Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

Where is the proof in pseudoscience?

The word “pseudoscience” is used to describe something that is portrayed as scientific but fails to meet scientific criteria. This misrepresentation occurs because actual science has creditability (which…

Science or pseudoscience? Flickr/Aff (formerly Odd Bod)

The word “pseudoscience” is used to describe something that is portrayed as scientific but fails to meet scientific criteria.

This misrepresentation occurs because actual science has creditability (which is to say it works), and pseudoscience attempts to ride on the back of this credibility without subjecting itself to the hard intellectual scrutiny that real science demands.

A good example of pseudoscience is homoeopathy, which presents the façade of a science-based medical practice but fails to adhere to scientific methodology.

Other things typically branded pseudoscience include astrology, young-Earth creationism, iridology, neuro-linguistic programming and water divining, to name but a few.

What’s the difference?

Key distinctions between science and pseudoscience are often lost in discussion, and sometimes this makes the public acceptance of scientific findings harder than it should be.

For example, those who think the plural of anecdote is data may not appreciate why this is not scientific (indeed, it can have a proper role to play as a signpost for research).

Other misconceptions about science include what the definition of a theory is, what it means to prove something, how statistics should be used and the nature of evidence and falsification.

Because of these misconceptions, and the confusion they cause, it is sometimes useful to discuss science and pseudoscience in a way that focuses less on operational details and more on the broader functions of science.

What is knowledge?

Testing the knowledge. Flickr/biologycorner

The first and highest level at which science can be distinguished from pseudoscience involves how an area of study grows in knowledge and utility.

The philosopher John Dewey in his Theory of Inquiry said that we understand knowledge as that which is “so settled that it is available as a resource in further inquiry”.

This is an excellent description of how we come to “know” something in science. It shows how existing knowledge can be used to form new hypotheses, develop new theories and hence create new knowledge.

It is characteristic of science that our knowledge, so expressed, has grown enormously over the last few centuries, guided by the reality check of experimentation.

In short, the new knowledge works and is useful in finding more knowledge that also works.

No progress made

It’s all in the stars. Flickr/ dragonoak

Contrast this with homeopathy, a field that has generated no discernible growth in knowledge or practice. While the use of modern scientific language may make it sound more impressive, there is no corresponding increase in knowledge linked to effectiveness. The field has flat-lined.

At this level of understanding, science produces growth, pseudoscience does not.

To understand this lack of growth we move to a lower, more detailed level, in which we are concerned with one of the primary goals of science: to provide causal explanations of phenomena.

Causal explanations

Causal explanations are those in which we understand the connection between two or more events, where we can outline a theoretical pathway whereby one could influence the others.

This theoretical pathway can then be tested via the predictions it makes about the world, and stands or falls on the results. Classic examples of successful causal explanations in science include our explanation of the seasons, and of the genetic basis of some diseases.

While it’s true that homoeopathy supporters try very hard to provide causal explanations, such explanations are not linked to more effective practice, do not provide new knowledge or utility, and so do not lead to growth.

In the same way, supporters of neuro-linguistic programing claim a causal connection between certain neurological processes and learned behaviour, but fail to deliver, and astrologists offer no coherent attempt to provide an explanation for their purported predictive powers.

What is neuro-linguistic programing?

The lack of testable causal explanations (or models, if you will) that characterises pseudoscience gives us a second level of discrimination: science provides casual explanations that lead to growth but pseudoscience does not.

Operational aspects of science

The third level of discrimination is where most of the action between science and pseudoscience actually takes place, over what I earlier called the operational details of science. Getting these details right helps deliver useful causal explanations.

This is where battles are fought over what constitutes evidence, how to properly use statistics, instances of cognitive biases, the use of proper methodologies and so on.

It is where homeopathy relies on confirmation bias, where the anti-vaccine lobby is energised by anecdotes, and where deniers of climate science selectively highlight agreeable data.

This level is also where the waters are muddiest in terms of understanding science for much of the population, as seen in comments on social media posts, letters to the editor, talkback, television, media articles and political posturing.

The knowledge is out there

It is important to address these basic operational understandings, but we must also highlight, in both science education and science communication, the causal explanations science provides about the world and the link between these explanations and growth in knowledge and utility.

This understanding gives us better tools to recognise pseudoscience in general, and also helps combat anti-science movements (such as young-earth creationism) that often masquerade as science in their attempt to play in the same rational arena.

A vigorous, articulate and targeted offence against pseudoscience is essential to the project of human progress through science, which, as Einstein reminds us, is “the most precious thing we have”.

Join the conversation

262 Comments sorted by

    1. Bruce Caithness

      Retiree

      In reply to Sam Douglas

      By stressing that science "works" Peter's article is at risk of drifting into a conflation of science and technology, which harms the effort of demarcation between science and pseudoscience.

      Methods or recipes (technologies) do not give us explanations. The latter are created via the scientist's imagination.

      Technology in evolution and history precedes science. Scientific theories may be instruments but they are not only instruments. They explain. The logic of discovery is not in the production…

      Read more
    2. Peter Ellerton

      Lecturer in Critical Thinking at University of Queensland

      In reply to Bruce Caithness

      Bruce, I try and emphasise (within the constraint of 800 words!) that it is the knowledge produced via science that 'works'. That is to say that it gives us some traction with the world. Whatever growth in utility comes out of it is the arbiter of success.

      report
    3. Bruce Caithness

      Retiree

      In reply to Peter Ellerton

      Yes Peter, because we can, in science, discover our errors our knowledge can grow, but I do like Joseph Agassi's comment, "Success is not something to be proud of, but a puzzle to be explained."

      report
  1. David Semmens

    logged in via Twitter

    Great article on an interesting topic, which gets more interesting at the fuzzy edges.

    report
  2. David Camfield

    Researcher at School of Psychology, University of Wollongong

    I agree wholeheartedly that science is a powerful tool for acquiring knowledge, and is superior to pseduo-science.

    There needs to be some caution however in being aware of how subjective the real world scientific process actually is. In my experience many hypotheses are generated by intuitive hunches and personal experiences, which in turn people try to backup with 'real' evidence. Their belief or clinical experience drives the data collection in many cases.

    Often researchers will persist…

    Read more
    1. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to David Camfield

      David: as a philosopher it's really heartening to hear a neuroscientist declare that "You can't escape phenomenology."

      Just on your point that "Often researchers will persist with a line of investigation in the face of negative findings, because they believe that it is not their hypothesis that is at fault but rather the methodology," that's not *necessarily* a problem. As you'd likely know better than me, this was a huge issue in mid-20th century philosophy of science: strict falsificationism…

      Read more
    2. David Camfield

      Researcher at School of Psychology, University of Wollongong

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Hi Patrick,
      Great to hear your response. I agree with you that it's not necessarily a problem to persist in the face of negative findings. If I'm honest with myself I do the same thing when I think the theory is intuitively appealing. The great thing about science though is that often you don't find what you were hoping to find, and this inevitably leads you to realise that the situation is alot more complex than you originally thought.

      report
    3. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Well-said, Patrick.

      The other aspect here is the distinction between models, observed phenomena and ''truths''.

      The astronomical number of areas of possible knowledge and understanding in the world are developing at different rates - by necessesity. So, some areas - especially in the nano- and super-giant areas of pursuit, remain at falsifiable theory stage - essentially, the best-fit model for the currently available evidence. Some areas of health care are still there - like the causation…

      Read more
    4. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sue - very strongly agree with your penultimate paragraph.

      I think there is a vague, but probably irreducible, subjective, even metaphysical dimension to human consciousness and experience. So long as nobody tries to legislate on the basis of that experience then we are all free to explore our hearts to our hearts' content...

      report
    5. Bruce Caithness

      Retiree

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      @ Patrick. Most, including Karl Popper, agree that naive falsificationism should be challenged. To be fair, you have not named Popper as the source of naive falsificationism.

      But unfortunately it is a mythological view in philosophy of science texts, e.g. Chalmers, that Popper was a naive falsificationist. This distortion can largely be blamed on Lakatos, who as a colleague of Karl Popper did know better. Even a cursory reading of Popper's "Logic of Scientific Discovery" (1959) or "Logik der Forschung…

      Read more
    6. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Bruce Caithness

      Thanks, Bruce, for a very helpful and informative comment. With the proviso that this stuff is a long way outside my usual wheelhouse: having absorbed precisely the distorting caricature of Popper you mention, I was surprised when I read a little bit of Lakatos to find that he presented Popper as much *less* of a naive falsificationist than I'd been led to believe. I was expecting the differences to be considerably greater, but quite often Lakatos makes it sound like he's singing from the same hymn sheet as Popper - which now makes more sense given the points you've raised here.

      report
  3. John Crest

    logged in via email @live.com.au

    Baiscally, what you called "pseudoscience", I would call "bullshit"

    report
    1. John Pickard

      Eclectic naturalist

      In reply to John Crest

      Ahhh, a man who can tell the difference, and is not afraid to spell it out in words of one syllable so that the freaks can understand.

      As a career scientist with a few higher degrees, I think I can tell the difference between science and crap. And homeopathy, chiropractic, iridology, naturopathy, etc. all fall into the date-free category of crap.

      The booming industry of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and the increasing barrage of TV ads for vitamin supplements are clear indicators…

      Read more
    2. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to John Pickard

      I'm not a CAM supporter, but you can't write it off as ineffective for everybody. The placebo effect can be very effective. If someone has faith that a treatment will work, then it just might. Probably (definitely) wouldn't work for you. Of course, once you start getting a few success stories, the BS will start about "how" the treatment works and why you should buy some more stuff.

      To paraphrase your comment:
      If it sounds like a medical treatment, looks like a medical treatment, smells like a etc.., then most people will accept it as a medical treatment.

      report
    3. Pythinia Preston

      writer

      In reply to John Pickard

      Oh how clever you are, can you not find a word in your vocabulary to explain yourself better than use a derogatory word to spit out your frustration with those who embrace all the things you are negative about. It's their money and they can buy what they like, when they like and how they like.

      Your not infallible you too could be wrong.

      report
    4. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Pythinia Preston

      No one is infallible; that much should be honestly acknowledged. But there are some claims which have so little evidence that few scientists are prepared to take them seriously.

      I do agree with you that derogatory words are to be avoided but I think it expresses the frustration that many scientists feel about having to shoot down poorly supported claims- of whatever kind.

      It all comes to evidence, credible, that can be independently verified. Emotions do not come into that.

      report
    5. Pythinia Preston

      writer

      In reply to Henry Verberne

      So called correct analyses is the way to go, emotions are out? but we all have them how do you suggest we rid ourselves of such pesky intelligence? This comment stream is full of emotion the argy bargy of who writes the best comment and who doesn't and wow betide the ones that do not. Oh dear... that's not rational, this word is so over-used on this thread as if it gives the writer a few zebra stripes up the ladder of intelligence.

      report
    6. Trevor McGrath

      uneducated twit

      In reply to John Pickard

      The medical profession and the drug companies living off of the PBS sure don't like the fact that 1/3 of the Australian health dollar is now spent voluntary (with no PBS subsidy) on the CAM. That's why they are trying to close it down. I'm sure Dr Sue can tell you how many people die from Rx drugs misadventure each year and the % of hospital admissions cause by misdiagnosis by GPs and their Rx drug stuff ups. The people are voting with their wallets and moving to a more holistic approach. Surgeons are good for fixing the plumbing but medicine should be about prevention not masking the symptoms. Cheers

      report
    7. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Trevor McGrath

      Trevor McGrath

      Trevor, you have made some pretty big statements there which obviously reflects some problem you have with the medical profession. However, you have not given us a single example where, in your experience or from some published set of data,

      What evidence is there that 1/3 of the national health dollar is spent on CAM??

      Numbers of hospital admissions as a % of all, Rx drugs misadventure, medicine masking symptoms!! You need to be able to give examples and correct numbers to be credible.
      John Nicol

      report
    8. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Trevor McGrath

      ''I'm sure Dr Sue can tell you how many people die from Rx drugs misadventure each year and the % of hospital admissions cause by misdiagnosis''

      Yes, Trevor McGrath - and I can also tell you that these misadventures constitute a TINY proportion of all therapeutic encounters.

