Many people presume the Popper Demarcation Principle to distinguish the boundary between science and pseudoscience. While the Popper Demarcation indeed involves this aspect, the two ideas are not congruent. The actual delineation hinges on the role of predictive and falsifying testing practiced by those entities claiming the methods of science, or science as the body of knowledge. He contrasts this claimant group with those who make no such claim to science at all. False Skepticism to Popper, was also pseudoscience, because it claims to be conducting science – but does not employ rules of evidence or falsification. This includes the practice where his definitions are abused in order to falsely condemn disliked subjects.
If your version of skepticism purports that it ’employs the tools of science to make the most probable conclusion’ on behalf of science, or calls an entire subject a ‘pseudoscience,’ …then beware.
Karl Popper proposed the demarcation principle, as a means to approach the problem of how we differentiate science from non-science in principle. This categorization of that which resides outside of science is a non-pejorative filtering of those mechanisms which can be relied upon to product the body of knowledge. To put it another way, the demarcation problem consists in crafting principles, constraints, reasons, or conditions to regard something like epigenetics under “science” and place a discipline (falsified, yet still pretending to represent science) such as phrenology as a pseudoscience. The two critical aspects of the Popper Demarcation Principle involve the separate issues regarded below: The issue of the Role of Predictive Study, and the claim or lack thereof, of doing or representing science. In absence of framing Popper Demarcation inside these two clarifying factors, much confusion and false condemnation can be spun by fake skeptics, through Popper Demarcation Malpractice.
The Ambidextrous Nature of Predictive Studies
Predictive study is treated differently by Popper, as distinguished by its role of employment in the methods of science as opposed to the conclusions of science (see graphic to the right). Popper, like any scientist, fully understood the critical role of predictive studies in the scientific method, as well as the critical role of prediction making ability inside a successful theory. He was not discounting these valuable components/steps out of the process of science. What Popper was framing, is the circumstance where predictive study alone is employed to substantiate conclusions as accepted or peer-ready science. This type of science is the chief method of hypoepistemology practices by those wishing to push a social agenda. In this role, predictive studies can be employed as pseudoscience. The Ethical Skeptic must discern the circumstance where an epistemology is based only on scant statistics, studies of studies, or predictive tests – and has not fully challenged its theory with ascertainable falsification testing or past falsification achievements (Promotification or Popper Error).
However, for those who confuse or conflate the methods of science with the body of scientific knowledge – the role of predictive study is sacrificed at the alter of agenda. In such approaches, employing equivocal terms or proxy equivocation in their articulation of the issue of predictability, every proposed claim about what distinguishes science from pseudoscience can be confused with a counter-example. Karl Popper postulated that falsifiability stands as the criterion which distinguishes science from pseudoscience. If any set of claims or theory can be shown true through the disciplines of falsification, it belongs to the domain of science. Many people wrongly presume this to mean that if any set of claims or theory is innately unfalsifiable, it belongs to the domain of pseudoscience. This delineation is incoherent as some un-testable scientific claims sets, such as M-theory or multi-verse interpretations are not considered pseudoscience.
If they were enforced based on predictive study only, as a finished body of knowledge, that would indeed be hypoepistemology pseudoscience. But in science as a method, M-theory or multi-verse predictive studies are indeed considered science.
The key opportunistic play here for Social Skeptics is that both, context dancing between science as a body of knowledge and science as a method, or the equivocation involved in merging the two ideas, produces incoherence and useful confusion. A method of condemning subjects by dancing between the two contexts of the Popperian term. A simple prima facia incoherence that Karl Popper, a seasoned scientist and philosopher surely would have, and did, recognize. Did the people who presume this equivocation, think Karl Popper to be a simpleton, more stupid than are they? The reality that escapes the philosophically dilettante is that he did indeed deal with this inconsistency. The Handbook of the Philosophy of Science expounds on this:
The phrases “demarcation of science” and “demarcation of science from pseudoscience” are often used interchangeably, and many authors seem to have regarded them as equal in meaning. In their view the task of drawing the outer boundaries of science is essentially the same as that of drawing the boundary between science and pseudoscience.
