The Bottom Line

For man is but the servant or interpreter of nature; what he does and what he knows is only what he has observed of nature's order in fact or in thought; beyond this he knows nothing and can do nothing. ...All depends on keeping the eye steadily fixed upon the facts of nature and so receiving the images simply as they are.  Francis Bacon, The Great Instauration - 1620
GB What is Science?
  • How does science differ from other human endeavors and beliefs I call NotScience? 
  • How does information acquired from the practice of science differ from information obtained from NotScience sources like religious texts, the arts, political groups, ethical and philosophical discussions, legal musings, book clubs, governmental proclamations, corporate meetings, moral teachings, random thoughts and insights, etc.? 
  • Why are the processes and findings of science important and how do they differ from ordinary trial and error experimentation and problem solving. 
  • Why is it critical that science minimizes biases, and how can science be hijacked so findings appear to support and validate specific partisan agendas? 
  • How can someone who is not trained to understand the complexities of science determine whether information that is presented as scientifically accurate actually is?  This is particularly important for contentious, complex subjects with two mutually exclusive sides that each claim to be supported by legitimate science.
  • How can there be different, mutually exclusive interpretations of the same scientific evidence, and how can one determine which is the correct interpretation?  

Have you ever searched for a scientific topic and been presented with sources that provide information that supports two contradictory and mutually exclusive positions?  Supporters of each position claim their evidence is scientifically valid, but only one can be correct.  If you have, I expect that causes frustration because the conclusions and positions from different sources can't all be true, and it may be difficult to determine which sources contain reliable information that's backed by legitimate scientific evidence and which sources consist of wishful thinking, selective interpretation of the scientific evidence and deception. 

If you have never encountered conflicting sources of 'scientific' information during a search, you might try entering the following phrases (without the quotes): "benefits of alkaline water"; "is water fluoridation beneficial or harmful"; "structured water cures"; "is drinking distilled water harmful or beneficial"; "is creationism science"; "global warming fact or fiction"; "science of homeopathy"; "is nuclear power safe or dangerous", "are UFOs real", "Bigfoot sightings" or "pros and cons of vaccination".  Websites and other literature defending either side of any of these issues (and thousands more) all claim that science validates their position and proves the opposing beliefs are false. 

I hope the content of this page will provide some insights that will help you better understand the processes of science and learn how to recognize legitimate scientific claims - and equally important, how to create your own bias- and pseudo-science (BS & PS) detection systems so you can recognize when science has been hijacked in an attempt to sell you an idea, product or service that has no scientific validity and understand how to select legitimate Authorities to trust.

GB

Four Categories of the Uses and Misuses of Knowledge:  I am a scientist who made the soul-wrenching transition from young earth Creationist to evolutionist during my graduate studies.  Beliefs instilled during childhood, particularly those on which one's faith are claimed to depend, can be exceptionally powerful, deeply entrenched and difficult to dislodge.  It was not until I completely understood that science can neither prove or disprove any spiritual beliefs nor can any beliefs of spiritual intervention be part of any scientific hypothesis or theory that I could be comfortable with both my faith and my scientific understanding. 

Before I fully understood the complexities of science and the exceptional creativity of con artists, I was also occasionally  duped by various scams rooted in PseudoScience.  I have also seen a number of friends and acquaintances fall victim to various PseudoScience scams.

Consequently, I have an very keen interest in understanding how legitimate Science differs from other, NotScience but important, valid human beliefs and endeavors and from two miss-applications of science; PseudoScience and what I will call BiasScience.  

These four categories help me evaluate the legitimacy of information sources  and classify them as those that are legitimate (Science and NotScience) and those that are highly questionable (PseudoScience and BiasScience).  Characteristics of the four categories are summarized in this chart and described in detail in the other sections. 

If scientists' beliefs, biases, ethics and goals in the NotScience realm are balanced toward an accurate collection and interpretation of evidence from the natural world, they will employ the methods of science appropriately and produce an accurate description of the cause and effect relationships (laws) of nature. 

To err is human, and since scientists are human, there are numerous ways in which errors can creep into and distort the processes and conclusions of science.  It is also important to understand that not everyone who claims to be a scientist actually employs scientific methods - the mantle of science is frequently assumed in an effort to provide legitimacy and authority to ideas, practices and products that have no actual characteristics of science - in other words, scams.

Green Check

Science can be defined both as the Information collected over the years that describes how the natural universe operates and as the Methods used to collect that information with a minimum of personal bias.  Much of science involves the discovery of cause and effect relationships within the natural world by controlled observation &/or experimentation.  Understanding these relationships has enabled humans to make valid (workable) predictions about consequences of specific ideas and actions and has created the world in which we live - imagine for a moment what your life might have been like several century's ago without the remarkable advancements made possible by the the use of science - a society without electricity, the chemical industry, agricultural science or evidence-based medicine to name just four important fields that employ scientific processes and knowledge.