      Effective remedies have side-effects and complications by virtue of having a therapeutic effect. Inert substances generally don't produce side-effects because they have no effects - beyond placebo.

      People only ''vote with their wallets'' because they have the medical system as an automatic back-up - available whether they feel respect for it or not.

      When you say ''medicine should be about prevention not masking the symptoms'' - how does one prevent all infections, and how can you argue that antibiotics for meningitis or pneumonia are just ''masking the symptoms''?

      report
  4. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    Very interesting.

    Just asking about definitions here.

    Could you argue climate skepticism is in a different category from astrology and homeopathy, as it's promoting a null hypothesis? From my understanding, most climate skeptics are not proposing their own causal explanation, one of the criteria of psuedoscience Peter mentions.

    (Please please please I'm not trying to start a fight about climate science.)

    report
    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to James Jenkin

      Understood and it's an interesting question, James.

      It seems to me that climate 'skepticism' is particularly good at dressing itself in the vestments of science - and is not uncommonly advanced by those with at least some real background in science - but remains fallacious. So it's not so much pseudo-science as a desperate attempt to bolster one's worldview by trying to cobble together science-seeming arguments from genuine components that are incorrectly assembled in total (if that makes sense).

      I'd be fascinated to hear how Peter Elliton and other posters would see this question.

      report
    2. Jeremy Culberg

      Electrical Asset Manager at Power Generation

      In reply to James Jenkin

      Skepticism is one thing. However skeptics are capable of being convinced by the evidence. Many who comment here appear chose to ignore 97 specialist doctors in a row telling you that you are going to die unless you stop doing X, to listen to 2 or 3 doctors who say that death isn't certain . . . and the qualifications of the last 3 only vaguely put them in being the right field to actually comment. And frequently the last 2 or 3 are actively employed (or own major shares in) the equivalent of tobacco…

      Read more
    3. Peter Ellerton

      Lecturer in Critical Thinking at University of Queensland

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Hi James and Felix,

      Climate science deniers are engaged in pseudoscience to the extent that they use evidence in a non-scientific way. It's not so much they set up an alternate causal system, but just do broken science.

      Cheers

      Peter

      report
    4. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Jeremy Culberg

      To my mind, Richard Muller was arguably the last true sceptic, and he was convinced by the result of the BEST study...

      report
    5. Guy Taylor

      IT Professional

      In reply to James Jenkin

      It's really the denialism, which is sort of the opposite of pseudoscience

      pseudoscience is where people believe something for which there is no evidence.
      denialism is where people won't believe something for which is there evidence.

      Climate skepticism is similar to evolution or AIDS denial, where multiple converging lines of evidence point to a conclusion, yet these are ignored, and a 'perfect answer' is demanded. Obviously, in a system as complex as the weather, or evolution, this will never be possible.

      report
    6. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Guy Taylor

      ''a 'perfect answer' is demanded''

      This ''all or nothing'' approach also frequently characterises the deniers.

      If a vaccine effectiveness at sero-conversion is less than 100%, it's considered as if it is zero%.

      If one year of data doesn't fit a trend, the entire model must be wrong.

      If one person in a field is discredited, the entire field must be untrustworthy....

      report
    7. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Peter Ellerton

      Jeremy Culberg and Peter Ellerton

      The discussion here appears to have degenerated into one of simply criticising climate sceptics.

      Claims that these "sceptics" have no alternative theories and are effectively pseudo scientists (as implied by the author of this article) are being made by people who do not have sufficient understanding of the theories surrounding "the climate change" hypothesis' - more correctly "the incresase in global warming from increased atmospheric carbon dioxide".

      First…

      Read more
    8. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Guy Taylor

      Guy Taylor

      I don't know anyone who "denies" the presence of AIDS in the wide community, particularly in the homosexual population where many very sad cases exist to this day.

      No one is looking for a "perfect" in any true scientific endeavour - everything we can calculate represents and approximation of better or worse degree, depending largely on the maturity of the area of research.

      I would be very interested if you could clearly delineate the "multiple converging lines of evidence" which substantiate the correctness, for you, of the hypothesis of dangerous anthropogenic global warming. Thanks. I have been looking for these now for about eight years, through many channels and a large number of letters to our various climate units in Australia.
      John Nicol

      report
    9. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sue Ieraci

      Sue, you have listed a number of scenarios, without specifics, where "deniers" have required a "perfect answer. I wonder if you could `now list at least some clear examples of this happening.

      You see, I mix with a lot of people but do not know of anyone who believes that a vaccine would or should be 100% effective, that all data should als=ways fit a claimed trend, or discredits everyone in a field simply because one of=r even more people in that firld have made errors or presented unreliable data as facts.
      John Nicol

      report
    10. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to John Nicol

      You are indeed fortunate John Nichol, if you only know rational people.

      There is plenty of evidence of the irrational, however, on this very site as well as all over the web.

      I don't actually suggest that you visit any anti-vax sites, but, if you did, you would see examples of what I mean.

      Like you, I generally don't encounter this thinking in my daily life, but it is certainly around. That's why many of use post on sites like this.

      report
    11. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to John Nicol

      Sorry John but the fact is that you have supplied no facts let alone credible facts.

      report
    12. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Henry Verberne

      Henry Verbene

      Henry, I wonder if you could be more specific. The negative comment you have made about my post(s) - there are three above and I am not sure which are the one(s) to which you refer - does not seem to me to contribute anything to this discussion.

      Criticise me and show me where I am wrong as much as you can. But please do not simply make a bald, meaningless statement that I have supplied no "credible facts".

      I was hoping that someone such as you, with the very wide knowledge base, that you obviously have,of the matters which I have tried to address, would take me apart, piece by piece in a professional and knowledgeable way.
      John Nicol

      report
    13. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Peter Ellerton

      "Climate science deniers are engaged in pseudoscience to the extent that they use evidence in a non-scientific way."

      Peter, do you not think that claiming people who are being sceptical and analytical about an hypothesis supported by models that are almost all wrong, supported by "consensus" which is pseudo science anyway, claimed to correlate with CO2 which it mostly doesn't, and hasn't been happening arguably for the last 17 years, to be climate deniers, when they are simply trying to be realists, is possibly practicing a bit of pseudoscience too?

      Surely pseudoscience is essentially a closed mind.

      report
    14. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      ...which you just demonstrated magnificently, Jim.

      Every 'point' you made has been repeatedly and clearly refuted or rebutted. All of this is readily available in the public domain from the most authoritative sources (see all the world's science academies, just for starters).

      An open mind does not require one to accept every possible view, no matter how absurd or disproven. Examining the evidence dispassionately and drawing a conclusion (which will inevitably lead to the rejection of one or more explanations where there are several, incompatible explanations available, as there are here) does not indicate that you have closed your mind. Otherwise no decision would be possible or defensible.

      To stubbornly refuse to accept a vast body of evidence which has been repeatedly and critically examined by virtually every working scientist in the field may or may not be evidence of a closed mind; it is certainly evidence of dubious judgement.

      report
    15. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      "Every 'point' you made has been repeatedly and clearly refuted or rebutted."

      'S funny, Felix.

      I don't recall you or anybody else refuting or rebutting this.

      And just note how well the last 17 years of cooling "correlates" with the increasing CO2:

      http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/rss/from:1997/trend/plot/esrl-co2/from:1997/normalise:0.5/scale:0.5/offset:0.34

      And up till recently the "world's most authoritative sources" had a simple problem like stomach ulcers completely wrong too.

      As is the claim of the 97% consensus, the many GCMs, etc.

      When you make these foolish claims you demonstrate magnificently just what this article is really all about.

      "World's most authoritative sources," indeed!

      report
    16. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      "To my mind, Richard Muller was arguably the last true sceptic"

      Muller was more of a liar than a sceptic:

      By Richard Muller on December 17, 2003

      "Let me be clear. My own reading of the literature and study of paleoclimate suggests strongly that carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuels will prove to be the greatest pollutant of human history. It is likely to have severe and detrimental effects on global climate. I would love to believe that the results of Mann et al. are correct, and that…

      Read more
    17. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to John Nicol

      I was enjoying this conversation until suddenly, like a fart in an elevator, John Nicol spoils the mood.

      I'll now read on to find out whether the fresh air of sensible conversation will return, or if we enter the dirty toilet of more posts of nonsense and non-science.

      report
    18. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      Jim Inglis

      Jim, you speak with straight tongue.

      How anyone could be conned by Muller's trick of pretending to be a sceptic and then returning to his original base, beggars belief. In any case, he was only checking the temperature measurements which really are neither here nor there in terms of the climate debate.

      I believe even the most "bigoted" skeptic, of which description I am probably one, (certainly that is the case according to, what is it, 97% of the posts on this blog!) is…

      Read more
    19. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      MWH

      Michael, I am very sorry, honestly to have upset your Thursday so badly. Please feel completely free to just totally ignore everything I write. For this you will be rewarded by being allowed to stay in your little world of ignorance forever. Enjoy.

      But to make this comment relevant to the article, I would just like to say that pseudo-science is not limited to homeopathy, or water divining, or astrology, or iridology, or.... - it sometimes creeps over the edge into fields such as, dare I say, it climatology.
      John Nicol

      report
    20. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to John Nicol

      One mark of pseudo-science and denial is that those who promote nonsense and non-science do so only on blogs set up for the purpose, and, unfortunately, in the comments section of places like this.

      If John Nicol really had a scientific breakthrough then this should go into the real scientific debate - he should get a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal.

      It's also worth pointing out that John Nicol has posted his views on why climate change is wrong probably several hundred times, and…

      Read more
    21. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Michael, what do you call blind faith in the absolute proven uncertainty of the GHG theory. CAGW etc. if not pseudoscience?

      That 97% of you alarmists on this site embrace?

      Where is the proof indeed?

      RIGHT HERE !!!

      report
    22. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Michael,
      This is what I’ve found about John Nicol.

      - Dr. Nicol graduated from the University of Queensland in 1960 with a BSc (Hons)(physics), (Honours project in ionosperic E region drifts).
      - He is a former Dean of Science at James Cook University Queensland.”
      - John Nicol, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Physics, James Cook University
      - Chairman of The Australian Climate Science Coalition, which works closely with the International Climate Science Coalition, was formed by a group of…

      Read more
    23. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Colin Cook

      Colin,

      A meta analysis of published papers, while showing a consensus on climate change, does not show how CO2 is the mechanism of climate change which I believe is the point John Nicol is trying to make.

      report
    24. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      No, but it indicates that the majority of scientists working in the area think that it is. If John Nicols knows of an alternative mechanism, what is it and where is the proof to support his proposition?

      report
    25. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      Barry, I'm sure I could find an equally impressive list of qualifications for a geologist or biologist who supports creationism.

      report
    26. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      My first post was written to celebrate that I'd read about half the comments and it was a great read because, for once, we didn't have the few usual suspects trolling.

      Then I got to the first climate change denial post, and now here we are back with the same old endless back and forth between deniers and defenders.

      As the top part of these comments shows, when just a few people don't take part the comments on the Conversation can be a very good read.

      This is why I would love our very few regular trolls to be banned from this site.

      report
    27. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Michael,

      So you believe that the selection mechanism to become Dean of Science and Professor Emeritus of Physics is flawed in Australia? (Generally those are title bestowed on people with a long history of publishing peer reviewed papers and appointed by the university). If that was the case, I am sure The Conversation would have covered that topic by now, unless I've missed it.

      I am positive you can find educated people that would support creationism.

      Are you saying that any person that disagrees with the consensus is a 'denier' and not someone that is raising doubts in the theory presented?

      report
    28. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Would you like to help bring the comments back onto the topic of the article, the distinction between science and pseudoscience?

      report
    29. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      John Cook et als paper was published in a peer reviewed journal and open to any follow up criticism (of which there has been plenty). Blogs are personal opinions, like comments posted here.

