Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop


Forgot your password?

Seven Rules For Spotting Bogus Science 759

keynet writes "Robert L. Park is a professor of physics at the University of Maryland at College Park and the director of public information for the American Physical Society, wrote a list of warning signs to help federal judges detect scientific nonsense. (OK, so it hasn't worked and the Patent Office sure hasn't got a copy.) As he says, 'There is no scientific claim so preposterous that a scientist cannot be found to vouch for it'. What he doesn't say is that there are plenty more who will invest in it or base legislation on it."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Seven Rules For Spotting Bogus Science

Comments Filter:
  • by ralphart ( 70342 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @09:56AM (#5457965)
    With so many judges being appointed for purely ideological reasons, it may be a bit much to ask that they be expected to be concerned about scientific nonsense. Can you spell Creationism?
  • by fw3 ( 523647 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:05AM (#5457998) Homepage Journal
    All well and good, but this adviser has his own axe to grind:

    The most important discovery of modern medicine is not vaccines or antibiotics, it is the randomized double-blind test, by means of which we know what works and what doesn't.

    Hmm -- by which we have come to the state of affairs where FDA approves a treatement on the basis that there is any statistical significance that it's better than the placebo effect. Thousands of hideously expensive prescription and OTC drugs result, many of which achieve less incremental benefit than the placebo against which they are tested.

    The FDA basically perpatuates it's own existence and creates a monopoly-prone environment thru the high regulatory barrier to market-entry.

    I've got nothing against the scientific method, it's a valuable tool, however it's also a tool with limitations, and one of those is that those who practice technology mostly use it for profit, and that in turn is more than a little likely to skew the results.

  • Only need one rule (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bitter Cup O Joe ( 146008 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:05AM (#5458005)
    Is it too good to be true? That is pretty much the only thing you need to check. Simple antigravity? Too good to be true. Car that runs on water? Too good to be true. Honest politician? Too good to be true.

    The big problem is that people are greedy, lazy, and generally lacking in common sense. Another set of rules isn't going to change that.
  • by Keith Gabryelski ( 65602 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:05AM (#5458006) Homepage
    Fantastic guidelines for a part of society that has influence over the direction of law and has no basis for understanding fact from fiction.
  • Hmmm, (Score:5, Insightful)

    by xA40D ( 180522 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:09AM (#5458032) Homepage
    I have identified seven indicators that a scientific claim lies well outside the bounds of rational scientific discourse. Of course, they are only warning signs -- even a claim with several of the signs could be legitimate.

    I just know the above disclaimer will be ignored by most. Which makes the whole thing a bit dangerous. Afterall, according to the rules, Quantum Physics could be considered bogus.
  • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:10AM (#5458041) Homepage Journal
    Well, yeah, and although he doesn't mention it, "Intelligent Design" fails pretty much every one of his tests. The Biblical-literalist/"Young Earth" creationists at least don't pretend to be scientific -- their beliefs boil down to "God said it, I believe it, that settles it" -- which makes them less dangerous to our educational system. But the ID crowd have done a really good job of getting courts and legislatures to listen to their psuedoscientific babble.
  • by BenjyD ( 316700 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:14AM (#5458079)
    For judges that don't have time to read the whole article:

    "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." -- Carl Sagan.
  • Peer Review (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pyr0 ( 120990 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:14AM (#5458081)
    I think his whole list can be summed up by this question: has it been reviewed by a panel of the "scientists" peers and subsequently published in a respected journal? If the science is too bogus to pass this, then likely most or all of his points apply.

  • Wiggle room (Score:2, Insightful)

    by The Stranger ( 24022 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:15AM (#5458085)
    The points made in the article are apt, but I worry that some of them may sound a bit too much like "common sense." Just as Park points out that modern scientists have learned to distrust isolated anecdotes as evidence, I have found that I am learning to distrust common sense. There are too many instances when the commonly accepted way of thinking about something is wrong.

    I'm not a conspiracy theorist, so I'm not automatically inclined to believe in, for instance, claims that a powerful establishment is suppressing certain scientific work (Park's point 2). However, I think we should be careful about dismissing out of hand the possibility that the establishment might stop at nothing to suppress discoveries that might shift the balance of wealth and power in society. Instead of making this a criterion for junk science, perhaps we should be sensitive to the influence of the establishment. After all, we're willing to question research that is funded by a party that has something to gain by the results. Why not keep an eye out for cases where the opposite might be happening?

    I suppose what I'm saying is that we should allow for some wiggle room in our interpretation of Park's criteria. Park seems to think so too- just before he gives his list, he notes that "even a claim with several of the signs could be legitimate."

