Karl A. Krueger wrote:
On Wed, Dec 14, 2005 at 11:55:08AM -0800, Ray Saintonge
"Parascience" or "alternate
science" are often used, and do not carry
the same emotional baggage as pseudoscience. I have also seen
"traditional science" in relation to subjects like astrology or alchemy
that predate the development of the modern scientific method.
We should probably avoid coining new terms or encouraging the use of
terms which are very likely to be misunderstood. To me, "traditional
science" sounds like the opposite of "alternative science", whereas the
above suggests that they would include many of the same fields -- for
instance, current practitioners of "scientific astrology".
I don't think any of these are "new" terms, but the more I think
the more it seems that "parascience" and "traditional science" would
have more restrictive usages. For that reason alone I am disinclined to
advocate for their usage in the present context.
There's one overarching reason, it seems to me,
that Wikipedia aligns
itself more strongly with science than with faith or other "systems of
knowledge": one of our principles is _verifiability_, which is also a
principle of scientific research. When a scientist propounds results
that are not verifiable -- such as Pons & Fleischmann's cold fusion --
the resulting smackdown from the rest of the scientific field is
*exactly* the sort of thing we want for unverifiable wild claims on
Absolutely. I have no problem with verifiability, but that also implies
that the statement "Xxxx is a pseudoscience" is subject to
verifiability. Obviously a category tag must be short to be effective,
but any article that has the "pseudoscience" tag needs to have
verification in the article for being put there.
Proposed systems of knowledge which do not include
a criterion will necessarily, it seems to me, do worse on Wikipedia than
science does. That doesn't exempt us from reporting their claims
accurately when relevant; but it -does- mean that we're less likely to
accept their standards of evidence for describing the world.
We can only say, "These are the premises of their ideas." We can say
that many scientists (whom we name and cite) call them "pseudoscience",
but we can't call them pseudoscience ourselves unless we are prepared to
go much further on the road to verifiability.
We also need to avoid the temptation to disprove everything that follows
from a suspect premise. If a premise is false then everything that
depends on it is probably false. Disproving all these consequences
leads to poor style and unreadable articles; that can only diminish the
impact of the original finding.
I think we really do want to describe the Earth as a
roughly spherical planet in orbit around a yellow-white star. It isn't
enough to say that most scientists and astronomers believe this, while
various other people think it's a flat plane or a hollow sphere: we
really do want to accept the scientific standard of evidence here rather
than just treating it as a "Scientific Point of View".
Most of science still depends on a number of intuitive notions which are
only questioned when the results are counter-intuitive. At one time in
history a flat earth was the intuitive reality
The thing is, the same set of standards likewise lead
us to say that:
* Homeopathic preparations made according to Hahnemann's method
contain none of the "potentized" substance.
* Dogs, bears, apes, and humans descended from a common
ancestral population of small furry creatures resembling
shrews, which lived around the same time as the dinosaurs.
* The Sun is in the constellation of Ophiuchus, not Sagittarius
or Scorpio, for the first half of December.
People who believe in homeopathy, creationism, or astrology are likely
to denounce these claims as belonging to a "Scientific Point of View" or
something similar. Nonetheless they are based on the same standards of
evidence that entail that we may describe Earth as a planet rather than
a plane, disc, hollow ball, or carrot-shape.
Hahnemann needs to be viewed in the context of his own time. He didn't
know about bacteria and virusus because they weren't discovered yet, but
unwittingly his thinking foreshadows the discovery of vaccines. Your
comment is still phrased negatively. Burdens of proof remain with the
person making the claim; requiring proof that something does not exist
can be an impossible task. If it doesn't exist you won't find it; if it
does exist you may not find it.
I have no comment about your example from evolution.
The astrological example is a question of definition. Astrologers will
say that the sun is in a sign rather than a constellation. These signs
are predetermined 30 degree segments which need not correspond with the
constellations of the same name. The real issues in astrology are quite
different, and have more to do about the relationship of planetary
positions to what happens here on earth.