      I can see Mike Hulmes point in his Conversation article (https://theconversation.com/science-cant-settle-what-should-be-done-about-climate-change-22727). Science may have consensus on the causes and impact of climate change, but getting it accepted politically is a completely different ball game. The trouble is, opponents to any changes required to combat global warming/climate change will attack the science (sound familiar?). Maybe future article on climate change should be posted under Politics and Society, not Science and Technology, because that is where the arguments and decision making need to take place.

      report
    30. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to John Nicol

      Thanks John, not only is the uncertainty very high but with all the other "man made" causes of warming like UHIE, land use change possibly exceeding the small amount of observed warming, the GHG theory could very well work in reverse.

      MWH needs plenty more of that tail-tweeking if he is ever going to find his way into the real world ☺.

      You're doing him a great service.

      He just doesn't get it yet.

      report
    31. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Colin Cook

      Colin,

      Are you implying that once there is a consensus, no scientific theory should be open to being questioned?

      Perhaps The Conversation should do an article on the politics of climate change. The comments would make interesting reading.

      report
    32. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      With John's credentials, if he really had something to say he could easily write a paper and submit it to a journal.

      Challenging the consensus is part of how science works. But to get a paper published the paper needs to have enough evidence and reason to make the challenge to the consensus serious science.

      With John's qualifications the lack of any peer-reviewed paper is very telling.

      I'm saying someone that repeatedly posts non-science here is a denier. Not only has John not got a paper, but as far as I can see he hasn't convinced anyone here that he is right.

      report
    33. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      "Are you implying that once there is a consensus, no scientific theory should be open to being questioned?"

      No, but if you're going to question such a majority consensus which has survived attacks from multiple sources over many years, you'd better have some proof. Just saying "it ain't so" is not scientifically or politically astute.

      report
    34. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Considering what passes for "pal review" these days Mike, that's to his credit.

      Thinking science only comes from peer review is just more proof of pseudoscience.

      But thanks for getting back on thread as Barry suggested.

      report
    35. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Colin Cook

      So you want someone to prove a negative? Journals rarely publish negative results.

      Is it enough for a theory to survive multiple attacks, or does a theory need to survive all attacks?

      Generally if a case is found that the theory can not handle then we review the theory. But what if the attack is on the assumptions on which the theory is made. If the foundation of the theory is not solid, then the theory can not be solid. Should we be questioning the theory, or the assumptions on which a theory is based? (Notice: I referring to general terms, not the climate change theory).

      report
    36. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      Given the article and the excellent discussion before the trolls arrived, Barry's post can easily be seen as non-science and nonsense.

      If by negative result he means research that finds the opposite of the consensus at that time then he is clearly wrong.

      A decade ago the consensus as that the expansion of the universe was slowing down due to gravity.

      The 'negative' result that the expansion of the universe is actually increasing won the authors a Nobel prize.

      I'm sure that anyone interested in science can think of many other 'negative' results which have changed science.

      report
    37. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      A negative result is a none result, not a result that shows the opposite result. If an experiment is carried out that fails to show what is expected it is rare to be published especially if it questions the consensus.

      report
    38. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      "So you want someone to prove a negative? Journals rarely publish negative results."

      Negative or null result? Journals rarely publish null results because they're so hard to write up (we did an experiment and nothing happened!). They produce data and increase your knowledge (if nothing happened, our theory of how things work must be wrong), but they're hardly the stuff for scientific papers (except for this one http://www.jasnh.com/). There's a good article on the benefits of null results (http://sciencecarol.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/results-null-but-not-void/).

      report
    39. Cory Zanoni

      Community Manager at The Conversation

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      Jim,

      You've linked to that graph a few times now and I've finally had a chance to poke around the site. Looking at its 'notes' section (http://www.woodfortrees.org/notes#trends) it points out that, using its data-sets, anyone can present a pretty skewed view of things e.g. this chart that makes it look like temps are rising: http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/uah/plot/uah/trend

      Next time you post it, could you please explain your rationale behind your choice of data-sets.

      report
    40. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Colin Cook

      Interesting online journal, surprised there are so few articles.

      I do not deny the benefits of null results. I agree they both add to our knowledge and are hard to write up.

      (I should have used 'null'. Problem with trying to do too many things at the same time).

      report
    41. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Cory Zanoni

      Cory, just think about it.

      WFT is genuine data and I use them in this case to show the "convinced and concerned" here, that for the last 17 years, the NASA RSS satellite, that avoids falling into the trap of measuring the UHIE, shows actual cooling while we are getting ever-increasing CO2 emissions.

      Let me just say again: this is the LAST 17 YEARS [that Ben Santer said was necessary to separate signal from noise] during which there has been, not only no warming but some degree of COOLING.

      And at the same time not correlating with the GHG theory.

      World wide !!!

      Global average temperature !!!

      This isn't any sort of cherry picking and any reasonable person knows that.

      "Next time you post it, could you please explain your rationale behind your choice of data-sets."

      I'm sure everyone here who wants to understand this graph can understand it.

      It is an inconvenient truth.

      There are just some deniers here who hate it and you shouldn't cater to them.

      report
    42. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      Getting back to the topic in question, the use of the word "null" prompted some thoughts.

      Science begins with the null hypothesis, which assumes that the claim under investigation is not true until proven otherwise. Experiments to test the hypothesis are undertaken using the scientific methodology appropriate for the experiment. Data is collected, analysed and the experimental proof tested against the hypothesis using statistical comparisons for validity.

      Pseudoscience does not start with the null hypothesis, so cannot follow the scientific method and generate any experimental proof.

      report
    43. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Cory Zanoni

      "this chart that makes it look like temps are rising:"

      Cory, no one denies that temperatures have risen since the '70s and we can play chart games forever but the fact is there is currently a pause in the warming which only adds to the uncertainty of climate science.

      This is why basing "science" on claims of "known fact" when these "facts" are not known at all, is simply pseudoscience.

      report
    44. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      Cory,

      When Jim Inglis writes that "there is currently a pause in the warming" he is ignoring every rebuttal made on this topic over the last year or so.

      When he says that this "only adds to the uncertainty of climate science" he is ignoring that with each passing year the science is becoming more solid.

      Jim Inglis is a troll who is here to lobby against climate change.

      Is it the role of The Conversation to give him such voice?

      report
    45. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      This might help with finding a better definition of pseudoscience.

      On what basis should The Conversation determine is someone is not able to post? How are they to differentiate between: troll, skeptic, devil's advocate, misinformed, denier, someone that is trying to find out more information, someone that is confused about a point, someone that has trouble getting their point across clearly, etc?

      report
    46. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      Barry, what is significant about your questions is that it shows that you have not read the article nor most of the comments.

      From one post you often can't tell. But deniers and trolls don't just post once - many of them are amongst The Conversations heaviest posters. And when you read many posts from someone it become very clear whether they are deniers here to lobby or genuine posters.

      Note that other sites decide what content will be posted and what will not be. The websites of deniers usually delete posts from those who defend the science, and I've been told that sensible posts critical of Bolt and other Murdoch writers get deleted from that site.

      So in practice it would be very easy to delete the posts of genuine trolls without threatening or curtailing genuine debate.

      report
    47. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      Judging posters could be done over time (three strikes and you're out?). They could improve their response to moderated posts by actually informing the offending poster that they have transgressed. The generic post on getting a comment removed is:

      There are several reasons why this may have occurred:
      1) Your comment may have breached our community standards. For example it may have been a personal attack, or you might not have used your real name.
      2) Your comment may have been entirely blameless but part of a thread that was removed because another comment had to be removed.
      3) It might have been removed for another editorial reason, for example to avoid repetition or keep the conversation on topic.

      So I don't know if it was my comment or someone else's that is at fault. How can I (or others) modify my posting tone if I have no idea if what I posted was at fault or not?

      report
    48. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      MWH, thanks for showing us a great example of pseudo science both in evidence and attitude.

      report
    49. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Michael,

      I have read the complete article and ALL of the responses to this thread. It is easy enough for admin to remove posts, the question is do they have time to read every comment to so if it was from a troll? I doubt it.

      just to be clear, the metric you are advocating is based solely on the number of posts made by a person. I like Colin's idea on the topic and it should be straight forward to The Conversation to implement a similar process.

      Would it not be better to determine if a person was a troll or not based on the repetitive nature of the response given? Or how off topic a post is based on keywords?

      report
    50. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      I think Michaels idea of removing trolls whose only purpose is to create dissent for it's own sake has some merit, but deciding who is a troll would be problematic, as Barry points out. I usually work on the basis of not what they are saying, but how they are making their argument. If they can argue a point of view opposed to my own, but in a rational manner, I'll listen. Passion is OK, but if they descend into personal or professional abuse, it's time to switch off.

      M Bearzi (http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/10/11/5-simple-tips-for-communicating-science/) proposed 5 simple tips for science communication. They could equally be applicable to postings in this forum, as we are trying to communicate our ideas to other people.

      Be simple and straightforward.
      Don’t be condescending or pedantic.
      Tell compelling stories.
      (When and if you can) use illustrations.
      Be Apolitical.

      report
    51. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      They don't need to read every message as the report function can be used to bring posts to their attention. Like with The Guardian, they need to add a new category - Trolling.

      My preference would be to have a system such as on Reddit where posts get rated up or down (the up vote here is so useless that no-one uses it).

      Like on Reddit and Amazon with its user reviews, when a post gets enough down votes, the post is no longer shown. If a reader wants to see the post they click on an arrow and the post appears.

      Such a system works well in practice because it enables readers to determine when posts are trolling or irrelevant, etc, and not just those who are also posting or those who bother to do a report.

      report
    52. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Colin Cook

      Colin,

      The use of the null hypothesis in separating science and pseudoscience has possibilities. I am not sure if it is enough.

      Given we test a hypothesis within a framework of knowledge, by doing that test are we automatically converting a pseudoscience into a science? For example, if I was to do a test on astrology. I find a sample of random people and run an experiment to see if their personalities show a relationship to the star signs of their birth. Because I am able to accept or reject the hypothesis does this now make it a science? (Might not be the best example, but hopefully it gives you the idea of what I'm getting at).

      report
    53. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Colin Cook

      But making the science clear serves little purpose unless this illumination makes a difference to the world.

      So yes, explaining science is apolitical.

      But where does comparing what the science recommends with the policies and actions of the different parties lie?

      And finally, in a democracy, the big decisions should be decided at the ballot box. So once the science is agreed the politics is critical.

      report
    54. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      While there may be consensus with the science (any topic) the major hurdle I see is how the media would betray the science to the public before a ballot was taken.

      How big would a big decision have to be before everyone should vote on it? Do we limit who is able to vote, i.e. age, education level, etc? Reason being, big decisions can effect future generations, so do we let children in kindergarten vote?

      I feel the only time we will have science comparing policies and actions of the different parties is when they are receiving guaranteed funding.

      report
    55. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      Every election is a vote on science ...

      Voting Labor or Liberal means that you are voting for:
      * continued high population growth
      * a 'reduction' of carbon emissions that is actually a domestic increase,
      * expanding coal exports possibly enough to warm the world by another 0.125 degrees

      and I suspect most hot issues have a science component, and I suggest that it would be hard to find an example of the major parties changing to do what the science says.

      report
    56. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      MWH, we know the pause was embarrassing a year ago but now that it has exceeded Ben Santer's 17 year period and gone from noise to signal, it is even more embarrassing.

      The fact is you can't deny it anymore without invoking pseudoscience in the form of unmeasured and unmeasurable OHC.

      That, and calling people trolls for suggesting inconvenient truths like this.

      report
    57. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      "Given we test a hypothesis within a framework of knowledge, by doing that test are we automatically converting a pseudoscience into a science?"

