On November 12 Steven Novella wrote an article on what he believes pseudo-science involves. In the simplest terms though, pseudo-science is anything presented as science when it is not. Here is the single actual characteristics of pseudo-science:
1 – Pseudo-science does not follow the scientific method where observations are recorded, an explanation is proposed to explain the observations, the explanation is tested by obtaining further observations that either support or refute the explanation.
I would argue that something like string theory, which currently cannot be tested does not constitute pseudo-science because methods to test it simply cannot be thought of at this point in time.
Here’s what Novella believes pseudo-science involves:
- Hostile to criticism, rather than embracing criticism as a mechanism of self-correction
- Works backward from desired results through motivated reasoning
- Cherry picks evidence
- Relies on low grade evidence when it supports their belief, but will dismiss rigorous evidence if it is inconvenient.
- Core principles untested or unproven, often based on single case or anecdote
- Utilizes vague, imprecise, or ambiguous terminology, often to mimic technical jargon
- Has the trappings of science, but lacks the true methods of science
- Invokes conspiracy arguments to explain lack of mainstream acceptance (Galileo syndrome)
- Lacks caution and humility by making grandiose claims from flimsy evidence
- Practitioners often lack proper training and present that as a virtue as it makes them more “open”.
Let’s examine some of these characteristics one by one.
1 – Hostile to criticism, rather than embracing criticism as a mechanism of self-correction
This would seem to apply to the majority of scientists. Take for example just about any case where a scientist comes along with an explosive new idea that disrupts prevailing thinking. What tends to happen is that the upstart is ridiculed. Presenting a new way of thinking is a form of criticism. It is saying “Hey you all seem to have it wrong.” Ridiculing that criticism is a form of hostility.
2 – Works backward from desired results through motivated reasoning
3 – Cherry picks evidence
4 – Relies on low grade evidence when it supports their belief, but will dismiss rigorous evidence if it is inconvenient.
5 – Core principles untested or unproven, often based on single case or anecdote
9 – Lacks caution and humility by making grandiose claims from flimsy evidence
I agree that the above are characteristics of pseudo-science. Interestingly enough though, Dr. Novella and every other mainstream “skeptic” wholeheartedly believes in a crackpot theory that exemplifies all of these characteristics, the official story of how the three towers fell on 9/11. The official story was concocted immediately after 9/11 happened. NIST was commissioned to find support for this theory (2) by fabricating evidence and ignoring evidence that would prove the hypothesis false (3,4,9). Remember that never before had natural collapses ever looked anything like what happened to the Twin Towers and WTC 7.(5) Caution and humility would cause one to acknowledge evidence that conflicts with what the claimer wants to believe.(9)
8 – Invokes conspiracy arguments to explain lack of mainstream acceptance (Galileo syndrome)
This criteria is not in any way automatically indicative of pseudo-science. It is in fact entirely possible that a notion does not garner mainstream acceptance due to a conspiracy. Those that promote this conspiracy view must provide evidence to support it. Similarly, those that claim no conspiracy is involved must also present evidence to support this. Simply proclaiming that a claim of conspiracy is false without evidence is pseudo-science itself.
To summarize, people like Novella unnecessarily complicate the notion of pseudo-science. We have to question why. Perhaps it is a way to hide their own pseudo-science leanings. Pathological skepticism after all, like pathological science, always involves pseudo-science.
Michael Fullerton is a software designer based in Vernon BC Canada. His writing explores and exposes pathological skepticism and the corporate pseudo-science it tends to serve. He also has an intense interest in organizational psychopathy, or how psychopaths rise up in organizational structures of all kinds. As a pantheist he strives to be part of the movement to unify spirituality and science.