Definition of pseudoscience
- Any body of knowledge claiming to be factual and scientific, but which fails to comply with the usual scientific tests of
- Consistency with existing well-established science
- Experimental accessibility.
- In order for a claim to be pseudoscientific, the proponent must state or imply that the claim is based on scientific method.
- Practices that rely upon 'divine' or 'spiritual' knowledge are not considered pseudoscientific if they do not claim to be scientific.
- Looking at alternatives that claim to be science but are not help us to define science. It also helps to protect against bad science.
Your obligations as a scientist are that you must:
- Separate what you want to be true from what is true
- Report what the data tells you, not what your boss or anyone tells you.
Causes of pseudoscience
Society place trust in scientists and science- therefore understandable that the public, who are not trained to critically evaluate information scientifically, accept scientific sounding claims as fact.
Reasons why pseudoscience arises:
- To increase credibility of a claim. Overall, we accept that science has greatly improved our health and delivered us technological advances such as those in communication. This gives claims based on science greater weight than opinions.
- Because pseudoscience is easier and cheaper than doing real science.
- Frequently, it is used for financial gain- that is, to promote a product or service.
- To support something people want to believe.
Hallmarks of science
- Corrects and updates itself
- Embraces new results
- Is not selective
- Does not depend on authorities
- Welcomes testing and verification
- Is objective
If it sounds like science but doesn't meet the above criteria, it may be a pseudo-science.
The hallmarks of pseudoscience
- Claims to be science
- Looks like science
- Uses lots of 'scientific' terminology
- Often ignores new data, but may cite old data
- Relies on old data and/or testimonials
- Rarely modifies itself
- Usually very selective
- Often relies on 'experts' and authorities
- Does not lend itself to independent testing
- Often very subjective and as such could be 'beliefs' rather than science.
- F = Falsifiable: Can devise a simple test which can have “no” as the answer.
- L = Logical: Arguments should be valid and sound.
- C = Comprehensive: All available evidence must be considered
- H = Honest: All evidence for or against should be evaluated honestly, without self-deception.
- R = Replicability: Tests must be repeatable and yield the same/similar results.
- S = Sufficiency: Is there enough evidence? Big claims require lots of evidence.
How to design experiments to test for pseudoscience
- Ask a specific question
- Consider blind/double blind experiments and the use of controls
- Collect quantitative data- which variables are meaningful and what will you measure?
- How many replicates/subjects will you use?
- How will you recruit them?
- How long with the experiment/test run?
- Can your hypothesis be falsified?
- Admit to using 'tricks'- may be based on careful observation of human behaviour and/or probability.
- Scepticism is a characteristic of scientists
- Carlson was able to test aspects of astrology with full agreement of the astrologers who confidently expected the results to prove the validity of their predictions.
Alternative medicine and the placebo effect
- Placebo: a substance that has no physiological effect when administered to a patient.
- Placebo effect: if we believe a substance will do us some good, tend to feel better.
- In ethical trials, new treatment should be tested against best available treatment.
- However, if aim is to sell, may be less rigorous and compare compound to no treatment at all.
- Where there are no existing treatments, experiments to test new development should include placebo.
- New treatment must be more effective than the placebo before it can be called effective.
- Such experiments should also be double blind- patient nor researcher know if they have placebo.