Deconstructing the Rhetoric around What Constitutes Pseudoscience
The Wikipedia definition of pseudoscience is tainted. It fawns in fallacy under the imperious watchful eyes of Social Skepticism. The stark reality is that a claim under skepticism, to have employed the tools of science, to unfairly or with prejudice, issue a probable disposition upon or filter a subject out of legitimate discourse – ironically constitutes in itself – pseudoscience.
Inside this perfidiously permissive set of definition, interpretation and practice, we are witness to the full tradecraft of fake skepticism.
Wikipedia has settled in on its definition of ‘pseudoscience.’ The definition is not qualified, rather simply axiomatically presented as true, and then underwritten with lots of intimidating looking references. As of September 2015, the definition is ‘supported’ by 122 references (most do not actually qualify as recitations), many of which are specious links to whole vaults of information, surveys or treatises on science, and inside many of which the authors (eg. McNally, Gould, Laudan, etc.) do not actually agree with the Wikipedia axiomatic definition (below). The only specific supporting references are constituted in the opinion based, prejudiced and non-science de rigueur from Gardner, Sagan, Shermer, Skeptical Inquirer et al. This process of definition constitutes an Epistemological Wittgenstein Error, and would never pass peer review: ie. development of an axiom so as to be a testable element. The definition is presented as being scientific, yet lacks the recitation incumbent in the development of a scientific axiom. The sad reality is that the reference list is simply constituted by a specious, impressively long, yet even contradictory overlay, belying its real basis: a set of 45 to 50 repetitive and circular recitations between 10 specific sources, all of whom belong to the same familiar club. Scientists are a quiet bunch for the most part, and fall easy prey to the noisy brand builders who bully everyone else and force their personal religion and will into multiple topics; as is the case in this instance with Wikipedia. Scientific literacy dictates that being a skeptic does not qualify one as constituting a recitation resource for anything. Being a celebrity skeptic simply serves to amplify that lack of credential:¹
- Celebrity: Gardner, Sagan, Shermer
- Outlet: Skeptic’s Dictionary, Skeptical Inquirer
- Acolyte: Derksen, Hansson, Lower, Coker, Carroll
Key lessons learned regarding being skeptical of SSkeptics:
Simply because a person has identified a subject or correctly stooge posed a contention or research effort as pseudoscience before, does not mean that they expertly wield its definition. Nor does it mean they have correctly applied the method of making such a determination. Such self-qualifying reach around bravado is not tantamount to being qualified to hold a skeptical license to kill.
For instance, if your ‘skeptic’ habitually cites phrenology and astrology as their examples of pseudoscience… keep your hackles up – as they may not really understand what is involved in the concept at all.
As well, science is not about who has the most powerful lobby presence or brand. If your skeptic seems to be well focused on development of their name as a celebrity, or increasing the strength of their brand – as in the case of the above listing – rest assured that science is not the first priority being served. This type of agenda-biased source (Shermer, Sagan, Gardner et al.) is not reliable as a science or philosophy recitation.
However, this unfortunate social hypoepistemology being as it may, let’s continue and examine the pop definition of pseudoscience as presented by Wikipedia.¹
Pseudoscience is a claim, belief or practice which is incorrectly presented as scientific, but does not adhere to a valid scientific method, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status. Pseudoscience is often characterized by the use of vague, contradictory, exaggerated or unprovable claims, an over-reliance on confirmation rather than rigorous attempts at refutation, a lack of openness to evaluation by other experts, and a general absence of systematic processes to rationally develop theories.¹
Recitations: 75 – 85
a. In club recitations from 8 specific people and their acolytes or replicated materials: 45 – 50 (all of which replicate or simply restate and circularly reference each other)
b. Contradicting recitations or references (instances where the author does not agree with the entirety of the above definition and is falsely touted as a supporting recitation): 30 – 45
Specious References (not specific to recitation or so general as to be useless fodder and dunnage): 35 – 45
Technically, the argument (definition) presented by Wikipedia is called a permissive argument. It is a form of persuasion which employs the subtlety of language to allow for, or encourage ideas which do not appear to be promoted at face value. It is persuasion by means of ethos sleight-of-hand. This was the persuasion means undertaken by the character Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, in his speech to the Roman Citizenry after Caesar’s assassination by Brutus and Cassius; a clever persuasion whilst caught between the sentiment of the Citizenry and the pressure from Brutus and Cassius:
The good is oft interred with their bones,
So let it be with Caesar … The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answered it …
[Julius Caesar, Shakespeare, Act III, Scene II]
/philosophy : argument : persuasion : ethos/ : an argument which is presented as neutral to falsely appearing to be in support of an idea, crafted in equivocal or ambiguous language, which can be also taken to support, permit, encourage or authorize antithetical conclusions.