  • by Uninvited Guest ( 237316 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:15AM (#5458086)
    "Too good to be true" is heavily related to the evaluator's background in the subject matter. That's part of the problem: judges are not steeped in the evidence they must weigh. They need a more thorough guideline of what "too good" would mean to a knowledgeable expert.
  • by spakka ( 606417 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:17AM (#5458105)

    I've got nothing against the scientific method, it's a valuable tool, however it's also a tool with limitations, and one of those is that those who practice technology mostly use it for profit, and that in turn is more than a little likely to skew the results.

    The whole point of double blind is that nobody has enough information to skew the results, accidentally or deliberately.

  • by Raindeer ( 104129 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:18AM (#5458114) Homepage Journal
    At university I was given several courses in Methodology, not all of them fun unfortunately, but all of them relevant. Certainly in my current work as a government employee I continuously see claims being made by government and private sector alike which are shaky at best. I still value what I learned in Methodology to judge those.

    Methodology or anything that teaches kids to discern right from wrong should be taught in schools, so that we can protect ourselves from wrong ideas based in nothing. This could be by just explaining kids how you can know something is true and when something hasn't been proven yet, but might be true and when things are real BS. (BBC's Panorama had an illusionist who debunked the claims of homeopathy. Entertaining and educational)

    I also have one fundamental rule I adher by: Never trust data given by the person that is going to benefit from the decision you make upon it.

  • by Jack William Bell ( 84469 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:19AM (#5458119) Homepage Journal
    "The most important discovery of modern medicine is not vaccines or antibiotics, it is the randomized double-blind test..."
  • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:19AM (#5458122) Homepage Journal
    6. The discoverer has worked in isolation. The image of a lone genius who struggles in secrecy in an attic laboratory and ends up making a revolutionary breakthrough is a staple of Hollywood's science-fiction films, but it is hard to find examples in real life. Scientific breakthroughs nowadays are almost always syntheses of the work of many scientists.
    This one is important because "big science" is a favorite villain of both pseudoscientists and cost-cutting lawmakers. What the lawmakers don't get -- and the pseudoscientists, I suspect, know but choose to disregards -- is that big science is the way most science gets done these days because the small science has been done. Alexander Fleming leaving a couple of dishes next to each other and discovering penicillin, or Robert Goddard and a team of dedicated fanatics working day and night to build the foundations of space flight, are powerful images; the "Eureka!" moment is every scientist's dream. But in well-established fields such as microbiology and aerospace, those moments have all pretty much happened; we need the big expensive labs with bunches of people working on expensive equipment, because that's how new discoveries and inventions get made.

    The only real exception to this is in new fields, such as computational biology; sometimes a whole new way of looking at the world comes along, and for a few years -- even decades -- the frontiers are wide open. Quantum physics was an example of this in its early years. At that moment, individuals and small groups and big organizations are roughly on a level playing field. But once the easy discoveries in the field have been made, the balance tilts back toward big science. That's just the way it is.
  • by Badgerman ( 19207 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:20AM (#5458143)
    I'm all for spotting bogus science. The problem with some of these rules is assuming:
    A) That there's always a friendly attitude towards actual innovation in science.
    B) That there's no corruption in "accepted" scientific communities.

    The "respected" scientists of various fields can be manipulated and manipulating, have their own vested interests, and have their reasons to be questioned as well.

    That being said, I think a lot of these are spot-on, and that people do need the knowledge to ask good questions and spot frauds.

  • Re:Oh puhleaase. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gorilla ( 36491 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:24AM (#5458175)
    You can't prove that creation (or any thing else) did happen, but you can easily prove that it did not. That is why 18th C scientists who belived in a young created earth and looked at the evidence, and saw that it just wasn't true. The halo's are specifically not evididence of a young earth, the Talk.Origins [] faq's are a good place to start. With all the evidence for a 4.5 billion year old earth, and the evolution of life that has occured over that time, the only reason to belive in creationism is ignorance.
  • by Jack William Bell ( 84469 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:27AM (#5458209) Homepage Journal
    Well said, and you would get an 'Insightful' mod if I had one.

    But you did forget one thing; to this day almost all advances in pure math are made by single people working alone. Often after years of thinking about a single problem to the exclusion of everything else (including food and hygene).
  • Rule number One. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by index72 ( 591909 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:29AM (#5458237)
    Bogus science premises usually are well thought out, extensively researched but are dependant on one imaginary component, like carbon fiber nanotubes.
  • by spanky1 ( 635767 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:34AM (#5458278)
    Most anti-evolution people are simply religious folks too afraid to face the facts. I suggest reading 29 Evidences for Macroevolution []. I still do not see any objective evidence PERIOD for the existence of a supernatural deity. But objective evidence for evolution is abundant.

    Think about it: man has invented various Gods all throughout history. The ancient Gods (Greek/Roman mythology, etc) were easy to disprove... (no Atlas dude holding up the Earth). The only reason the Christian God has hung around so long is because he is defined as untestable. News flash: You cannot invent something, make it untestable, and put the burden of proof on the opposing side to disprove it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:36AM (#5458303)
    Ahh yes grasshopper thou art a true pupil of the ancient ways.

