the dangers of pseudo-science

“The borderlines between genuine science and pseudoscience may be fuzzy, but this should be even more of a call for careful distinctions, based on systematic facts and sound reasoning. To try a modicum of turtle blood here and a little aspirin there is not the hallmark of wisdom and even-mindedness. It is a dangerous gateway to superstition and irrationality.”

“This is a standard modus operandi of pseudoscience: it adopts the external trappings of science, but without the substance.”

Interestingly enough, the New York Times paper on Traditional Chinese medicine that I discussed in a previous post induced a new (reply) column in the New York Times by Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry. It is called the dangers of pseudo-science and it rightly separates empirical hypothetico-deductive reasoning (like bark helping with headaches) from irrational beliefs like qi, which cannot be tested or falsified. The authors echo (much more eloquently) my surprise at Asma’s discourse as being opposed to the fundamentals of the philosophy of science and as using particularly weak philosophical arguments… Of course, the difference between science and pseudo-science has always been a fuzzy one, dixit the above quote, as illustrated for instance in the first issues of the Proceedings of the Royal Society, which mixed articles introducing calculus with articles attempting to prove the existence of God and articles about witchcraft experiments. But there are cases like astrology (and qi) that are demonstrably pseudo-science, for being both non-falsifiable and inoperative at explaining (and predicting) phenomenons and effects. (As a coincidence (?), I bought a very short introduction to Philosophy of Science while in Warwick. And may even post about this book! I think I will abstain from Pigliucci’s and Boudry’s, Philosophy of Pseudoscience, though, as it would take me a bit far from home.)

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