eg. Criminal is a person who has been convicted of a crime or has committed theft, harm or another act in breaking of the law; or is otherwise in violation of principles of correct thinking, or is persisting in public expression or conspiring to promote thought which contributes to such violation.
(In other words – in this permissive persuasion, anyone I do not like – can be considered a criminal)
So according to Wikipedia, here are the structural elements of philosophy which abstract the defining of what constitutes pseudoscience. Since the opening sentence is a permissive amphibology – we will presume the structure to be grammatically commutative to all three forms of contention (claim, belief and practice) equally. This is shown in the axial qualifier, lemma d, below.
Pseudoscience: Wikipedia Definition Diagram and [Critical Commentary]
a. claim [amphibology: need to clearly qualify by lemma d] [equivocal – claim can be conflated with claim-subject or observation]
i. vague, ii. contradictory, iii. exaggerated, iv. unprovable [subjective, irrelevant and superfluous hyperbole]
b. belief [amphibology: need to clearly qualify by lemma d] [equivocal – belief can be conflated with belief-domain or any act not conforming to an antithetical belief]
d. presented as scientific (consistent with the norms of scientific research), when it
i. [objective] does not adhere to valid scientific method, or
ii. [objective and permissive ambiguity] cannot be reliably tested, or
iii. [fully permissive] otherwise lacks scientific status, or
iv. [objective ambiguity] over-relies on confirmation, and not rigorous attempts at refutation [ambiguous permissive method: falsification, replication and peer review vs plausible denial and false skepticism], or
v. [permissive ambiguity] lacks openness to evaluation by other experts, or
vi. [permissive ambiguity] characterized by a general absence of systematic processes to rationally develop theories.
Problems Caused by this Definition
As a result, the only scientifically valuable components of the definition above (highlighted in bold above), reside principally in the lemma constraint d, and the first objective constraining condition (d, i.). Aside from these two elements of science based definition, what we have witnessed here is an interweaving of the propaganda from the 10 primary club sources cited above, with accepted axioms of scientific demarcation, in such a fashion as to allow for permissive equivocal handling in both definition of and practice of qualifying pseudoscience. Constraining elements ii. through vi. render the definition impotent, senseless and non-sense (Wittgenstein criteria) as is the case may be for each element. An interleaving crafted so as to present the appearance of scientific rigor, yet possessing in effect the keys to malpractice and rhetoric. For instance, Karl Popper, father of modern thought on the demarcation of science and non-science, cited in his paper three forms of predictive science:²
- Confirming Examination – Experimentation which supports a theory under a circumstance of innate irrefutability.
- Confirmation by Risk-Laden Theory Prediction – Theories which make specific risky but confirming predictions.
