Lecture 1: Science and Pseudoscience 1. Science 2. Protoscience 3. Pseudoscience 4. Pathological Science 5. Fraud in Science 6. Conclusions Science No clear set of defining characteristics to differentiate science from non- science. Karl Popper's notion of falsifiability is important ... Marxism - non-falsifiable? Psychoanalysis - non-falsifiable? Benchmarks of Science “Good science” can be thought of as meeting a number of benchmarks. Not all sciences, particularly social sciences, meet all of the benchmarks fully (Edge et al, 1986). Parapsychology will be considered against some of these benchmarks in a subsequent lecture. Protoscience Stent (1972) defines prematurity in science as follows: “A discovery is premature if its implications cannot be connected by a series of simple logical steps to canonical, or generally accepted, knowledge” Alfred Wegener: Continental Drift (1912) Thomas Kuhn’s Scientific Revolutions Importance of paradigms (or the disciplinary matrix) Normal vs. revolutionary science Will parapsychology force a paradigm shift? The roots of chemistry The roots of physics The roots of astronomy? Radner & Radner’s (1982) “Marks of Pseudoscience” (1) Non-falsifiability - e.g., aspects of Creationism . . . Geological and Fossil Evidence? Light from distant stars? Tree rings in the Garden of Eden? Work of God … or Satan? Conspiracy Theories Government and military cover-ups of UFOs Ritualised Satanic child abuse ... Radner & Radner’s (1982) “Marks of Pseudoscience” (2) The “grab-bag” approach to evidence: “Pseudoscientists have the attitude that sheer quantity of evidence makes up for any deficiency in the quality of individual pieces of evidence. They pile up prodigious amounts of questionable data in support of their pet theories.” “Books on UFOs report sighting after sighting of mysterious objects.” “Charles Berlitz and his Bermuda triangle followers give case after case of ships and planes disappearing without a trace.” “Von Daniken trots out artifact after artifact in support of his hypothesis about extraterrestrial visitation in ancient times.” Radner & Radner’s (1982) “Marks of Pseudoscience” (3) “Looking for mysteries”: The assumption that if conventional theorists cannot supply completely watertight explanations for every single case that is put before them, then they should admit that the pseudoscientific claim is valid. Is this reasonable? Reluctance to allow critical investigation ... Radner & Radner’s (1982) “Marks of Pseudoscience” (4) Excessive reliance upon ancient myths and legends as being literally true ... Von Daniken and Elijah ... Radner & Radner’s (1982) “Marks of Pseudoscience” (5) Argument from the basis of “spurious similarity” ... Radner & Radner’s (1982) “Marks of Pseudoscience” (6) Refusal to revise ideas in the light of criticism ... Mario Bunge’s (1980) criteria for a Pseudoscience its theory of knowledge is subjectivistic, containing aspects accessible only to the initiated its formal background is modest, with only rare involvement of mathematics or logic its fund of knowledge contains untestable or even false hypotheses which are in conflict with a larger body of knowledge Mario Bunge’s (1980) criteria for a Pseudoscience (cont.) its methods are neither checkable by alternative methods nor justifiable in terms of well-confirmed theories it borrows nothing from neighbouring fields, there is no overlap with another field of research Mario Bunge’s (1980) criteria for a Pseudoscience (cont.) it has no specific background of relatively confirmed theories it has an unchanging body of belief, whereas scientific enquiry teems with novelty it has a world-view admitting immaterial entities, such as disembodied minds, whereas science countenances only changing concrete things Pathological Science Wolpert (1992) summarizes Langmuir's criteria for pathological science as follows: the maximum effect observed is very small, near the limit of detectability the magnitude of the effect seems independent of the cause claims of great accuracy usually a fantastic theory criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses. Examples of Pathological Science The “canals” of Mars - Schiaparelli, 1877; then Flammarion and Lowell Blondlot’s N-rays Discovered in 1903 – increased the brightness of electrical spark – emitted by Sun, flames and incandescent objects, as well as the nervous system – “secondary sources” of N-rays, such as the fluid in the eye, would absorb N-rays and re-emit them Dozens of replications, but ... N-rays don’t exist! As shown by Robert Wood, American physicist. Polywater Discovered by Russian scientists in 1960s Hundreds of papers published Unusual properties probably caused by impurities in ordinary water! Homeopathy Based upon two principles: – Like cures like – Dilution INCREASES potency Martin Gardner (1991) A moderate homeopathic dose, called "30 c," is arrived at by first diluting the drug to a hundredth part and then repeating the process 30 times. As someone pointed out, it is like taking a grain of a substance and dissolving it in billions of spheres of water, each with the diameter of the solar system. Benveniste et al. (1988) Reported effects of an antiserum when diluted to one part in 10120 Cf. 1020 stars in the universe! Replication attempt under the scrutiny of a team from Nature: – John Maddox (editor) – Walter Stewart (chemist, expert in fraud) – James Randi (conjuror and sceptic) Critical Report The series of experiments were: – statistically ill-controlled – subject to systematic error including observer bias – data which did not fit the hypothesis had been simply excluded BBC’s Horizon reported a update on this case, including another failed attempt at replication Cold Fusion (1989) “Cold fusion” refers to the release of energy from the fusion of deuterium nuclei within a palladium electrode at room temperature. Reported by B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, chemists at the University of Utah, on 23 March 1989 Replication attempts failed Common Themes 1) the adoption of various strategies to render the original claims non-falsifiable; 2) the influence of human bias, allowing investigators to fool themselves (and others) into seeing what they want to see; 3) a tendency to bypass the usual channels of dissemination for scientific results with prior release directly to the world's media. Fraud in Science A problem in all areas of science (Broad & Wade, 1982) Not all cases are clear-cut Conclusion 1 Universally acceptable criteria to distinguish science from non-science do not exist. It may be more useful to think in terms of a number of benchmarks of “good science” vs “bad science” and to recognise that fields of intellectual activity will vary with respect to the degree to which they meet these criteria. Conclusion 2 Similarly, it has not proved possible to produce sets of non-problematic criteria to clearly and unambiguously characterise fields as “pseudosciences”. Although certain common themes run through most such attempts, it is notable that different commentators often produce radically different sets of allegedly defining features. Conclusion 3 Consideration of these issues is useful, however, in that it casts light upon the human face of science and may serve to alert us to the ever-present dangers of our own biases. Acknowledgement With thanks to Hilary Evans, proprietor of the Mary Evans Picture Library, for permission to use illustrations featured in this presentation. These illustrations must not be reproduced in any form without permission from the Mary Evans Picture Library.
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