What is Pseudoscience?

This recent book is very helpful. @jongarvey, I’d love to hear your take.

This review has some great insight.

This paragraph alone is worth its weight (0g?) in gold:

In the first chapter, David Hecht argues that understanding pseudoscience is as important as debunking it. Science and pseudoscience are opposite ends of one spectrum; we can easily identify the extremes, but there is no clear line separating them. Pseudoscientific beliefs are not as random or indefensible as they seem, and science is not as objective and detached as we would like to think. Science is powerful but imperfect; and until we understand its limitations, we shouldn’t condemn those who choose not to trust it. We must avoid dogmatism and remember that scientific knowledge is always provisional.

The key lessons offered in the forward:

In a foreword, Scott Lilienfeld summarizes the valuable lessons in this book:

  1. We are all subject to cognitive biases.
  2. We are largely unaware of our biases.
  3. Science is a systematic set of safeguards against biases.
  4. Scientific thinking doesn’t come naturally to humans.
  5. Scientific thinking is exasperatingly domain-specific. Even Nobel Prize winners can fall prey to pseudoscience in fields outside their area of expertise.
  6. Pseudoscience and science lie on a spectrum.
  7. Pseudoscience is characterized by a set of fallible, but useful, warning signs such as an absence of self-correction, overuse of ad hoc maneuvers to immunize claims from refutation, use of scientific-sounding but vacuous language, extraordinary claims in the absence of compelling evidence, over-reliance on anecdotal and testimonial assertions, avoidance of peer review, etc.
  8. Scientific claims can be wrong. Pseudoscientific claims differ from erroneous claims in that they are deceptive: they appear to be scientific, but they are not.
  9. Scientific and pseudoscientific thinking are cut from the same basic psychological cloth. Heuristics (mental shortcuts or rules of thumb) are invaluable in everyday life, but when misapplied they can lead to mistaken conclusions.
  10. Skepticism differs from cynicism. Skeptics must guard against dismissing implausible claims out of disconfirmation bias.

I want to point out that I did a Veritas Forum a couple months ago with Scott Lilienfield at Emory: What it Means to Be Human? I’ll post the video when it goes live. Great guy he is; I was impressed.

@Patrick, I’m curious your thoughts on #10.

I’d also point out my strong endorsement of #4. That means intuitive understanding (contra Axe) is often unscientific.

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