- Confirming Observations – Observations of random feedback which appear to support a theory or a pseudo-theory after its development. (sec. I)²
The first two are science, the third is not. But the crafting of wording in the above definition does not allow one to distinguish what the term ‘confirmation’ even means (see Confirmation Reliance Error below). This statement therefore can be used to enact all sorts of filtering of subjects which conform to Popper’s first two confirmatory/predictive evidence practices – and falsely relegate them to the trash heap of pseudoscience. In addition, Popper cited in his work primarily the difference between science and non-science, his purpose to not pejoratively cast aspersions on every thought that occurred outside the bounds of disciplined science. This demarcation is falsely spun as constituting a condition of pseudoscience, irrationality and non-sense by ill meaning influences, when in fact Popper meant no such thing. It incorrectly cites thought which ‘otherwise lacks scientific status’ as constituting pseudoscience. Popper vehemently disagreed with such error, as this bifurcation presents an opportunity for maliciousness, plain and simple. Any masking or downplay of the importance of the ‘presented as if it was science’ litmus, is a harmful approach in this regard. Popper expounds:
I thus felt that if a theory is found to be non-scientific, or ‘metaphysical’ (as we might say), it is not thereby found to be unimportant, or insignificant, or ‘meaningless’, or ‘nonsensical’. But it cannot claim to be backed by empirical evidence in the scientific sense–although it may easily be, in some genetic sense, the ‘result of observation’. (sec II)²
This downplay, the assumption that science and non-science possess no tolerable observation phase, which can lead to an empirical phase, of method, is one of the chief misapplications afforded by this Wikipedia definition of pseudoscience.
To the fake skeptic, only science and pseudoscience exist in the realm of observational or empirical reduction. This is false, a misrepresentation of potentially perfidious pretense.
It is clear that Karl Popper would have disagreed with major elements of this crafting in definition. This schism between what the Wikipedia article cites as recitation, and what indeed these authorities said in their cited publications, is replete throughout the reference list, recurring over 30 times, with real scientists – (eg. Feyerabend, Laudan, McNally recitations) who possessed no agenda of ‘skepticism.’ The only real support of this definition stems from the biased sources cited above. In fact Richard McNally states:
“The term ‘pseudoscience’ has become little more than an inflammatory buzzword for quickly dismissing one’s opponents in media sound-bites” ³
Notice as well that Wikipedia has placed claims and beliefs as the most prominent features inside the abstract set comprising its definition of pseudoscience. What possibly could claims and beliefs have to do with pseudoscience? Everyone has claims and beliefs. This is not a qualification element for a contention to be deemed pseudo-scientific. The definition apologizes for this through the amphibology in the first sentence, wherein one is left unsure as to whether or not ‘claims, beliefs’ are also qualified by the modifying phrase “incorrectly presented as scientific.” The structure implies that all three elements (claims, beliefs and practices) are indeed commutative lemma modified. So from both a practical and contract law basis of this language, we must presume that the sentence is saying that claims and beliefs must also be ‘incorrectly presented as scientific,’ in order to qualify as constituting pseudoscience. This of course opens the practice of defining pseudoscience to two levels of error, those of qualifying elements of definition and the subjective or permissive nature of interpretive practice.
These methods of crooked thinking, woven into the definition and relying solely upon the 10 recitation sources cited above, and as well practiced inside the culture club of Social Skepticism, are as follows:
Pseudoscience Qualifying Element Errors
Observation vs Claim Blurring – the false practice of calling an observation of data, a ‘claim’ on the observers’ part. This in an effort to subjugate such observations into the category of constituting scientific claims which therefore must be supported by sufficient data before they may be regarded by science. In fact an observation is simply that, a piece of evidence or a fact, and its false dismissal under the pretense of being deemed a ‘claim’ is a practice of deception and pseudoscience.
Claim vs Claim-Subject Conflation – misinterpreting identification of a claim as being based on a method of pseudoscience, as tacit permission to declare the entire subject around the specific claim, to also constitute pseudoscience.
Idea vs Belief Blurring – the false practice of regarding an idea observed by a curious person, to constitute a ‘belief’ the observers’ part. This in an effort to subjugate such ideas into the category of personal religion or MiHoDeAL set. In fact an idea is simply that, a thought, and its false dismissal under the pretense of being deemed a ‘belief’ is a practice of deception and pseudoscience.
Belief vs Belief-Domain Conflation – misinterpreting identification of a belief as being based on a method of pseudoscience, as tacit permission to declare the entire belief-domain associated with the specific belief, to also constitute pseudoscience.
