By definition, pseudoscience is a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method. In practical terms, it means that proponents of pseudoscience use terms derived from science or terms that do not exist in science but sound “scientific.” Pseudoscinece is a pejorative term and means something that mimics science, but it is actually, by its very definition, a collection of beliefs and practices or even opinions that are not based on scientific method, hypothesis testing or practices and not backed by statistical indicators. One could even say that official science rejects and refutes pseudoscience.
Distinguishing science from pseudoscience is extremely important – especially in the areas of health care, the environmental sciences (climate change) and education. Just imagine if government decisions were made in accordance with pseudoscientific bliefs or practices. Our health care system would be based on alternative medicines and healing practices, our energy policies would reflect energy production by means of pseudoscientific methods and schools would teach pupils that the Earth is 6000 years old and flat as a pancake. It should be noted that pseudoscience uses scientific vocabulary, including terms such as “scientific method,” “experiment,” “study,” “proof” and “argument.” Pseudoscience even adds the name “science” to some beliefs and practices, such as “creationist science.”
However, locally, we´ve seen that some pseudoscientific practices and opinions are making their into the system. Surely, that is a sign that the system is weak, corrupt and rotten is it not? Public criticism and calls for the abolition of evolutionary theory have been made and although evolutionary theory has not been expelled from school curriculae, it has been marginalized or overlooked. This is an indicator that our society is slowly drifting out of secular waters and falling into the abyss of dogma and pseudoscience. The logical question is, is it then due to system´s corruption and failure, in the case of health care, that citizens are trying to find salvation in pseudoscientific methods of treatment or care? It is, at this point, worthy to point out that there are proponents of pseudoscience in “orderly” countries with highly functional systems and infrastructure but they are mostly marginalized.
So how do you distinguish pseudoscience from science?
Although proponents of various forms of pseudoscience may mention the scientific method and “studies” that show their claims and beliefs to be correct, let´s remember that proper scientific method is something that is hard to falsify and/or imitate. To come up with a scientific explanation involves several steps: observing the phenomenon, gathering information, creating a working and null hypothesis, creating an experiment (or other research tool, such as a survey), performing an experiment and drawing conclusions from experimental results. These conclusions must either be on the side of the null hypothesis or on the side of the working hypothesis. Science uses a p-value and until recently the p-value threshold was considered a value less than 0.05. There are discussions right now about the need to change this threshold and the reasons behind it, but we will not deal with those issues here.
To begin with, it is important to get acquainted with the fact that scientists use statistical values, measurable values (numerical) to determine that some phenomena are related and impact each other. The idea of p-values is actually an indicator of the statistical significance of the evidence. It is not enough that there is merely evidence, but the evidence must have statistical significance. Only then can we talk about scientific method and that some research, study, work and argument derives from the field of science and not pseudoscience.
Secondly, there is something called falsification. This term comes from Karl Popper, an Austrian born philosopher, academic and social commentator. It is precisely this crucial term that distinguishes science from non-science. Every theory, every hypothesis and every claim must have at least one thesis that could theoretically (emphasis on theoretical) show that this theory, hypothesis or claim is incorrect. What cannot be proven or disproven is not science. That is why Einstein's theory of relativity (both General and Special) is a science – because there are claims and cases in which these theories simply “do not fit.” On the other hand, we all know the claim that God created Earth – this claim, can neither be refuted nor proven. So, the claim that God created Earth and everything else is not science. You may believe it, and in a modern secular society it must not be forbidden (otherwise it is a totalitarian society), but one cannot claim that creationism is a science and should be studied in schools within the natural sciences.
The impossibility to refute a thesis does not mean that it is correct, but that it does not belong to science.
The history of science remembers many intertwinings of pseudoscience and science. Some sciences even arose from pseudosciences, such as astronomy from astrology and chemistry from alchemy. However, most of the pseudo-practices were and will remain; charlatanism or fun for the masses.
Examples of some pseudo-scientific practices, “theses” and reflections are:
-belief that the Earth is flat;
-the thesis that water “remembers”;
-different practices of alternative medicine (hagiotherapy, naturopathy, urinotherapy, etc.)
-Myers-Briggs personality test, etc .;
-various New Age practices;
-treatment with MMS drops;
-quantum medicine therapy;
Jelena Kalinić, MA in comparative literature and graduate biologist, science journalist and science communicator, has a WHO infodemic manager certificate and Health metrics Study design & Evidence based medicine training. Winner of the 2020 EurekaAlert (AAAS) Fellowship for Science Journalists. Short-runner, second place in the selection for European Science journalist of the year for 2022.