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Education Science

It's Time To Bring Pseudoscience Into the Science Classroom 470

Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "'Roughly one in three American adults believes in telepathy, ghosts, and extrasensory perception,' wrote a trio of scientists in a 2012 issue of the Astronomy Education Review. 'Roughly one in five believes in witches, astrology, clairvoyance, and communication with the dead (PDF). Three quarters hold at least one of these beliefs, and a third has four distinct pseudoscientific beliefs.' Now Steven Ross Pomeroy writes in Forbes Magazine that it's time to bring pseudoscience into public schools and universities. 'By incorporating examples of pseudoscience into lectures, instructors can provide students with the tools needed to understand the difference between scientific and pseudoscientific or paranormal claims,' say Rodney Schmaltz and Scott Lilienfeld." (Read more, below.)
"According to Schmaltz and Lilienfeld, there are 7 clear signs that show something to be pseudoscientific: 1. The use of psychobabble – words that sound scientific and professional but are used incorrectly, or in a misleading manner. 2. A substantial reliance on anecdotal evidence. 3. Extraordinary claims in the absence of extraordinary evidence. 4. Claims which cannot be proven false. 5. Claims that counter established scientific fact. 6. Absence of adequate peer review. 7. Claims that are repeated despite being refuted. Schmaltz and Lilienfeld recommend incorporating examples of pseudoscience into lectures and contrasting them with legitimate, groundbreaking scientific findings. For example, professors can expound upon psychics and the tricks they use to fool people or use resources such as the Penn & Teller program "Bullshit".

But teachers need to be careful or their worthy efforts to instill critical thinking could backfire. Prior research has shown that repeating myths on public fliers, even with the intention of dispelling them, can actually perpetuate misinformation. "The goal of using pseudoscientific examples is to create skeptical, not cynical, thinkers. As skeptical thinkers, students should be urged to remain open-minded," say Schmaltz and Lilienfeld. "By directly addressing and then refuting non-scientific claims, science educators can dispel pseudoscience (PDF) and promote scientific skepticism, while avoiding the unhealthy extremes of either uncritical acceptance or cynicism.""
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It's Time To Bring Pseudoscience Into the Science Classroom

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 05, 2014 @08:29AM (#46668745)

    Even if you show them that what they believe is bullshit, they still choose to believe it.
    Just look at religions all over the world.

    • by Cryacin ( 657549 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @09:13AM (#46668927)
      Just because you're paranormal doesn't mean ghosts aren't following you.
    • Those people are (mostly) a lost cause. The point of this is to equip youngins with critical thinking skills.

    • Unfalsifieable (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @09:48AM (#46669107)

      The core problem with psuedo-science is a lot of it is unfalsifiable. Sure, you can show in a double-blind study that magic magnet bracelets have no significant effect on mood or back pain, but ghosts, ESP, etc? At most you can prove that individual instances are hoaxes, but you can't scientifically disprove their existence as a class. To claim they are bullshit as a class is itself an unscientific claim - at worst they are a hypothesis unsupported by evidence.

      Of course there could still be great value in bringing them into the classroom to compare and contrast with scientific claims and the methods used to verify them - given the number of people willing to dismiss inconvenient science as a "belief" as though it had no more certainty to it than any random religious or pseudo-scientific doctrine our schools are clearly doing a poor job at conveying the qualitative difference in the level of certainty science brings to the table. But debunking should not be part of the science curriculum, it just isn't possible and claiming otherwise harms the very integrity of science we're trying to convey.

      • It's the same problem as proving that God doesn't exist, essentially--you're getting suckered into accepting that the wrong thing needs to be proven.

        • Consider: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          It is one (unprovable) thing to claim God exists. It is quite another (unprovable) thing to claim that God has a specific list of rules for you to follow, and a specific set of rewards and punishments lined up for them, and specifically wants you to give me a specific amount of money.

          Why draw this distinction? Because it is widely understood that belief in God helps maintain psychological health, especially when under pressure. It is a critical element of the most effective addiction-recovery programs as

          • We all need some sort of anchor for our worldview, yeah.