Sponsor Practice Hyperbole – the fallacy of regarding the process of observation by a sponsor of an idea, to constitute a presentation of ‘science’ the sponsors’ part. This in an effort to subjugate such activity falsely into the realm of pseudoscience for the simple act of being of curious in nature around a disfavored subject. In fact research is simply that, a set of observations, and its false dismissal under the pretense of being deemed a ‘pseudoscience’ is a practice of deception and itself, pseudoscience.
Pseudoscience Disposition Malpractice – designation of a research effort as constituting pseudoscience by means of restricting access to, or by conflating or misrepresenting the diligent steps of science.
Science-Pseudoscience Bifurcation – the mistaken belief that a non-science is the same thing as a pseudoscience, that a pseudoscience is a topic or avenue of research, and that a pseudoscience can eventually become a science. When in fact only a non-science can become a science, because pseudoscience is simply a pretense and a false method, and not a topic in the first place.
Pseudoscience Qualifying Subjective or Permissive Practice Errors
Claim or Belief as Pseudoscience Error – the incorrect assumption that a claim or belief constitutes pseudoscience, when in fact it is a claim or belief which is presented as consistent with the norms of scientific research, which is indeed the qualifier as to what is and is not pseudoscience. Everyone possesses ‘claims and beliefs,’ but this is not tantamount to pretend science being practiced on everyone’s part.
Researcher’s Conundrum – if I conduct objective research inside a subject which is a pseudoscience, then I am considered a pseudo-scientist. However, if I dismiss the subject out of hand, with no research, then I am regarded as having been scientific in my approach.
Atheist’s Conundrum – if I research evidence which backs atheism, then I am pursuing science. If however, I research any topic which relates to a context of higher order beings, then I am a theist and have conducted pseudoscience. Therefore the only way to pursue science is to be an Atheist.
Otherwise Lacks Status Error – the permissive malpractice of disqualifying a subject, study or researcher from science by ignoring it as a discipline, or blocking its access to science and researchers, and therefore citing that it lacks any status in science or inside a method of science.
Lacks Scientific Method Error – – the malpractice of disqualifying a subject, study or researcher from science by citing that it has not followed the scientific method, through blocking its access to the scientific method, refusing peer review or misrepresenting its appropriate next steps or questions, and therefore citing that it has failed the methods of science.
Cannot be Reliably Tested Error – the malpractice of disqualifying a subject, study or researcher from science by citing that it has not been or cannot be tested or reliably repeated in testing. When in fact many conclusions of accepted science fall under such a reality. This often is achieved through blocking its access to the scientific method, ignoring the topic, conflating the scientific method with the experimental method, ignoring discovery science protocols, refusing to research/test the contention, or misrepresenting its appropriate next steps or empirical questions, and further then citing that therefore the subject has failed the necessary testing methods of science.
Confirmation Reliance Error – abuse of the Popper demarcation principle, which cites that body of knowledge/finished science cannot rely upon predictive and confirming evidence alone, by then applying this principle incorrectly to the process of science – or failing to distinguish controlled predictive science from simple confirmatory observation after the fact. This in an effort to filter out selectively, those ideas and theories which are vulnerable through having to rely in part upon predictive evidence, consilience of multiple inputs, or are further denied access to peer review and replication steps of science simply because of this malpractice in application of the Popperian predictive demarcation.²
Expert Relative Privation Error – the subjective contention that an avenue of research is not transparent to accountability inside science, that scientists are restricted from or too busy to access its undisciplined body or domain of evidence, or that the sponsors are hiding/ignoring counter evidence or are not forthcoming with their analysis. When in fact, such contentions are excuses foisted to countermand a need to pursue under the scientific method, a subject which has passed an Ockham’s Razor necessity of plurality.
General Absence of Process Error – a subjective open avenue of convenience, wherein any disliked subject can be dismissed through its framing as not following, or possessing an absence of one or more steps of the scientific method. A denying of access to peer review, or ignoring of a study, which is then touted as evidence of ‘not following the scientific method.’
