The Quest to Tell Science from Pseudoscience

Where do you place the boundary between “science” and “pseudoscience”? The question is more than academic. The answers we give have consequences—in part because, as health policy scholar Timothy Caulfield wrote in Nature last April during the first wave of COVID-19, “tolerating pseudoscience can cause real harm.” We want to know which doctrines count as bona fide science (with all the resulting prestige that carries) and which are imposters.

The demarcation problem is no less central today than it was when Popper broached it. But the solution is not at all obvious.

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Real science is mostly hypothesis-driven. Pseudoscientists avoid formulating and/or testing hypotheses.

Real science is data-driven. Pseudoscientists prefer to frame their actions as rhetorical “challenges” and “arguments,” while substituting quotations and hearsay for actual evidence.

Real scientists publish primarily for their peers, with a tiny minority summarizing the science for the lay public in books. Pseudoscientists do the converse.

We see examples of all three of these differences from IDcreationists virtually every day here.

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It’s fairly easy to tell science from pseudoscience. Now telling science from non-science… I don’t think that can be done.

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