An important concept within scientific community is Scientific Consensus.  According to Wikipedia, "Scientific consensus is the collective judgment, position, and opinion of the community of scientists in a particular field of study. Consensus implies general agreement, though not necessarily unanimity." Many scientific topics are complex and have hundreds, if not thousands, of research studies collected over years or decades.  These studies probably do not all reach exactly the same conclusions and they will have different levels of quality, bias, and legitimacy depending on the experience, training, ability, etc. of the researcher(s).  Experts in the relevant fields continually monitor the complete body of evidence, determine which studies provide reliable conclusions and determine the overall interpretation of all the evidence at any given point in time.  Science is an evolutionary process.  Any given consensus can remain stable over many years or can begin to change overnight if high quality, legitimate evidence is discovered that clearly contradicts the consensus.
An interesting description of scientific consensus states, "Science achieves a consensus when scientists stop arguing. ...Nearly all hypotheses will fall by the wayside during [the testing of different proposed hypotheses], because only one is going to answer the question properly, without leaving all kinds of odd dangling bits that don’t quite add up. Bad theories are usually rather untidy."

I outlined the main steps of the Scientific Method to illustrate the importance of following processes that create testable ideas (that others can confirm or reject) and devise methods of data collection and analysis that minimize biases as much as possible.  This chart can be compared with the chart that illustrates the PseudoScientific Method.  The main differences become obvious at the bottom of the pages - boxes 5-7 - and arise from the inability of PseudoScience practitioners to establish rigorous processes to identify and minimize sources of personal bias that can corrupt and distort the processes of data collection and analysis.

Mathematics is listed here as a separate category, but I will not discuss it further because it would require a separate section, and the additional commentary would not really contribute to understanding the important differences between the way the Science and NotScience endeavors work or the way PseudoScience and BiasScience distort the processes of science and provide a misleading picture of reality.  Math is closely related to science in that mathematicians seek 'truths' about the workings of the natural universe.  Mathematical 'truths' are patterns that can be expressed numerically using formulas.  Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proof and not by experimentation.  This article has a very good comparison of how math is similar to and different from science.  Pseudomathematics also exists, but the descriptions seem to indicate it does not contribute much to the general public confusion between science and PseudoScience.

Green Check

NotScience is defined, for purposes of this discussion, as all human characteristics, activities, endeavors and attributes that are not science and do not relate specifically to the study of cause and effect relationships about the natural universe and the formation and testing of theories that describe them.  This is a designation that encompasses a wide variety of disciplines and human attributes including Politics, Government, Religion, Arts, Literature, Ethics, Values, Laws, Emotions, Philosophy, etc.  These endeavors fundamentally depend on beliefs, opinions, motivations and creations that cannot be tested or demonstrated as true or false, good or evil, moral or immoral, real or imaginary by the scientific method. 

Although Scientific methods and knowledge are completely distinct from those of NotScience, it is ironic that the NotScience attributes of individual scientists and others determine which science projects are initiated, the quality of the science that is performed and how the scientific knowledge is eventually interpreted and utilized.

The 1915 Nobel Laureate in physics, William Henry Bragg (1862–1942), made one of the most perceptive distinctions between Science and NotScience I have encountered, “From religion comes a man’s purpose; from science, his power to achieve it. Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are: in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hand are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped.”  Although Bragg specifically addressed religion, you can substitute other NotScience human characteristics for "religion" in the quote and see how science provides the grounding in an accurate understanding of natural laws that can provide a reliable framework for understanding and navigating the NotScience elements of humanity:

  • From politics comes a man’s ability to work together and achieve common goals; from science, his power to achieve it.

  • From ethics comes a man’s ability to identify goals - hopefully for the common good; from science, his power to achieve it.

  • From philosophy comes a man’s ability to understand basic elements of the meaning and purpose of life; from science, his power to achieve it.

  • From the arts comes a man’s expression of all emotions resulting from life’s experiences; from science, his power to achieve it.

Science provides the understanding of the natural universe and has developed the tools that can be used by the NotScience human endeavors to either create a civilization beneficial to its citizens or destroy it completely.  Our responsibility is to understand science and direct the outcome of its use in positive directions.

While scientists attempt to describe the natural world as it is, both PseudoScientists and BiasScientists try and force science to conform with specific passionate beliefs and desires.  As a result, PseudoScientists and BiasScientists bend (and frequently break) the rules of legitimate science in attempts to create claims and fabricate 'evidence' designed to support a specific agenda.

While there may be overlap in some instances, the primary difference between these two categories are:
With PseudoScience, actual, legitimate, published scientific evidence from controlled studies is irrelevant (and usually non-existent).  Those who hold BiasScience beliefs generally try to work within the context of published scientific research.

To the extent that the scientific process works to minimize bias and ensure transparency, accurate knowledge of the natural world is obtained.  To the extent that personal or communal biases or agendas distort any part of the scientific method, the results will swerve toward PseudoScience or BiasScience.

Red Check Science Process Flow Chart DiagramPseudoScience is any information (or the processes that collect it) that is presented as scientifically valid yet is either completely fabricated or the supporting 'evidence' is gathered without:
Beatle Bailey(a) any controls to minimize personal biases from influencing the collection and interpretation of data and/or
(b) any procedures to test the validity of conclusions.