The material essence of the definition foisted by Wikipedia, allows for 1 permissive, 2 subjective and 3 objectively contorted avenues through which an ill-intended player can falsely accuse a person, subject, observation, idea or study of practicing or constituting pseudoscience. Rendering the charade to become an entirely ontological process, wherein basically one can declare any idea one does not like, to indeed be a belief, claim or practice of false science; and therefore, pseudoscience.
The Real Discriminating Principle: Incorrect Presentation as Scientific
So the ‘if and only if’ qualifying lemma d, the lever which enables the applicable nature of the entire axiomatic definition of ‘pseudoscience’ is therefore, the condition wherein a belief, claim or practice is
≡ incorrectly presented as consistent with the norms of scientific research
Therefore, the Wikipedia definition of pseudoscience, through an attempt to employ wording which will tickle the ears of its Social Skeptic monitors, and through employment of loopholes in equivocation, amphibology and practice, is rendered moot-to-destructive. The real definition of pseudoscience, hinges on the content provided by those authors/sources who refuted the Wikipedia full definition set, and adhered to this definition:
/philosophy : science : pseudoscience/ : Disposition of ideas as constituting science or non-science based on their subject matter alone, in lieu of employment of scientific method. A methodology or conclusion which over-relies upon predictive study, confirmation or dismissive skepticism. A claim or conclusion which is presented as current best science or as being derived from the scientific method, when in fact such contentions are false.
A key distinguishing feature is this. A non-science research avenue can become a discipline of science through diligent sponsorship and observation. A pseudoscience can never become a discipline of science, by definition – because it is not a topic to begin with; moreover, neither is it a discipline, because of incumbent errant practice and pretense. Thus, pseudoscience and a discipline of science are not logical antithetical counterparts to begin with. Pseudoscience is apples, science is an orange Dodge Challenger. This the primary rationale behind why a pseudoscience can never be a topic.
As well, a skeptic may consider the question ‘Is there a subject wherein, ANY and all activity, by nature of the subject, must be defined as pseudoscience (method)?’ I contend that the answer to this question is no. First, if there existed such a subject domain, then one would have to conduct science in order to determine such a final and comprehensive disposition. But how can one study a subject, which is already assumed in advance to be pseudoscience? Only by means of religious revelation can one make a disposition in absence of study. Again, this is a logical process mismatch. Second, this quandary precludes either a philosophical or scientific approach to declaring a subject a priori to be 100% a domain of useless information and effort. I contend that there exists no such domain. There may be disciplines wherein 90% of the ‘claiming to be science’ effort conducted is pseudoscience method, yes. But wholesale declaration of a subject to be pseudoscience, kills the potential beneficial 10% in advance. An act of pseudoscience in itself. If a subject is not of primary value, the Ethical Skeptic ignores it. Any other form of action is self worship. Self worship is a key warning flag of fake skepticism (eg. observe how celebrity and self worship have negatively impacted the definition of pseudoscience above).
Unfortunately, this value laden and clear (the two goals of Ethical Skepticism) philosophical construct is complicated – to rendered incoherent, by the supposition that a topic can be a pseudoscience. The coherence of the subject is shattered, by the rocks of forced religious beliefs, thrown from the hand of Social Skeptic advocacy wishing to denigrate topics before they can ever be pursued as a discipline. The stark reality is that a claim under skepticism, to have employed the tools of science, to unfairly or with prejudice, issue a probable disposition upon or filter a subject out of legitimate discourse – ironically constitutes in itself – pseudoscience.
Inside this perfidious set of definition, interpretation and practice, we are witness to the full tradecraft of fake skepticism.
¹ Wikipedia: Pseudoscience, extracted Sep 28, 2015; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudoscience
² Karl R. Popper: Science: Conjectures and Refutations. Conjectures and Refutations (1963), p. 43–86;
³ McNally RJ, The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice: Is the pseudoscience concept useful for clinical psychology?; Vol. 2, no. 2 (2003).
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