are not derived in this manner (including all metaphysical statements) are meaningless. Later, Karl Popper attacked logical positivism and introduced his own criterion for demarcation, falsifiability. This in turn was criticised by Thomas Kuhn, and also by Popper supporter Imre Lakatos who proposed his own criteria that distinguished between progressive and degenerative research programs.

Kuhn and paradigm shifts

Thomas Kuhn, an American historian of science, has proven very influential in the philosophy of science, and is often connected with what has been called postpositivism or postempiricism. In his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn divided the process of doing science into two different endeavors, which he called normal science and extraordinary science. The process of "normal" science is what most scientists do while working within the current accepted paradigm of the scientific community, and within this context Karl Popper's ideas on falsification as well as the idea of a scientific method still have some currency. This sort of work is what Kuhn calls "problem solving": working within the bounds of the current theory and its implications for what sorts of experiments should or should not be fruitful. However, during the process of doing "normal" science, Kuhn claimed, anomalies are generated, some of which lead to an extension of the dominant paradigm in order to explain them (like the idea of punctuated equilibrium within the paradigm of evolution), and others for which no satisfactory explanation can be found within the current paradigm. When enough of these anomalies have accumulated, and scientists within the field find them significant (often a very subjective judgment), a "crisis period" is began, and some scientists begin to participate in the activity of "extraordinary" science. In this phase, it is recognized that the old paradigm is fundamentally flawed and cannot be adapted to further use, and totally new (or often old and abandoned) ideas are looked at, most of which will be failures. But during this time, a new paradigm is created, and after a protracted period of "paradigm shift," the new paradigm is accepted as the norm by the scientific community and integrated into their previous work, and the old paradigm is banished to the history books. The classic example of this is the shift from Maxwellian/Newtonian physics to Einsteinian/Quantum physics in the early 20th century. If the acceptance or failure of scientific theories relied simply on simple falsification, according to Kuhn, then no theory would ever survive long enough to be fruitful, as all theories contain anomalies.

The process by which Kuhn says a new paradigm is accepted by the scientific community at large does indicate one possible demarcation between science and pseudoscience. Richard J. Bernstein reads Kuhn as saying that a new paradigm is accepted mainly because it has a superior ability to solve problems that arise in the process of doing normal science. That is, the value of a scientific paradigm is its predictive power and its ability to suggest naturalistic solutions to new problems while continuing to satisfy all of the problems solved by the paradigm that it replaces. Pseudoscience can then be said to be demarcated by a failure to provide such naturalistic explanations, which leads to the labeling of any theory represented as science and appealing to metaphysical explanations for natural phenomena as a pseudoscientific idea.

Feyerabend and the problem of autonomy in science

There has been a post-Kuhn trend to downplay the difference between science and pseudoscience, as Kuhn's work largely called question to the Popperian ideal of simple demarcation, and emphasized the human, subjective quality of scientific change. The radical philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend went so far as to claim that there can be found no method within the history of scientific practice which has not been violated at some point in the advancing of scientific knowledge. Both Lakatos and Feyerabend suggest that science is not an autonomous form of reasoning, but is inseparable from the larger body of human thought and inquiry. If so, then the questions of truth and falsity, and correct or incorrect understanding are not uniquely empirical. Many meaningful questions can not be settled empirically -- not only in practice, but in principle.

The problem of demarcation is considered solved by some, for others there is no such thing as an autonomous scientific method, no definitive philosophy of science and no clear and agreed-upon distinction between science and pseudoscience.

Examples of Pseudoscience

Main article: List of alternative, speculative and disputed theories

Examples of fields of endeavor that many consider – to varying extents – pseudoscientific include Cold fusion, pseudoarchaeology, Gene Ray's Time Cube, astrology and homeopathy. Pseudoscientific science and medical practices are often quite popular. Medical pseudosciences even sometimes show notable theraputic benefits, possibly due to the placebo effect or observer bias. Many pseudosciences are associated with the New Age movement and there is a tendency to improperly associate all practices of the "New Age" with pseudoscience.

There are also young fields of science that are sometimes frowned upon by scientists from established fields, primarily because they are speculative in nature:

These fields are not considered pseudoscientific or protoscientific by most scientists, though, and they are studied at many universities and specialized institutes. SETI and CETI advocates do generally not claim that extraterrestrials exist, although most consider the possibility likely (see Drake equation). There is controversy in biology about whether evidence of extraterrestrial microbial life has been found (fossilized in meteorites and as part of the Viking program's exobiology experiments).

Certain "watchdog" groups, such as CSICOP, have released statements expressing concern about the apparent growing popularity of pseudoscience, especially when it applies to scientific fields that are intended to save people's lives. A number of self-proclaimed alternative medicine treatments have been designated pseudoscience by critics, largely because some of these methods inspire false hope in terminally ill patients, and end up costing large amounts of money without actually providing any real benefit, treatment, or cure for various ailments.

Non-Pseudoscience Nonsense

There is a subset of what is often called pseudoscience which differs from what has been here termed pseudoscience. Most of these are mathematically based, and the problems are often phrased with tempting simplicity. They often live in a closed system of assumptions and premises, and depend on a faulty interpretation of the rules of that system. While pseudosciences have merely failed to prove themselves true, these undertakings can be proven impossible.

The ancient geometric problems of trisecting an angle using only a straightedge and compass, and of drawing a square with the same area as a given circle (or "squaring the circle") are examples of this kind of problem. Some say that the inventions purporting to illustrate perpetual motion also fall into this group. The latter appears with such frequency that the U. S. Patent Office has a policy not to consider patent applications of this sort (see perpetual motion for more information).

Because its success does not depend on empirical evidence from the "real" world, some scientists do not consider mathematics to be a science. In that context a violation of the rules of mathematics cannot be pseudoscience. Those scientists who are mathematicians however, would say instead that the correct technical term for something violating the rules of mathematics would be 'wrong'. Mathematics differs from the other sciences in that it is based on proof, which (mathematicians say) provides a much higher degree of certainty than can be afforded by experiment (though some experimentalists disagree).

See Also

External Links