[ Long ] A Philosophy of Science v. Pseudo-Science

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Fnord
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13 Jun 2013, 10:22 pm

note: the OP has since revised and added to this post, see here: http://www.wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=233144&start=150

Here is something that I've been working on for a while - indicators that an extraordinary claim may be delusional, irrational, or otherwise refutable. I may have posted this previously, in whole or in part, but recent pseudo-scientific claims have inspired me to post it again.

This is a work in progress.

1. The claim is first made through the popular media, (i.e. blogs, tabloids, websites, et cetera), word-of-mouth, and rarely - if ever - through an established scientific institution.

Peer-group review is foundational to the integrity of scientific research. If a claimant is unwilling to expose his or her theories and experiments to the scrutiny of other scientists, then the claim itself is unlikely to stand up to any serious level of scientific scrutiny.

Presenting a claim in such a way as to embellish on its economic aspects ("Investors could make millions!") and that lack specific details of how the discovery was made may indicate that the research itself is incomplete, and that the researcher in only looking for more funding.

Presenting a claim in such a way that the alleged poverty of the claimant is revealed implies that the true focus of the claim is on the acquisition of money, and not on any aspects of the claim itself.

2. The person making the claim may also claim that a powerful group is trying to discredit or suppress evidence for the claim.

    - They may claim that influential people fear that the discovery itself may change the balance of political power and wealth, and thus overturn society.
    - They may claim that they have taken the ethical/moral high ground, and further claim that it is their critics that are spreading the lies and deceptions.
    - They may claim that the scientific establishment dupes ordinary people into thinking they are doing something for greater good, and that these ordinary people they have been lied to and deceived.
    - They may claim that scientists engaged in another line of research are in direct competition, and do not want their own funding jeopardized.
    - They may claim that the "failure" of the scientific establishment to adequately explain an anomalous effect or event that is key to the claimant's own claim is taken as proof for the truth of some unsupported fantastical claim.
    - They may claim that powerful politicians that are heavily invested in the current Military-Industrial complex want to maintain the status-quo, at least until they can get their hands on the discovery.
    - They may claim that a conspiracy, which has the stated purpose of suppressing "Forbidden Knowledge" (i.e. "Things Man Was Not Meant To Know"), is also trying to suppress any knowledge of the claimant's alleged discovery.
3. The person making the claim provides unclear evidence, or "proof" that is open to widely subjective interpretation.
    - Blurred photographs are a stock-in-trade of people making para-normal claims, and for those claiming the existence of mythical creatures. If the objects depicted in the photograph have no distinct or definable form, then the more likely cause is poor photography or a broken camera.
    - Effects that can be 'revealed' only by the application of tortuous statistical methods are indistinguishable from random events.
    - Previously Discredited documentation form pseudo-scientists is presented as "proof" of the claim.
4. The person making the claim provides evidence that is purely anecdotal, circumstantial, or that involves convoluted arguments.
    - The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data'. Just because 'everybody' reports the same effects, it does not make the claim any more valid.
    - Anecdotes are used to elicit and inspire an emotional reaction to, and thus an emotional connection with, the claims being made - such claims include the existence of astral projection, ghosts, precognition, telepathy, and other 'paranormal' activities.
    - The claimant may redefine specialized words and terms to suit his claim, and then use these redefined words in a vain attempt to 'validate" his claim.
    - Circumstantial evidence, while able to bring a murder conviction in a court of law, is useless when the preponderance of factual material evidence is more certain than any convoluted set of purely coincidental circumstances.
    - The randomized double-blind test is the most important means by which we learn what works and what doesn't, because it eliminates any emotional preference for one outcome over another.
5. The person making the original claim may also claim that the claim is valid because many people, both past and present, believe that the claim is valid.

