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Pseudoscience. Core 270 Spring 2008 Dr. Sharon Fredericks. What is Pseudoscience?. Definition: Things presented as science but which do not meet ______________________________ Conclusions are NOT derived from valid empirical data Contradict currently accepted theories

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Core 270

Spring 2008

Dr. Sharon Fredericks

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What is Pseudoscience?

  • Definition: Things presented as science but which do not meet ______________________________

    • Conclusions are NOT derived from valid empirical data

    • Contradict currently accepted theories

    • Historically tied to the sciences

  • Literally means “fake science”

  • Based on1

    • Vague statements or facts, or outright lies

    • Anecdotal evidence, eye-witness accounts or a single event with no replication

    • Faith, emotional ties

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  • Many are “frozen artifacts of earlier periods”2

    • ____________________came before chemistry

    • Astrology came before astronomy

  • Many scientists practiced pseudoscience2

  • Characterized by religious like support of “elders” in the field2

    • Writings of founders revered

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  • For a pseudoscience to be valid, the definition of a scientific theory must be met2:

    • Ability to _________________________ and ____________________phenomena

    • Explanation or ____________________ exists

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  • In addition, observations and experiments _____________theory, not ____________it

  • Empirical evidence must be2

    • Cumulative

    • Continuing

    • Unambiguous

  • Pseudoscientific theories are rarely expressed as mathematical laws

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  • Challenging established theories is not a bad thing

  • These scientific heretics were grouped by Isaac Asimov as1

    • Endoheretics: those _______ the scientific community who challenge through established means such as peer-reviewed journals

    • Exoheretics: those who challenge from the __________through the media; pseudoscientists

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  • Typically have little scientific training

  • Have a flawed comprehension of the scientific area

  • Skip the _________________________ when presenting ideas

  • Rely on ___________________________ or faith and not on well-designed experiments and evidence

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Creation science

Paranormal Phenomena

Health-related pseudoscience

Cryptozoology (Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot)

Graphology (Personality from writing)

Lunar Effect



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  • Ancient & popular belief that the position of the stars and planets at the time of one’s birth influences one’s personality and daily life (birth sign and horoscope)

  • Suffers from very _________________ descriptions that could apply to anyone

    • Can not accurately and precisely ___________ __________________________________

  • Fails under systematic or scientific examination

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Analysis of Astrology2

  • Not ______________________________

    • For each planet, constellation, and each possible relationship between them, there is a different ‘law’

  • Not ______________________________

    • Laws remain the same before and after discovery of planets

    • Influence of other celestial bodies like asteroids are ignored

    • Constellations have no physical meaning and the assignment of constellations is arbitrary

    • Why are only 12 of the constellations important? 88 exist according to the International Astronomical Union

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Analysis of Astrology2

  • More stars are now observed in the vicinity of constellations that were defined by the ancient Greeks and Babylonians

    • Yet astrology has not changed

  • Stars move and the constellations change over time.

    • Every 2,167 years, one’s sign moves by one constellation in terms of position in the sky

  • According to IAU boundaries, there are 14 constellations in the Zodiac!

  • Finally, astrology is based on the Earth-centered world view, which is no longer accepted.

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Analysis of Astrology2

  • Lacks a _________________________________

    • No explanation of how planets and constellations will effect a person at birth

    • The influence must be powerful and long lasting to influence personality and life events.

  • 4 known forces of nature are known:

    • Gravity, electromagnetic force, strong and weak nuclear forces

  • Nuclear forces only act over short distances

  • Electromagnetic forces are not strong enough due to distance of stars from the Earth

  • Gravity is too weak.

  • Source must be an unknown force

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Evidence Against Astrology

  • A poll of thousands of politicians and scientists showed no sun sign being dominant among each group, though members in each group share ___________________________characteristics.1

  • In an experiment a natal chart was given to astrologers along with the personality traits (from a psychological test) of 3 different people. The astrologers were only able to match the natal chart to the correct person 1/3 of the time. 1

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  • The practice of finding underground water using a forked stickorother tool. Dowsers walk around until the stick points down.

  • Also called water witching and water divining, it originated in mining districts of Europe in the Middle Ages.1

  • Many thousand productive wells have been discovered by dowsers, but fails when scrutinized.

  • Suffers from post-hoc fallacy3

    • A stick pointed to this area and water was discovered; stick must be a dowsing stick.

    • But ______________________________________

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  • In a county where dowsers are 100% accurate, it was found that the entire county had ground water at about the same depth.1

  • In South Wales, Australia, it was found that of 1823 dowsed drilled wells and 1758 non-dowsed drilled wells, 14.7% and 7.4%, respectively, were dry. Twice as many dowsed wells were dry. 1

  • Under ________________________________ conditions, 3 Italian dowsers were not able to find the one “wet” pipe buried in the ground along with 2 dry pipes in an irregular pattern.1

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  • Trofim Lysenko used ______________________ to promote his agriculture innovations.