      No. The null hypothesis for your astrology example would be "A person's personality and fate in life is not determined by the positions of the suns and stars at the time of their birth." The testing would take place using a psychology or social science experimental method and the results would confirm or deny the null hypothesis. Conducting scientific investigations into a pseudoscientific premise does not lend scientific credibility to the premise. An object does not gain scientific credibility just because it's under a microscope.

      report
    58. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Looking at this discussion on trolling and relating it to the science and pseudoscience discussion of the article.

      I see the solutions discussed as:

      1. Automatic, based on a fixed set of rules
      2. Determination by an authoritative body.
      3. General consensus.

      If we used general consensus of the general population astrology would be a science, and a consensus of scientist would result in it being a pseudoscience. Therefore the distinction between science and pseudoscience would depend…

      Read more
    59. In reply to Jim Inglis

      Comment removed by moderator.

    60. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      Barry is again proving that he is a troll because he is deliberately ignoring what has been said in defence of questioning the consensus.

      Asking a question is fine.

      Discussing evidence and reasons for questioning the consensus is fine when the poster is clearly listening to the replies and engaging in a genuine discussion.

      Repeatedly posting non-science whilst ignoring the evidence is trolling.

      report
    61. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Michael,

      This article was written by a lecture in CRITICAL thinking, not a science based article. The article is about the distinction between science and pseudoscience.

      What evidence have I ignored?

      report
    62. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      "Could we say science is based on science and pseudoscience on belief?"

      Science is based on science? A roundabout argument stuck in it's own loop. Maybe say that science is based on proof and pseudoscience is based on faith (belief without proof).

      "Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt."
      Richard Feynman, Nobel-prize-winning physicist

      report
    63. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Colin Cook

      My mistake. That should have read "Could we say science is based on knowledge and pseudoscience on belief"

      report
    64. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      I don't see any point in responding to Barry any further.

      I'm sure that anyone reading our conversation will by now have made up their own minds about the quality and logic of each of our arguments.

      report
    65. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Sorry to hear you feel that way.

      You do realise this article is on the distinction between science and pseudoscience from a critical thinking perspective. Not a discussion about climate change?

      report
    66. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Colin Cook

      Colin,

      (This is in relation to the idea of using the null hypothesis to determine the distinction between science and pseudoscience - this thread are getting mixed together).

      "Conducting scientific investigations into a pseudoscientific premise does not lend scientific credibility to the premise. An object does not gain scientific credibility just because it's under a microscope.".

      I agree. The point I was making is that a pseudoscience can still use scientific methodology (by using the null hypothesis) and still not be a science. Which brings me back to my point "...separating science and pseudoscience has possibilities [based on the null hypothesis]. I am not sure if it is enough."

      report
    67. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      If pseudoscience accepts the null hypothesis model and conducts experiments in the accepted manner for scientific rigour, and accepts the results of those experiments, then the process has been conducted scientifically. However, the results may not conclude that the pseudoscience premise is a valid one. One of the defining characteristics of a pseudoscience is discarding or discounting results that don't agree with it's ideology (cherry picking). They can conduct the experiments with scientific validity, but if they don't accept them with an open mind then it's not science.

      "Science begins with the null hypothesis, which assumes that the claim under investigation is not true until proven otherwise." Proven is not just the generation of data, but acceptance of the facts supported by the complete set of data. Pseudoscience doesn't seem to accept the requirement for the whole package.

      report
    68. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      MWH, you hang yourself every time you open your mouth and prove what a non-understanding pseudoscientist you are.

      Even if 2013 was Australia's hottest year [and with the selected data of BoM that is very arguable], that has absolutely no bearing on global average temperatures.

      GAT for the month of January stands at 0.29c above the average since satellite measurements began:

      http://www.drroyspencer.com/wp-content/uploads/UAH_LT_1979_thru_January_2014_v5.61.png

      That's about [0.1c warmer] where it was in 1988 when James Hansen started the whole kerfuffle by turning off the aircon and making his alarmist claims.

      Another brilliant example of pseudoscience.

      report
    69. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Colin Cook

      You seem to have come up with the best distinction between the two so far "One of the defining characteristics of a pseudoscience is discarding or discounting results that don't agree with it's ideology (cherry picking)." I am sure we have both seen this also happens in science [e.g. behavioural psychology] as well (the reason why peer review is an important part of the scientific process).

      Could we extend your definition to say that pseudoscience discards repeatable evidence to the contrary.

      [Devils' advocate - in a scientific debate you can easily find information to support your point of view and which you feel invalidates the arguments of the other side, is this not also cherry picking?]

      report
    70. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      Colin,

      Your thoughts on the following as a possible distinction between science and pseudoscience.

      If repeatable negative (contrary) results allow for the modification of the underlying theory.

      report
    71. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      "[Devils' advocate - in a scientific debate you can easily find information to support your point of view and which you feel invalidates the arguments of the other side, is this not also cherry picking?]"

      Yes, but if the evidence the opposing point of view is presenting is valid, you still have to consider it. Sometimes you have to balance the weight of evidence for each view. Other times, it might lead you to suspect that your theory of how things work is wrong and you need to consider a third point of view which accounts for all of the evidence. It just gets a bit annoying when it descends into "my evidence is better than yours" tit-for-tat.

      report
    72. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      Yes, that's a fair definition of pseudoscience, and one which has been used before in different wording.

      "pseudoscience is primarily distinguishable from science when it is less progressive than alternative theories over a long period of time, and its proponents fail to acknowledge or address problems with the theory" Paul Thagard

      report
    73. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Colin Cook

      Not familiar with the quote. Interesting the author took a different approach to the definition problem.

      It took a while to get there, but in end we have two workable definitions. I do like Paul Thagard's version.

      report
    74. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      Noteworthy that my response to Jim on this is the ONLY post so far deleted from this thread by a moderator:

      So clearly The Conversation believe that Jim saying "we know the pause was embarrassing a year ago but now that it has exceeded Ben Santer's 17 year period and gone from noise to signal, it is even more embarrassing.The fact is you can't deny it anymore without invoking pseudoscience in the form of unmeasured and unmeasurable OHC." is what is wanted here.

      And my saying that his denial…

      Read more
    75. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      MWH

      Two small things relevant to your comment here.

      1. You have not pointed us to one single rebuttal

      2. Even if the heat is so mysteriously and unphysically (talk about pseudoscience!) accumulating unseen, it does nothing to demonstrate that carbon dioxide is to blame.
      JohnNicol

      report
    76. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to John Nicol

      John, you have posted here 950 times, so you have been around.

      No, I haven't posted a rebuttal, and that's because such rebuttals have been posted not just once or twice, but many, many times by people such as Doug Hutcheson and David Arthur.

      As I've said before, one of things that marks a troll is that then never consider the evidence posted against them, and just repost the same lies again and again as if it is fresh.

      And Colin Cook - have you ever seen a denier change their mind on this website due to evidence? Ever?

      These deniers are not here for conversation but to disrupt and lobby, and The Conversation should be ashamed to promote pseudoscience by giving them a platform.

      As has been said many times here, nothing can be said that will change the mind of a denier and lobbyist. But as the denier websites and the Murdoch press don't give rational people a right of reply in their comments, I don't see why this website should become the mouthpiece of lobbyists.

      report
    77. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      If they did change their mind, I don't think they'd come out and admit it.

      It might help if the moderators enforced the rules a bit more when conversations go awry like this. They made the rules and ask us to follow them, but I don't see much enforcement besides the occasional removal of comments for reasons unknown. As they say "We aim to maintain theconversation.com service as an inviting space to focus on intelligent discussions. Be courteous.". Yes, we'd like that too.

      report
    78. Glenn Tamblyn

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Nicol

      Hello John

      "Even if the heat is so mysteriously and unphysically (talk about pseudoscience!) accumulating unseen"

      Well not really. Not unseen since it is being measured. Nothing unphysical since there are well known mechanisms that transfer heat into the ocean and then down to the mid depths. And so not mysterious at all

      As to demonstrating something to do with CO2, well no single piece of evidence ever demonstrates anything (except in a few specific branches of Physics) but a body of evidence…

      Read more
    79. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      Barry Bayliss

      I think that carrying out the statistical analysis in looking for a correlation between astrological signs and the persons born under them, is certainly a scientific method which will debunk astrology.

      Doing so does not lift astrology into the realm of science, in fact just the opposite.

      It doesn't matter either what formal hypothesis you may have stated before hand, true or false, or whether in fact you did state any hypothesis. You carried out a scientific test which would undoubtedly prove that astrology was bunkum and that anyone who makes use of it in planning for the future is following the course of pseudo science.

      The same goes for iridology, homeopathy and the many other things which have been raised here and which everyone acknowledges as pure rubbish.
      John Nicol

      report
    80. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to John Nicol

      John,

      The premise of the astrology example was to show that the use of the null hypothesis was not enough to distinguish between science and pseudoscience. Notice the last sentence of the quote from my post.

      Quote [The use of the null hypothesis in separating science and pseudoscience has possibilities. I am not sure if it is enough.]

      While physical sciences may not suffer from the following, an experiment carried out to prove or disprove astrology would depend on who ran the experiment…

      Read more
    81. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      Barry,

      It may be better to say that pseudoscience promoters do not "accept" the basic premise of the null hypothesis ie. the claim under investigation is not true until proven otherwise. If they did, they would not be able to make any claims until they had proof.

      You're right about conducting experiments on biological systems (eg humans). They are, by nature, inherently variable and it's difficult to control all of the parameters that may influence the outcome. There's a transcript of a talk by Richard Feynman in 1974 (http://www.lhup.edu/~DSIMANEK/cargocul.htm). The talk covers pseudoscience (or as he calls it, cargo cult science). Towards the bottom of the page, there's a wonderful description of some "rats in a maze" experiment and the increasing efforts to control the rats ability to outwit the experimenter.

      report
    82. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      Jim,

      Given the framework of the thread is about how to distinguish between science and pseudoscience, how do your claims about global warming fit into the DEFINITON of pseudoscience as discussed? If it does not, can you make any suggestions on how to improve the definition we have been discussing.

      One way to introduce error is to linearize a non-linear system. While I am not familiar with all the climate change research I have yet to see any references posted that take into account the non-linear dynamical nature of the system. An easy example to see the complexity of a dynamical system is to look at the double pendulum, for example http://www.physics.usyd.edu.au/~wheat/dpend_html/

      report
    83. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      Barry, yes, weather is extremely chaotic but climate probably less so but it is the assumptions that are used to cover for the many uncertainties like not knowing whether clouds are pos or neg feedback, not being able to measure total OHC, continually cooling past records and warming present and future ones, peer [pal] review of papers based on dubious proxies and what must be many other known and unknown unknowns that create much of this pseudoscience.

      These are the things that the average person can see even if [like me] they aren't able to prove the mathematical errors.

      report
    84. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Colin Cook

      Colin, when unknowns are unknown and uncertainties uncertain, there is only one way to hang.

      And that's sceptical.

      But not as per your SKS link on the sceptics view of sea ice.

      This is how sceptics view global sea ice:

      http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/global.daily.ice.area.withtrend.jpg

      Right on average after all this "warming".

      Of course there's pseudoscience, and then there's just plain fraud:

      http://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/cheating-just-as-they-planned-to-do/

      report
    85. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      "Colin, when unknowns are unknown and uncertainties uncertain, there is only one way to hang.
      And that's sceptical."

      Scientific uncertainties aren't uncertain, but can be calculated. No scientific knowledge is ever presented as totally certain (if it is, it shouldn't be). Uncertainty is part of science but it's no excuse for indecision. (http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/science/certainty-vs-uncertainty.html)

      The chart you linked to was an overall view of global sea ice area. The situation is more complex than that (http://nsidc.org/cryosphere/sotc/sea_ice.html). Sea ice volume would be a better indicator of warming (or not), but has proved difficult to measure on a global scale. Other forms of ice (glaciers, permafrost, snow cover etc) need to be accounted for too.

      report
    86. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      But only a few. Not all, because that would counteract his argument.

      report
    87. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      "Colin, when unknowns are unknown and uncertainties uncertain, there is only one way to hang.
      And that's sceptical."