Example: The myth persists that tens of thousands of years ago, before the last ice age, and before history was written down, humanity (or what passed for humanity at the time) produced remedies of miraculous power for every ailment, unmatched by anything modern science has ever produced, and that modern science can not even begin to fathom. Part of the myth includes what merchants of quackery call "Alternative Medicine" and "Unknown Forces". Since there is no written record of any medical discovery or method older than a couple of thousand years, there can be no verification that any "alternative medicine" existed before that time, or that it even worked.
    - Mere belief proves nothing.
    - Even when the population of "believers" is exponentiated by several factors, the shear magnitude of the believing population still proves nothing.
6. The person making the claim has performed his or her 'research' in isolation, and without support from the scientific establishment. Another myth persists that the only real science taking place is in hidden laboratories where misunderstood and uneducated geniuses toil 'round the clock unlocking the secrets of Things Man Was Not Meant To Know.
    - 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, past and present, collaborating and communicating from many locations.
7. The person making the claim may also propose that only previously unknown natural laws of nature can explain his or her experimental results.
    - These 'hidden laws' work only to support the claim.
    - These 'hidden laws' can only be assumed, but not measured.
    - These 'hidden laws' can not be expressed in mathematical terms, because (to the claimant) maths are used by the scientific establishment to obscure its data and make the data more difficult for "real" scientists to understand and use.
    - Events that are indistinguishable from random events, and that can not be reliably predicted or reproduced can not support any valid claim.
    - If the effects of the theoretical existence of a previously unknown natural law are indistinguishable from the effects of the non-existence of a previously unknown natural law, then the law in question itself does not exist.
8. The claimant has an emotional tie to the claim, such that valid material evidence - or the people that present it - that contradicts or negates the claim in whole or in part are attacked in some way.
    - The claimant declares or implies that only someone intimately familiar with the research could possibly understand its significance.
    - The claimant declares or implies that no one else understands science as much as he to begin with.
    - His defenses for the claim may seem to take on all the religious fervor of a revival meeting.
    - Anyone who expresses skepticism is either ignorant of "real" science, or is a shill for those who would keep news of the discovery suppressed.
    - When presented with overwhelming opposition to his claims, the claimant will resort to ad hoc "reasoning" to explain why he believes that the skeptics are out to get him (e.g. he expresses paranoiac opinions).
    - The claimant will attack the credibility of anyone who exposes the fallacious nature of his claims. These attacks will usually include out-of-context quotes, insults, personal attacks, and assorted other unfounded claims (unrelated to the original claim) that bring into question the education, ethics, knowledge, intelligence, and moral character of his critics.
    - Friends of the claimant will often chime in with their own reasons why critics "should" believe the claimant. These reasons often have little - if anything - to do with the claim itself.
    -The claimant may offer a link to an on-line document or video that "explains everything", but which really has an embedded "Trojan Horse" or other malware program that that will damage your computer or make it completely inoperable.
9. Finally, the person making the extraordinary claim will seem to place greater importance on being believed than in presenting any valid or verifiable evidence to support the claim.
    - He will present all manner of excuses why he can not provide mathematical proof or a material demonstration of his claim.
    - He may claim that demonstrations and maths will not convince those do not wish to believe.
    - He may claim that no one else would understand the significance of a demonstration or a mathematical description.
    - He may claim that the world is not yet ready for the full impact of his discovery.
    - He may claim that the only valid evidence for his discovery is arrived at intuitively, and only after viewing a ranting video or reading a rambling document.

Well, that's about all that I have so far. As I said, this is a work in progress, and you are all free to believe it, ignore it, or challenge it, each as you see fit.

Believing in false science allows the comfort of having something to believe in without the discomfort of actually having to learn something.

Edited for inclusion of new ideas.



Last edited by Fnord on 14 Jun 2013, 5:19 pm, edited 3 times in total.

AgentPalpatine
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13 Jun 2013, 10:53 pm

Wow......I don't know what to say. I think WP is better for that post.


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Fnord
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13 Jun 2013, 11:01 pm

One can only hope so, AP ... one can only hope so ...



AgentPalpatine
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14 Jun 2013, 5:40 am

Fnord wrote:
The person making the claim may also claim that a powerful group is trying to discredit or suppress evidence for the claim.
    - Influential people fear that the discovery itself may change the balance of political power and wealth, and thus overturn society.
    - Scientists engaged in another line of research are in direct competition, and do not want their own funding jeopardized.
    - Powerful politicians that are heavily invested in the current Military-Industrial complex want to maintain the status-quo, at least until they can get their hands on the discovery.
    - A conspiracy, which has the stated purpose of suppressing "Forbidden Knowledge" (i.e. "Things Man Was Not Meant To Know"), is also trying to suppress any knowledge of the discovery.


Should/Could an additional line be added noting that the "conspiracy" in some cases must be so widespread, including individuals who have no disernable link to the issue at hand?

