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Classroom Inquiry on the Fringes of Science. Dr. Dougal MacDonald Department of Elementary Education, University of Alberta. What is Pseudoscience?. “False” science. Claims to be scientific or at an even higher level than science. Fails to comply with the usual scientific tests.

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Classroom Inquiry on the Fringes of Science


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classroom inquiry on the fringes of science

Classroom Inquiry on the Fringes of Science

Dr. Dougal MacDonald

Department of Elementary Education, University of Alberta

what is pseudoscience
What is Pseudoscience?
  • “False” science.
  • Claims to be scientific or at an even higher level than science.
  • Fails to comply with the usual scientific tests.
  • Inconsistent with existing, well-established scientific knowledge.
examples of pseudoscience
Examples of Pseudoscience
  • Mental Powers: ESP, mind reading, precognition, psychic surgery, auras
  • Spirit World: contacting the dead, ouija board, channeling, astral travel, astrology
  • Natural Mysteries: dowsing, Atlantis, crop circles, Bigfoot, Loch Ness monster
  • Aliens & UFOs: flying saucers, Roswell, alien abductions, Men in Black
claims require independent testing
Claims Require Independent Testing
  • Pseudoscientific claims are based on a non-evidential style of belief.
  • Many pseudoscientific claims are never tested scientifically.
  • When pseudoscientific claims are tested, methods, conclusions are questionable.
  • Others cannot replicate test “successes.”
  • Excuse given of “fragility” of phenomena.
energy boosting necklace
Energy-Boosting Necklace
  • Stand beside and at arm’s length to the unknown object in the bag on the table.
  • Do not touch the bag or the object.
  • On the signal, with your arm outstretched, lift the bag about 30 cm off the table.
  • Lower the bag back to the table.
  • Put on the necklace.
  • Lift the bag again, in the same manner.
scientific inquiry model
Scientific Inquiry Model
  • Current SI Model: Evidence-explanation-current scientific knowledge (NSES)
    • Engage with a scientific question.
    • Gather and analyze relevant evidence.
    • Formulate explanations from evidence.
    • Evaluate explanations in light of evidence and current scientific knowledge.
    • Communicate explanations.
scientific evidence
Scientific Evidence
  • Scientific claims must be based on scientific evidence.
  • Scientific evidence results from experience, reasoning, use of instruments, others.
  • Empirical evidence of the senses, unassisted or assisted, is fundamental.
  • Warrant for a claim refers to the quality of evidence with respect to the claim, e.g., “likely that” vs “possible that”.
evaluating the quality of scientific evidence
Evaluating the Quality of Scientific Evidence
  • To what degree does the evidence support the claim (e.g., “a lot”, “a little”)?
  • How secure is the evidence itself, independent of the claim?
  • How much relevant evidence is there (e.g., one test vs many tests)?
i saw bigfoot
“I Saw Bigfoot”
  • Many pseudoscientific claims are based on personal, anecdotal evidence.
  • Are essentially second hand stories: “I saw Bigfoot.” “I was abducted by aliens.”
  • Problems:
    • Very hard to verify or test
    • Essentially unfalsifiable
    • Collected in a haphazard way/filtered
    • Argument from authority
alternative explanations of the evidence
Alternative Explanations of the Evidence
  • Non-occurrence of the event: It didn’t happen.
  • Human error, e.g., mistaken observations and/or inferences.
  • Fraud/trickery, e.g., fake Bigfoot photos, stage magic masquerading as ESP.
  • Chance, e.g., coincidental events, a long run of heads in coin flipping.
  • Science.
kraken alternative explanations
Unknown monster