      If your doctor told he he was 98% certain that you had some form of cancer, and the best option would be to start treatment, how sceptical would you be then? Would you take that sort of chance on your health (and maybe your life)?

      This is the sort of gamble that climate change deniers are taking with the health of the environment that supports us. There is a small chance that they are right, but the consequences of doing nothing and later finding out that they were wrong are just too large to justify inaction.

      Climate change denial is often denigrated as pseudoscience because of the way it selectively cherry picks data to support it's arguments, without looking at the balance of all available data. It cannot claim to be science based until it accepts the fundamental rigour required of any scientific enquiry.

      report
    88. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Colin Cook

      Which known truths do you think he denies, Colin?

      report
    89. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Colin Cook

      Colin, I'm sure you know that is a poor argument.

      When a doctor reaches that diagnosis he has performed all the tests necessary and you can see for yourself that you have cancer or at least the evidence is overwhelming.

      But if OTOH you had been feeling well for the last 17 years after suffering some symptoms, you might be a bit sceptical and tempted to get a second opinion.

      It's like arguing the precautionary principle where the insurance premium is ten time the risk.

      report
    90. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      "When a doctor reaches that diagnosis he has performed all the tests necessary and you can see for yourself that you have cancer or at least the evidence is overwhelming."

      Just like climate change. Except some people don't want to see the evidence, for whatever reason. I'll finish with an excerpt from a short article about science consensus on global warming. It sums it up most eloquently (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/306/5702/1686.full).

      "Politicians, economists, journalists, and others…

      Read more
  5. Ricardo Duke

    Filmmaker

    Science can't explain every phenomenology. This authour would do well to try DMT.

    report
  6. Sue Ieraci

    Public hospital clinician

    Thank you for an elegant article. Your three categories of progress, causal explanations (or models) and scientific (or testing) operational methods are useful.

    The characteristic of ''progress'' is an interesting one that distinguishes a body of knowledge from belief. Belief is immutable, often pronounced by a single (venerated) individual, and valued for its constancy.

    Knowledge and expertise are expected to develop over time, as new evidence emerges and is either incorporated or rejected…

    Read more
    1. Gayle Dallaston

      logged in via email @gayledallaston.com

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sue: "It is tempting, as an outsider to a particular area of expertise, to assume that reading widely can make up for that lack of knowledge... you may completely misinterpret how the body of knowledge relates to real-world practice."

      This is easy enough to see how this works in your area of expertise and the frustration of dealing with it.

      However, there are times where an issue crosses many areas of expertise. Autism is the classic example where it can be approached from so many angles…

      Read more
    2. account deleted

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Gayle Dallaston

      "The way the experts do it" is often merely the way the experts maintain their hegemony within a specific area of practise, or is otherwise convenient for the experts.

      report
    3. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Gayle Dallaston

      Gayle - there are many, many multidisciplinary areas within the sciences and human services. The same principles should apply to all - each discipline should contribute what they can, from either the best-fit model, directly observed evidence and their expertise from having applied the principles or evidence in practice.

      The areas you mention (psychiatry, psychology, neurology, communication, education, speech pathology, child development) all have their own bodies of evidence and professional…

      Read more
    4. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to account deleted

      Perhaps being ''self-employed'', Mr Minns might not be exposed to a professional community where knowledge is being continuously updated.

      In my thirty years in public hospital practice, many things have changed as new evidence has emerged. Every year I go to workshops to update my knowledge of the current research literature - reviewing the results of literally hundreds of published papers - their methodology, results and the validity of their conclusions.

      I expect the same thing is reproduced within the other professions.

      report
    5. Gayle Dallaston

      logged in via email @gayledallaston.com

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sue, I'm not for a moment advocating for homeopathy or the anti-vaccination lobby.

      I agree with your first paragraph. As far as the second paragraph goes, the first sentence is fine but I don't get the jump to the second. Where did I say that?

      What I would say is that within, and between, those fields (psychiatry, psychology, neurology, communication, education, speech pathology, child development) all of which I assume you approve, there is considerable difference in way some issues are viewed - which is a good thing as long as there is discussion, debate and healthy dissent.

      Who gets to choose the best-fit model?

      report
    6. account deleted

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Perhaps being employed on the public purse, Dr Ieraci might not be used to being exposed to a professional community where knowledge is evaluated on a set of metrics that does not include conformance with bureaucratic obligations?

      report
    7. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Gayle Dallaston

      Exactly Gayle. It's not for nothing that the Royal Society adopted *Nullius in verba* as its motto. It is quite humorous indeed whenever the chance occurs to tell someone, anyone, but especially those persons who consider themselves to be an "expert" [I much prefer the term "vexpert" in most cursed cases] in "their field", something that really "rattles" their inner being, because that which you've told them goes totally against the grain [of truth?] of a belief [be it but somewhat subconscious…

      Read more
    8. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Gayle Dallaston

      Thanks for the link Gayle. Even before I got anywhere near the end of the article I was already thinking of [Mary] Temple Grandin whose name I note [T. Grandin] appears at the bottom under "resources". I enjoyed listening to her on the "TED Radio Hour" [ABC Radio National] only a week? or so ago. She's a veritable classic and she's "right up there" with the likes of Frances Oldham Kelsey, who retired from the FDA 9 years ago when she was 90!

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Grandin

      report
    9. Gayle Dallaston

      logged in via email @gayledallaston.com

      In reply to Allan Gardiner

      I am familiar with Temple Grandin, but the question was how you would evaluate it in the context of the article above.

      report
    10. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Gayle Dallaston

      Gayle, as I see it, you initially wondered how others would evaluate the Aspberger's article per se, now it seems you want it evaluated in the context of Peter's article, which I really don't think would be beneficial in any way as to me it's like chalk and cheese.

      Having now read that Aspberger's article, my present interest lies with the question as to why girls are rarely diagnosed with AS if they indeed rarely are, plus I'm interested to know if this alleged rarity is simply because more male…

      Read more
    11. Gayle Dallaston

      logged in via email @gayledallaston.com

      In reply to Allan Gardiner

      I posted it here within this thread, under this article so expected people to read it within that context. My mistake for assuming that. I could have posted an article about boys as my example but the girl article was just in front of me at the time.

      The pseudosciences used as examples in this article and taken up in the comments are easy targets - the article uses homeopathy, nlp and creationism as examples, and regulars on this site will know that homeopathy and anti-vaccination are always…

      Read more
    12. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to account deleted

      Not at all, Mr Minns.

      Being ''employed on the public purse'' only restricts my income - not my intellect or clinical judgment.

      Nice try, though.

      report
    13. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Gayle Dallaston

      ''considerable difference in way some issues are viewed''

      Ms Dallaston - while there are clearly different perspectives between the various disciplines you list, they can all collaborate because they are based on a common understanding of how the body works, and what competent research shows.

      This multidisciplinary approach occurs in a great many areas of medicine, from injury to stroke rehabilitation.

      report
    14. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to account deleted

      Nice try, Mr Minns, but my public hospital employment only limits my income, not my clinical judgement.

      report
    15. Gayle Dallaston

      logged in via email @gayledallaston.com

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      "This multidisciplinary approach occurs in a great many areas of medicine, from injury to stroke rehabilitation."

      Indeed it does and as you say that is "because they are based on a common understanding of how the body works" especially in areas like injury and stroke rehabilitation.

      But we're not talking about how the body works - with autism, we're not even just talking about how the mind works, we're also talking about how social communication and social interactions work, and a lot more…

      Read more
  7. Ian Seymour

    Curious bystander

    How does The Conversation produce an article of this calibre, only to publish this:
    http://theconversation.com/rejoice-its-chinese-new-year-no-wait-not-here-22476

    Which, while raising an interesting point about hemispheres, seasons and calendars, includes the following statement:

    "In Melbourne, I am currently using this time system in locating effective acupuncture points – chronoacupuncture – in dealing with difficult clinical conditions."

    "Chronoacupuncture" claims to be building on established (albeit mystical) knowledge but fails to provide evidence causal explanations and relies on anecdotal evidence; i.e., it fails at least two of your three criteria.

    report
    1. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Ian Seymour

      I always thought the same about applying Feng Shui principles in middle class Oz.

      Dubious as it might be, rules for constructing and furnishing a home in China might not be applicable to the capital cities of a country in another hemisphere.

      report
    2. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Chronoacupuncturists would do well to let it w_ash'amedly over them that ti_me'ddling and t_ide'ations wait for no man_ipulators of the tru_th'aumaturgical.

      report
  8. Fred Pribac

    logged in via email @internode.on.net

    Excellent article!

    I have used the term pseudoscience in the comments to articles several times and on occasion people have taken great umbrage. They believed that I was deliberately perjuring their heroes with my suggestion that the work in question had features typical of pseudoscience.

    What they had universally failed to appreciate is that pseudoscience is often created by honets and motivated people through simple wishful thinking, negligence or lack of critical thinking. It is not necessarily due to dishonesty or macheavelian manipulations of logic and evidence.

    However, at some point, it can become clear that the work is not correct and this is the point that seperates the scientists from the charlatans. The charalatans choose to dissemble and defend evermore fantastic notions rather than admit error and review their understandings. There is a lovely book about Pons and Fleischman that discusses this critical nexus in their research.

    report
    1. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      Machiavelli and room temperature superconductors in the one comment! No wonder I keep coming back here.

      Anyway, Machiavelli wasn't so much about manipulating logic to deceive people. He proposed that political leaders "(princes" in his time) must be prepared to do evil things if they wish to gain and maintain control. Mind you, he had the Borgias and the Medicis as educational examples.

      report
    2. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Colin Cook

      You could argue that Machiavelli was practicing science of a type - something approaching a combination of psychology and marketing.

      The basis of Machiavelli's advice was a sharp understanding of human motivations. He basically said that it is largely predictable how humans will react to certain stimuli, so, if you want to prevail, you need to use that knowledge to your advantage.

      The difference between the times of Machiavelli and now is mainly the lack of technology - most of what was worked out was done through the use of the human senses and deduction.

      We now have a range of technological tools that can make precise measurements and measure trends across large populations, so it is inescapable that the combination of human cognitive skills and technology will improve our models.

      report
    3. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Werner Heisenberg would surely appreciate being able to borrow one of those cited technological tools said able to make "precise" measurements. Alas, many folk are still unable to distinguish the simple difference between resolution and precision.

      report
    4. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Colin Cook

      Yes - but spelling (mine in partikular) is not offen a strong soot off these comment streems.

      report
    5. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      Fred, I think I can grasp what you're saying about those people who create pseudoscience, particularly the bit about any perceived machiavellian manipulations not necessarily being due to any dishonesty on their p_art'ifice.

      report
  9. Sue Ieraci

    Public hospital clinician

    May I share my favourite piece of published homeopathy pseudoscience?

    It's this:

    Upadhyay RP, Nayak C: Homeopathy emerging as nanomedicine.
    International Journal of High Dilution Research 2011, 10(37):299-310.

    Essentially, this group took some homeopathic ''remedies'' in glass bottles, ''succussed'' them (banged on a hard surface, to ''potentise''), then looked for nanoparticles.

    What did they find? SILICA particles. But it gets better: rather than explaining them as contaminants arising from the glass bottles, they speculated that the silica might be part of the ''therapeutic'' effect...

    "As various forms of silica are known to interact with proteins and cells of the
    immune system, homeopathy might represent a nanomedicine system. ''.

    Technology, sciency words...if you didn't know the difference, you would think it might be science.

    And my favourite homeopathic ''remedy''? Nat.Mur. (Think about it).

    report
    1. Luke Weston

      Physicist / electronic engineer

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Well if the Natrum Muriaticum doesn't quite cure you, there's always the most outstanding of homeopathic remedies, the Excrementum Caninum.

