Friday, December 22, 2017

What is Pseudoscience?

You should be able to tell what pseudoscience is by examining the two words that make up the term; pseudo means false and science means knowledge, hence false knowledge. Simply put, pseudoscience is a collection of thoughts or beliefs regarded by its proponents as factual and scientific despite the absence of evidences gathered and observed through proper scientific methods. Real scientists refer to that as bad science, junk science, or bogus science. And now that you know what it is, you should be able to differentiate between pseudoscience and actual science. If only it’s that simple.

Knowing what pseudoscience means unfortunately is not enough to prevent yourself from being exposed to it and manipulated by it. While there have not been many serious threats to life and humanity posed by any form of pseudoscience, people in the scientific community - the real one – are always eager to put an end to countless fake theories out there disguised under the name of actual science. It is like a blatant and stubborn copyright infringement case where the lawyer uses some other pseudoscience junks as closing argument. The problem is that even after the court of law finds the defendant guilty, some of the juries post that very same defensive argument to their Facebook accounts, just below their latest selfies.

Here are some of the most preposterous examples of pseudoscience thoughts:

  • Moon landing is fake based on the fact that the proponent could never get a job at NASA
  • Earth is flat because some people almost fell off the edge of the planet in their dreams last night
  • Astrology is accurate, according to the seller of a discounted plasma ball
  • Your handwriting tells everything about you, so there is no need to go to psychology school
  • Polygraph test is never wrong; that’s why detectives carry the equipment all the time
  • Aliens built ancient civilizations, humans get no credits whatsoever except to Mulder and Scully

One of the key characteristics of pseudoscience, other than its utter jealousy and contradictory nature to actual science, is that every belief cannot conform to appropriate elements of scientific methods including characterization, hypothesis, predictions, experiments/observations, analysis, and confirmation – science is full of big words, sometimes it hurts the brain indeed.
  1. Characterization: the activity which involves asking questions and gathering resources that can possibly answer the questions.
  2. Hypothesis: make a guess or two, but please keep it as educated as possible. You can call it “prediction” so it sounds more attractive to your crush in class.
  3. Experiments: a test for the hypothesis and figure out whether or not the theory is plausible. Real scientists perform multiple experiments and use different variables. Of course they also make notes because many scientists are old and can easily forget things.
  4. Analysis: data gathered from the experiments act as evidences. Scientists are also very good at drawing conclusions and charts based on factual data.
  5. Publish: write a letter to inform your colleagues about your hypothesis, experiments, and analysis. Attach your notes and clean up the desk afterwards.
  6. More test: let other scientists retest the experiment and see if they come up with different results.
Pseudoscience shall fall as soon as it gets to the experiment part. Many of its proponents may claim that they have done proper experiments and collect evidences, but the notes will only include results they want to see in the first place. The analysis is therefore inevitably incomplete and inaccurate. As a matter of fact, they often fail right from the start because their resources cannot be verified in objective manner.

What is Pseudoscience
That Unicorn is pseudoscience; the real one costs only $1
For example a mother believed that her son was the most beautiful boy in the neighborhood and wanted to conduct some sort of observation for that. Since real science failed to confirm her claim, she turned to the fake version of science. So she selectively collected many photos of young boys whose faces only their own mothers could love and made the comparisons. She then burned all evidences to make fire and published a newspaper article suggesting that his boy was indeed the prettiest one in the neighborhood in 1926. There is no way to replicate the observation because all the test subjects are dead now; more importantly, the observation fails miserably when faced to every objective scrutiny.

Let us try a friendlier example in which you claim that you have an invisible lover who lives in an imaginary tree-house in your backyard. You invite all fortune-tellers and ghost-busters on Facebook to the backyard to witness a magical wedding ceremony. No matter how often you tell the story and regardless of how many books you have published about that belief, it is simply impossible for scientific method to be applied to test the claim. Polygraph test can probably conclude that you’re lying all along, but science still demands dependable evidences to make conclusion – this is why the result of polygraph test cannot be used as evidence in court. In this case, science cannot conclusively say whether the invisible lover is true or plain hoax. The point is that pseudoscience is either a failure when objectively scrutinized or monumentally ridiculous for scientific inquiry.

The world is full of people who pretend to be smart enough and think that everybody else is stupid. Combine that with the unfortunate fact that they have access to the Internet, pseudoscience is currently in its golden age. Chances are you encounter pretty intense pseudoscience on day-to-day basis for examples miraculous substance that stops aging, but strangely looks like water because it is; getting rich methods Warren Buffet doesn’t want you to know, or maybe just doesn’t care; supplements made of all-natural ingredients such as cow urine; horseshoe that brings good luck except for the horse; and so on.

As strange as it may sound, humans are mostly irrational in the sense that they judge something merely based on their own train of thoughts or how their mothers raised them. Scientific method was put in place to help people see things from more objective point of view and avoid personal bias about everything. Real science is testable and objectively happy when proven wrong by empirical evidences. On the other hand, pseudoscience hates falsification to death.