There is really no difference between pseudoscience and the creative, imaginary ideas that are used in fictional entertainment (books, plays, movies, games and magic acts) -- except that pseudoscience is presented as legitimate facts instead of whimsical inventions.

With PseudoScience only the illusion of science matters.  Evidence and conclusions are frequently obtained from non-controlled experiments designed (intentionally or not) to produce a desired result, or the evidence and conclusions are completely fabricated and packaged for marketing.  Evidence of legitimacy generally consists entirely of personal stories - testimonials.

In fact, perhaps the best indicator of PseudoScientific ideas, products or services is that personal stories (testimonials) are used almost exclusively to promote them - Look, it 'worked' for me and all these people, so it will work for you!  Uncontrolled Testimonials are interesting and they may provide useful information, but they can never replace scientific methods to validate a claim.  PseudoScientific Method Chart

Red Check BiasScience is the manipulation and exploitation of scientific methods and selective collection and presentation of evidence to justify a strongly held religious, political, or moral belief or agenda.  Any scientific evidence that conflicts with the agenda is dismissed as inaccurate or irrelevant, and those who support conflicting beliefs are dismissed as ignorant, uncaring, unscientific, lazy, cowards, greedy, basically out of touch with reality and/or completely mistaken in their evaluation of the "facts".  Those who hold BiasScience beliefs generally try to work within the context of actual scientific research which is often published.  However, practitioners hold passionate beliefs that are completely contrary to the scientific consensus in a given topic.  BiasScience practitioners have three primary goals.
  1. Cast as much doubt as possible on the studies and conclusions responsible for the scientific consensus, the experts who are responsible and all those mainstream scientists (or health professionals) who accept it.

  2. Try to convince the public that their interpretations of the available scientific evidence is valid instead of publishing and presenting their evidence to other experts to try and change the scientific consensus.  The fact is that All "Evidence" accepted as valid by BiasScientists is freely available to the scientific community, has been thoroughly evaluated and has not changed the conclusions of the overwhelming majority of experts.

  3. Accumulate as much "evidence" as possible to try and sell their beliefs to the public by:

    • cherry-picking studies which seem to support their agenda regardless of relevance, bias and quality - even though they have been evaluated and have not changed the consensus.

    • selectively editing and interpreting conclusions of studies so they appear to support their agenda - even though they do not.  

It is important to remember that BiasScience beliefs are, by definition, contrary to conclusions reached by the majority of scientists on a given subject - the Scientific Consensus.  All Evidence used by BiasScience believers to support their position has been evaluated thoroughly by mainstream scientists, and it has been found insufficiently compelling to change the Consensus - there is no hidden stash of evidence that exclusively favors any BiasScience position. 

Consequently, one of the easiest ways to recognize BiasScience is that 'believers' dismiss the necessity of scientific consensus and state that they have the only legitimate interpretation of the available evidence - even though it conflicts with the conclusions of most experts.

Creation Science and the Cosmic TimelineAn excellent example of the divergence between BiasScience and Mainstream Science can be seen in this comparison of the mainstream scientific theory that the universe, our solar system, the earth, and all life has evolved over 13.8 billion years with the  Young Earth Creation Science (YECS) beliefs that the universe is no older than six to ten thousand years - that's 1.3 to 2.3 million times younger than the age accepted by mainstream science.

In this specific example of YECS BiasScience, the driving motivation is an attempt to demonstrate that scientific evidence actually supports a very specific, literal interpretation of Christian scriptures. 

Claims that YECS beliefs are scientific require supporters to:

  1. show conclusively how all current interpretations of mainstream scientific evidence are wrong that support evolution and a universe nearly 14 billion years old.

  2. develop cohesive scientific (natural) theories that explain how all existing natural evidence in the fields of biology, chemistry, physics, geology, paleontology, archeology, and astronomy (to name a few) was formed by natural, processes a few thousand years ago.

  3. provide cohesive scientific theories that explain nearly all of the fossil, geological and climatological evidence, the current distribution of plant and animal species and archeological artifacts in the context of a world-wide flood only 4,300 years ago. 

None of the creationist theories or explanations can employ supernatural intervention or else they would, by definition, no longer be scientific.  This example of BiasScience is discussed in more detail on the BiasScience tab.

Those who's claims and practices fall into the PseudoScience and BiasScience categories are in the awkward position of having to criticize or dismiss the parts of science  that can expose their deceptions (requirements for controlled experiments/observations, transparency of methods, reproducibility of results, the importance of scientific consensus and not using testimonials as proof of claims) while desperately trying to maintain the appearance of scientific legitimacy.

The more you understand how science works the easier it is to evaluate information you have been provided and determine into which category it fits; Science, NotScience, PseudoScience or BiasScience beliefs.

Note: it is a given that those who assign information sources to the two categories above are not those whose work has been labeled Pseudo/Bias-Science.  These who practice Pseudo/Bias-Science would never agree that, "Of course, my theories can't be proven and are thus entirely devoid of scientific validity." or "Naturally, I will go to whatever lengths it takes to make certain 'science' confirms my beliefs."  However, specific processes with checks and balances must be followed to practice legitimate science and obtain reliable information.  Those who employ Pseudo/Bias-Science selectively employ science-like strategies to create an illusion of scientific legitimacy.