            I happen to derive mine from the notion that there is an essential unity of all being.

            If people want to put a beard on that, and call it "God", I don't have a problem with it. However, I have issues with anyone claiming to speak on its behalf, particularly when such claims involve long lists of rules that appear to benefit one race/nationality/social class at the expense of others, or that direct us to do things that are clearly counterproductive.


      • by Tom ( 822 )

        The core problem with psuedo-science is a lot of it is unfalsifiable.

        And we definitely need to update our education to include that if something is unfalsifiable, then it should, for practical purposes, be considered false.

      • The point of bringing these into the classroom is not to prove they are bogus - the point would be for kids to think how they would go about proving that the belief(s) in question are right or wrong.

        What if you find that 98% of the people who buy magnetic bracelets feel better, and have a significant effect on back pain? If three double-blind studies said so, would you believe it, even if it makes no sense?

        How would you test to see if ghosts exist? Magic? Gnomes? What would you actually test for? You could

        • Absolutely; however, I suspect there would be a strong temptation to attempting to engage in debunking. Everybody likes to belittle the idiots, the only disagreement is who the idiots are.

          >What if you find that 98% of the people who buy magnetic bracelets feel better, and have a significant effect on back pain?
          I would go buy myself a set of magnetic bracelets, that's what. Science is a process for seeking understanding - "not yet understood" is a completely different concept than "false", though there d

      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        But you are ignoring the placebo effect...intentionally, given that you mention "double blind studies". Magic magnetic bracelets WORK (to an extent), because people believe that they are being treated.

        FWIW, many currently FDA approved drugs have an effect weaker than the placebo effect as measured in double blind studies, and also come with significant side effects. Of course, in actual use their effect is compounded with the placebo effect, so they're better than the first statement would indicate, but t

        • That' just it though - the magnetic bracelets don't "work", it's the placebo effect doing the work, and all the claims on the box are complete pseudo-scientific BS. Now I'm all for studies researching how to maximize the placebo effect and use it to enhance treatment (for example why is Viagra a little blue pill? At least in part because studies have shown blue pills work better than other colors thanks to the placebo effect. At least in the US, presumably there's a cultural component to placebo effects

    • by sudon't ( 580652 )

      Even if you show them that what they believe is bullshit, they still choose to believe it.
      Just look at religions all over the world.

      Look, this is true, and there's a very good reason for that. The way our brains have evolved has made magical thinking inevitable. I'm sure I don't have to reiterate the current science, which most of you have already read/heard. Even those of us who consider ourselves rational, and most definitely not superstitious, are susceptible to magical thinking at times. I'm an atheist - have been since childhood - and yet I find myself, on those occasions when I buy a lottery ticket, asking the gods to please let m

    • Personally, I don't much care what people taking surveys learn.

      While I've never had the opportunity (okay, for values of "never" equaling "not in the last decade") to pollute someone's survey, I'd be delighted to tell them I believed in ESP, witches, the devil, just to see the looks on their faces....

  • by EWAdams ( 953502 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @08:34AM (#46668771) Homepage

    You can't teach critical thinking in schools. The Texas state Republican party platform is explicitly opposed to it.

    • Not quite all of us live in TX (or AZ, OH for that matter) mate...
      • Bleh, I ment AL, not AZ :)
        • by quenda ( 644621 )

          Bleh, I ment AL, not AZ :)

          Most of us would not know the difference anyway. This is an international forum, so please avoid 2LAs and zip-codes.
          Alabama? Alaska?

          • I'm no American either, nor have I ever lived, or do I live there, but yeah, those ANSI codes aren't generic knowledge I guess. :) btw: AZ is Arizona, AL = Alabama :)
    • by Brian_Ellenberger ( 308720 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @09:41AM (#46669065)

      You can't teach critical thinking in schools. The Texas state Republican party platform is explicitly opposed to it.

      I piss off bigots

      Your sig is ironic since your opinion is quite bigoted. There is a great deal of pseudoscience belief on both sides of the isle. The left has irrational beliefs on nuclear power, GMO foods, etc. There was an article in the Washington Post about Democrats believing in horoscope and astrology more than Republicans/Independents: []

      • Shh.. you will bust his bublble and make him snap. You all know how dangerous a critical thimker can be when he finds out he is wrong. He will use his mentsl powers to give you migrain headackes from acrosd the county.

