Science or Pseudoscience?

Why do pseudosciences seem valid, and how can you tell if they really are?

Sophia Terian

Pseudosciences are defined as branches of study which present untested information in ways that make them seem plausible. You’ve probably encountered them- astrology, graphology, reflexology, UFO research, homeopathy, palm reading, and many others. The findings are often intriguing and can deliver both feelings of enlightenment and skepticism, as many adherents attest to the accuracy of the results, and yet they haven’t been officially validated anywhere.

So, are these types of sciences trustable?

True sciences are able to stand up to tests and experiments in order to prove their validity. Thus, if a pseudoscience is to be accepted as science, it must be able to prove its validity over and over again. For various reasons, this hasn’t been accomplished in many pseudoscientific realms, but that doesn’t mean you can’t test out the validity of a science to determine results for yourself.

Regardless, pseudosciences rightfully should be called pseudosciences until they’re properly validated, either by a scientist or through your own scientific tests.

Because of the fact that true science is repeatable and testable, if pseudosciences held validity, we’d see the same results coming out of every test. Delving into pseudoscience analysis and their tests becomes a messy matter very quickly, especially with the dawning of the internet. This makes it hard for us to determine definitively, based on the data of others, how much validity something has. It’s easy to find yourself feeling swamped.

The problem with pseudosciences is that often times, even when tested, there are many variables involved, so when a test deems the study inaccurate, supporters can argue, with sound logic, that science neglected to account for one of these many variables, and undermine the results of the study.

Take astrology, for example, which categorizes people into certain personality types based on where celestial objects were in the sky at the subject’s birth. A scientist could test out whether or not the sun was influencing people born in specific times and come up with an answer denying correlation, but an astrologer would argue that it is the combined effect of every celestial body in the sky- different for every individual- which truly accounts for personality.

Often times, the way pseudosciences are tested (by believers in the science) is on a confirmation bias. They start with a hypothesis and look for possible causes, which may appear to produce the hypothesis in a certain instance, but won’t work soundly in all cases, or may not be a valid cause.

Some believe pseudosciences flaws are evident because of their dormant nature. While traditional science progresses and changes as time goes on and more knowledge is gained, pseudoscience does not change based on the abundance of knowledge discovered since their, often ancient, beginnings. Additionally, it’s hard to find the science behind the pseudoscience: How did the discoverers of the principals come to realize this was a repeatable situation? Furthermore, when results do seem to be true is it just a grand scale placebo effect?

The other side of the argument, though, does hold considerable factors. Pseudoscience reports on the internet are murky and hard to find. How many scientific tests have been conducted properly? How many studies, claiming to have been conducted properly, failed to account for those key variables prior mentioned? More arguers will say that science is testing the wrong area, not just the lack of variables, or that realms of pseudoscience simply cannot be tested. In palm reading, lines might change as one changes their future, and then the prediction of the earlier line reading becomes impossible to prove true.

Furthermore, arguments stand in favor of the idea that some areas, like our human emotions, faith, and even some things in science- like the origins of life and the universe- are beyond the explanation of science and must be followed somewhat blindly, at least trusted until proven incorrect. Huge numbers of people attest to this, intentionally or unintentionally, because they claim truth in their own personal experience with pseudoscience, without scientific approval. A vast number of people across the world, for many years into the past, have believed and seen accuracy in pseudosciences, which stayed the same even as science changed and couldn’t make up its mind. In a way, the fact that so many people have claimed to have seen accuracy in a pseudoscience can bring validity to the idea.

Pseudoscience will probably always be a murky area because of beliefs that usurp testable science. However, to truly be considered science, logic and testability are key to knowing the absolute validity of something, and can be tested by not just scientists, but those who’ve seen pseudoscience accuracy in their own lives.