    I would like to point out that when Asprin was discovered 2000 years ago I bet it was not known HOW it worked either

  • Re:Oh puhleaase. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:39AM (#5458337)
    You misunderstand science. A scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable. Creationism is NOT falsifiable (e.g. I can claim to be a god or "the one true" god and to have just created the world a few seconds ago, including implanting false memories in you and everyone else- and there IS NO WAY you can disprove my claim rationally. Obviously, you'd be a fool to belirve me, but you can't disprove it. )

    Thus, mainstream Creation myths like the christian/jewish or the hindu myth and so on cannot have the Scientific Method meaningfully applied to them. They are simply meaningless and devoid of scientific value (except in psychology and anthropology studies :-) )

    By the way, any given scientist is fully capable of applying the scientific method to his narrow field, while being totally irrational in other fields. For example, I carefully experiment, but am completely unscientific about what women I ask out.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:45AM (#5458417)
    The claim that a sample of 100 subjects is "far too small to have any statistical validity whatsoever" is quite wrong. When you obtain a statistical measure - correlation for example - you assess its significance by looking at the probability that you could get that result given the sample size. A smaller sample requires a better result for the same significance, but a sample of 100 - or even 1 - can give a statistically significant result.

    If you toss a coin a hundred times and it comes down heads every time, you can be quite sure that it's not a fair coin.
  • How we are wired (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Continental Drift ( 262986 ) <slashdot@brig h t e s t b u l b .net> on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:53AM (#5458482) Homepage
    Yes, but let us have some sympathy for the strong religious believers. Humans are genetically predisposed to religion, to believing in a supernatual creator who loves us or hates us. As such, it is hard for people to overcome religion even when all evidence is to the contrary. Equally, we are wired to understand basic physics, so we should sypmathize with how difficult it is for us to understand quantum mechanics.

    We have instinctual systems that make it hard to apply these seven rules, and it helps to be aware that people who seem to believe lies are mostly following their gut.

  • by The Famous Brett Wat ( 12688 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:59AM (#5458564) Homepage Journal
    It's true that most bad science is accompanied by some or all of the listed conditions, but I note that none of the conditions really say anything about "the scientific method", for any reasonable definition of that phrase. Consider.
    1. Whilst it's true that a charlatan will probably prefer to take his chances with the gullible masses directly, pitching a theory to the media does not, in itself, impact the validity of the claim.
    2. Claims that the work is being suppressed by a powerful establishment are a convenient excuse for the charlatan with nothing real to demonstrate, but there is a certain credibility to the idea that, say, the oil industry might engage in dirty tricks against someone who threatened their position. And again, claims of interference do not directly impact the validity of the theory itself.
    3. Plenty of real scientific research happens at the limits of detection. As I recall, Einstein's relativity was an example of this at the time he proposed it. Quantum physics and the outer limits of astronomy are further examples.
    4. Anecdotal evidence is dodgy, I agree, but no less dodgy than grand claims about evolutionary ancestry that are made on the basis of a single incomplete fossil find from time to time. A theory like the Big Bang Theory gets treated with respect in scientific circles, despite the fact that all the evidence is circumstantial, and the historical aspects of paleontology and geology are taken seriously despite the fact that the concept of a "randomized double-blind test" isn't even applicable to most of the work in those areas.
    5. Antiquity does not essentialy validate or invalidate any claim; nor does novelty. Even so, ideas that endure for a long time may do so because they are at least partly true. It would be arrogant to suppose that science can't get a few good leads from folklore now and then.
    6. The isolation of the discoverer does not directly impact the validity of the claim. Sometimes a radical new idea requires an outside thinker. Examples may be few, but they do happen. Einstein and relativity might be a fitting example, again.
    7. Proposing new laws is a serious problem when said laws flatly contradict other well established laws. Energy-yielding perpetual motion systems would contradict what we know about conservation of energy, for example, which is a very well demonstrated principle. But sometimes new observations do happen which require us to amend or replace existing theories. A certain degree of tenacity is appropriate, but too much becomes "dogmatism".

    I guess I was hoping for something a little more along the lines of a philosophy of science. Although I agree that bad science is usually accompanied by one or more (usually more) of these conditions, the conditions could just as readily be applied to certain particularly brilliant scientific breakthroughs. The conditions need fine-tuning to eliminate the false positives if we want to be sure to encourage the next Einstein, rather than mistakenly brand him a charlatan and run him out of town.

  • by guacamolefoo ( 577448 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @11:01AM (#5458589) Homepage Journal
    With so many judges being appointed for purely ideological reasons, it may be a bit much to ask that they be expected to be concerned about scientific nonsense. Can you spell Creationism?

