How To Tell Science From Pseudoscience

Throughout time, there has always been a struggle between science and pseudoscience. Even as we’ve learned more, done better, some have always insisted on ignoring those advances.

On the titular panel at Worldcon 2019, Dublin, Eugene Doherty, Sam Scheiner, Cristina Macia, and moderated by Stephen Nelson, discussed the daily fight against pseudoscience beliefs.

What Is Pseudoscience?

There are three main types of pseudoscience

  1. Things that cannot be tested or examined
    • i.e. “The world was created last night, with false memories and records to deceive us all”
  2. Things that have been proven false
    • i.e. The ptolemaic universe – the universe does not revolve around earth
  3. Conspiracy theories, which use the trappings of science without the techniques

Panelists Favorite/Least Favorite Examples of Pseudoscience

  1. Homeopathy – Based on a theory similar to vaccines, the less “medicine” you dilute in water, the more effective it will be. It used to be helpful… in that it kept the quacks away. But, diluted water isn’t treatment for cancer, pneumonia, or worse.
  2. Creationism – the belief that world was build in 7 literal days.
  3. Climate change is fake – has been proven false!
  4. The effectiveness of placebos – we’re not sure. But placebos may be a placebo themselves.
  5. With Ghost Hunters – the EMF (Electromagnetic field) meter is beeping – must be a ghost! Not… an indicator of a cell tower? Or, “I can’t think of anything natural that caused this, thus… GHOST!”

[Audience Question] Does Science Disprove Faith?

Faith is outside of science. By its very definition, it is supernatural.

[Audience Question] How Ethical is Homeopathy For Something Unavoidable – (i.e. childbirth, chronic illness, or something more terminal)

What if it gives them comfort? Or acts as a placebo?

It can be a slippery slope, but perhaps, not entirely unethical when offered as a complimentary treatment.

Why Are People Not Trusting Science?

  1. Science writers are good about caveats and double-checking results, to be certain that they are reporting good science. But… caveats and double-checking facts aren’t convincing! i.e. If you aren’t 100% sure, why should I believe you?
  2. With the death of traditional newspapers, laypeople are reporting on science and writing for clickbait.
  3. Scientists are often poor communicators with laypeople
  4. We often teach science by promoting facts (that might change based on later studies – think of diet and nutrition) rather than teaching critical thinking and the scientific process.
  5. Telling people they’re wrong doesn’t work. It makes them cling to their beliefs stronger.
  6. Some attack people/pseudoscience believers, rather than the pseudoscience itself
  7. Some pseudoscience believers have a lack of intellectual humility — and can’t believe anyone can teach them anything they don’t already know through experience or education or their own logic that ignores anything that doesn’t match their theory.
  8. People want simple, straightforward answers. Science doesn’t always have those.

Ways to Get The People To Rebuild Trust

  1. Target those who are open to learning
  2. Convince those AROUND the opinion leaders – politicians/ celebrities/ etc of your truth. So, they can hear it from someone they trust.
  3. Citizen projects! Get people involved and personally invested in the science.
  4. Make sure the objective of the science is known, not just the details
    • i.e. “Studying the Sex Lives of beetles” — is actually watching how to disrupt the breeding cycle of beetles that are destroying fields of potato crops.
  5. Prioritize teaching critical thinking and the scientific process over memorizing facts.
  6. Treat people with respect.

What are your (least) favorite examples of pseudoscience?

How do you think we can get people to stop believing in pseudoscience? Or can we?

2 thoughts on “How To Tell Science From Pseudoscience

  1. I think it’s very important to have a variety of basic science education on different media platforms that doesn’t bore or patronise people and dials the level of detail to be appropriate to the particular audience.My most disliked example of pseudoscience is the the spurious myth that there is a link between vaccines and autism, which has done so much damage.

    Liked by 1 person

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