Ten Commandments for Science vs. Pseudoscience

Came across this article via a link on another, and found it interesting. The author is a psychologist named Lilienfeld, and it appeared on the website for the Association for Psychological Science back in 2005. Its title is “The Ten Commandments of Helping Students Distinguish Science from Pseudoscience in Psychology,” and the author’s primary interest is in helping undergraduate students differentiate between claims of pop psychology vs. the scientific quest of genuine psychology. As you may guess of course, he lays out his case in the form of ten “Thou Shalt” commandments, and adds, “I urge readers of this column to inscribe these commandments on impressive stone tablets to be mounted outside of all psychology departments.”

I found Lilienfeld‘s First Commandment to be particularly interesting: “Thou shalt delineate the features that distinguish science from pseudoscience,” and here he goes on to list a “constellation of features or ‘warning signs’ that characterize most pseudoscientific disciplines.” Here’s his list, and I think most of you will readily see some parallels to much of what one hears from so many YEC advocates: (quoting)

  • A tendency to invoke ad hoc hypotheses, which can be thought of as “escape hatches” or loopholes, as a means of immunizing claims from falsification.
  • An absence of self-correction and an accompanying intellectual stagnation.
  • An emphasis on confirmation rather than refutation.
  • A tendency to place the burden of proof on skeptics, not proponents, of claims.
  • Excessive reliance on anecdotal and testimonial evidence to substantiate claims.
  • Evasion of the scrutiny afforded by peer review.
  • Absence of “connectivity” (Stanovich, 1997), that is, a failure to build on existing scientific knowledge.
  • Use of impressive-sounding jargon whose primary purpose is to lend claims a facade of scientific respectability.
  • An absence of boundary conditions (Hines, 2003), that is, a failure to specify the settings under which claims do not hold.

I would add one more of my own to this list: “a tendency to argue from personal authority.” What I mean by that is the kind or argument where one says, “As I’ve described in my book…” or something of the sort. In this kind of argument, one is making an appeal to one’s personal status as an expert, rather than to the accumulated wisdom on the subject (granted, to which the claimant may have contributed significantly). The argument is thus effectively, “I’ve written a book about this, so I am therefore an authority whose thoughts on the matter you must respect,” and it’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine.

Using Lilienfeld’s list here (with or without my own addition), I see much that describes the pseudoscience that is young earth creation “science.”

Link to the original article here.


Good list.

It doesn’t help you distinguish pseudoscience when you are looking it, but I think communities that are big proponents of pseudoscientific perspectives contribute quite a bit of peer pressure. So if you find yourself accepting claims you are skeptical of at first because everyone you know swears by such and such and you just don’t feel cool or worthy of the group unless you use the roll-on, or avoid the food, or take the supplement, or subscribe to the website, or whatever, then that’s a big red flag.

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Sounds like flood geology.

And that sounds like just about every multi-level marketing company that ever existed. :stuck_out_tongue:


“certified pure therapeutic grade,” anyone?


Oooh, I wonder if I can get that with a minty scent?


“Quantum midwifery” has been one of my favorites. :smiley:


For the plus sized family?

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One of my pet peeves is “clinically proven” which implies scientific proof or support but actually is based oftentimes on poor and biased studies with no real statistical significance.

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I think so. It’s mostly for the family that has so many kids that there is an inherent uncertainty on how many children they actually have. On short time scales you can have a good sense of the total rest mass of the family but as the time scale increases your uncertainty also increases.


I’m one of seven, so that sounds accurate. :wink:

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It’s great you found your own voice, even coming from such a large collective. One would almost expect “We are One of Seven.” :alien:


Small world. I’m second of seven. What’s your Borg designation?

I’m the oldest – also known as the “guinea pig” or the live-in babysitter. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: Makes my three seem like a pretty small family in comparison.


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