    1. Elected judges are not much better vis-a-vis science.

    2. An appointed judge may be in a position not to care what people think of his decision and be less likely therefore to be swayed by ideological reasoning.

    3. Most judges I work with on a daily basis want to (1) do the right thing and (2) become less, rather than more, ideological from the first day that they put on the robes.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2003 @11:04AM (#5458617)
    Even though aspirin was "discovered" by a folk tradition, it's effectiveness has been verified by controlled, double-blind studies. There are many folk remedies, perhaps some of them actually work, but we won't know that until we verify them with the scientific method. Look at echinacea (proven not to work) laetrile (proven not to work) gingko (proven not to work)
  • by mwillems ( 266506 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @11:08AM (#5458666) Homepage
    Sadly, we need this common sense. A lot of people are living in what Carl Sagan called a "demon haunted world".

    Just last week I was with some people, otherwise intelligent people in a book club, who turn out to believe in predestination and ghosts - one lady says she hears voices of dead friends and they tell her they are OK and they give her comfort.

    What is scary is not so much that (we all need comfort when friends die, and whatever we choose to believe is at least understandable), but the fact that the entire group of people misunderstood science. "There must be types of radiation that are not yet known causing this", was the consensus. Everyone just took this lady at her word!

    Last week on a radio show here in Canada a "shaman", Doctor Somethingorother, took questions. One went like this:

    "Doctor: Fred here from Winnipeg. My question: When you are about to get in touch with your spirit self, do your electrons speed up their frequency? And does this mean I have a talent for communicating with the spirits? Because this happens to me weekly: first I suddenly feel like my inner electrons are speeding up their frequency and then I am unable to talk for what seems like a while, I am like a Zombie for a few minutes, and meanwhile I feel like I am in the spirit world and communicate with their mystery, and then I come back again". Doctor: "Yes! Exactly! And Yes! And Yes! You are talented in spirit communication, and indeed the frequency response of the electrons increases as we get near the spirit communication level, as the energy increase is a presurcor to this communication..." bla bla bla.

    Now this poor caller was presumably an epileptic or narcoleptic. He should have been told to get (science-based) medical treatment. But no-one found it necessary to point this out: just because someone starts talking in an authoritative voice, he is believed.

    Just now as I typed this message received a junk fax for "Marina, a Leading Psychic". Many people will pay for this stuff, in 2003. Not 1403! Weird.

    This suspension of disbelief is dangerous. I think we need to be forceful in debunking myth. It seems to me that in the early 21st century we are a bit too apologetic.. "emotional correctness": it is seen as necessary to respect all beliefs. I think we do ourselves a discredit by that.

  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @11:16AM (#5458735)

    > Science just isn't intended to answer every question. One question it doesn't answer is WHY.

    Very often, science does answer the "Why?" question. For example, "Why do apples fall toward the earth rather than in some other direction?", "Why can we construct a nested hierarchy of species on the basis of their morphology?", "Why can we construct a nested hierarchy of species on the basis of the mutations in their genes?", etc.

    > Science can give you many equally valid explanations of HOW species could have resulted, stemming from different base assumptions, demonstrating which one is accurate is completely outside of the realm of science.

    This goes on in every field of science. Meaningfully different hypotheses have different implications for potentially observable phenomena, so we try to make the relevant observations and discard the hypotheses that aren't compatible with what we see.

    > Think back to your science fair days, Can it be reproduced? Can it be verified?

    We can't reproduce the reactions that we know happen in the heart of the sun, and yet for some reason we don't have thousands of preachers ranting against that knowledge every Sunday morning.

    > Evolution is religion and superstition just as much as Creationism or Hinduism.

    Ah, the last desperate argument of the creationist rears its ugly head.

    > It's no more provable than either, at least, until you die.

    Science isn't in the business of "proving" anything. Science is in the business of explaining observations. The theory of evolution explains lots of observations; the religion of creationism explains none.

  • by J. J. Ramsey ( 658 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @11:37AM (#5458951) Homepage
    "The only reason the Christian God has hung around so long is because he is defined as untestable."

    That is not nearly so true as you might think. The New Testament makes a lot of historical fact claims, that are potentially falsifiable. If enough archaeologists "get lucky," Christianity's factual foundations could very well be torpedoed.
  • by fw3 ( 523647 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @11:52AM (#5459072) Homepage Journal
    How is the inefficiency of a bureaucratic government agency in ANY way a condemnation of the double-blind test?

    Actually I wasn't commenting on the test in particular, rather in the net results: we are willing to pay exorbitant prices for treatments which are often statistically valid but only marginally better than placebo.

    this high regulatory barrier is actually a result of the political fall out of such things as the thalidomide disaster; blame Congress not the FDA

    Huh? FDA failed to approve Thalidomide not due to any diligence (after the fact the reviewer cited 'concerns' about its safety), but rather because of a bureaucratic screw-up. And for 3 decades, every time *Congress* takes them to task they trot out their accident, casting it as a heroic achievement.