      • Since there's people both on the left and right that are against vaccination.(RFK jr is an example of one on the left and there's various religious groups that oppose vaccination.)
      • I bet a major reason why conservatives are into organized religion is because organized religion is by its nature authoritarian.

        By contrast, pagan and new age stuff are pretty much anti-authoritarian and very individualist (but just as stupid as organized religion).

      • Your post is ironic since it's a pure straw-man attack. It's also just stupid. Can you find a school board anywhere that's pushing for astrology,etc. in the classroom?

      • by EWAdams ( 953502 )

        None of what you say say changes the fact that the Religious Right is vehemently opposed to teaching critical thinking and is using their political power to ensure that it is not taught in schools. Democrats may read tea leaves, but they don't insist that reading tea leaves be part of the science curriculum.

  • When I was in high school, one of our teachers told us voodoo magic was real, and that contrary to popular belief, it would work on you even if you didn't believe in it. Try to make teachers talk about astrology and you'll end up with them going around the classroom with shit like, "That's because you're a Virgo".
    • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @08:42AM (#46668799)

      When I was in high school, one of our teachers told us voodoo magic was real

      I bet the teacher has a Geforce now. You can't change these people.

    • Well, he was partially right. Some of voodoo magic is chemical or potion based. See for example zombie powder which is actually a combination of drugs (one to induce a coma in a death-like state and another to make the person pliable and open to suggestion in a trance-like state).

      Now if he was talking about voodoo dolls and curses? No, that's bunk. They only work on people that fully believe in it, giving a huge placebo effect that has been scientifically researched and documented. In fact, one scienti

    • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @09:34AM (#46669031) Journal
      It also only works if there isn't pseudo-science in the survey. One of the questions was "Is an electron smaller than an atom" to which it appears they assumed the answer was yes. This is fine if you thin of the atom as a mini-solar system (the Bohr model) but this is wrong. The size of the atom is determined by the size of the electrons' 3D standing waves that are bound to the nucleus. So actually the size of an atom is literally the size of the electrons in it.

      The problem is that the "size" of an electron depends on its state as anyone with an understanding of undergrad quantum mechanics should know. So did students answering 'no' to this question do so because they had no clue about atoms and electrons or because they actually understood the quantum wave description of the atom?

      Apart from that the survey is very poorly worded for example the statement: "There are phenomena that physical science and the laws of nature cannot explain.". I could easily say "strongly agree" to that and think "dark matter" which is something that physical science cannot explain at the moment but which I'd hope we will eventually explain. So does the statement mean "cannot ever explain" or "cannot at the moment explain"?

      So perhaps the survey authors ought to worry a bit more about pseudo-scientific surveys and a little less about pseudo-scientific beliefs among undergrads.
      • by Tom ( 822 )

        Apart from that the survey is very poorly worded for example the statement: "There are phenomena that physical science and the laws of nature cannot explain.". I could easily say "strongly agree" to that and think "dark matter" which is something that physical science cannot explain at the moment but which I'd hope we will eventually explain. So does the statement mean "cannot ever explain" or "cannot at the moment explain"?

        This also jumped out at me. A few of these questions could definitely use a once-over from a linguist. There's a difference between "cannot" and "does not currently".

        There are other examples in there where the correct answer is the closest approximation, but not the whole truth.

        • by Tom ( 822 )

          Look, I have a troll who will post some bullshit on absolutely everything I write.

          I'm curious - is he just the worst troll ever, or is this a trick to pump links to his stupid windows tool around to improve his SEO?

      • by chihowa ( 366380 ) *

        What you're describing here are pedantic objections, though, of which there will always be some to any question that isn't qualified to absurdity.

