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Science and Pseudoscience

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									Science and Pseudoscience
            Steve Dutch
  Natural and Applied Sciences
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
  The Spectrum of Scientific Probability
10,000:1 in Favor   Heliocentric Astronomy    Center
                    Quantum Mechanics
                    Evolution
1,000:1             Quarks
100:1               Warm Blooded Dinosaurs Frontier
10:1                Impact-caused Extinction
Even                Extraterrestrial
                    Intelligence
10:1                Paleolinguistics
100:1               Loch Ness, Bigfoot        Fringe
1,000:1             UFO's, Psychic
                    Phenomena
10,000:1 Against    Velikovsky, Creationism
    Dangers Of The Intellectual
         Counterculture
• Some Theories Dangerous In Themselves
   – Political Extremism
   – Racism
   – Quack Medical Cults
• Connections To Extremism
   – Lend Intellectual Legitimacy
   – Serve As Safety Valve?
    Dangers Of The Intellectual
         Counterculture
• Symptom Of Societal Irrationality
   – Child Abuse - Satanic Cult Hysteria
   – Recovered Memories
• Confusion Over Methodology
   – Acceptance of Faulty Data and Reasoning
   – Scientific Illiteracy
   – Logical Illiteracy
The Purpose of the Mind, As of
  the Mouth, Is to Open It in
Order to Close It on Something
            Solid.
             -G.K. Chesterton
        What Is Pseudoscience ?
• What Pseudoscience Is
  – Demonstrably Faulty Observations or Theories
  – Usually Supported by Logical Fallacies
  – In Open Defiance of Scientific Consensus
• What Pseudoscience Is Not
  –   Errors Made in Good Faith (Polywater, Cold Fusion)
  –   Informed Speculation
  –   Defined by Personal Disagreement
  –   Defined by Personality or Style
Logical Structure of Pseudoscience
    •   "Galileo Fallacy"
    •   "Residue Fallacy"
    •   Explanation by Default
    •   Distortion of the Term "Theory"
    •   Attacks on Inference and Deduction
    •   Exaggeration of Uncertainty
    •   Extreme Relativism, Solipsism
    •   Catch-22 Arguments, Buzzwords
    •   Conspiratorial Outlook
           Is It Fair to Reject All
          Conspiratorial Theories?
• Erroneous Use of Terms
     – No Secrecy - No Conspiracy
     – Common Effort or Goal is not a Conspiracy
     – Criticism is not Persecution
•   Irrelevant to Issues
     – Objectives May Be Morally Acceptable
     – Sometimes Secrecy Is Necessary
     – Immoral Conspiracies Are Immoral Because of Their Goals and
        Methods, Not Their Secrecy
•   Intellectually Dishonest
     – Impossible to Disprove
     – Can Rationalize Away Any Anomaly
•   Appeal to Emotions Instead of Facts
•   Poisons Climate of Debate
  A Nation of Jailhouse Lawyers

• Freedom of Speech
• Criminal Cases
  – Innocent Until Proven Guilty
• Civil Cases
  – Preponderance of the Evidence
  – Who Controls the Facts?
Two Common Types of Bad Data

    • "Gee Whiz" Facts
    • Anecdotal Evidence
       "Gee Whiz" Facts "
• A Million Children Are Reported
  Missing Every Year"
• "Suicide Is the ---th Leading Cause of
  Death Among Teen-agers"
  To Be Valid, Anecdotal Evidence
• Must Be True
• Must Be Representative
  – Example: the Millionaire Who Pays No Income
    Tax (Source, 1987 IRS Data)
     • Income      Average Tax         % of Income
        –   $19-22,000        $ 1739        8.5
        –   $40-50,000        $ 5276       11.8
        –   Over $1,000,000 $703284        29.3
        –   (Average $2,422,000)
  – Anecdote May Be True, but Is Not
    Representative
Example: The millionaire who pays no
            income tax
• The reality looks like this (Source, 2000 IRS data; 2003
  Statistical Abstract of US Table 491)
Income $                  Tax Paid $       Tax as % AGI
9,000-11,000              470              4.7
22,000-25,000             1,815            7.7
50,000-75,000             6,824            11.2
100,000-200,000           22,783           17.3
>1,000,000                945,172          27.7
(Average 3.4 $M)
The Millionaire Who Pays No Income Tax
(Source, 1999 Statistical Abstract of the
  United States)
• Income Average Tax            % of Income
  – $50,000-75,000    $ 7300         12
  – Over $1,000,000 $875000          31
  – (Average $2,800,000)
• Anecdote May Be True, but Is Not
  Representative
            Urban Legends
• Common Elements:
   – Moral Retribution for Violating Standards
   – Horror or Yaboo
• Can Never Trace to Source
• Jan Harold Brunvand, University of Utah
                 Testing
• What Does It Take to Prove an Idea
  Wrong?
• What Does It Take to Prove an Idea Right?
• What Does It Take to Prove You Wrong?
• Can You Find Factual Evidence?
• Can You Find Logical Flaws?
• Keep Your Eyes on the Prize - Don’t Get
  Distracted by Emotional Arguments or
  Irrelevancies
  What Pseudoscience Reveals
        About Science
• There Is No Such Thing As the Scientific
  Method
• Science Is Based on Content, Not Structure
• What Is Science, Then?
  – A Body of Observations and Theories Capable of
    Verification or Refutation
  – Have Survived Testing
  – Methods That Have Proven Useful for Acquiring,
    Verifying or Refuting Observations and Theories.

								
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