Pseudoscience & Quackery

Pseudoscience: A Brief Introduction

Pherenological Measuring Device

Phrenological Measuring Device

pic by: A.M Kuchling

The efficacy of the scientific method and the hierarchical character of human social organization have ushered in a widespread acceptance of the authority of science in the public sphere

. This is a promising development in human cultural evolution.

Over the last century, the proponents of science have developed a number of rules that range from commonly used methods to philosophical criteria that need to be satisfied. However, most people don’t have the time or inclination to learn the methods of science to be able to challenge every scientific claim there is out there.

This combination of the authoritative significance of science with the lack of general public awareness of what science essentially constitutes makes it possible for ideas that don’t satisfy the limiting criteria of the scientific method to be touted as valid scientific beliefs.

At first glance this seems inconsequential- what can a few people labeling their crack-pot theories as science really do? However, on closer scrutiny the extent of the problem is apparent. Every area of knowledge is full of these false belief systems that have the potential to cause significant harm to their followers and even to those who aren’t taken in by them. In many cases where there is no direct harm caused, there is still the issue of fraud and misdirection that needs to be dealt with.

According to Steven Novella, president of the New England Skeptical Society in the US, those who make pseudoscientific claims employ aggressive grass-roots campaigns to get their ideas into the mainstream public media. These campaigns are quite successful and often require the attention of legitimate scientists to be discerned. Part of the problem is that our knowledge represents a continuum, leading all the way from the many scientifically legitimate areas of study to the many pseudoscientific ones. Novella refers to this problem as “The Demarcation Problem”. This problem is only going to get worse as science gets more specialized and complex.

The layman cannot follow the details of all the scientific ideas that are out there with the result that one is urged to pay equal attention to all ideas in the idea of fairness. In such conditions it becomes essential to learn how to differentiate between real science and scientific-sounding garbage.

Here are a few beliefs that are not grounded in science but piggyback on the influence of science in society:

Astrology (Probably the most widespread pseudoscience)

Creationism (Includes Creation Science, Flood Geology, Intelligent Design, Geocentricism

etc.)

Dianetics

Homeopathy

CVS Peddling Quackery

UFology

Vedic Science

ESP

Acupuncture

Therapeutic Touch

Anthroposophic Medicine

Applied Kinesiology

Ayurveda

Magnetic Therapy

Radionics

Autodynamics

Electrogravitics

(cc : bagelman)

This is a limited list of all the areas where pseudoscience has penetrated public consciousness. It goes without saying that the majority of the pseudosciences are promoted by those who stand to make a profit by marketing these false ideas or dubious products. Concepts such as ayurveda, acupuncture, astrology and homeopathy are powerful moneymaking ventures for those who promote them.

This section at Nirmukta, we will look at pseudoscience from different points of view. Individual claims as well as entire areas of pseudoscience will be analyzed. The dangers of specific pseudoscientific beliefs will be a major focus. We will also attempt to expose fraud and scientific incompetency in cases where pseudoscientific claims are thrust on the public in the guise of science.

About the author

Ajita Kamal

7 Comments

  • It is only experience of being cured of a disease with alternate medicine stream that helps determine if it is pseudoscience or not. Modern medicine is a recent phenomenon and for many illness it doesn’t have understanding of why it happens and only talks about managing the disease and not curing it. How do you trust whatever you call real s and modern science is also not pseudoscience done to make money?

  • (Questioning the question)

    You are mistaken. Your opinion and experience have nothing to do with determining what is or isn’t a pseudoscience. That’s just your personal belief. What is a pseudoscience is for scientists to determine, not you. You can believe whatever you want though.

    Alternate medicine is just medicine that failed in tests. Any traditional medicine that tests well immediately becomes modern medicine. So simple. But most traditional medicine just fails tests and are called conveniently alternate medicine, but its really failed and fake medicine and wholly depends on foolishness of people to not understand what tests are and why scientists do them. For anyone who majored in biology, its so obvious how foolish alternate medicine is. But not everyone is a biology major and not even any other science. So its easy to fool them with anything.

    When people cannot understand tests, they can only think in terms of personal experience and not science, which often leads them to really foolish actions like drinking cow urine and thinking it cured them. Its easy to be fooled into thinking everything works because if you wait enough, many small things will just naturally be cured. This makes you trust placebos as real cures over time and it becomes hard to convince you otherwise.

    About trust, only modern medicine is properly regulated by government. But if you cannot trust your own government, there is nothing anyone can do to convince you. You won’t believe anything and you are suspicious about everything. You will believe that every single government in the world is conspiring with medical industry and you will find some examples of actual corruption cases to justify everything.

    Alternate medicine is a wild west and anything goes. Adulteration is quite common, profit margins are very high, no safety tests are done and there is no research cost. But consumers are lied to by saying there are no side effects, even though no safety testing was done.

    Everything is done to make money. Nothing works if nobody makes money. Will you work for free? You can neither have modern medicine nor alternate medicine if nobody is getting paid. Alternate medicine actually is much more high profit than modern medicine, cheap to manufacture, no research, no regulation. It’s just cost of advertisements with no facts.

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