      Honest, this is real serious homeopathy, I couldn't make this stuff up.

      report
    2. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Luke Weston

      I just googled that and now wish I didn't. No wonder they put it in Latin.

      report
    3. Paul Miller

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Re: Nat.Mur (common salt)

      The Chemist Warehouse advertises this for sale in both tablet and liquid form but I was most impressed by their advice that:

      "In a highly diluted dosage, Nat mur can eliminate the symptoms that it creates when it is at full strength."

      report
    4. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Paul Miller

      "In a highly diluted dosage, Nat mur can eliminate the symptoms that it creates when it is at full strength." seems to me to be just like the kind of advice that should always be taken with a pinch of salt.

      report
  10. Bruce Caithness

    Retiree

    Yes, if homeopathy fails it does so not in its proposing peculiar universal explanations but rather by not exposing these explanations sufficiently to rigorous empirical testing nor stating them in such a form that they are susceptible to empirical refutation, or even actively avoiding such refutation.

    There is no scientific "method" that acts as a fail-safe technology for finding "true" theories, the method lies in the deductive logic that helps scientists uncover their errors.

    I think the…

    Read more
  11. Giles Pickford
    Giles Pickford is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Retired, Wollongong

    No one has discussed your nomination of water divining as pseudoscience.

    I was brought up on a farm near Albany. We wanted a Well and hired a water diviner to choose the location. He walked around all over the place with a green forked stick. He found the spot on the side of a hill. and said we would find water at 150 feet. We did.

    The science problem is that the causal link cannot be known. It works but no one knows how. So we have a bit of pseudoscience for which there are no correct answers.

    report
    1. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      "It works but no one knows how". I do not think that is supported by the evidence. From Wikipedia on the subject (look up Dowsing):

      "A 1979 review examined many controlled studies of dowsing for water, and found that none of them showed better than chance results".

      ".More recently a study[18] was undertaken in Kassel, Germany, under the direction of the Gesellschaft zur Wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften (GWUP) [Society for the Scientific Investigation of the Parasciences…

      Read more
    2. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Henry Verberne

      Also from the same source:

      "A 1986 article in Nature included dowsing in a list of "effects which until recently were claimed to be paranormal but which can now be explained from within orthodox science."[19] Specifically, dowsing could be explained in terms of sensory cues, expectancy effects and probability".

      So I think you are correct, is is pseudoscience but it does not really work when you look at a large number of trials.

      Cheers

      report
    3. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      Giles Pickford

      Water divining is always a controversial subject but I "believe" very strongly that it can have NO scientific connection or explanation. I had a cousin farming in the Lockyer Valley in Queensland who had a very high reputation as a water "diviner" many years ago but never actually had any faith in himself. He was just lucky - most of the time - which is not all that hard in an area such as the LV where there is underground water at about the same depth almost everywhere.

      I…

      Read more
    4. Giles Pickford
      Giles Pickford is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired, Wollongong

      In reply to John Nicol

      Dear John

      My diviner found water 70 Kilometres north of Albany on a dry hillside. He had worked for years in the same district and had a good reputation.

      So he was successful.

      To me the science around water divining is totally inconclusive. The fact that the science can't explain the phenomenon only means that science has not yet found a solution.

      It doesn't mean that water divining is a falsehood.

      report
    5. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      Thanks Giles.

      Do you not think that it might be his experience of the area, which you mention, that enabled him to find the spot and anticipate the depth of water correctly. Or are you saying that there were no other bores in the whole area? Either way, the idea of using experience to obtain a result, is at least partly scientific in terms of wxperience and probabilities. And no, I wouldn't put it in the category of pseudo sicence.

      I don't know of an body being taken down by water diviner, even though they may not always be successful. Unlike these medical claims by naturopaths who are obviously complete charlatans..
      John Nicol

      report
    6. account deleted

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      "The fact that the science can't explain the phenomenon only means that science has not yet found a solution."

      Excellent point that has a general application and is sometimes forgotten by those with a bureaucratic approach to the acquisition of knowledge.

      Of course, it doesn't mean that if science has not found a solution or explanation that the phenomenon is real, which is where charlatans hide.

      An observation that does not have a grounding in current theory should be a good place to go looking for one. If one can't be found, then either the theory is inadequate or the observation is flawed; either way, something is learnt in the endeavour.

      I'm a little disturbed by the readiness of some who should know better to dismiss things as "pseudoscience" simply on the basis of the explanation offered, not on the reality or otherwise of the observations that underlie them. It's very akin to the sort of thinking exemplified in "Yes Minister",

      report
    7. account deleted

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Colin Cook

      I'm not discussing the specific case of water divining, Colin, but the more general point that science is dependent on a willingness to investigate and hypothesise; few complex topics are ever settled sufficiently conclusively to be considered absolute truth. A willingness to pretend otherwise can only be stultifying.

      report
    8. John Holmes

      Agronomist - semi retired consultant

      In reply to Colin Cook

      I grew up watching an Uncle divine for water. He estimated depth to water and its quality. Not much came of that except a few deep dry holes.

      After some time, doing soils at UWA helped, I formed the opinion that 'successful' diviners did take some notice to the vigour of the vegetation about the area etc. Not sure if there was a conscious analysis or just a feel that this looks right.

      He reached the finals of Dick Smith’s water divining contest, yet did not bat better totally random in…

      Read more
    9. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to John Holmes

      Or maybe a few canny ones asked the indigenous locals where to find water?

      report
    10. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to account deleted

      I don't think any scientist thinks in terms of absolute truth, but degrees of certainty. Scientific explanations of how things work can only be based on the best available knowledge at the time. When new facts come along, ideas and explanations change. Things get labelled as "pseudoscience" because they can't even pass the first critical test of demonstrating results beyond random chance.

      report
    11. Giles Pickford
      Giles Pickford is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired, Wollongong

      In reply to Colin Cook

      There were no indigenous people left where we lived.

      So at the end of the thread on the scientific invalidity of water divining I am left with the conclusion that we were provided with thousands of gallons of fresh water by a swindler.

      Where is the science in that?

      The honest answer is that 1. science cannot yet answer the question, and 2. that it is not going to try anymore.

      report
    12. John Holmes

      Agronomist - semi retired consultant

      In reply to Colin Cook

      Good one - are there not rules about insider trading!

      That's my point, the use of all available data is valuable. My advice of new agronomists is to listen carefully to what the farmer says, then apply your understanding of the situation, as the explanation given you may or may not be valid. "What happens" is not the same as "Why it happens".

      Sometimes integrating the two makes for very good relationships and much better use of the landscape..

      report
    13. Sue Stevenson

      Writer

      In reply to account deleted

      "I don't know" is surely the real marker of a scientific mind rather than "Oooh, awesome, here's a bit of pseudoscience over here so here's a double opportunity for me to feel awesome while thinking you're a dickhead". :)

      Humility. It's very sexy.

      report
    14. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to John Holmes

      It's a hot day and I'm sheltering inside, so started tracking down studies into water divining. There's a useful site (http://undeceivingourselves.org/S-divi.htm) which reviews a lot of studies into water divining and provides all references. A report on studies in NSW reported:
      "In the 1950s the farmers in Central Australia demanded that the government employ diviners because geologists were not finding enough water. So the government did. A subsequent check of the records showed that the geologists…

      Read more
    15. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to account deleted

      One of the problems with people who assert that ''science can't explain the phenomenon'' is that they don't actually know what science DOES know in the area.

      In my own area, in health, is is remarkable how often I hear ''well doctors don't know everything '' (which is true) or ''we know so little about how the body works'' - when the area of physiology or pathology they refer to is actually well-defined.

      report
    16. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Colin Cook

      I expect you are right, Colin.

      I find the same phenomenon when listening to (alleged) ''psychics'' - I marvel at how good they are at asking the right questions, to get the right answers, from people who desperately want to believe.

      You could argue that, if these people help others feel better and do no harm, there is nothing wrong with what they do (just like the placbologists). IN my view, there IS something wrong - it's deception.

      report
    17. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      Or, Mr Pickford, a third alternative: that the ''diviner'' was a canny person who used observation and past experience cleverly, but who wasn't always right (people only remembered when he finally found water - not all the dry holes that were dug).

      report
    18. account deleted

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Colin Cook

      "Scientific explanations of how things work can only be based on the best available knowledge at the time."

      That's working knowledge. It enables a logical extension of understanding within the paradigm that it informs.However, it does not readily enable extension of knowledge once the limits of the paradigm are reached. Think Newtonian vs relativistic vs quantum mechanical physics; Galen vs Lister; Greek atoms vs phlogiston theory vs Rutherfordian atom, etc, etc.

      Each paradigm shift required someone to imagine a new idea that was fundamentally different to ' the best available knowledge at the time".

      Look at Hawking's latest contribution for a recent example of the type...

      http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24937-stephen-hawkings-new-theory-offers-black-hole-escape.html?full=true

      report
    19. account deleted

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      "Well-defined" is not necessarily the same as "well-understood".

      Ask Caduceus if you ever get the chance.

      report
    20. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      Giles, did you read my post? Does not seem like it.

      report
    21. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      I would rather trust a hydrologist than a water diviner. Some may be charlatans, others are under the impression that have some unexplained power.

      report
    22. account deleted

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to account deleted

      sheesh, that' what I get for having a couple of Crowns in the afternoon. "Ask Galen"...

      report
    23. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to account deleted

      My comment does not preclude new ideas. Hawking's latest contribution is an idea, not knowledge. He may be right, but he admits he has been wrong in the past. The importance of his idea is that it get's other scientists (and non-scientists too) thinking about new areas to study, talk about, discuss down the pub, chat about in forums, etc. Whether it ultimately adds to an explanation of how black holes work will take time and the accumulation of more knowledge.

      Scientific consensus operates in known territory, ideas in unknown territory. They are not mutually exclusive, just separate.

      report
    24. Sue Stevenson

      Writer

      In reply to Colin Cook

      Whenever there is discussion of ideas on the internet, I feel like by far the most common element used to shut the discussion down is people using science as a battering ram. It drives me a bit batty. Why do you think that so many people seem to like to use science and "It can't be done"ism as a tactic to stop further conversation?

      report
    25. account deleted

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Colin Cook

      I dispute your thesis, Colin. Known territory is the domain of the engineer, the technologist; science is the exploration of the unknown territory of ideas.

      report
    26. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to account deleted

      "science is the exploration of the unknown territory of ideas."

      I don't dispute that, but consensus has to operate with what is known (proven).

      Science can also be the exploration of the known territory in new ways, to see if new ideas arise.

      report
    27. account deleted

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Colin Cook

      science is fundamentally not about consensus, it is about robust examination of flaws.

      The great advances have almost exclusively come from a willingness to ignore the consensus of the time and invent a completely new paradigm.

      report
    28. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to account deleted

      Yes, but great advances are few and far between. The majority of science involves incremental advances in knowledge. Lots of small leaps, rather than one big one.

      report
    29. account deleted

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Colin Cook

      The small leaps only exist because of the big ones. What sets science apart from mundane existence is that it is able to encompass the possibility that everything accepted as "truth" is wrong.

      Without that, all we have is ungrounded and unexamined belief and that is a poor substitute.

      report
    30. account deleted

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      Giles, clever is as clever does. Don't confuse an ability to be "clever" with a genuine capacity to do things. Far too many people do that already.

      report
    31. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      Not so fast Giles, because your saying that water divining is a *phenomenon* simply "begs that question". First things first.

      If water is sitting at only 50 feet below the surface, and I'm a water diviner who has a best mate who drills for water for a living, and he gets paid by the foot, then I could lose him as a friend if I tell landholders that copious amounts of potable water sit at 50 feet down when I can just as easily tell them that it'll be found at 150 feet. That extra 100 feet gives…

      Read more
    32. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Allan Gardiner

      Allan Gardiner

      I am fascinated by your (note your not you're) post and in particular your reference the clandestine use of a laser at night! Please expand on that particular comment as to how it helps in "divining" water at a given depth.
      John Nicol

      report
    33. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to John Nicol

      Hi John, well-noted. The "your" [as opposed to "you're" n.b.] in my comment to Giles simply precedes that of a gerund ["saying"].