This picture is oversimplified. All non-science is not pseudoscience, and science has non-trivial borders to other non-scientific phenomena, such as metaphysics, religion, and various types of non-scientific systematized knowledge.¹
Claiming and Not Claiming to Do or Represent Science
There is a stark difference between those things which claim to be science, and those things which claim nothing of the sort. If my neighbor runs over and swears that he saw The Chupacabra running through his backyard, he is not claiming to do science, he is not practicing pseudoscience. If he goes to the city council and cites that there are hundreds of missing cats and dogs in the area, he is still not practicing pseudoscience. This set of activity simply constitutes observation and advocacy (or possibly fraud). This is a key understanding which differentiates the false skeptic from the real skeptic. It is when he makes the nonsense claim that he has done research, and by examining the poop of the supposed animal in a lab, now claims that what he saw in his backyard must be an interdimensional being, released by UFO’s, because its poop contained animal proteins not found on this Earth. That is when the person making such claims has indeed stepped into the bounds of pseudoscience. At no time is he ever a pseudo scientist simply because he made an observation of something called by fake skeptics ‘a pseudoscience.’ ¹ ²
Even if he becomes an advocate, and attempts to petition science to study the issue, he is not dabbling in pseudoscience. To kill this type of process through fake skepticism, is to kill the process of science; yes, even on a brazenly ridiculous topic like The Chupacabra. Presuming that one is doing science, by calling the gentleman a liar, or deluded, is in itself – a claim Ξ pseudoscience. Many fake and shallow skeptics fail to discern this important aspect of the Popper Demarcation principle.
Among things which are unfairly labeled as pseudoscience by ill intended fake skeptics, are:
- Sponsorship of ideas for research
- Subjects which are ignored through social epistemology or pressure
- Positions which appear to oppose oligarch corporations
- Political positions
- Religious tenets
- Citing of anomalous observations
- Moral positions
- Art, fiction, creative works
- Advocacy for health observations and those who suffer
- Anecdotal evidence which is ignored on a grand scale
By practicing Popper Demarcation Malpractice, Social Skeptics can manage the control of access to science, effectively screening out disliked topics, observations and ideas.
Popper Demarcation Malpractice
/philosophy : science : pseudoscience : malpractice/ : the dilettante presumption that if any set of claims or theory is innately non-falsifiable, it belongs to the domain of pseudoscience. Wrongly presuming a subject to be a pseudoscience, instead of false practices pretending to be science. Purposely or unskillfully conflating the methods of science with the body of scientific knowledge, employing amphibology or proxy equivocation in their articulation of the issue, wherein every proposed claim about what distinguishes science from pseudoscience can be confused with a counter-example. This renders the demarcation boundary of no utility, and reduces overall understanding.
Transactional Popper Demarcation Error – incorrectly citing a topic as being a pseudo science, when in fact its sponsors are seeking falsification based protocols to counter the antithetical premise to their case, or its sponsors are employing predictive studies being employed simply to establish plurality for sponsorship inside the scientific method.
Existential Popper Demarcation Error – citing something as a pseudoscience simply because one does not like the topic, or the topic has had pretend science performed in its name in the past.
The reality is that there exist three domains of idea development: Science, Pseudoscience, Parascience/Non-science. Understanding these three domains and skillfully applying that understanding inside the discourse of ideas is the ethic of one who sincerely wants to know. It is the habit of one who practices Ethical Skepticism as opposed to the purposely smoke and mirrors, equivocation imbued, pretend science and idea assassinating fake version of skepticism.
Science (a method, a discipline and a body of knowledge)
The application of observation, thought, reason, testing, and peer input to arrive at conclusions which reliably can be added to the body of knowledge. That body of knowledge itself.