GB

Science, as a human endeavor, is far from perfect and all four categories described above are far more complicated than my summary would indicate.  Also, my description of the characteristics of the four categories of knowledge is somewhat idealized.  It is important to realize that scientific research can be extremely complex and there can be hundreds to many thousands of research studies that have been carried out over many years in the effort to understand some aspect of nature.  Another complicating factor is that within the scientific community there is often legitimate disagreement among scientists about which specific theory is best supported by available evidence.

To be very clear, scientists can hold spiritual beliefs - they can be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or any other religion - or they can be agnostic or atheistic.  Individual scientists can believe that the universe reveals the Glory of God, or they can believe there is no spiritual component to the universe - as long as they keep their beliefs from interfering with the practice of science.

Every scientist has personal goals for success, an ego and personality, specific biases, resource limitations, experience and knowledge, ethical standards, and expectations of how a research project will turn out.  These specific individual attributes can compromise the validity of any scientific endeavor no matter how well intentioned.  Overall, however, the processes of science are effective, and the built-in correction mechanisms (including continual research, peer review and reproducibility) enable accurate and useful theories and natural laws to evolve. 

However, it can be a significant challenge to separate legitimate scientific disagreements that are common in any complex scientific discipline from true PseudoScience and BiasScience beliefs, because leaders of the Pseudo/Bias movements desperately try to categorize their beliefs both as scientifically valid alternatives and as the more believable of the legitimate alternatives.  Consequently legitimate disagreements are emphasized to suggest there is no consensus and that the Pseudo/BiasScience beliefs are reasonable alternatives.   If you are serious about understanding how science can be hijacked in an effort to support specific beliefs, this information will hopefully provide useful guidelines.

Two critical ideas to keep in mind and consider as you explore this topic:

  1. If you are not scientifically trained and already an expert in the contentious, emotionally charged subjects you are interested in understanding, how can you determine which positions (and information sources) are scientifically valid and which ones provide information that only appears to be scientific.  Each side of a controversial subject provides sources of information presented as reputable Authorities who provide apparently scientific proof their conclusions are true.  If you are not an experienced scientist able to evaluate all the available evidence, you have no choice but to accept the conclusions of someone who claims to be an Authority on the subject.  But how can legitimate Scientific Authorities be recognized and distinguished from those who create the illusion of science to promote their agenda?  Science impostors can be extremely persuasive - especially if their message is in alignment with your beliefs.

    "When our worldview is at stake, every fact in its favor becomes trustworthy.  Let us take caution, therefore, in how readily we propagate little lies for the sake of a perceived truth. In a world clouded by misinformation, the truth is a needle in a haystack.  Those who sincerely want to learn must navigate first through heavy clamor—a million empty voices claiming authority.  But rarely will they find it, because solid ground has long been hidden beneath the fog of our culture wars." (Jonathan Baker - Age of Rocks)

  2. Science can only provide information about how the natural universe operates.  That explanatory information, no matter how detailed and accurate, does not provide any directions or guidance on how to use that knowledge.  The same scientific knowledge can be used for good or for evil depending on the NotScience beliefs of the scientists themselves, those who regulate the research, those who decide and implement how the scientific knowledge is used, and members of the public who influence policy.

    In a 1955 lecture, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman described this uncomfortable reality, "Once in Hawaii, I was taken to see a Buddhist temple. In the temple, a man said, 'I am going to tell you something that you will never forget. To every man is given the key to Heaven. The same key opens the gates of Hell.' And so it is with science. In a way it is a key to the gates of heaven, and the same key opens the gates of hell, and we do not have any instructions as to which is which gate. Shall we throw away the key and never have a way to enter the gates of heaven? Or shall we struggle with the problem of which is the best way to use the key? That is, of course, a very serious question, but I think that we cannot deny the value of the key to the gates of heaven."

    The fundamental religious, moral , ethical, judicial, philosophical and emotional neutrality of the scientific methods and the information acquired about the natural universe are the reasons for the "struggle with the problem of which is the best way to use the key."  In the real world there is not one gate to heaven and hell - there are countless doors, each with its own key.  Each discovery in any area of science might produce a key that opens a door with a variety of different consequences.  For example:

    • Science provides knowledge and understanding about nuclear technology (the key) but provides no guidance on whether that information should be used to develop new crop varieties and control insects, diagnose and treat medical conditions, build and use a nuclear bomb, date archeological and geological finds, preserve foods &/or generate electricity and heat. 

    • Science provides knowledge and understanding about possible creations based on artificial intelligence (the key) but provides no guidance on whether to try and build self-driving cars or "thinking" androids - or more importantly, what 'values' and limitations to create in those devices designed to act autonomously.

