What is pseudoscience?
Have you ever read one study claiming coffee is the solution to all the world’s problems, then the next day read it’s actually going to kill us all? Sloppy science can trick the best of us so before you click “share” on that article, go through this checklist to see if it’s based on science or pseudoscience!
So what is pseudoscience and how does it differ from science? Before you can check for scientific accuracy, you need to be able to recognize what science isn’t. A pseudoscience definition includes beliefs or practices that might seem to support scientific claims but aren’t based on the scientific method.
In case it’s been a while, here is a refresher on the scientific method: gather information through careful observation, form a hypothesis, conduct careful experiments and additional observation, analyze findings, and publish results as a scientific theory or law. This process ensures that science plays a role in each step, eliminating room for opinions or errors.
By using the scientific method as a guidelines, it’s easy to make a checklist of must-have elements to show the difference between science and pseudoscience.
While there are lots of different types of pseudoscience, a lot of it overlaps with superstitious beliefs or spiritual practices. Some examples of pseudoscience include astrology and horoscopes, which could fall under this category as a lot of people might make claims that they are a true science, even though much it of isn’t actually based on the scientific method. Acupuncture and similar medical practices might see results, but aren’t necessarily always based on hard scientific evidence.
While this isn’t an exhaustive pseudoscience list, check out these top signs that something might be off.
It might be pseudoscience if…little experimentation backs the claim and only evidence supporting the claim backs it.
One of the most important steps in the scientific method is continual and careful experimentation. Limited experimentation can lead to a premature hypothesis and a biased opinion.
Going along with the previous point, experiments must be formed scientifically and evidence can’t be based only on personal experience.
It might be pseudoscience if…vague or invented terminology is used.
The scientific community uses established vocabulary and terminology. While popularity or widespread use does not always mean something is correct, this is one instance where it is important to follow the crowd. Invented terminology takes away the credibility of a claim.
It might be pseudoscience if…results cannot be replicated.
For a claim to become a scientific theory or law, it must be able to be replicated. A one time event does not establish a firm cause and effect theory. If you follow the scientific method, your final claim should be able to be tested and confirmed by a variety of scientists.
It might be pseudoscience if…the scientist backs his claim with feelings.
If a scientist just feels like his theory has to be scientifically accurate, chances are it probably isn’t. Science is based on facts, not emotions. Just like personal testimonies can’t establish science, neither can really good feelings.
It might be pseudoscience if…it doesn’t change.
Science always progresses and moves forward. Even the most sound claims can be continually explored and there are always new changes in the field, even if the hard scientific facts remain the same. Pseudoscience never changes because it’s often based on subjective evidence, which leaves no room for progress.
It might be pseudoscience if…it has an agenda.
True science doesn’t depend upon a certain agenda, personal gain, or underlying non-scientific motivation. While it’s hard to always entirely separate human motivation from anything we do, science should always be based on facts and not swayed by personal opinion.
It might be pseudoscience if…it has origins in a myth.
Some pseudoscientific claims say that if a myth has been passed down so faithfully through generations, there must be some truth to it. But, as always, science must be baed on facts, not myths. Myths often are based on some fact, but that fact must be proven before it can become a claim.
It might be pseudoscience if…it’s based on coincidences.
Many people prematurely claim cause and effect for events that might just be a coincidence. Like one of the above signs states, repeatability is key in backing a claim.
Armed with this checklist, you’re ready to save STEM from the wacky world of pseudoscience! Want more real science? Check out the science answering, “why do we cry?” and the chemistry behind chocolate!