Look closely, pseudoscience is everywhere. It is on the Ads that pop up on your social media feed, on the back of your shampoo bottle and even on media. You mistake it for the real thing because of the bold statements slathered in jargon. These statements do not mean anything, and scientific experiments do not back them up.
Science vs Pseudoscience
To describe the concept of pseudoscience, let us first describe science. Science is a systematic enterprise that studies the structure and behavior of the world through experiment and observation. Make sure you focus on the ‘systematic enterprise’ part, because it will be important as we describe pseudoscience.
Pseudo, on the other hand, equals to not genuine, sham. Pseudoscience is the combination of beliefs, statements and facts that claim to be scientific, but are not compatible with the ‘systematic’ structure of science. That’s why scientists get agonized when someone says that carbs are bad for you or everything can give you cancer. Pseudoscience fields claim to be scientific, but they are not.
Any theory or fact that claims to be scientific is pseudoscientific if:
- It is less progressive compared to other theories for a long time and has many unsolved problems
- The practitioners of this field do little to solve the problems through experiment and reasoning.
- It shows no effort to evaluate the theories in relation to other scientific theories
The table below puts science vs pseudoscience to help you differentiate between the two:
|Explains things using mechanisms||No mechanistic explanation of any statement|
|Applies statistical methods to look for patterns in natural world||Uses assertions that are dogmatic, comparing things to be related on the basis of a few similarities|
|Practitioners evaluate theories with alternative ones||Practitioners are completely oblivious to alternate theories|
|Uses simple theories with broad explanations||Uses theories that may need extra hypotheses for explanations|
|Progresses over time by developing newly discovered traits and theories||Stagnant and relies on heresy|
One of the biggest examples of pseudosciences is Astrology. While sciences like Biology have a lot of mechanisms and organisms to support the theories, astrology rarely has any. This science is mechanism-free and has no clue how the position and configuration of stars and constellations can affect a human’s day. Moreover, statistical correlations do not apply to astrology. This pseudoscience believes that Mars, the red planet is warlike just because it appears warlike. If Astrologers were evaluating these theories in comparison to others, they would soon find out the flaws. The starting point of comparison can be theories of genetics, social learning and adaptation.
Identifying pseudoscience claims
If you are contemplating whether or not a claim s pseudoscience, there are a few things you should be mindful of. The first of them is the purpose. If the claim is geared towards expanding a certain ideology, it’s probably pseudoscience. That’s because science helps individuals gain a deeper and richer understanding of the world around them. Another critical point is how challenges are being handled, with science attempting to refute different ideas and accept challenges. It’s pseudo cousin, however, will look upon any challenges to its claims with hostility.
Besides these two things, pseudoscience is somewhat static. New researches may not be present, and the concepts may be the same since they were first introduced. Science, in contrast, are supported by an expanding body of solid research. Scientific concepts, too, may have changed overtime as new research was performed. One last thing to distinguish a claim between science and pseudoscience is its ability to be proven false. If scientific researchers believe something is not true, they would manage to prove it as false. Pseudoscience researchers may not be able to do the same science they work around untested claims.
Why do people believe pseudoscience?
You must be thinking why Astrology is so popular if it is a pseudoscience. It is because the practitioners give you something you want to hear. If they started publishing things in magazines like ‘you are a Virgo and thus cold hearted, so your friends and family hate you for it. Your life partner might get in trouble for being with you, and you will make a good Fed-EX driver, then people would start swaying away.
Academics are often criticized for being too stern and holding their ground. The reason behind this demeanor is that academics weigh everything according to reasoning. They are enthusiasts who love discovering new avenues for science and mankind. The moment these intellectuals challenge pseudoscience, they get labeled as being stern and authoritative.
The most important example of non-believers is people opposing climate change. If there is anything worse than people following astrology, it is people opposing climate change. The un-scientific means used to promote theories against climate change are painful to see for an academic. Imagine dedicating your whole life to study ozone layer depletion and have one statement claim otherwise.
Why climate change deniers get airtime is because they say something people want to hear. People like hearing that everything is okay, and the earth is doing fine. No one wants to see environmental scientists state hard facts on prime-time TV that the planet is inching towards a disaster. Internet commenters get more attention than academics warning us to save the planet.
How to deal with pseudoscience claims?
There are people around the world who take money from investors for building companies on pseudoscience models. What urges them is the feeling of being hooked to a claim that exists in mid-air. People find it hard to understand scientists because research is not everyday language. When research is put in a more palpable format, people realize what they have been missing.
While the general response to pseudoscience claims has been to laugh at them, mythology has always been a critical aspect of our lives, often by providing humans with the illusion that we have some control over worldly matters. It’s however, difficult to convince those who have witnessed truths unfold in areas like astrology. In fact, it may be unfair to pursue such a cause. In a world filled with mythological practices, why not just let them live their lives?
If scientists want to dispel the myths of pseudoscience, they have to adopt better communication strategies. Creative approaches, hands-on treatments that show more than an abstract are good places to start. The key is to offer people something solid to believe in, and back it up with a strong theory to ensure maximum accuracy.