    • Science provides knowledge and understanding about the details of genetics (the key) but provides no guidance on whether genetic testing should be utilized (and if so on which organisms, under what conditions and with what decisions on outcomes) or whether direct genetic manipulation should be implemented (if so, on what organisms and what guidelines should be followed).

    Another important consideration is that any of the keys to heaven/hell can created by anyone, anywhere in the world who can access the knowledge, experience and resources to understand and research a specific aspect of science.

    Consider the science under development in Germany and Japan during WWII.  Both countries had active nuclear energy programs.  It is almost inevitable that scientists in either country would have eventually made the breakthroughs that would have enabled production of nuclear weapons.  We would probably be living in an entirely different reality if the key to the ethically neutral scientific principles of atomic energy had been created by either Germany or Japan before the U.S. forged the key, opened the gate, constructed the bomb and ended the war.

    In the section above, Richard Feynman stated, "...I think that we cannot deny the value of the key to the gates of heaven." even though it is also the key to hell.  I would go a step further and say that it is impossible to selectively shut down scientific research regardless of potential consequences – and irresponsible to even try.  It would be a wonderful solution to the problem of potential personal, national or global harm from scientific discoveries if the "Good Guys" could simply place a moratorium on any scientific research that could possibly produce harmful consequences.  The very real fear and possibility of opening the gates of hell are understandable reasons used to justify various movements designed to try and stop controversial scientific research.

    There are at least two problems with those well meaning efforts.  First, one often does not know which doors will be opened (or how) until the key is forged.  Second, scientific research can't be stopped everywhere.  The only result of successful efforts to shut down scientific research in countries that followed such mandates would be that the same research would be continued elsewhere in countries and regions without any of the moral constraints responsible for halting the research in other areas.  The consequences of such a situation could be catastrophic.  Consider the development of weapons or other dangerous technological innovations in completely immoral, unregulated environments while scientists in countries following the moral research constraints were unable to understand or counter the new threats.  A "Germany with the atomic bomb in 1942" scenario.

A limitation of the information on this page is that it can only provide guidance for how to identify the different types of information and claims you will encounter during your exploration of this topic.  It can't provide specific details or guidelines for every specific piece of pseudo/bias-scientific information you may encounter.  Hopefully the examples discussed will be helpful.  The examples of major scientific theories I discuss here that are under attack by Pseudo/BiasScience are accepted by the overwhelming majority of experts in the various fields of study - regardless of allegations to the contrary by Pseudo/BiasScience promoters.

Unfortunately, the PseudoScience and BiasScience claims can be extremely persuasive and difficult to distinguish from valid scientific knowledge if presented effectively.  Perhaps the best guidance I can provide is to encourage you to always be curious (a better word, I think, than skeptical) about any scientific claims, and then try to understand the scientific consensus and locate unbiased confirmation of any important claims made to sell you an idea, product or service.  If you discover the scientific community rejects the claims, and/or there is no independent validation of the claims, be extremely suspicious that you have encountered an example of Pseudo/BiasScience.  The primary way Pseudo/Bias-Science activists respond to this advice is to claim that mainstream scientists and the mainstream science organizations are part of a conspiracy --- driven by power, greed or ideology --- to suppress the truth and feed the public only lies that benefit the conspirators.

GB

I believe there are three fundamental types of human learning that everyone continually employs throughout their life.  This universality of these information gathering and dispersal strategies contributes to the ease with which anyone can become fooled (either deliberately or unintentionally) into believing that specific Pseudo/BiasScience claims, ideas, products or services have been scientifically validated when, in fact, they have not. 

  1. Use of Trial and Error (T&E) Experimentation and Learning to Gain Knowledge

  2. Dependence on Stories to Communicate Knowledge

  3. Dependence on and Acceptance of Authority to Distribute & Regulate Knowledge

These learning methods are valid and critical components of our understanding the world.  Unfortunately, they can be hijacked by individuals or groups with a BiasScience or PseudoScience agenda to try and deceive people into accepting their beliefs and programs.  The problems and confusion that arise when these information gathering and dispersal strategies are hijacked do not discredit the importance of these learning or communication processes.  Instead they are consequences of not understanding their power to create our beliefs or the ways they can be misunderstood, manipulated and misused to obtain and transmit inaccurate and misleading - sometimes dangerous - information.  I discuss these three learning methods on the Introduction tab.

Consider the fact, as you read this discussion, that (from an evolutionary perspective) all three of these learning processes developed hundreds of thousands of years ago when human communities consisted of small, nomadic family units of hunter-gatherers.  During this time there were no cities (it is believed that cities didn't develop until roughly 12,000 years ago after farming was invented - probably by T&E experimentation), no institutions learning, no Internet.  Most individuals in the community were related, resources were shared and survival (both individual and group) depended on accurate acquisition and communication of knowledge.  An interesting introduction to Hunter Gatherer societies.

Trust and reliability would have been critical, and someone who deliberately communicated false information (cheating and deception) for personal gain at the expense of the small community would likely cause negative consequences for everyone. 