        For your example, the rest mass of an electron is smaller than the mass of any atom, so the wavefunction of any electron will be smaller than that of any atom at the same velocity (de Broglie wavelength) and in the same environment (the "state" you describe is a function of being part of an atom, it doesn't apply to free electrons). Or simply, since an electron is

  • I agree with this (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ChromeAeonium ( 1026952 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @08:43AM (#46668803)

    A lot of the pseudo-science out there has, in a sense, adapted to having common knowledge applied. Take vaccines for example. A class might teach how they work, discuss the history of how they have stopped many diseases, but what is one to do when presented with the latest anti-vaccine goal-shifted argument, like the 'too many too soon' line? When you have people who will continuously invent new arguments as their basic premise is yet again demonstrated to be false, it is best to teach people the basics of pseudoscience along with science, so that the former can be spotted for what it is. The same applies for a slew of other common nonsenses, which could be used as case studies. I suspect giving clear case studies may be particularly beneficial. My personal anecdote, I was raised to believe in young earth creationism, and it was the realization that I was being expected to commit the same kinds of errors as homeopaths & other woo-woos that helped me to realize that what I had been taught was wrong in a great many ways.

    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      ...a slew of other common nonsenses

      Very insightful. People won't learn common sense without seeing the contrast between common sense and common nonsense.

  • Witches Are Real (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 05, 2014 @08:44AM (#46668805)

    It's a real religion with real practitioners.

  • by smchris ( 464899 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @08:48AM (#46668823)

    This is one of the more compelling arguments for national standards where local administration would have the excuse that they were "forced" to follow imposed guidelines. Otherwise, every nutter in the community will rally to tar and feather the administration.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @09:00AM (#46668871)

    And this isn't even a slight at the push for Creationism or similar bull on our kids. It's that we don't even teach our kids how science works. Maybe because else they could instantly debunk crap like Creationism as the pseudoscience it is.

    Our school system still works along the lines of "it is that way because I say so". Critical thinking, which is the basis of the scientific method (because "doubting" basically IS the scientific method) is not what is asked for. What is wanted is simple acceptance of what you're told, rote learning and parroting. It's a rare class where you actually get to use applied thinking. Most of the times, what's required is simply rote learning, "sponge" learning as I love to call it. Soak up the crap, release again when required, no need to retain anything or do anything else with it.

    As long as we don't teach our kids that science is NOT soaking up and spitting out what you get told, teaching them other pseudosciences on top of Creationism is something I'd consider rather harmful. They might not be able to tell the difference to real science, because from their point of view, there would be none.

    • An excellent point.

    • Something I never understood, how did the creation story get so much later evidence in science?

      The creation and big bang closely match. There was nothing and it exploded.

      The great flood. Lots of water from the deep.. Now we find moons or planets with underground oceans.

      How did ancient writings get some wild concepts right? Proving creationism and thus God isn't likely to happen with scientific method, but there may be more than psedoscience to it.

  • Science education at the primary level has long emphasized the products of science, with little regard for the process. Science teachers are a product of this system as much as everyone else. Most of them just aren't equipped to draw a distinction between science and pseudoscience.

    Mumbling something about falsifiability isn't going to fly without motivating it and showing evidence, whether or not they have internalized those concepts themselves. Holding them to higher standards won't help, as there aren'

  • It's never wrong to attempt to apply science to, well, everything in the universe. The summary mentions those beliefs that have been scientifically tested and failed to show any repeatable results. It's likely all those things have their foundations in faith, imagination, fear,... rather than some particle or wave that a scientist could test for. But...

    "4. Claims which cannot be proven false."

    I guess these Schmaltz and Lilienfeld guys are teachers, and not scientists; otherwise they would have never penned

    • Exactly, Science is never about adding truth, but removing falsehood.
      (By definition what is left must be closer to the truth)

      Apparently these authors never heard of PEAR which proved human consciousness could influence random numbers.
      Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research []

    • by pepty ( 1976012 )
      A few more of those 7 points would be difficult to cover in most classrooms, like #1: good psychobabble is pretty much impenetrable to people without at least some university level education in the field(s) it was extracted from. Quite often it is successful because it combines advanced concepts from two completely different fields, leaving potential critics who are experts in one of those fields at a loss because they can't navigate the parts of the claims based in the field they are unfamiliar with (usual
  • by Paul Fernhout ( 109597 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @09:25AM (#46668993) Homepage []
    "The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) program, which flourished for nearly three decades under the aegis of Princeton University's School of Engineering and Applied Science, has completed its experimental agenda of studying the interaction of human consciousness with sensitive physical devices, systems, and processes, and developing complementary theoretical models to enable better understanding of the role of consciousness in the establishment of physical reality."