    I've been involved with getting two different products ... approved by the FDA... seen lot's of problems but none related to the FDA's maintaining of monopolies

    Very good, I've been involved in bringing several dozen FDA regluated products to market, including drug delivery, diagnostic instruments, radiology and surgical equipment, and hold 5 related patents. Imho/imx the pace that's set by the many vested interests (FDA is just one) have created a result which is overprice and underperforming -- but that's just my view.

    Ask someone who's HIV+ or who's waiting on trials for Parkinson's or Huntington's syndrome treatements about the delays in delivering cost-effective solutions.

    Look a the materials-selection process. FDA has a high degree of skill in materials science. Yet due to the regulatory process thousands of devices continue to use inferior materials simply because they are approved and the regulatory path to change is prohibitively expensive.

    Probably the best example is Latex rubber. It's been used for decades, has been known for 20 years to be highly cyto-toxic, and more recently to have a high incidence of allergic reaction. This applies to many forms of diagnostid and theraputic catheters devices.

    It also applies to latex condoms. No non-latex condom as yet is allowed to use the label-claims standard on hundreds of latex brands. This is spite of the fact that many of the latex brands have been shown by independent researchers to have high breakage rates, probably mostly due to inferior manufacturing controls.

  • by manyoso ( 260664 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @11:59AM (#5459122) Homepage
    "The theory that life evolved from a chemical goo and a lightening bolt 4 billion years ago....."

    I do not regard this as a scientific theory. I do not associate it with Evolution either. This is a theory of *origins* much like the big bang. While they seem to offer a plausible/possible scenario for the orign of life and the universe they should not be lumped in with the Theory of Gravitation nor the Theory of Evolution. It is an important distinction!

    Regarding the Theory of Evolution and repeatable experiments.... Some recent observations have *demonstrated* the *recent* evolution of one species into another. See the recent Slashdot history on a particular weed/shrub in England. While this is not an experiment... it is powerful evidence demonstrating the *fact* of Evolution. Other experiments *have* been conducted using software and biological models with greater and lesser success in verifying the *Theory* of Evolution.

    All this being said, Evolution is certainly not a perfect scientific theory, but it is the best one we have and it is remarkably powerful as a construct around which many in the biological and scientific communities can think and communicate scientific discoveries. This is invaluable.

    Your argument that any experiment conducted to mimic the Origin of Life would lend credence to Intelligent Design theory is a straw man argument. It ignores the fact that, the Universe is capable of setting up the exact same scenario that the scientist has duplicated, entirely at random. You are basically saying that random processes do not exist. Would you argue that any experiment which seeks to verify the Theory of Gravity ... proves the notion that Gravity only works when setup in experiments designed to test the Theory of Gravity? No, because such an argument would be ridiculous.

    The claim that any experiment that seeks to verify theories of random processes must necessarily refute the said theories, because the scientist was required to setup the experiment, is a non-sequiter. It does not follow that it requires Intelligent Design. The very act of modeling Weather proves the existence of God? It's absurd.

    Creationism psuedo science offers no benefit other than assuaging the religious faiths of it's adherents.
  • by Laura J. ( 89654 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @12:25PM (#5459391)
    The theory that life evolved from a chemical goo and a lightening bolt 4 billion years exactly do you go about verifying this scientifically?

    You wouldn't. Because this has so little resemblance to the theory of evolution it's laughable. Or at least it would be if I didn't think you were serious.

    In order for something to be scientifically valid, in ANY field OTHER THAN evolution, you have to be able to repeat the experiment.

    No you don't. You have to be able to make observations, fit those observations into the theory, make predictions from the theory, find new observations that fulfil those predictions. We don't create new stars in laboratories, but that doesn't mean that astrophysics isn't science. And they don't even have to be direct observations, either. No one has ever seen an electron, but we know they are there. How? By the traces they leave behind. Indirect observation is still valid science.

    In fact, it proves that there was an intelligence behind creating those amino acids. The scientist has a brain, did a lot of research, and set up chemicals and reagents in the appropriate way as to create whatever organic compound he was hoping to get.

    Do you honestly believe that the result of mixing two chemicals together is dependent on the person standing over the test tube? That if there was an earthquake and two beakers fell and their contents mixed, the chemical reaction would be different than if a person mixed them on purpose?

