Syllabus

Defining Pseudoscience

Introdution: So far we have discussed:

Today we begin a series of lectures and exercises that scrutinize the actual societal consequences are of Voodoo Science - science gone bad.

Voodoo Science

Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud by Robert Park of the University of Maryland's Department of Physics is a book you will read in the sophomore colloquium. Today, you get a preview of its contents. Park uses voodoo science as a general term for science that, in some way, violates the ethos of the scientific method. Remember, science can contain mistakes and still be proper, non-voodoo science. Indeed, the whole point of the scientific method is to identify our mistakes in data collection and pattern recognition. To be voodoo science, there must be some violation of the scientific method. This can be self-deception, fraud, or naive non-comprehension of the method.

Park recognizes three major categories:

A voodoo scientist's toolbox: there is no voodoo science equivalent to Sagan's toolbox, but if there were, it might read like this.
  • Treat credulity as a virtue (call it "faith") and honest skepticism as a vice (call it "doubt.")
  • Maintain great emotional attachment to your hypotheses.
  • Be willing to use low rhetorical tactics, where necessary, to deflect scrutiny of your ideas. (Such as straw men, ad hominems, deliberate misuse of statistics.
  • Appeal to peoples desires and hopes, and manipulate their innate sense of wonder. (As in UFO cults. Crop circles.)

For a good dose of the pseudoscientific "philosophy" consider the career of Franz Mesmer, the father of hypnosis.

Forget for a while all of your knowledge of physics...Remove from your mind all objections that may occur...Never reason for six weeks... Be very credulous; very persevering; reject all past experience, and do not listen to reason...Never magnetize before inquisitive persons.

Last modified: 7 October 2008