      Regarding the use of laser, if, as I said, the dowser/driller has dowsed/drilled in that area before, and struck water there, it is not difficult to then use a laser theodolite, "RF Geodimeter", or GPS to factor in the extra elevation/depression of a hill/gully, like in Giles' situation 70 kms north of Albany, and then add/subtract said elevation/depression to the already known drilling depth required to find water in that area, and if the dowser/driller is permitted to scout around at will, as is their wont, and especially in the landowner's absentia, then their "task" becomes so much easier.

      report
  12. Baron Pike

    logged in via Facebook

    Scientists however disagree with each other as to the inferences to be drawn from experimental work, so that in the end we are dealing with philosophical interpretations of evidence that had also been prompted by often differing philosophical hypotheses that scientific methodology was applied to.
    And then we have Einstein who produce the bulk of his scientific discoveries by experiments done in is head.
    Which prompts me to consider that science in the end is a logical process, and the pseudosciences such as homeopathic remedies are distrusted because they are fundamentally illogical, whether in relation to previous scientific conclusions or simply so internally inconsistent as to amount to magic.

    report
  13. rory robertson

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    Peter,

    I especially agree with your conclusion: "A vigorous, articulate and targeted offence against pseudoscience is essential to the project of human progress through science, which, as Einstein reminds us, is 'the most precious thing we have'.

    Readers, my favourite example of "peer reviewed" pseudoscience is the University of Sydney's incompetent and somewhat dangerous false "finding" of an "an inverse relationship" between sugar consumption and obesity: http://www.australianparadox.com/pdf/quickquizresearch.pdf

    I assume that readers interested in competence and integrity in science will agree with me that this clownish paper - self-published by highly conflicted University of Sydney scientists and food-industry service providers - should be corrected/retracted.

    report
  14. Ben Marshall
    Ben Marshall is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Writer

    Thanks for the great overview, btw, Peter. It was like reading a list of all the dumb things I do and think. sigh.

    Anyway, I thought everyone was agreeing far too much in this conversation so...

    The third leading cause of death in the developing world? Iatrogenic, ie those deaths caused by medical treatment. According to the editorial in New Scientist 25 Jan 2014, 225,000 people in the US die from iatrogenic causes every year.

    [having thrown the grenade over his shoulder, Ben exits the room, an evil smile playing across his beardy face like a small kitten with a crippled mouse. mwahahahaahahaha...]

    report
    1. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Ben Marshall

      Yes Ben, and according to some statistic I read somewhere, it said that in Downtown Manhattan, New York, between the hours of 12 midday and 6am, a drunken pedestrian gets knocked down by a vehicle no less than every 45 seconds...and he's getting pretty sick and tired of it too.

      What hope have we at all of preventing iatrogenesis, even in this day and age, when one takes into account [link below] that which Dr Atul Gawande [he of 'Checklist' fame] found amongst many hypocritical surgeons who quickly changed their "tu quoque" tune [94% swing] when they suddenly found themselves being placed under the hypothetical knife by Gawande [Gawande too, he admits], warts and all.

      http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122226184

      report
    2. account deleted

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Allan Gardiner

      Thanks for that link. I thought the checklist was especially interesting because it is not merely a manifestation of a rigid process, but a mnemonic aid for people who are assumed to be able to make otherwise well-informed decisions.

      There is a lot that the safety and human resources industries could learn from that.

      report
    3. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to account deleted

      We can all learn something, but unless we take pains to retain the vitally important things, then it can at some point in time be said that we've learnt nothing, not unlike many of those persons working for the U.S. Public Health Service between 1932 and 1972 who probably did know full well the import of "Primum non nocere" before their involvement with the *Tuskegee syphilis experiment* [link below], but chose instead to neglect its sanctity right along with the welfare of their many test subjects and their families. But for the efforts of Peter Buxton the infamous experiment may well have endured a further few decades or so.

      During WW2 the Tuskegee Airmen distinguished themselves having been put to the test of becoming fighter pilots escorting heavy bombers, and there's little doubt that they all received far better health care in that role than that which they all might have received otherwise.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuskegee_syphilis_experiment

      report
    4. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Ben Marshall

      Ben, sometimes [even many] that which seems silly or fictive remarkably isn't, and one day the following story may even come to pass_ivate.

      In the year 3015, some aliens from a distant galaxy who'd lost their way, landed on Earth, and whilst looking around to get their bearings, accidently stumbled across a huge fresh mound of earth under which lay at rest the entire human race, and the epitaph on the huge headstone, which looked suspiciously like it could've been used before, read:

      "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

      report
  15. Stephen H

    In a contemplative fashion...

    Damn fine article. As Richard Dawkins said of science, "It works!" (followed by the term for a female dog).

    report
  16. Andrew Smith

    Education Consultant at Australian & International Education Centre

    Pseudoscience is not restricted to alternative medicine industry, it's manifested everywhere and used by advocates and lobby groups who are well versed in how to present something as true, especially when many wish to belibe thier message.....

    How many state certificates of education still include clear thinking? One of the most useful subjects I studied in 1979 Vic HSC via English Expression clear thinking section, difference between mediaevalism and enlightenment thinking and values.

    This…

    Read more
    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Andrew Smith

      Clear thinking 101:

      If Australia's current annual population growth of 1.8% continues then population will double in 39 years, and be 4 times as high in 78 years.

      Last year consumer spending went up by 1.8%, which as it matched our population growth, meant that we all spent just as much as the year before.

      The benefits of population growth flow to business, but not necessarily to the people, and they people have to live in a much more crowded world.

      So, using the skills I learned in clear thinking back in 1976, I'm against Australia's high population growth.

      report
  17. Jeremy Tager

    Extispicist

    In recent months there have been various pieces on The Conversation decrying pseudo science. This piece is a depressing reminder that there is unfortunately a religion of science. There are many systems of knowledge that aren’t science and are able to be used for the health and well-being of people and communities. Traditional systems of knowledge are an obvious example. Many major scientific advances have come via ways of knowing that are experiential not experimental. The implicit notion that…

    Read more
    1. Peter Ellerton

      Lecturer in Critical Thinking at University of Queensland

      In reply to Jeremy Tager

      Jeremy, I have not said or suggested that scientific knowledge, or knowledge produced via science, is the only knowledge. That would be nonsensical.

      I've also not said that it represents absolute truth, quite the opposite (see also here https://theconversation.com/listen-and-learn-the-language-of-science-and-scepticism-6633).

      I have not, therefore 'necessarily placed knowledge in a growth pardigm'. I have also spoken of the *utility* of knowledge, which is not a conflation of science and technology.

      Climate science denial isn't necessarily pseudoscience, but it is when they engage in scientific sounding attempts but ignore scientific methodology.

      Science is of course an ideology, but that is not of itself problematic.

      report
    2. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Jeremy Tager

      Jeremy Tager

      I think in your last paragraph you are concerned that science is distorted by industrial type research aimed at producing applications which will appeal as well as being useful.. In this context the science is a simple handmaiden of industry which is a quite legitimate application of scientific principles, provided, the presentation of results remains honest. There will be obvious examples where this has not always been the case, unfortunately, but I believe that by and large, applied…

      Read more
    3. Jeremy Tager

      Extispicist

      In reply to Peter Ellerton

      Peter
      Apologies if I have misread your piece, but rereading it, it does come across as putting science in a privileged position as a system of knowledge. Climate science is set against endeavours that have never been primarily scientific but cultural (NLP and homeopathy are not sciences but activities that are often rationalised in ‘scientific’ language). It is depicted as ‘true’ while NLP and homeopathy as false. I don’t disagree with the conclusion, but it is something of a straw man argument and does seem to me to reflect an ideological rather than culturally located view of science. Perhaps more importantly, I don’t see this framing as helping repudiate climate denialism except for those who already know that denialism isn’t science.

      report
    4. Sue Stevenson

      Writer

      In reply to Peter Ellerton

      Oh, I wish then that more of its practitioners would come down off those high horses that Jeremy speaks of! I love science, but so often I see online interactions with science proponents where shaming is the name of the game. Shame the people who don't understand the science and use your findings as batons to smash over people's heads. It DOES feel like a religion in that respect. The superiority wafts, unfortunately, Peter, far too often, along with the underlying assumption that science is not only the knowledge system at the top of the cultural heap (it is) but that the other ones are kinda shite. It's a blinkered and blinded result of being situated where we are in history. It won't be a moment too quick when that culture within science changes because its schoolyard bullies are doing just as big a disservice to science as pseudoscience is.

      report
    5. Bruce Caithness

      Retiree

      In reply to Sue Stevenson

      @Sue, perhaps one way for popularisers of "science" to come off their high horses (not all are on high horses) is to revisit what science is, in contrast to other products of our imagination. Karl Popper respected metaphysics and did not think that non-scientific statements are necessarily meaningless or nonsensical. The demarcation between science and metaphysics is in his view best looked at via the logical properties of scientific statements that claim universality, in particular "falsifiability…

      Read more
    6. Sue Stevenson

      Writer

      In reply to Bruce Caithness

      It's interesting you brought up metaphysics as a comparison, Bruce. I sometimes get this weird feeling that many of those people who like to wield science as a weapon have this anger at unanswered metaphysical questions rolling around subconsciously fuelling their fire. How much my feeling reflects reality I'm not sure, but I do wonder about this type of thing.

      Oh, and thanks for writing a comment that required me to read it four times to even come to a basic understanding of what you're saying…

      Read more
    7. Bruce Caithness

      Retiree

      In reply to Sue Stevenson

      @Sue, I really like your reply!!

      Popper adopts the attitude "I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth" (Open Society, vol. 2, fifth edition, p. 225). This statement was held by the aged Popper as the best one sentence distillation of his life work.

      The decision to adopt this attitude is irrational because it is a moral decision. The community of scientists are glued together by the norm of not evading criticism.

      We often find, or stumble over…

      Read more
    8. Sue Stevenson

      Writer

      In reply to Bruce Caithness

      "I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth."

      Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!

      Thanks for the clarification of why humility should hold sway. "I don't know" is a most beautiful phrase, after all. It allows for wonderful things like new knowledge and a bit of mystery.

      I think that Mr Karl Popper could be someone I could fall a little in love with. I remember my philosophy lecturer, with his big long beard and his Hungarian accent, talking about Karl Popper and it stuck in my head, though what he was actually saying has not, my memory having the consistency of a rather old sieve. I think KP requires more extensive reading. I love his style - it's a bit of a salve :)

      report
    9. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Sue Stevenson

      Sue Stevenson

      Sue, it is very interesting to read your posts which obviously come from a good background in philosophy and probably philosophy of science. I have worked in science (physics) but never really gave a lot of attention to philosophy as such.

      However, there has been much thought given in quantum physics to the many implications of such things as the mixing of states, effect of "observation" and the uncertainty principle. I wondered if you had come across such discussions in your work in philosophy and whether you had any interesting insights which may not be well known on these topics.
      Thanks for your input to this discussion. And to Peter Ellerton whose comments are also very interesting.
      John Nicol

      report
    10. Sue Stevenson

      Writer

      In reply to John Nicol

      My ego is gratified that you would think of me as a philosopher of science, John. There's that internet, throwing up avatars not based on reality again :)

      I did a couple of philosophy subjects in a university degree that I started back in 1998 and STILL HAVE NOT FINISHED. I am an armchair philosopher at best, and probably wouldn't even class myself as that. I do like swimming in the pool, though. And I find the gatekeepers of science to be frustrating enough for me to keep coming back to examining…

      Read more
    11. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Sue Stevenson

      Have you looked at any citizen science programs? There's a large and increasing effort to involve citizens (lay people) in ongoing projects (eg see http://www.opalexplorenature.org/). A lot are involved with environmental monitoring, but many others exist. Australia is lagging a bit in this area, but many programs are being developed. eg http://unisa.edu.au/Research/Barbara-Hardy-Institute/Research-1/Citizen-Science/.