    If you really believe that, then there's truly no hope for you to ever have even an elementary understanding of science.
  • by eutychus_awakes ( 607787 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @12:26PM (#5459405)
    Yup, bogus science abounds among Christian circles. Young Earth - Old Earth - Flat Earth - Earth-centered Universe - it is an age old problem, usually involving axe heads grinding on whatever topic is "socially relevant" these days. The net result is this: Christianity has become "Right-Wing" "Anti-Abortion" "Anti-Gay" "Anti-Women" "Anti-Science" "Pro-Ignorance" - nothing more than a list of rules and regulations to be followed or be damned.
    Is the science of Christianity bogus? Yes - some of it. Is the Bible bogus? No. Is the Bible scientific? NO!!! Where we get ourselves in trouble is when we make the scriptures say something they simply weren't intended to say. In fact some of the strongest warnings in scripture are aimed at "believers" who twist the Word of God into their own self-serving substance (well-intended, or not).
    Amazingly enough, the Bible even talks about this. Quoted below is 1 Timothy 4:7-8 (New International Version):
    "Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come."
    I'm glad that things like Creationism and Morality are so harshly scrutinized, even scoffed at. Christians would do well to fully understand the "Seven Signs of Bogus Science." But Christians would do even better to fully understand God's heart for those who don't know Him, and make it their life's goal to have that same heart.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2003 @12:40PM (#5459548)
    Gobshite, I say. African witchdoctors have used neme tree leaves since forever to treat malaria. Neme tree leaves contain quinine, which is known to treat malaria. This is known because scientists analysed the neme leaves to find the exact chemical which produces the effect after seeing african doctors proscribing it. Naturally the scientists are hailed as geniuses and the ancient folk wisdom dismissed as hocus pocus. This goes for most homeopathic medecines. Most of them work because they contain drugs. Identifying the specific drug makes it easier to control dosage, but it doesn't mean taking the herb won't treat a disease.

    You misunderstand the rule. The rule is not to dismiss the ability of people from years ago to be able to discover medicines. It's to counter-act the following claim:

    If a belief has been around for a very long time, it's rediculous to think that all those people for all those years believed it and yet it's not true.

    The claim sounds pretty convincing at first, but rewrite it to the following and it sounds pretty silly:

    As long as something is believed long enough, it automatically becomes the truth.

    So the rule is simply stating, if somebody feeds you the line "but it's an ancient remedy that's been around for 5000 years!" it's absolutely useless in determing the truth of their claim. If that's their best evidence, they're in trouble.

  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @12:48PM (#5459636) Homepage Journal
    I'd simplify that somewhat: humans are hardwired to tribalism, and to look to a tribal leader for guidance. It need not be some remote spiritual being -- it can even be a human leader who sets themselves up as the local "god".

  • These are WARNING SIGNS. Not litmus tests.

    If you saw a person waving a few of the aforementioned red flags, it would warrant closer investigation of the claims then might normally be required, not dismissal.

    Dogmatism is bad no matter how you slice it; the author of the 7 rules was aware of this.
  • by shams42 ( 562402 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @02:07PM (#5460570)

    Humans are genetically predisposed to religion...

    Really? Pray, which genes are responsible for this phenomenon?

    Blaming everything on god is one kind of pseudoscience, blaming everything on genes is another.

  • by EatHam ( 597465 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @02:42PM (#5460932)
    As such, it is hard for people to overcome religion even when all evidence is to the contrary

    I would argue that you can neither prove nor disprove the existance of a supernatural creator. Depending on your perspective, there is just as much evidence for one view as the other. Not a troll - just saying that you can't prove the unprovable. Nor can you disprove it.
  • by nyssa ( 250538 ) <greg.grahamtx@net> on Friday March 07, 2003 @03:04PM (#5461199) Homepage

    Ever heard of the placebo effect?

    Yes, and science can't explain why it happens. But it does still happen, none the less, and it is quite powerful. Many think that there is a psychological connection, but they have not yet found the physiological mechanism. Otherwise, it would be a useful effect for doctors to exploit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2003 @03:04PM (#5461203)
    1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.

    This is probably the most tenuous connection, so I appologize if I may be wrong. Darwin developed his first theory of evolution in Zoonomia.

    2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.

    It is always claimed that "The Church" has suppressed his evidence.

    3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.

    Evolution is not detectable because it happens on a huge time scale. We cannot see a family of animal (not species) evolve into a different family of animal since it happened in the past and it takes too long for it happen.

    4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.

    We have to rely on Darwin's annecdotal evidence from the Archipeligo. There is no laborory that macro-evolution can be studies in.

    5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.

    This is the same call we hear from all the pro-evolutionists. Evolution must be true since it is the only theory that scientifically explains out origin. First this assumes that everything is in the realm of science. Second, it is an arugment from ignorance.

    6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.

    Darwin's biggest achievements came in a remote, mostly uninhabited island chain.

    7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.

    Darwin had to propose an entire this new evolutionary force to explain our creation.