My guess is that as soon as cities developed that contained thousands of unrelated individuals and the division of labor allowed people to specialize in specific jobs, scams became a successful industry.  At that point, any harm done to a few strangers would not be as likely to cause an entire related community to fail.  Scams became successful T&E problem solving strategies for the greedy and unprincipled - if the scammers were effective at communicating a good story and were able to establish themselves as a reliable Authority, their deceptions would create an effective and successful enterprise.

GB

Does common sense, T&E problem solving and experimentation = Science?   Trial and Error Problem Solving Diagram
In a word, No.  Science is, however, an extension (and enhancement) of the trial and error problem solving processes that everyone has grown up with and experiences every day.  T&E experimentation is an attempt to solve a specific problem by using knowledge and experience to develop a plan (or strategy) that works - if the initial plan fails to work or is partly successful the strategy is modified and tried again.  The T&E experiment is concluded when the problem seems to be solved or you run out of time or resources to continue.

You learn basic skills like eating, walking, speaking, reading, swimming, avoiding a hot stove, playing games, tying your shoes, riding a bike and countless others by using T&E experimentation.  Most of your everyday problem solving adventures as an adult continue to rely on basic T&E experimentation.  It is important to remember, however, that T&E experimentation is not automatically the same process as scientific experimentation. 

The goal of T&E experimentation, for example, is not necessarily to understand why a solution worked - when you are learning to ride a bike, you do not need to understand the science of Newton's law of gravitation and gyroscopic stability to keep from falling over, you just have to figure out how to stay upright.

Hopefully the differences between science and T&E experimentation, the reasons why they are confused with each other, and the reasons that confusion leads to beliefs in completely ineffective products (except for possible placebo effects) will become more clear as you read further.

GB As you read details of the four categories describe above by navigating the tabs on this page, I would recommend keeping a separate window open with this comparison chart in a new tab so you can periodically review an overview of different characteristics as additional details are provided.

Introduction

We live in the Information Age - You can find information describing and/or promoting nearly any idea, solution to a problem (real or invented), product or service imaginable:

During the information age, the phenomenon is that the digital industry creates a knowledge-based society surrounded by a high-tech global economy... In a commercialized society, the information industry is able to allow individuals to explore their personalized needs, therefore simplifying the procedure of making decisions for transactions and significantly lowering costs for both the producers and buyers Wikipedia

  - in newspapers, books, flyers and magazines,
  - on TV and radio,
  - from conversations with family, friends and colleagues,
  - on the Internet at the click of a search button,
  - or by issuing verbal commands to your info app.

You probably found my website by searching on some word or phrase of interest to you.  The quote to the right, taken from the Wikipedia Information Age page, gives the impression that the availability and abundance of all this readily available information has made the process of obtaining reliable information easier and more personal. 

I would agree that you can now find highly personalized information very quickly (including specific ads tailored to your prior search patterns - and extremely annoying, to me), but I would not agree that the process of finding useful, reliable information has necessarily been simplified - particularly when trying to find accurate information on complex topics.  There are virtually no controls or regulations for Internet content, and it can be exceedingly difficult to distinguish between accurate, reputable, reliable information and bogus, biased scams.  It has, however, become much easier to locate information that confirms your specific beliefs - whatever they might be.

Anyone can create and distribute practically any content they wish, make almost any claims about products, services or ideas they are trying to promote and state that they have valid scientific evidence to prove their claims - even when no actual scientific evidence exists.  Trying to separate the legitimate claims from misleading and even fraudulent claims can be a significant, difficult and exhausting challenge.

Have you ever been confused and frustrated when your search uncovers conflicting (often mutually exclusive) information when you are looking for answers, and each source claims their specific interpretation of the evidence is the only scientifically valid option?  Since only one side of the conflicting positions can be accurate, how on earth can you determine which one to believe unless you are already an expert on the subject?

Only a few decades ago the availability of information was regulated and filtered by editorial controls and limited by the relatively high cost of printing books, magazines and newspapers, and producing radio, movies and TV content.  It was also far more difficult to locate information on a topic than it is today. 

However, it is safe to say that there were far fewer sources of irrelevant, misleading and inaccurate information to confuse any search for reliable, scientifically valid information several decades ago than there are today.  A basic understanding of what constitutes legitimate science in addition to learning and employing Critical Thinking skills are essential to successful navigation of today's Information Tsunami.

Carl Sagan summarized the importance of understanding science very concisely; "The method of science is tried and true. It is not perfect, it's just the best we have. And to abandon it, with its skeptical protocols, is the pathway to a dark age."  It is clear from Sagan's writings that "the best we have" refers only to scientific methods of understanding the natural universe and has absolutely no reference to the formation, understanding and validation of non-scientific, spiritual, moral, ethical, political, artistic, legal or philosophical beliefs - described here as NotScience.

For many of you who are not scientists, and whose only exposure to the discipline were some introductory classes in school, your perception of science might be a series of fixed, authoritative facts and historical events that you had to memorized and regurgitated on exams --- classes that had to be endured to graduate.  If your early formal science experiences were anything like mine, your biology, chemistry, geology and physics classes may not have equipped you to understand the processes of science as they apply to every-day life or the dynamic, very human endeavor used to explore the natural universe in which we live and attempt to explain and understand. 

