Day 122. Science vs Pseudoscience

In December 2012 on December 12, 2012 at 4:12 pm


What does ‘science‘ mean?

For the purposes of this blog project, rightly or wrongly, I’ve used the term science to cover some or all of the following:

  • Using evidence and reason to support or challenge a point of view;
  • Relating to my studies of science (and a little medicine) at University;
  • Descriptions of the natural world, including living things like plants and animals,but also rocks, the universe, stars and planets;
  • Methods of analysing our world, including maths;
  • Education, relating to science directly but also more broadly if it teaches us how to think and analyse our world;
  • How I approach my work as a scientist and as a writer; and
  • How I approach my life as a rational (mostly) person with many hats.

It’s not always important how science is defined. Sometimes however, it is critical to get it right.

Recently, TEDx felt strongly enough about distinguishing science from non-science, or pseudoscience, for its brand of global meetings to post an online letter.

Part of the letter consisted of the following pointers:

Marks of good science:

  • It makes claims that can be tested and verified;
  • It has been published in a peer reviewed journal (but beware… there are some dodgy journals out there that seem credible, but aren’t);
  • It is based on theories that are discussed and argued for by many experts in the field;
  • It is backed up by experiments that have generated enough data to convince other experts of its legitimacy;
  • Its proponents are secure enough to accept areas of doubt and need for further investigation;
  • It does not fly in the face of the broad existing body of scientific knowledge; and
  • The proposed speaker works for a university and/or has a phD or other bona fide high level scientific qualification.

Marks of bad science:

  • Has failed to convince many mainstream scientists of its truth;
  • Is not based on experiments that can be reproduced by others;
  • Contains experimental flaws or is based on data that does not convincingly corroborate the experimenter’s theoretical claims;
  • Comes from overconfident fringe experts;
  • Uses over-simplified interpretations of legitimate studies and may combine with imprecise, spiritual or new age vocabulary, to form new, completely untested theories; and
  • Speaks dismissively of mainstream science.

The full letter can be viewed here.

[image thanks to MissTurner on flickr]


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