Recognizing Pseudoscience

(Randy) #21

Sorry, that’s not what I meant. I was thinking through what the dangers of placebo could be.

In relationship to evolution and origins science, I was thinking if there are variations of belief that it’s ok to leave alone as placebo. I think that as they don’t have to do with life and death, they probably are ok to leave alone and not quibble over with the public. However, in a grad science program where vaccines, etc develop as @glipsnort does based on evolutionary theory, quibbling and exact science would be more important. Let me know if that’s not clear enough. I tend to wander, as you know.

(George Brooks) #22


When writers try to connect dots between

pseudo-medicine or

and the areas of evolutionary science… I tend to object.

(Randy) #23

Well, I respect your experience and point of view. Can you clarify? Thanks.

(George Brooks) #24

No… I don’t think I can.

You either “get it” or you don’t. And by you asking me that open-ended question, I’m starting to think you “get it” just fine…

(Laura) #25

I’m sort of curious why that would be. I mean, I can see a lot of commonality between YEC (believing in a certain age of the earth despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary) and believing in, say, homeopathy or essential oils curing everything, etc., despite a lack of evidence. Anecdotally, it seems many who hold to one also hold to another, but that’s not always the case nor is one necessarily a predictor of the other.

(Stephen Matheson) #26

I certainly agree that there are silly false beliefs that aren’t worth correcting, and that this judgment is made in some milieu of cost-benefit assessment. By itself, believing that the earth is young is not an obvious threat to the person or to others. Unfortunately, such beliefs are hard or impossible to separate from related beliefs or, more notably, from the underlying assumptions and psychological pressures that motivate science denial. It might be benign to think the earth is young, but if this is causally related to an assumption that scientists are dishonest or deluded, or that preachers should be trusted to speak credibly on all topics, then there is potential for harm.

I don’t have any idea why this is related to placebos. Maybe you are suggesting that science denial and/or the beliefs that support it exert positive influences on the people who hold them, but that’s a pretty weak metaphor IMO.

(Randy) #27

Thanks. Placebo was only one example. Pseudoscience and fraud in medicine (using apricot pits for cancer, for example; or chelation or avoiding vaccines, which can be dangerous to the entire country, as in measles) were more on that range. In those cases, there’s danger.

I don’t want to make this discussion devolve into negativity. I was reflecting on how much heresy truth can tolerate. Placebo can also be dangerous because it prevents treatment.

On the other hand, correcting gently can make those who are afraid of a daunting prospect (science, origins, medicine) accept things much better.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #28

All I know is that I don’t mess around with mere placebos any more - I always just go for the “extra strength” placebos now.

(Stephen Matheson) #29

Oh come on, the whole “extra strength” thing is such a scam. Just take 3 instead of 2 and you’re good. But of course, always check first to see if your insurance plan covers the cost. They might only pay for the generic placebos, which work just as well.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #30

Yeah - I’m going round with my congressional rep on this right now. Just being fed up with it all, I think I’ll be getting my placebos from Canada going forward.

(George Brooks) #31


I believe you are looking at the other side of the coin.

I have no objection when writers try to connect dots between

pseudo-medicine or

and the ares of Young Earth Creationism, or Old Earth Creationism. [< Totally Different Situation!]

Thanks for reminding me that there is another side of the same “bone of contention”.

(Randy) #32

That is exactly what I intended. Thank you for clarifying.

(George Brooks) #33


You needed me to clarify the difference between “evolutionary science” and “young earth creationism”?

(Randy) #34

No, I was very puzzled why you disagreed with me and thought I should not associate yec with pseudoscience. Now I understand.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #35

You weren’t the only one puzzled :slight_smile:

(George Brooks) #36

Just so you know … I wrote it like that because I wasn’t sure what YOUR point was. That’s why the first version specified Evolutionary Science.

When you wanted a clarification, I couldn’t figure out what could need clarifying.

(Randy) #37

I am sorry that I apparently miscommunicated. If I am not still as clear as mud, what are your thoughts on the amount of pseudoscience truth can tolerate? It’s an interesting point that we don’t accept truth (at least, I didn’t well) till someone in my college responded to me with kindness. However, it took time. That’s a parallel in both science and medicine, I think. Fraud and quackery abound where we neglect to explain with humility and give power to those who don’t understand. Thanks.

(George Brooks) #38


With all due humility, I have no idea where you are going with this particular line of exploration. It sounds like you and i are very different people.

(Mitchell W McKain) #39

This might not be a topic on which Randy and I will see eye to eye.

First pseudoscience: Pseudoscience is something that pretends to be science when it is not. A great deal of creationism falls into this category. But when something does not pretend to be science then isn’t pseudoscience just because it isn’t science. The biggest divide here is between the scientific method and rhetoric. Unlike rhetoric which simply seeks to prove something, the scientific method is to come up with a way of testing an hypothesis to see if it is correct or not. Big difference! But as long as we are clear whether what we are doing is science or rhetoric, there is no pseudoscience. Rhetoric plays an indispensable role in the operation of human civilization. Lawyers, politicians, preachers and salesmen all use rhetoric, of course. We may not like them, but that doesn’t mean we can do without them.

Modern scientific medicine: This is founded on the scientific method where you have to establish that the drug or procedure has a statistically significant positive effect over a test population compared to a control group in order to eliminate placebo effects. This has, of necessity, some rather big blind spots, and I believe it has also to some extent abandoned the Hippocratic oath. Here are the basic flaws:

  1. It pretty much treats people as largely the same, when they can in fact be extremely different.
  2. It looks for solutions which are rather strong and thus can have a large host of harmful side effects.
  3. Depending on where in the world you are, the price of this medicine can be as damaging to the person and their whole family as the disease itself, if not more so.
  4. Another blind spot this can have is with respect to long term effects, though this is something that will eventually be revealed over time. Nevertheless it should be mentioned that science has quite often approved things which then have been retracted as harmful when unforeseen effects are discovered.

Alternative medicine: These are folk remedies and host of methods in different cultures which people have found helpful but which science cannot validate. Like I said before, this does not make the term “pseudoscience” applicable if there is no pretense that modern science is involved. The presumption of the following is that these remedies have a least been determined by science to have no harmful effects, so we are not talking about the kind of insanity that had people using radium as a supposedly good additive for food, toothpaste, cosmetics, and health spa treatments.

  1. It pretty much takes it for granted that people are extremely different and its remedies may very well be of no benefit to the majority of people who attempt them.
  2. Its solutions tend to be rather weak approaching that of doing nothing at all. So this tends to have few harmful effects. Though in some cases it may be a good idea to scientifically determine whether the probability of harmful effects is actually less than the probability of helpful effects.
  3. These are generally not very costly compared to modern medicine. But that is perhaps another thing that should call for some censure and testing, to be sure that the cost does not exceed the value of what is actually being offered.
  4. When we are talking about new fads and gimmicks, there is no advantage over scientific medicine, quite the opposite, since testing is at least required for the scientific cures. But when we are talking about folk remedies which have been in use for hundreds or thousands of years there is some advantage with regards to seeing the long term effects.

(Phil) #40

Good points to discuss I am driving today and cannot do them justice, but will just state that in medicine, the prime mover is the risk/benefit along with the cost/benefit. Obviously, if the benefit is zero , the math is easy if there is any risk or any cost at all.