Have you ever heard of Feng Shui? Or, maybe you have come across the anti-vaccine movement, astrology, homeopathic remedies or the idea of having your handwriting analyzed? While each of these examples refers to interesting ways of tackling a specific problem if you asked a scientist they would likely tell you they are all great examples of pseudoscience.
No, it is not a hot new Japanese wrestling technique, (although that would be very cool). The word ‘pseudoscience’ refers to an idea or practice that is unscientific. To be more precise, the term refers to things that people claim to be scientific, but that are not.
The word “pseudo” means something that is fake. It is a sham, bogus, artificial, simulated- simply put, it is not the real deal. Merriam-Webster.com provides this definition: pseudoscience is “a system of theories, assumptions, and methods erroneously regarded as scientific”.
For its part, Wikipedia states, “Pseudoscience consists of statements, beliefs, or practices that are claimed to be both scientific and factual but are incompatible with the scientific method."
2. So, What Is the Scientific Method, (and Why Are People So Picky)?
For something to be called “scientific”, it needs to be based on mathematical proof. It also has to be something you can prove using experimental techniques taken from science. Scientists use these techniques to prove a scientific hypothesis.
For example, you might wonder while sitting on the beach one day, basking in the sun, at what temperature does water boil?
If you did not know the answer, you would offer your best guess. To have a scientific answer, you would not say “water boils when it is hot”. You would have to be more specific. Hey, maybe water boils at 50 degrees celsius, you might guess. This would be your scientific hypothesis.
Then, you would have to test your hypothesis, to get a true scientific answer.
If you did test it, you would learn that water boils at 100 degrees celsius.
To reach this conclusion, you would have to put a pot of water on the stove, or some other heat source, and place a thermometer in it.
You would then turn on the heat below the pot, and wait until the water boils. You would look at the thermometer in the water when it started to boil, and register the temperature, which would be 100 degrees celsius, unless there was something other than just water in your pot, like saltwater.
This whole process- watching the water boil and measuring its temperature when it does- is a scientific method. It is based on precise techniques and mathematical measurements, and you will get the same answer every time you perform your experiment, over and over and over.
1. Is Pseudoscience Bad?
When it comes to pseudoscience, there is no scientific hypothesis that can be proven using a scientific method.
So, if something is part of pseudoscience, is it terrible? No. It is true that many things we currently label as “pseudoscience” could possibly have some basis in real science. Many of the practices or beliefs in question simply have not been studied enough yet by scientists, so we cannot know if they do.
There is a danger, however, lurking in pseudoscience. Sure, your horoscope might say that you are highly likely to win the lottery today, but is it a good idea to place all your savings in one ticket, based on this fact?
You be the judge. We would say, probably not. But don't let us spoil the fun!