    Disclaimer: I worked in a joint program with them when I was managing the PU robotics lab in the 1980s. The program was funded in part by the McDonnell Foundation (of McDonnell-Douglas) in part because supposedly strange unexplainable things happened in fighter cockpits especially to pilots under stress in emergency situations. Rather that give the money just to the PEAR lab, it was decided to give the money to a group of labs that would work together somehow exploring aspects of human consciousness (or something like that, not saying how effective all that was). Dean Radin is the researcher who connected the groups back then and has been active in parapsychology work since: []

    Another person active in this field of consciousness studies is Charles Tart (unrelated to PU, but interesting in the field). [] []

    Related items at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (founded in 1973 by Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell) which include mention of Dean Radin and Charles Tart: []

    Mainstream science has been apparently useful, even if it is more the tinkerers and engineers who actually invent and bring to production useful things. But ultimately, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit we don't very much understand the nature of consciousness or the deeper nature of reality, which together, as much as we think we know about them, still form a "great mystery" (a term some Native Americans used for God and such). And, no, mapping a few or even many neural pathways or having a chemical analysis of brain neuro-transmitters does not equate to understanding the mystery of consciousness. As Charles Tart points out, there is a step where many otherwise good scientists move from apparently solid ground in their specialties to claiming fallacious things like "absence of evidence is evidence of absence" and so create essentially a new religion of "Scientistic Materialism". []
    "His [Tart's] and other scientists' work convinced him that there is a real and vitally important sense in which we are spiritual beings, but the too dominant, scientistic, materialist philosophy of our times, masquerading as genuine science, dogmatically denies any possible reality to the spiritual. This hurts people, it pressures them to reject vital aspects of their being."

    Anyway, mass compulsory schooling in "classrooms" (intended by 1920s eugenicists to segregate people by social class so they interbreed and stratify, see Gatto) is also in general another way of hurting people: []
    "The shocking possibility that dumb people don't exist in sufficient numbers to warrant the millions of careers devoted to tending them will seem incredible to you. Yet that is my central proposition: the mass dumbness which justifies official schooling first had to be dreamed of; it isn't real. ... Our official assumptions about the nature of modern childhood are dead wrong. Children allowed to take responsibility an

    • Typos:
      "What we need if more and deeper" should be "What we need is more and deeper".
      "learning technical school" should be "learning technical skills"

      And I should have been clearer that is was the same James McDonnell who created both the foundation and the aerospace company, not that the foundation itself is owned or controlled by the company.

      • by rossdee ( 243626 )

        "the same James McDonnell who created both the foundation and the aerospace company, not that the foundation itself is owned or controlled by the company."

        Wasn't it (the aerospace company) taken over by Boeing?

  • The real problem is that people in western countries forgot to practice critical thinking which is part of the scientific method. One central question is "Why is something?" and "How does something work?". Such thinking also results in questioning yourself, criticizing your ego. For example, the recent dispute between Kay and Linus Torvalds about the use of certain kernel parameters is a perfect example.

  • by symes ( 835608 )

    Why are scientists increasingly concerned about what some people in our society think and believe? I don't want to sound argumentative, but surely a good scientist does what a good scientist does? We are not here to force a particular world view on everyone, just carefully research and explain the world around us. In any scientific discipline there will be people with different perspectives and often these differences of opinion can boil over into quite hostile interactions. Discourse, argument and differen

    • by kanweg ( 771128 )

      "Why are scientists increasingly concerned about what some people in our society think and believe?"

      Well, if you're an astronomer studying the effects of asteroid impacts and their likelihood, you may come across evidence that it has happened in the past and that their effects are rather devastating. As we may well be able to develop the technology to divert an asteroid on a collision course. People running around that the earth is only 10 kY old are not helpful then.