My goal is to help you understand both the processes of science and critical thinking so you can untangle legitimate, accurate scientific claims from knowledge based on moral, ethical, spiritual, political, legal, artistic beliefs [those personal or communal convictions that are outside the realm of science] and from the various ways science can be misappropriated, misapplied and misinterpreted consciously or unconsciously to support specific agendas. 

As mentioned in the Bottom Line section, I believe there are three fundamental types of human learning:

  1. Use of Trial and Error (T&E) Experimentation and Learning to Gain Knowledge

  2. Dependence on Stories to Communicate Knowledge

  3. Dependence on and Acceptance of Authority to Distribute & Regulate Knowledge

Unfortunately aspects of these learning processes contribute to the ease with which anyone can become fooled (either deliberately or unintentionally) into believing that an idea, product or service has been scientifically validated when, in fact, it has not.  These characteristics are critical components for our understanding of (and surviving in) the world, so the problem is not with the processes.  Problems result from the consequences of not understanding their power and limitations, from individuals and groups exploiting these characteristics to further their agenda and from the deliberate manipulation of these processes by unprincipled individuals to harm others.

Let's examine these three types of learning in detail:

  1. Trial and Error (T&E) Experimentation and Learning to Gain Knowledge:  As noted on the Bottom Line tab, a significant amount of our learning and problem solving involves personal trial and error.  We need to find an answer to some problem we've encountered, so we draw on the knowledge and experiences we already have to devise a possible plan of action.  We then experiment - try the proposed plan to see if it solves the problem.  If it seems to be effective, great we have succeeded.  If not, we tweak our plan based on the errors our previous attempt caused and try again - repeating the process until we are successful or our resources for further experimentation are exhausted.

    • Raccoon Trial and ErrorHumans are not unique:  Other animals successfully employ T&E experimentation - have you ever tried to keep a squirrel or raccoon out of a bird feeder or noticed how quickly your pet learned how to manipulate your behavior to their benefit?  Animals can even learn by observing the behavior of others.  The Raccoon T&E Challenge (no Java)  It is interesting to observe in the following examples how different animals are able to employ their intelligence and prior experiences to plan a strategy to solve a problem instead of just stumbling around: pigeon, chimpanzee, crow, octopus, dog, another crow, squirrel, cockatoo, cat, chimpanzee collaboration, dolphin, rat

    • Humans are unique though:  We can communicate the results of our T&E experiments to others using our distinctive language skills to tell detailed stories - and perhaps save family, friends and others the time, effort, costs and risks of having to do their own T&E experimentation.  Animals are capable of communicating the results of T&E solutions to others by visual demonstrations, the bee dance is a good example of communicating the direction, distance and quantity of a food source to hive-mates.  According to Duke professor Matt Cartmill, however, "They can all communicate in one way or another--to lure mates, at the very least--but their whinnies and wiggles don't do the jobs that language does. The birds and beasts can use their signals to attract, threaten, or alert each other, but they can't ask questions, strike bargains, tell stories, or lay out a plan of action."

    • As effective and necessary as T&E experimentation is, the process is not science because the goals are different and it lacks the controls necessary to prevent personal biases from influencing both the processes and the interpretation of the outcomes. 

      • Diagram - Trial and Error Problem SolvingT&E does not require an understanding of natural laws or any theories of why an experiment is successful --- the underlying cause and effect relationships science attempts to discover --- to be effective.  The goal is simply to find a solution that appears to work in a particular situation using whatever existing knowledge, resources and processes are available.  To the extent that the T&E process uncovers real cause and effects relationships, legitimate conclusions can be made about the workings of nature, and it is part of the scientific processes.

      • An example of how T&E experimentation can produce a fairly sophisticated solution without understanding the process would be the discovery of soap nearly 5,000 years ago in Babylon.  Apparently someone mixed ash from a fire (which contains potassium hydroxide) with fat from a recent meal and discovered that the resulting compound had a new characteristic.  Normally fats and oils will not dissolve in water, but when this new compound was added to water, the resulting solution enabled fats and oils to dissolve and be washed away.  No understanding of saponification (the chemistry of soap making) was necessary, and additional T&E experiments could be carried out to refine the process of making more pure and effective soap products.  Throughout subsequent years the process was improved until soap-making became an industry.  Understanding of how the soap-making  process could be controlled and modified also evolved over the years and became more scientific as the underlying chemistry was researched and understood.

        Probably most human inventions from more than a few hundred years ago began as T&E experiments and became more-or-less scientific as they evolved and the underlying natural cause and effects became better understood. 

      • Because controls to reduce bias and confirmation of a real cause and effect solution are not required in T&E experimentation, an apparent solution to a problem can be found that can fool the unwary into believing there is an actual cause and effect relationship when there is none.  A classic example - How to win a game:

        • A baseball player wears a pair of new socks during a spectacularly successful game, and since that was the only thing obviously different they might have contributed to the success.

        • The socks are worn during the next three games which the team also wins, and the player seems to have better than normal batting and fielding success.