  • An example of where governments promote pseudoscience

  • He had the backing of the Communist Party during the years of Stalin and Khrushchev in the former USSR, so his reforms were made into national policy.

  • Lysenko rejected methods of “research and discourse”.1

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Cluster planting theory

  • Plants of the same species will not compete against one another when planted close to one another in clusters.

    • Lysenko declared it to be true, though _______ _____________________________________

    • Implementation of this type of planting showed it to be unsuccessful and was costly to the government

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Transformation of species

  • Species can be transformed into other species quickly

    • Example: if a plant grows in an unsuitable environment, then it will grow buds of a better adapted species

    • Counter to Darwin’s theory of evolution (slow process of change)

    • Evidence was in a Lysenko-controlled journal

    • Reports followed of wheat transforming into rye, barley into oats… but without clear ______ _____________________________________

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Theories on increasing agriculture production

  • Instead of doing experiments, Lysenko would test his ideas on state farms

  • Farmers would fill out questionnaires on how the methods were applied & what the yields were.

  • Most farmers reported higher numbers than the actual harvest, believing that it was in their _____ ________________________________________

  • Improved yields were not reported as there was ________________________________________

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Creation Science1

  • Creationism involves the book of Genesis in the bible

    • Earth was formed according to what was written and is 6-10 thousand years old

    • Fossils are from the great flood of Noah

    • Plants & animals were created in their present form (evolution is wrong.)

  • Supported by mainly fundamental Christian groups

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Problem with Creation Science

  • Creation science becomes a problem when it is taught as part of a science curriculum, rather than a religious doctrine

  • Generally used to discredit evolution

  • Science draws conclusions from empirical data.

  • Creation science _________________________ and looks for evidence to support it and to refute competing theories

    • Creationist Henry Morris believes and tries to prove that radioactive dating does not work.

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Paranormal Phenomena

  • Telepathy (mind reading)

  • Precognition (predicting the future)

  • Faith healing

  • Psychic surgery

  • Psychokinesis (mind bending)

  • Contacting spirits of the dead

  • Ghosts

  • Pyramid power (preserves corpses; sharpens razors) [Busted on Mythbusters]

Belief of paranormal phenomena is strong among the public.

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Paranormal Abilities (ESP)

  • An ad hoc hypothesis is one created to explain away facts that seem to refute one’s theory.5

  • Ad hoc hypotheses are common in paranormal research and in the work of pseudoscientists.

  • For example, ESP researchers have been known to blame the hostile thoughts of onlookers for unconsciously influencing pointer readings on sensitive instruments. The hostile vibes, they say, made it impossible for them to duplicate a positive ESP experiment.

  • Being able to _____________________________ is essential to confirming its validity.

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ESP may be1…

  • _________________________statements initially and then using facial features of person as clues in making statements more specific

    • E.g., fortune teller

  • ___________________________statements that may be realized as “true predictions” after the fact

    • E.g., Nostradamus

  • Magic tricks

    • psychokinesis

  • Coincidence

    • Mind-reading

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Psychic Detectives

  • Seem to only do well in works of fiction

  • Information is usually distorted and not useful

  • ________________________________tests of the abilities of psychic detectives show that they are no more correct than people without psychic ability

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  • Branch of science studying paranormal activity, especially ESP and psychokinesis

  • Experiments have been performed to test for paranormal powers

    • Many tests show no psi abilites

    • Others have had positive results

      • Many are flawed in terms of ___________________

      • Many contain fraud

      • Missing is repeated results – ___________________ __________________________________________

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Health-related Pseudoscience

  • A.k.a. medical quackery

  • Promises of better health, longer life

  • Solutions for those in pain or the incurable

  • Examples

    • Fad diets

    • Alternative medicine

    • Holistic medicine

    • Homeopathic medicine

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  • Psychological reassurance

    • We care about you

    • Take control of your life.

    • Think Positive

  • Buzz words

    • natural, organic, toxic-free, _____________________.

  • Sales Pitch

    • What do you have to lose?

    • Gentler, safer, no side effects

    • We treat the cause/correct medical failures

    • Popular (____________________________________)

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More ploys4

  • Scientific proof

    • Time tested or used for centuries (____________________________________)

    • Backed by ______________ scientific studies

      • “…untraceable, misinterpreted, outdated, irrelevant, nonexistent, and/or based on poorly designed research …” 4

    • Studies are underway

    • Too busy getting sick people well

    • Take charge of your health or think for yourself (no need for scientific proof)

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Relies on Testimonials

  • Positive Testimonials may be due to

    • Psychosomatic component/placebo effect/subject bias

    • The fact that many medical problems will “disappear” temporarily or have day-to-day variations in symptoms

  • “Individual experience rarely provides a basis for separating cause-and-effect from coincidence”4

  • No studies with ______________________ group

  • Promoters want to make ___________________ by selling books, medications, devices, etc.