Sea monsters sighted since ancient times

Stories of monsters battling whales

Huge creatures attacking ships

Many witnesses silent

Deep sea unexplored

Giant sea squid

Sea “monsters” now identified - oarfish

Sea squids battle sperm whales

Sea squids have attacked ships

Many stories told

Sonar, submersibles

Kraken: Alternative Explanations
occam s razor
Occam’s Razor
  • When we are faced with more than one hypothesis that explains the data equally well, we choose the simpler explanation.
  • A hairy creature in the woods is more likely a bear than Bigfoot.
  • An unknown object in the sky is more likely a balloon than a flying saucer.
  • “When you hear hoof beats, think of horses not zebras.”
the necklace a scientific explanation
The Necklace: A Scientific Explanation
  • Lifting may feel easier the second time. Why?
  • When a person tries to first lift the object his or her brain makes a rough estimate as to how much strength will be required. With an unknown object, this estimate will be inaccurate and, since the brick is small but heavy, the estimate will likely be an underestimation. The necklace test is the second try, by which time the person’s brain knows how much strength is required. So the muscles are prepared and the brick now seems easier to lift.
nature of a scientific theory explanation
Nature of a Scientific Theory/Explanation
  • Consistent with itself and with other accepted theories.
  • Sparing in entities and assumptions.
  • Testable and falsifiable.
  • Based on repeated, controlled experiments.
  • Altered in accord with new discoveries.
  • Admits possible error rather than certainty.
science or pseudoscience
Science or Pseudoscience?
  • Demarcation problem?
  • Gardner: Preposterous, Less Weird, Controversial, Conjectural, Undisputed
  • Criteria:
    • Coherence with current knowledge?
    • Degree of evidence, testing?
  • Specific cases: Continental drift? Surgical procedures? Homeopathy? ESP?
could this be pseudoscience
Could This Be Pseudoscience?
  • Claim is first publicized thru mass media.
  • Claim is sensational and exaggerated.
  • Evidence for the claim is anecdotal.
  • Claim contradicts known scientific principles.
  • Claim uses scientific-sounding terminology in non-scientific ways.
is a pseudoscientist making this claim
Is a Pseudoscientist Making This Claim?
  • Claimant has worked alone.
  • Claimant says methods of discovery and testing the claim are secret.
  • Claimant says the ruling elite is trying to suppress the claim.
  • Claimant appeals to false authority.
  • Claimant says a belief is reliable because it is ancient.
  • Claimant seeks publicity and profits.
pseudoscience and programs of study
Pseudoscience and Programs of Study
  • POS science teaching goals: concepts, skills, attitudes, NOS, applications
  • Topic: Astronomy [Astrology]
  • Concept: A constellation is a configuration of stars as seen from the earth.
  • Skill: Designing experiments
  • Attitude: Respect for evidence
  • NOS: How scientific claims are validated
  • Application: Critically reading mass media
what s your sign
What’s Your Sign?
  • Review the handout that describes the personalities related to each of the (unknown) signs of the Zodiac.
  • Choose the description that you believe is closest to your “sign”.
  • Tally how many participants choose their own sign and how many do not.
  • Consider if the findings are significant.
criticisms of astrology
Criticisms of Astrology
  • Constellation names & limits are arbitrary
  • Ophiucus, Cetus omitted from Zodiac
  • Original signs, constellations out of step
  • Planets are not “in” constellations
  • There is no single moment of birth
  • Doctor exerts greater G force than planets
  • If many vague predictions are made, it is impossible to always be wrong
constructivism finding out existing ideas
Constructivism: Finding Out Existing Ideas
  • Constructivist learning theory
  • Importance of learner’s existing ideas
  • May not cohere with scientific ideas, make sense to holder, hard to change
  • Multiple choice: Definitely true, probably true, probably not true, definitely not true
  • Supply questions: I believe the earth is round (spherical) and not flat because…..
why investigate pseudoscience
Why Investigate Pseudoscience?
  • Teach relevant science concepts.
  • Clarify what science is (and is not).
  • Engage students in scientific inquiry.
  • Engage students in scientific thinking.
  • Improve creative and critical thinking.
  • Help develop an evidential style of belief.
  • Equip students to evaluate future pseudoscientific claims, e.g., media.
firewalking relevant science concepts
Firewalking: Relevant Science Concepts
  • When two bodies of different temperatures meet, the hotter body will cool off and the cooler body will heat up, until they are separated or until they meet at a temperature in between.
  • The amount of heat transferred from one body to the other will depend on the temperature, mass, specific heat capacity, and thermal conductivity of each body.
what science is nature of science
What Science Is/ Nature of Science
  • Goal is to develop theoretical explanations of the observed world.
  • Explanations should be consistent with current scientific ideas, logical, “fit the facts”, and have predictive power.
  • Hypotheses about the world must be tested against reality.
  • Validity of a scientific claim is established through evidence and reasoning.
evidential style of belief
Evidential Style of Belief
  • The belief is held along with the evidence relevant to its rational assessment.
  • The believer is capable of critically inquiring into the worthiness of the belief.
  • The belief can be reconsidered in the face of contradictory evidence.
  • The belief can change, based on the evidence.
tumbling die
Tumbling Die
  • Psychokinesis (PK) - J. B. Rhine
  • Mind’s action on a physical object without mediation of known physical energy.
  • Try rolling die number willed by subject.
  • Laws of physics govern falling dice; laws of probability suggest likely outcome of a particular sample assuming randomness.
  • Why win in the lab but not in Vegas?
  • Does the answer lie in quantum physics!?
parting thought
Parting Thought
  • “The dogmatism of science--the tendency to interpret facts in light of theories--is not absolute but relative. What distinguishes science from pseudoscience is … that scientists stand ready to give up one dogma for another should the evidence warrant it. Pseudoscientists refuse to give up their dogmas regardless of the evidence against them” (R. Carroll).