      Climate change same thing.


    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      Because public opinion dictates politicians' stomach for funding science. Unless you are a conservative Republican who believes science just happens, increasingly liberal Democrats are starting to believe the same thing. It's almost as if they were doing the nasty together and spawning stupidity.

    • Maybe scientists have grown weary of having to compete with complete nonsense as if it somehow had equal merit?

      Maybe it's not just scientists who feel this way?

      You're doing the same sort of false equivalence thing that Fox News does with the "fair & balanced" bit.

      I personally do not care if people want to believe in ghosts, gods, psychic powers and the like. I care that these same people can appreciate the work I do, understand it and (hopefully) find it interesting.

      Your wishing for the impossible does not make it any less so. People who believe in nonsense are not going to appreciate sense.

      I don't think you understand what the scientific method entails, or what "falsifiability" actually means.

  • Dangerous territory (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @09:38AM (#46669059) Journal

    Any time you are trying to tell someone what not to think, or what not to believe, you are entering dangerous territory. This is even more important when state sponsored - aka the public educational system. If schools do their job right, then students will be able to make their own informed choices on what to believe or what not to believe, and even if a student does not adhere to what the school "wants" them to believe, that is okay - the school has done their job either way. Direct comparisons against things schools do not espouse is not necessary or appropriate in any shape or form.

    To be perfectly clear, let me explain what I'm NOT talking about. Take cigarette smoking for example. There are hard scientific studies showing that smoking causes specific health problems, so it is appropriate for a school to teach that smoking is bad and then provide the evidence. Now on the other hand, suppose there are people in the world who believe smoking is beneficial (and certainly those people are out there). Is it the school's job to incorporate that into their anti-smoking teaching and attempt to specifically discredit or call out the opposite viewpoint? No. That isn't necessary or even feasible. What this story is talking about crosses far into this kind of territory.

  • by Shados ( 741919 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @10:05AM (#46669205)

    People in general are gullible and believe whatever they hear. Being skeptical, double checking facts, looking at references...those are things people don't even think about anymore (well, they never did, its not new).

    Schools need to push more on THAT. Teaching people to prove what they say, that its not because everyone says something that its true, and to learn how to separate facts from made up stuff. The rest will follow.

  • by AndyCanfield ( 700565 ) <> on Saturday April 05, 2014 @10:23AM (#46669305) Homepage

    The lines between science and superstition and religion are very fuzzy and often arguable. Possibly the best indicator of this stuff is that somebody wants me to believe it. I believe many weird things, but I don't try to convince anyone else.

    "Claims that cannot be proven false". Yes, science operates on statements that can be proven true or false. And the statement cannot be proven one way or another, that doesn't mean it's false. Did God create the universe? Nobody can prove it 'yes' or 'no'.

    "Adequate peer review"? How many witches were burned at the stake. Wasn't that peer review?

    Just because something is non-scientific doesn't mean it's false. And sometimes even false things can be useful. Example: every paper (flat) map you've ever seen is wrong, but useful and not very wrong.

  • Fuck you slashdot and your ever more clickbaity headlines. I've been coming here for nerdstuff since the 90s but it makes me angry now more often than it teaches me anything.

    Lame, dudes. Super lame.

  • by gmuslera ( 3436 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @10:41AM (#46669429) Homepage Journal
    Teach what are and how to recognize all of them []. Then using that to explain how pseudoscience come to be will be just an exercise.
  • It has the potential to challenge the underpinnings of religions. And it threatens the authority of leaders in general, depriving them of a supply of blind and willing followers.

  • 40% of Americans believe in creation and about 80% hold a belief in an invisible man in sky. I agree that it's time to show students the difference between science and irrational assumptions. Maybe by bringing the science of ghosts, God's and all other matter of insane ideas into the science room we can finally move past the iron age and into the 21st century.
  • That's nice but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wulfrunner ( 1213776 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @11:59AM (#46669975)

    While not an advocate for pseudo science, it's illuminating to consider how these seven symptoms can be applied to the practice of regular science:

    1. The use of psychobabble – words that sound scientific and professional but are used incorrectly, or in a misleading manner.
    Most specializations are rife with jargon, often using words that have been incorrectly appropriated from the English language and had their meaning changed. To test this at home, apply a spell check to a scientific paper.