  • by random_static ( 604731 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @03:55PM (#5461655) Journal
    if the rock surrounds the thing to be dated, then that rock formation can't easily be any older than the thing it surrounds. or are you claiming you're capable of throwing your dead cat into solid rock such that the cat becomes embedded in the rock, without leaving clear and obvious traces of the impact?

    enough of this prattle. go read this tutorial about radiochron dating [] and maybe you'll learn something today. or read about isochron dating methods [] and learn how different dating methods can be used to verify one another. or, heck, why not just start at the beginning: go read about fossils and paleontology. []

  • by Da_Biz ( 267075 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @04:08PM (#5461770)
    This statement concerns me:

    5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries. There is a persistent myth that hundreds or even thousands of years ago, long before anyone knew that blood circulates throughout the body, or that germs cause disease, our ancestors possessed miraculous remedies that modern science cannot understand. Much of what is termed "alternative medicine" is part of that myth.
    Ancient folk wisdom, rediscovered or repackaged, is unlikely to match the output of modern scientific laboratories.

    First, I'd note that I am certainly supportive of many elements in Western medicine. The statement about "modern scientific laboratories" is, however, incredibly smug.

    Mind you, modern medicine has managed to produce pharmaceuticals which have managed to cause serious harm to people (weight loss drugs that caused cardiac damage, thalidomide, etc.). While I don't disagree that modern medicine has certainly done some great things, people who write off traditional medicine are guilty of the same crime as Flat Earthers.

    Second, as someone who is going into the healthcare profession (starting as an EMT again, then transitioning into a PA program, then perhaps acupuncture), I'd note that there is a significant amount of research, study and use of traditional modalities in a Western medical setting. My father, a chiropractor and acupuncturist, studied at the UCLA Medical School Center for East/West medicine, and felt that it was an incredible experience. He has taken many referrals from Western doctors to assist with pain management, using a modality many consider "quackery"--never mind the strong anecdotal AND scientific evidence.

    The Chinese herbal medicine doctor I go to reads Western medical research extensively, has contacts with doctors at Oregon Health Sciences University (ranked as a top US medical school), and is well versed in Western and Eastern treatment systems. He was able to successfully treat my friend's Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, after many Western doctors turned him away.

    Granted, we should be judicious people. Just because we don't exactly understand how something works doesn't mean we should discount it.
  • by ChuckleBug ( 5201 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @04:11PM (#5461797) Journal
    I agree that these seven rules are useful for judging bogus science, but I reject the implication that if it's not scientific, it is not true. Just because someone cannot point to a scientific reason, doesn't mean that various herbal or eastern medicines don't work.

    But science *is* the only way to evaluate claims that fall within the bounds of science. If you claim that some homeopathic remedy cures some disease, that claim can be subjected to scientific scrutiny. You can do a double-blind test to see if the effect is significantly greater than a placebo. When such things are done, and it's shown that such a treatment is not effective, the proponents of homeopathy will tell you, "Hey, man, you just can't evaluate this with your narrowminded scientific methods. It's, like, deeper than that."

    That isn't probing the limits of science. That's just head-in-the-sand BS. People are free to maintain their non-falsifiable beliefs, but once they use those beliefs to make an *empirical* claim (e.g, Benny Hinn heals cancer, homeopathy cures disease, psychics predict the future, etc.) science is the appropriate means to evaluate it.
  • by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @04:36PM (#5462028) Journal
    Close, but not quite.

    All else being equal, science will consider the simpler explanation more likely to be true. Both of the italicized phrases are very importent.

    The simplest possible theory of everything is simply "God wills it thus." You invoke one entity, and don't muck around with gravity, electomagnetism, etc. You even get some predictive power: "God wills that apples fall, so when I drop this apple, it will fall."

    The reason that science discounts this theory is not that it has a simpler one. Quite the contrary; just try to learn quantum mechanics in anything less then five or ten years. What it has is a theory that predicts things much better. "God wills it" doesn't work well as the only theory of the universe, because it's a disguised form of appeal to experience, and there are a lot of edge cases, such as the famous gold foil experiment that gave strong evidence for the existance of atoms, where your experience isn't sufficient.

    First, the point is that given two theories that make the same prediction, science prefers the simpler one. Second, the point is that that means nothing about the truth of such theories; the more complicated one may still be correct.

    Thus, if there is a God who did indeed create the universe, then there is one, regardless of how the additional apparent complication may offend your sensibilities. Thus, Occam's Razor is only a rule of thumb useful for proceeding with scientific discovery; it is not a fundamental truth of the universe and has no power.

    Finally, in this particular case the true paradox is "Something, instead of nothing, exists." "God exists and created a universe" and "A universe exists" are really on the same level of complexity; both simply assert something exists. From our point of view it may seem simpler to simply assume the existance of a universe, but again, that has no power over what is true. A pet bird that never leaves a house may find it easier to simply assume the existance of a house, but that doesn't mean that the house was not created by humans and lots of raw materials that weren't a house to start with, even if it never sees the humans of the house do anything remotely resembling construction.
  • Re:God and science (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nathanh ( 1214 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @05:35PM (#5462681) Homepage
    The oldest records of civilizations date back around 5000 years

    The oldest records of my family tree date back to 1860. Therefore the world was divinely created 140 years ago?

