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:
- It pretty much treats people as largely the same, when they can in fact be extremely different.
- It looks for solutions which are rather strong and thus can have a large host of harmful side effects.
- 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.
- 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 Nevertheless it should be mentioned that science has quite often approved things which then have been retracted as harmful when unforeseen effects are discovered.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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.