      Also, for an inspiring look at a scientist and communicator, who has "the power of telling the story that draws outsiders into our tribe", see http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/01/30/sanjayan-art-of-communication-conservation-kareiva-banks/.

      report
    12. Sue Stevenson

      Writer

      In reply to Colin Cook

      Ooh, no, I haven't heard of any citizen science programs. Excellent. Thanks for those links.

      I haven't heard of M.A. Sanjayan either. I liked how on the Letterman vid he didn't manage to persuade David out of his pessimism but the crowd warmed to him continuously as the interview went on. Storytelling and hope-inspiring - nice combo, eh.

      report
  18. Malcolm Harrison

    journalist

    the proof of the pudding is in the eating. many of the subjects/therapies you refer to dont claim to be science, yet science commentators regularly refer to such things as homeopathy as pseudo sciences, when they are not claiming to be science. medicine is not a science. medicine uses science, more and more these days, but medicine as a discipline involves diagnostic practices that are not science, and much in the practice of medicine particular in the rooms of general practitioners is certainly…

    Read more
    1. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Malcolm Harrison

      Malcolm, as I'm sure you'll appreciate, many people like to write articles, be they brief or otherwise, and when they seemingly tend to waffle on with what initially appears to be but subjective remarks about whatever, it can unearth many objective comments in response. We need remember that to every action exists its exact opposite. We may need to wait for these opposites to reveal themselves but that's half the "fun_gibilty" of it all.

      Notwithstanding your candid comments having now been gathered to the thread's throng, just imagine if you will The Conversation that would ensue if Peter this time around, and entirely of his own volition no less, but decided from the very outset to wax largely assertoric in a witless wont of merely complying with myriad those demanding he demonstrate less apodicticity than that thought amenably adequate to sufficiently placate those ignorant of Benda's "Trahison de clercs".

      report
    2. Bruce Caithness

      Retiree

      In reply to Malcolm Harrison

      @Malcolm There is nothing wrong or unscientific about guessing. In a strict sense all of our hypotheses, theories and laws are guesses or if you like, conjectures. Rationality lies in the putting our guesses to the test. The discipline of science lies in eternal vigilance to keep all its ideas open to criticism.

      Maybe what you might have been getting at is that technology is not science, even though scientific explanations can indicate to technologists what may not work.

      When wearing the scientist…

      Read more
    3. Jeremy Tager

      Extispicist

      In reply to Malcolm Harrison

      I kind of understand why it happens. Climate denialism - like those who would deny evolution - seems beyond comprehension to those who believe that in this case the scientific evidence is incredibly strong. But no amount of rationality is going to change minds of the vast majority who deny climate change. The problem is not one of communicating the science, but figuring out how to deal with a complex mixture of belief, personal fragilities, political affiliations and ideologiesy that insinuate themselves into this issue in a variety of ways. I suspect that hell will boil over before we change the minds of many who deny - I'd suggest instead that communication might be better used to convince those who are convinced to take concrete and tangible steps to change the political and business paralysis that dominates our current system of 'governance'.

      report
    4. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Malcolm Harrison

      Malcolm Harrison

      A lot seems to have been said on this blog as to what constitutes the basis of science in terms including expectations, conjecture, supposition, belief, intuition, anecdotal evidence, technology etc. It appears that there is a suggestion that scientific achievement is expected to progress through a rigid series of processes beginning with an hypothesis, a testing of that hypothesis in theory and experiment as appropriate, a conclusion, further testing from different approaches…

      Read more
    5. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Jeremy Tager

      Jeremy Tager

      Yoiu claim quite positively that "no amount of rationality is going to change the minds of the vast majority who deny climate change. By "Climate Change" I assume you mean the global warming of the earth being supposedly caused by increases in the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. If this is correct, just try me.

      Please provide a reference to one scientific paper, not based on modelling, but specifically directed at the characteristics of carbon dioxide and its relevant…

      Read more
    6. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to John Nicol

      There are times people claim no amount of rationality is going to change a person's mind when they mean that they do not know how to present an argument to get their point across in a way that the other person will agree with their perception of the argument.

      On climate change, I have noticed there seems to be a lot of personal bias, with moving goal posts in convincing people. We also seem to ask what will it take for a climate change denier to change their mind. Why do we not also ask what will it take for a climate change advocate to change theirs?

      At what point are we going to sit down and determine a set of criteria to be answered to determine if climate change is the result of CO2 or some other mechanism. You could argue climate models currently do this. If that were the case, they would have measurable predictions that give a YES / NO result, does it match the reality of the situation.

      report
    7. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to John Nicol

      You forgot to mention Nero in the heat of the mom_ent'halpy, for word has it that apart from his being a bit of a hothead at times he always measured up as being someone who was no slouch when it came to fiddling...even if it did give him a burning sensation in his h_arm'pits.

      report
    8. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Malcolm Harrison

      ''science not only cannot include anecdotal evidence, it often actively discounts and criticises anecdotal evidence, as though anecdotal evidence is intrinsically flawed. ''

      This assertion appears to misunderstand the purpose of applying the scientific method to a group of anecdotes- which is essentially to test whether the differences between the groups occurred by chance. Correlation vs causation.

      One can take the many anecdotes like ''my child was perfectly well until they got their shots…

      Read more
    9. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sue,

      Given the number of anecdotes surrounding rapid behavioural changes and vaccines, are you aware of any research showing this spontaneous change occurring in the absence of a vaccine? (I am not anti-vaccines)

      report
  19. Allan Gardiner

    Dr

    Testing people is not as simple as it may seem, for one can never be entirely certain that the persons -- whomever they be -- being tested are giving of their very best throughout the entire test. An example of this is when, during our childhood, my second eldest brother who was very good at chemistry, when asked to make a cup of tea for our parents, decided that he'd make a quite unpalatable concoction of such so that he'd never be asked to do so again...and he wasn't. I won't say who it was that, because he was the youngest sibling and desperately wanting to make a good impression with both parents, eventually got lumbered with the job of tea-making, but I can say that it's not unknown for him to candidly cite in decidedly dobbed detail the shirking exploits of at least one elder sibling or three.

    report
  20. Allan Gardiner

    Dr

    Albert Einstein, patently, didn't have it quite right, for the most precious thing we as humans have to share is the giving and nuturing of life, with the second greatest gift being that of challenging each other's ideas, without being precious, and I'm sure that Albert would speedily agree and not attempt making light of the fact that we have precious little time.

    Einstein is said to have not attempted committing to memory anything that he thought could be found in a book. It's therefore thought that he most probably adopted this apperceptive attitude from his having perused too many a patent's application and thence thought it best not to apply himself.

    report
  21. john tons

    retired redundant

    Great article but there is one area of pseudoscience that may well provide us with a signpost:astrology. In many cultures people established a link between one's date of birth and certain characteristics. It was then inferred that since the night sky also varied in similar ,predictable, ways that the two were causally related. But if we look at the observation slightly differently we can make the following inference. The range of foods available during the period of gestation differ according to the seasons - is it possible that there is a nutritional link instead of astronomical link? If the link is nutritional then that link will by now be broken for we are now able to eat whatever we want irrespective of the season. I would also want to argue that the personality traits described by most astrologers are so vague and general that to establish a correlation between diet and personality may be hard to establish - but it is a possible line of inquiry...

    report
  22. Andrew Sweeney

    Company Director

    It boils down to this: the people with the intelligence to think critically and check facts are few; the majority of people have lesser cognitive capacity for rationality, no interest in checking facts, and therefore a great willingness to be led around by the promise of this or the fear of that, which politicians, priests and parasites of all stripes are only too happy to exploit. In other words, sheep.

    report
  23. Barry Bayliss

    logged in via email @centor.com.au

    Peter,

    From my reading of the article, it appears your distinction is based on:

    1 Able to build on previous knowledge, science produces growth in knowledge
    2 Testable causal explanations (or models)
    3 Deliver useful causal explanations

    Does this distinction between science and pseudoscience hold, or are we throwing out the baby in the bathwater?

    Definition point 1:
    If research cannot be funded and undertaken, hence producing no growth in knowledge, this could mean legitimate science…

    Read more
    1. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Barry Bayliss

      Barry Bayliss

      You have provided a lot of food for thought in the discussion on pseudoscience - let's hope the Editor keeps this thread open for some time. Science is cedrtainly based on models, whether mathematically of simply conceptually.

      Philosophically, much is often made of the fact that we do not know anything about a quantum mechanical phenomenon until a "measurement" is made. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle is often quoted as being sacrosanct, yet techniques have been established…

      Read more
    2. Barry Bayliss

      logged in via email @centor.com.au

      In reply to John Nicol

      John,

      Let’s hope the tread stays open for a while longer.

      Colour is a great example of perception and consensus. If we are unable to tell if we “see” the same thing, remembering people have eye conditions that change how they see, how can we agree on the definition of each colour.

      We no longer see colour as an issue as people use “common sense” in what a particular colour is. Unfortunately some areas of science suffer from the same fallacy, at least in the public perception. People…

      Read more
  24. Trevor McGrath

    uneducated twit

    Author did not include economics in with all the other “pseudoscience” crap. Since when is economics scientific in the way used in this article. Economics is always the retrospective study of what happened. Humans do not use logic to make the vast majority of their decisions. Cheers

    report
  25. Yosefine Deans

    Chiropractor

    Hi Peter,

    Science without the acknowledgement that there is the possibility that there is still more that has not yet been proven is pseudo-science to me. How could anyone be so arrogant as to be able to say they know it all? And how can science ever progress without thinking outside that which has already been proven?

    More problematic to me then an individuals free choice to use something like Homeopathy is, for another well used example, the bias pharmaceutical companies use to say this new…

    Read more
    1. Yosefine Deans

      Chiropractor

      In reply to Yosefine Deans

      Paul Feyerabend argued that no description of scientific method could possibly be broad enough to encompass all the approaches and methods used by scientists. Feyerabend objected to prescriptive scientific method on the grounds that any such method would stifle and cramp scientific progress. Feyerabend claimed, "the only principle that does not inhibit progress is: anything goes."[44]

      report
  26. Glenn Tamblyn

    logged in via Facebook

    Several commenters here have talked about paradigm shifts and the possibility of science discovering new insights that overturn old ideas. Of course that is a central part of science, allowing for, even looking for those insights.

    But what seems to be missing from this discussion is some quantitative and causal thinking around the question of paradigm shifts. Not just whether a paradigm shift is possible - of course it is. But rather whether it is probable! How likely it is. And most importantly…

    Read more
  27. Allan Gardiner

    Dr

    Deniers perform a very worthwhile benefit for mankind in their role of a devil's advocate. Even the Vatican uses the sevices of one.

    Deniers need not produce anything whatsoever to prove what they claim to be the truth because they're tasked with gleaning treasured truths from those whom they so strongly oppose, so, if you don't profess to be a denier yourself then it behooves you to ensure that everything you say to anyone, be they a known denier or not, is the absolute truth, quite unlike much of that being fed deniers by those who don't know fact from fiction.

    Deniers are exactly like they are only because they're always being fed a load of deliberate untruths. How can they be expected to lift their goading game when they're continually being told ludicrous lies by filth..err..5th columnists.

    report
  28. Brad Keyes

    logged in via Facebook

    FTFY:

    "In short, the new knowledge works and is useful in finding more knowledge that also works.

    Contrast this with climate science, a field that has generated no discernible growth in knowledge or practice for 20 years. While the use of modern scientific language may make it sound more impressive, there is no corresponding increase in knowledge linked to effectiveness. The field has flat-lined.

    At this level of understanding, science produces growth, pseudoscience does not."

    report
  29. Brad Keyes

    logged in via Facebook

    Q: Where is the proof in pseudoscience?
    A: Proof is for maths.
    Q: Where is the proof in science?
    A: Proof is for maths.

    Peter Ellerton, 31 January 2014:
    "Where is the proof in pseudoscience?"

    Peter Ellerton, 28 May 2012:
    "Some (many) even contain phrases such as “has the hypothesis been proved?”, which shows a miserable understanding of the nature of experimentation."

    report