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  • Developed by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843)2

  • Premise: if a substance causes a disease, then small doses of that substance will cure the disease

    • Contradicts ___________________________ knowledge in the sciences

    • Hard to believe that anyone would want to ingest bacteria, if it is the cause of a disease

    • Yet sales are in the hundred of millions of dollars2

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Analysis of Homeopathy

  • Lacks a ____________________________

    • Diluted samples may not contain a molecule of the active ingredient

    • “memory of the active” 2 ingredient is claimed; yet we know that water molecules can not have memory because there is no known mechanism

  • Because solutions are very dilute, cures may be due to:

    • The problem curing itself

    • ___________________________________

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Analysis of Homeopathy

  • In addition, most conventional medicines have a large amount of active ingredient in order to be effective.

  • Most pathogens must be present in large numbers to induce an immune response

    • E.g., 1 million cholera bacteria needed to become ill. If you drink an elixir with 10,000 bacteria, you will not become ill2

  • Generally there is no evidence of the effectiveness of a homeopathic cure

  • Relies on ________________________________

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The 7 Signs of Bogus Science6

  • Discovery goes straight to the media with ______ _______________________________________

  • Discoverer says that work is being suppressed.

    • Others are jealous.

    • There is a conspiracy2

    • “They laughed at Galileo”2

  • Discovery is at the ________________________.

    • E.g., No clear photos of flying saucers

  • Evidence for a discovery is _________________.

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The 7 Signs of Bogus Science6

  • Discoverer says belief is credible because it’s endured for a long time.

  • The discoverer has worked in isolation.

    • Scientific work is mostly _______________________.

  • New laws of nature must be proposed to explain discovery.

    • “A new law of nature… must not conflict with what is already known. If we must change existing laws of nature or propose new laws to account for an observation, it is almost certainly wrong.”5

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Science vs. Pseudoscience7

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Why do people believe pseudoscience?1

  • People are fascinated by pseudoscience

    • UFOs

  • People want an easy solution like fad diets

  • People tend to believe ______________________ information or want to believe, no matter the evidence.

    • testimonials

  • People judge unequally - tending to judge the evidence for something they want to believe differently than for something they don’t want to believe..

    • Can I believe? vs. Must I believe?

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Why do people believe pseudoscience?

  • People tend to believe 2nd hand and 3rd hand information like they received it from the original source.

  • Reporters or writers of pseudoscience leave out important information to make the story more interesting or mysterious

    • No one offers alternative explanations

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Skeptical Attitude

  • Like the approach to real science, people should view pseudoscience skeptically

    • _______________________evaluate evidence

    • Judgment should be based on the evidence and not on financial, political, or religious reasons

    • Be sure that a scientist is not presenting himself or herself as an expert in an area outside his or her expertise

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Evaluation using SEARCH1

Schick & Vaughn:

  • State the claim

  • Evaluate the evidence

  • Alternate hypotheses

  • Rate according to

    • Criteria (testability, fruitfulness, scope, simplicity, conservatism) of adequacy each

    • Hypothesis

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State the claim and Evaluate evidence

  • State what is believed in a clear, specific and ________________________________statement

  • Next evaluate the evidence for the claim

    • Think about if there are any ________________studies

    • Is the evidence related to the claim?

  • Consider ________________________

    • Sampling bias (only 1 person makes it anecdotal)

    • Experimenter bias (what kind of stake does the scientist have?)

    • Subject bias (placebo effect)

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Alternate hypothesis and Rate according to Criteria each Hypothesis

  • Think about other possible explanations and rate

  • Rating based on 5 criteria

    • Testability – can be tested

    • Fruitfulness – explains more than intended

    • Scope – applies to more systems

    • Simplicity – fewest assumptions

    • Conservatism – more well-accepted theories are generally more correct

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Waste of Pseudoscience2

  • As a hobby, it is harmless

  • Some give a person spiritual comfort, psychological support and relief from psychosomatic ailments

  • Problem is when it is pushed as a true science

    • Wastes ____________________________________, which can be used to further improve health and education of the public

    • Talented young people are diverted

    • Advice can cause damage

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  • Lee, Jeffrey A., The Scientific Endeavor: Chapters 7 and 8, Addison-Wesley-Longman, Inc., San Francisco, CA, 2000.

  • Ben-Ari, Moti, Just a Theory: Exploring the Nature of Scinece (Chapter 6), Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 2005.






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