    The oldest living trees (determined by tree rings on the same tree - not radiocarbon dating) are around 5000 years as well. Though there is no reason trees can't live longer.

    The oldest living dog I know of is 16 years old (determined by reading his showdog papers). So the world was divinely created 16 years ago?

    Flood stories exist in many (most?) world cultures

    Stories about demons, elves, pixies, ghosts, spirits, goblins, superhumans, giant mutated lizards that breathe fire and demolish largish cities, also exist in many (most?) world cultures.

    To account for problems with evolutionary theory, a new theory, Punctuated Equilibrium [] has gained prominence

    Punctuated equilibrium accounts for problems seen with traditional natural selection, not for problems with evolutionary theory. It's important to realise there's a distinction between the theory and the mechanisms behind the theory. The mechanisms are constantly being changed as new evidence is discovered. The theory has withstood all serious attempts to be discredited.

  • by KalvinB ( 205500 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @06:10PM (#5463099) Homepage
    "No, you're still not getting it - the layers on top of your cat are known to be younger than the cat."

    So if I throw a dead cat (that died yesterday) in a well and it caves in you know the rock on top of the cat is younger than the cat. Or if I throw it in a cave and the cave collapses the cat is younger than the rock of the cave? Are you serious?

    Thanks for demonstrating my point. "Evolutionists" *don't* know that the rock above something is younger. In fact it's always the case when you bury something that what's buried is SIGNIFICANTLY (on the order of millions of years) younger than the dirt piled on top.

    A person buried 6 feet under is less than 100 years old but the dirt is millions upon millions of years old.

    So no, you don't get it at all. But in true Slashdot fashion your ignorance is moderated up.

  • Re:God and science (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Crispy Critters ( 226798 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @07:18PM (#5463708)
    1. The oldest records of civilizations date back around 5000 years
    2. The oldest living trees (determined by tree rings on the same tree - not radiocarbon dating) are around 5000 years as well. Though there is no reason trees can't live longer.
    3. Flood stories exist in many (most?) world cultures
    4. To account for problems with evolutionary theory, a new theory, Punctuated Equilibrium has gained prominence
    (end quote)
    You can always prove number 1, because you will define "civilization" as whatever existed 5000 years ago. If I talk about 30,000 year old cave paintings, you can just say that they don't signify civilization.

    Since the last ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, no tree can be 20,000 years old because its climate would have changed too drastically for it to survive.

    Flood stories exist in most world cultures because it rains on most world cultures.

    You confuse the principle of a theory with the application of the theory. If a theory says that new species arise due to natural selection and evolution, that doesn't tell us anything about the population dynamics, rate of evolution, or why two populations may find interbreeding uninteresting. If I can't fix your television, that doesn't mean that there is an error in Maxwell's equations.

  • Re:Oh puhleaase. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dread_ed ( 260158 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @09:23PM (#5464512) Homepage
    IMHO the most hilarious part about the creationism/science argument is how most scientists know they are working from a background of knowledge that is incomplete and contains errata, and how most creationists are arguing from a background that they have not properly understood or translated completely.

    Both groups are on shaky ground, yet each is ready to defend their beliefs without even looking closely at the other side from an objective viewpoint.

    It seems laughable that the scientific community defends completely their sacred held beliefs, fiercely attacking all those who doubt them until some other scientist comes around and says that everything has changed because of this new bone, or that new interpretation, etc. Right back they go to their unassailable tower of science, forgetting that the old one was destroyed from within, not acknowledging that they might still have it wrong.

    The other side is even funnier because of the emphasis that they place on "Biblical Truth" contrased with the fact that what they "believe" is not even represented in the Bible. The irony of this situation is almost too incredible to imagine. I speak here of those who believe in a young earth especially. Without going into a theology lession let me just say that the Bible definitively states that the Earth existed for eons before man got here. The travesty is that these and other creationists don't understand what they are trying to defend.

    All this leads me to believe that the most vehement agitators and debaters are there for some other reason than the pursuit of truth. All I can see are people who have an agenda either to validate themselves through identification with a "cause", or who hope to reinforce their own ego's through intellectual conflict, or maybe they are not secure in their own beliefs enough to believe them quietly.

    Either way it seems pointless to argue so is gonna be wrong when something new is discovered, and the other is wrong due to lack of due dilligence. Sad.

    Oh, and as to proving that creation did not happen, it is not so easy when you look at what the Bible ACTAULLY says, not some kook's mis-interpretation or some provably flawed and mistranslated piece of literature (King James Version).

    So all of you go and argue about it, I'm gonna laugh at yall and go study some more. You never learn anything form arguing. You only learn if you put in the time to study it yourself: dilligently, systematically, objetively.

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.