Pseudoscience (a method and pretense only)
A process which claims to arrive at conclusions by means of science, or citing of elements it purports to exist in the body of scientific knowledge, where in fact neither adheres to nor originates from, actual methods of science.
Attempting to demonstrate free energy by sleight-of-hand battery switching and amperage measurements
Attempting to show one is located on the Earth’s equator by demonstrating differing water drain patterns both south and north of a fictitiously drawn line
Thinking disciplines of benefit to mankind, which seek to improve the human condition, or solve perplexing issues, or even assist science in its overall efficacy, but do not necessarily make the claim of employing science in order to derive such ethics.
Disciplines of human endeavor which do not employ, nor claim to employ science in their execution. However may involve some science in their development – or turn into a discipline of science through diligent sponsorship.
An Example of Popper Demarcation Malpractice:
Sometimes the term “pseudoscience” is used in a wider sense in order to pejoratively filter out ideas considered by researching sponsors, advocates, legal activists, politicians and those making disturbing observations. The abuse of the term in this fashion, as constituting that which
(2′) it is part of a non-scientific doctrine whose major proponents try to create the impression that it is scientific.
(2″) is part of a doctrine whose major proponents try to create the impression that it represents the most reliable knowledge on its subject matter.²
This is false, because the practice which established that ‘proponents try to create the impression that it represents science’ fails the Popper Demarcation itself. So if we are applying Popper here, we cannot create postulates which violate the very principle we are seeking to construct. Declaring a subject, in absence of evidence proving such a claim, to be constituted solely by individuals who are pretending to be science – 1. claims to hold a body of knowledge, and 2. does so without a basis of true science to derive that knowledge. Therefore, such a claim is itself, pseudoscience, according to Popper.
The SSkeptics Dictionary for example (http://www.skepdic.com/pseudosc.html) incorrectly defines pseudoscience as
“A pseudoscience is set of ideas based on theories put forth as scientific when they are not scientific.”
This definition is an incoherent one-liner – Wittgenstein unsinnig: highly convoluted and implication laden professional-sounding babble, articulated so as to tender the appearance of being simple. It is incompatible with parsimony in this regard; and as well, ironically fails the Popper Demarcation of Science itself, because
- It conflates ideas into ‘theories’ by default in an effort to pejoratively filter them – a practice of pseudoscience. A theory implies a set of claims under science method, which ideas may not involve. A very similar equivocation to calling an observation a ‘claim.’ So you can then dismiss it as ‘failing science.’
- It is NOT ideas which are pseudo-scientific – rather
- those things purported to already exist in the body of knowledge, when indeed such is not the case, and
- those things purported to be based on methods which are scientific, but in reality are not.
- It regards a SUBJECT MATTER (theories) rather than a contention or process, as that which qualifies something as pseudoscience. This is errant and constitutes a logical fallacy – and to those who understand this – yet commit the offense so as to screen subjects from access to science, also constitutes a practice of fraud.
- It may or may not imply that proponents of the ‘ideas’ try to create the impression that they represent science or the most reliable knowledge on its subject matter. Again, such a claim cannot be made outside of research and scientific practice; constituting in its implied claim, defamation and pseudoscience.
- It makes a final contention that certain ideas are ‘not scientific’ based on a prescribed set of conclusions or the personal level of knowledge on the part of the observer. This is not how science nor skepticism work at all.
The grasp of this differentiation is a key litmus test distinguishing a false skeptic from a true skeptic. They claim to represent science to you in this misrepresentation sleight-of-hand. The shallow and inexperienced might buy this at face value, but an Ethical Skeptic will not.
It is nothing but Popper Demarcation Malpractice… scientific quackery.
¹ Mahner, Martin, 2007. “Demarcating Science from Non-Science”, pp 515-575 in Theo Kuipers (ed.) Handbook of the Philosophy of Science: General Philosophy of Science – Focal Issues, Amsterdam: Elsevier.
² Hansson, Sven Ove, “Science and Pseudo-Science”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2015/entries/pseudo-science/>.