To reference an earlier manifestation of this belief, it would require "a conspiracy so immense and an infamy so black as to dwarf any previous venture in the history of man".


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Fnord
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14 Jun 2013, 9:30 am

AgentPalpatine wrote:
Fnord wrote:
The person making the claim may also claim that a powerful group is trying to discredit or suppress evidence for the claim.
    - Influential people fear that the discovery itself may change the balance of political power and wealth, and thus overturn society.
    - Scientists engaged in another line of research are in direct competition, and do not want their own funding jeopardized.
    - Powerful politicians that are heavily invested in the current Military-Industrial complex want to maintain the status-quo, at least until they can get their hands on the discovery.
    - A conspiracy, which has the stated purpose of suppressing "Forbidden Knowledge" (i.e. "Things Man Was Not Meant To Know"), is also trying to suppress any knowledge of the discovery.
Should/Could an additional line be added noting that the "conspiracy" in some cases must be so widespread, including individuals who have no disernable link to the issue at hand? To reference an earlier manifestation of this belief, it would require "a conspiracy so immense and an infamy so black as to dwarf any previous venture in the history of man".

Then we get into conspiracy theory, which seems to take on a life of its own.



CAL_1138
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14 Jun 2013, 9:39 am

AgentPalpatine wrote:

Should/Could an additional line be added noting that the "conspiracy" in some cases must be so widespread, including individuals who have no disernable link to the issue at hand?

To reference an earlier manifestation of this belief, it would require "a conspiracy so immense and an infamy so black as to dwarf any previous venture in the history of man".


It's possible through compartmentalization - such as in the military.

Also, the lie is often different at every level. Many are duped into thinking they are doing something for good because they have been lied to and deceived.



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14 Jun 2013, 10:52 am

CAL_1138 wrote:
Also, the lie is often different at every level. Many are duped into thinking they are doing something for good because they have been lied to and deceived.


That describes most of the people who deny the reality of evolution. Creationist sources ignore, deny or distort the evidence for evolution and "quote mine" to present a straw-man caricature of this subject. So anyone who relies on creationist sources for their information about evolution forms their opinion based on LIES they were told. And to tie in with the conspiracy nuts, somehow there is a huge conspiracy of atheist scientists who the creationists claim are making all this stuff up to deny God and mislead the public. IF there is a conspiracy about evolution, it is GOD who is the mastermind, because all the evidence of the physical world clearly shows evolution happens.

I am highly offended that the side that claims the moral high ground in this issue is the one that is spreading lies and deception, and that those who claim to be doing this because they love God and are true patriots are actually disrespecting God by denying what is real and are harming their country by dumbing down its children. Since I have been accused sometimes of trying to derail threads to my favorite rant, please let me make clear that my post is at least slightly relevant to this thread and also ask that if somebody really has a strong contrary opinion to please start a new thread dedicated to it or contact me by private message.


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Fnord
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14 Jun 2013, 11:02 am

TheBicyclingGuitarist wrote:
... Creationist sources ignore, deny or distort the evidence for evolution and "quote mine" to present a straw-man caricature of this subject. So anyone who relies on creationist sources for their information about evolution forms their opinion based on LIES they were told. And to tie in with the conspiracy nuts, somehow there is a huge conspiracy of atheist scientists who the creationists claim are making all this stuff up to deny God and mislead the public. IF there is a conspiracy about evolution, it is GOD who is the mastermind, because all the evidence of the physical world clearly shows evolution happens.

I am highly offended that the side that claims the moral high ground in this issue is the one that is spreading lies and deception, and that those who claim to be doing this because they love God and are true patriots are actually disrespecting God by denying what is real and are harming their country by dumbing down its children. Since I have been accused sometimes of trying to derail threads to my favorite rant, please let me make clear that my post is at least slightly relevant to this thread and also ask that if somebody really has a strong contrary opinion to please start a new thread dedicated to it or contact me by private message.

Definitely relevant - thanks for the post! I'll try to add your thought to the OP.

:D



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14 Jun 2013, 11:07 am

Fnord, well done.

In addition to the points you brought up I have a solar powered bullshit gauge. When the needle quivers I am on my guard.