We need to take those standards seriously, though. We
should be sure
not to embrace a claim simply because it is made by a scientist or other
professional, for instance. Likewise we need to make sure that claims
of doubt or disproof are *also* verifiable: when someone goes to list
something in a "criticisms" section (be it on [[Homeopathy]] or on
[[Evolution]]) we need to be sure that the so-called criticism actually
addresses the subject at hand.
We agree, but as in the astrology example above it's very easy to get
off on an explainable tangent that is not a real part of the problem at all.
Consider also the related case of the law, which --
like science -- has
some kind of standards of evidence. We start the article on [[Ted
Bundy]] with the claim that he _was_ a serial killer and rapist ... not
merely that the court _claimed_ that he was a serial killer and rapist.
We don't apply this standard uncritically; there are certainly courts
whose opinions we would not take in evidence. But where we do, we are
generally not wrong to do so.
I essentially agree, but there will still be a problem with deciding
which court decisions can be used as valid evidence. We can doubt the
validity of Trotsky's conviction by Stalin's show trials, but even
countries with suspect governments will need to deal with common criminals.
When you look
at the abortion debate there seems to be somewhat of a
truce in that the primary name for the two sides are "pro-life" and
"pro-choice". Each of these is a term that the respective sides feel as
acceptably representing what they stand for. If the pro-life people
start by calling the other side "baby killers" there is no room for
I certainly agree that we need to refrain from epithets. I'm not sure
where the term "pseudoscience" falls, though. I personally would use it
very narrowly, to refer to fields whose practitioners make a point of
calling the field scientific, but where nothing like scientific practice
is being done ... or, perhaps by extension, where there are not actually
any data upon which to do scientfic study.
I too prefer a narrow usage, tending to not at all. "Nothing like" and
"not any data" both depend on negative findings.
In short, you can't be doing pseudoscience if you
don't claim to be
doing science, or more generally try to adopt the mantle of science. If
you teach dance and tell your students that it's good for their souls,
this isn't a claim to science -- so it can't be pseudoscientific.
Some people in the dance community might dispute your findings. I sit
as a parent member on a stakeholders' committee of our local school
board, and we heard a recent presentation on learning and the arts.
Their point was that dance activity can help to improve student
achievement iover a range of more traditional subjects.
I recognize that some "skeptics" like to call
various practices "pseudo-
science" even when they don't aspire to science. I don't think we
should accept that usage in Wikipedia. We should use the term narrowly
to refer to specific cases where claims of science are made without the
actual scientific practice to back them up.
we choose for what saome call "pseudoscience" must be
acceptable to both sides, but especially to the side so named.
I'm not so sure this makes sense. There are lots of labels that we are
willing to apply to people who do not themselves accept the labels. The
most obvious are those drawn from fields such as science and law, which
have reasonably credible standards of verifiability.
When it comes to naming issues I tend to favour proponents rather than
opponents. In our situation there is no dispute about the naming of
most individual fields, only about what we call them collectively. It's
important that the term which we choose carry no implication about the
truth or falsity of the contents, or carry in anyway that something is
personally wrong with the practitioners. To me "alternat[iv]e" only
suggests that it's different.
"Fraud" would be worse because of the implications of criminality. The
profit motive is often totally absent in the minds of most believers in
a "pseudoscience". The people who develop these ideas are usually doing
so in good faith, and they were effectively applying GFDL long before it
was invented. They, no more than Wikipedia, could not control
commercial applications by downstream users..
I'd limit "fraud" the same way as "murder" -- it's
basically a legal
claim that needs reference to some sort of juridical decision. But
there are other terms, such as "quackery" in the practice of medicine,
which refer to deceptive claims more specifically. It's perfectly
reasonable to refer for instance to the [[Violet Wand]] as a quack
medical device that gained popularity as a fetish toy.
Was it always a quack device? I think that Tesla was basically honest
in his work, much of which is still being questioned. "Quackery"
doesn't enter the conversation until the marketting starts to happen.
It's modern use as a sexual fetish toy is a whole other story.