    2. A substantial reliance on anecdotal evidence.
    Anecdotal evidence is there to guide your research (though not to validate it). It doesn't need to appear in your paper, but it is a critical part of the discovery process.

    3. Extraordinary claims in the absence of extraordinary evidence.
    I think this is a prerequisite to getting published in Science or Nature. Your claims have to be sensationalized to sell. Take your convenience sample with ten data points and spin it until it's ground breaking!

    4. Claims which cannot be proven false.
    Anything described as "universal" or "ubiquitous" probably falls into this category.

    5. Claims that counter established scientific fact.
    A dialectic is necessary to advance science. Surely you don't want dogmatic group-think to predominate?

    6. Absence of adequate peer review.
    Have you been through a peer review process? Why aren't you making eye contact with me?

    7. Claims that are repeated despite being refuted.
    You mean the type of stubbornness necessary to overcome the inertia of the currently dominant paradigm? So I should withdraw my research if a single group publishes a study indicating that they "were unable to reproduce" my results?

  • by Grey Geezer ( 2699315 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @12:17PM (#46670125)

    teaching the scientific method. Those students who can absorb (and not all can) the concept of disciplined critical thinking, do not need to have examples of pseudoscience discussed, as those examples become self evident to the properly educated. Any teacher who says "I believe" in evolution, red shifted star light, plate tectonics, etc., has already lost this battle. Saying instead "We are compelled by evidence, observation, and rigorous testing, to accept this explanation, until such time that further evidence, observation, and rigorous testing compel us to change our opinion." is the only correct way to teach science. That many teachers fall short of this ideal, is painfully obvious. Discussing faux science is a waste of precious time.

  • by Da3vid ( 926771 ) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @01:27PM (#46677327)
    I am a professor of chemistry and physics with significant high school experience. I was teaching a section of advanced high school students that were dual enrolled in a college section of freshman level chemistry during their senior year of high school. They were subjected to the same rigors of knowledge but we had more time together. I performed the Forer demonstration with them right around the time that I was going over the history of atomic models. (

    So, I started the lecture that day with a bunch of pseudoscientific garbage. I told them that if you start with something small and multiply it up to a large scale that you'd get large errors but that you could get shockingly good measurements if you started with something big and narrowed it down to the small. For example, if you measured a single floor tile and then multiplied by the number of floor tiles in the room then you'd compound your errors and end up being off; however, if you measured the whole room's square footage and then divided by the number of floor tiles then you'd be really close to a good, precise answer. The kids are nodding their heads by this point. Well, as a professor of chemistry and physics, through the various colleges and universities I'm affiliated with, and the journal publications that I have access to, I can get some very reliable data, astrophysical readings, and other star charts. If I start with data at that scale, and then narrow it down to the scale of say, Earth, then you might be surprised what kind of predictions I can make. Now, I've ran some calculations for you, following the models, along with some computer assisted predictions, and I have some for you to take a look at. These aren't common newspaper style predictions but ones made with access to high level resources. I'm going to ask you to do an evaluation of the model so it's really important that there isn't any talking. I need you to see your work and your opinion alone. We will share after you have completed your written evaluation.

    At this point, I'm still talking but I'm handing out pieces of paper. They're folded in half, and on top there is written a last name with a date of birth that I've pulled from their records. I tell them that they are customized to the individual and I'd like you to evaluate them by striking through anything that seems like it doesn't apply to you, underline anything that you agree with, and put a box around anything that is spot on. You'll get a chance to share in a moment, but please keep this to yourself until everyone is done writing.

    I have several kids out of the 20 some odd that are having trouble keeping quiet because they're freaking out saying things like, "how do you know this!?" and, "this is scary!" but I try to calm them down until everyone is done. Of course, everyone's says the same thing: "You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life."

    Because of the authority that I've established by this unit, I've only ever had one kid give me the, "I know what you're doing look but I'm playing along." The kids are shocked as

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.