Here is an additional point. The failure of accept science to explain an effect or event adequately is taken as proof for the truth of some unsupported fantastical claim. That is the basic approach taken on all these programs on t.v. that attribute weird, wonderful and unexplained happenings to Aliens.

ruveyn



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14 Jun 2013, 11:11 am

Thanks, Ruve! I'll if I can still work it in.

:D



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14 Jun 2013, 11:14 am

Fnord wrote:
Thanks, Ruve! I'll if I can still work it in.


:D



The technical term is argument from ignorance or elenchi ignoratum. It is discussed in many college level books on logic and induction.



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14 Jun 2013, 11:43 am

It is a very good list and essential in the internet age. The internet spreads this stuff so much faster than mere books and pamphlets used to. The tsunami of information makes it important to have a sorting system. This bullet point list is a good system.

In addition to WP, I browse websites where scientists take apart the papers of other scientists, finding flaws in data collection mthods, experimental design and so on. They are nitpicky to an extent far beyond mere demands for "show me the peer reviewed paper" (which is a minimum demand). Once they have the paper (thanks, internet) they dissect it sentence by sentence looking for flaws. They are so vigorous in flaw finding that I have more trust in the papers they have vetted.

Skeptics provide an invaluable screening service. They are a protection against being whipsawed this way and that by a torrent of conflicting information.



Fnord
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14 Jun 2013, 1:52 pm

ruveyn wrote:
... The technical term is argument from ignorance or elenchi ignoratum. It is discussed in many college level books on logic and induction.

I thought about listing all of the classical and contemporary fallacies here, but I realized that examples might be easier to understand than lessons on logic and reasoning. Also, there are so many contemporary fallacies that listing them would likely result in "tl:dr" replies.

Janissy wrote:
It is a very good list and essential in the internet age. The internet spreads this stuff so much faster than mere books and pamphlets used to. The tsunami of information makes it important to have a sorting system. This bullet point list is a good system.

Thanks! I hope that more WP members will use the information to form their own personal "BS" detection protocols, so that they would no longer be frightened and misled by conspiricist trolls, especially in PP&R.

Janissy wrote:
In addition to WP, I browse websites where scientists take apart the papers of other scientists, finding flaws in data collection methods, experimental design and so on. They are nit-picky to an extent far beyond mere demands for "show me the peer reviewed paper" (which is a minimum demand). Once they have the paper (thanks, internet) they dissect it sentence by sentence looking for flaws. They are so vigorous in flaw finding that I have more trust in the papers they have vetted.

^THIS is what makes science far superior to any myths regarding "hidden laboratories where misunderstood and uneducated geniuses toil 'round the clock unlocking the secrets of Things Man Was Not Meant To Know".

Janissy wrote:
Skeptics provide an invaluable screening service. They are a protection against being whipsawed this way and that by a torrent of conflicting information.

We're not the "Party Poopers"; we're the "Designated Drivers"!

:lol:


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ruveyn
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14 Jun 2013, 2:14 pm

Janissy wrote:
It is a very good list and essential in the internet age. The internet spreads this stuff so much faster than mere books and pamphlets used to. The tsunami of information makes it important to have a sorting system. This bullet point list is a good system.

In addition to WP, I browse websites where scientists take apart the papers of other scientists, finding flaws in data collection mthods, experimental design and so on. They are nitpicky to an extent far beyond mere demands for "show me the peer reviewed paper" (which is a minimum demand). Once they have the paper (thanks, internet) they dissect it sentence by sentence looking for flaws. They are so vigorous in flaw finding that I have more trust in the papers they have vetted.

Skeptics provide an invaluable screening service. They are a protection against being whipsawed this way and that by a torrent of conflicting information.


Science progresses by walking over the bones of dead and busted theories and hypotheses. Almost any young ambitious post-doc in physics would give an eye to be able to bust quantum theory of the General Theory of Relativity.,

ruveyjn



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14 Jun 2013, 5:26 pm

I received this one by personal email from an anonymous friend:

Quote:
You may want to add this to section 8 of your post: "The claimant may offer a link to an on-line document or video that he says will explain everything, but which really has an embedded malware program that that will damage your computer or make it stop working completely." The people you told me about may be no ordinary quacks, they might be spreading "Zombie" viruses that will take over your computer by putting it in a video or adobe file. Watch out if they insists that you watch it before they will answer any of your questions. I got caught by this one, and it was a mess to clean up.

Thanks, Anonymous Friend!

:D