        • The socks are in the wash during the fifth game and the team loses.

        • Socks are back on the feet during the next two games and the team wins.

        • Wearing the good-luck socks works!  It is now a fundamental game ritual.  T&E experimentation has clearly demonstrated that the socks caused the player and the team to be successful.

        • It may be possible that wearing the socks helps the player calm down and focus on the game (a placebo effect) or, if they are missing, become agitated and sloppy (the nocebo effect).  However, it is most unlikely that these placebo totems can have any measurable, independent power to influence the outcome of any game -- no matter how many sports participants have 'good-luck charms' of some kind.

        • This is exactly the same process of incorrectly assigning a cause and effect relationship that is responsible for the many stories (uncontrolled testimonials) used to support the apparent effectiveness of thousands of products which have no independently verifiable (i.e. scientific) evidence that they actually work.

        Homeopathy is a notable example of T&E experimentation which seemed to cure a variety of health problems, yet (as described in the Science section) performed no better than placebos when blinded, controlled scientific experiments were performed.

        Hypothetical Experiment: Imagine that you have a headache, you and drink a glass of alkaline water, take a homeopathic remedy, chew some willow bark, put on a magnetic bracelet, or try some other T&E experimental cure and your headache disappears.  It is easy to conclude that your specific experiment was successful and whatever you tried caused your cure.  If you tried this 'solution' several more times with the same results you might be convinced that the specific 'cure' was legitimate and create a testimonial to inform others of your experience. 

        The problem with that conclusion is that there may be many other possible causes for the 'cure' you experienced besides the 'solution' you tried.  The actual causes often can't be identified unless controlled, scientific experiments are performed that minimize biases and identify the actual cause and effect relationships - which might be a placebo effect, normal healing, a behavior change or a number of other possibilities.  Another problem with relying on testimonials to prove effectiveness is that you generally only hear positive stories - there is no way to know how many people who tried the same 'cure' experienced no effect or even negative consequences.

        Of the hypothetical headache treatments listed above, the only one which can be demonstrated effective by legitimate scientific studies is chewing willow bark which contains salicin, a relative of aspirin. 

    • T&E experimentation and problem solving processes are not limited to solving physical problems - answering questions and discovering how to solve problems in the natural world.  Everyone uses the methods of T&E to evaluate whether specific NotScience knowledge works for them individually or for their community.  A painter can experiment with different styles to decide on one to pursue.  A lawyer can experiment to determine what type of law to practice.  A musician can experiment to find the most enjoyable style of music to perform.

    The Trial & Error experimentation process is fundamental not only to human learning, but in varying degrees, to any living organism that has the capability to make some behavioral change in response to its environment.  The T&E experimentation process contributes to evolution - organisms that make a successful response to environmental challenges survive and reproduce, perhaps transferring characteristics that led to the successful experiment to the next generation. 

    Like humans, a number of animals can learn to solve relatively complex problems using T&E and even by observing others (as shown in the examples listed above).  However, it is doubtful they understand the underlying processes (cause and effect relationships) responsible for their success.  Only humans, as far as we know, have the capability to understand the universe in which we live and make informed predictions based on that understanding - and it is the methods of science that enable humans to extend T&E experimentation and obtain an accurate, unbiased understanding of the natural world and pass that information on to others. 

    So, while T&E experimentation can produce real solutions to an immediate problem, always remember that stories about T&E solutions can't be trusted to be anything more than illusions of effectiveness without scientific confirmation of an actual cause and effect relationship.  What confirms a proposed T&E solution as scientifically valid is not testimonials of apparent effectiveness, it is the additional scientific methods that can conclusively demonstrate a real cause and effect relationships and minimize various biases.

    However, science can be complicated and the scientific conclusions accepted by most experts can sometimes be in conflict with your biases and desires. In those cases, it can be easier and much more comfortable to disregard the scientific conclusions and rely on T&E solutions.

  2. Dependence on Stories to Communicate Knowledge:  Consider how we all receive much of our information about how the world works and how we fit into the overall scheme - through stories.  Long before our ancestors learned to record stories (in writing and later on tape, film and digitally) personal word of mouth stories conveyed important information ("Truths") from person to person and from generation to generation about how to survive.  Those who survived the challenges of life were able to communicate their successful strategies to others through their stories. 

    Humans are unique in our ability to communicate tremendously detailed knowledge from person to person and from generation to generation.  Without this ability to communicate survival instructions and other information, everyone would have to learn everything about the world from scratch - mostly by trial and error - there would be NO existing body of knowledge to jumpstart the process of learning.  Reliable descriptions of nature (scientific knowledge) enable us to deal with known (solved) problems and predict possible solutions to deal with new problems.

    The potential difficulties with depending on stories about results of the T&E experiences of others is that, without some sort of controlled validation, there is no way to be certain the communicated solution is valid.  Always remember how easy it is to create a convincing story that is completely fabricated - that story can be used either to entertain or to scam you depending on the ethics and goals of the storyteller.  Also, as noted above, stories that are believed to be true because of personal experiences may have other explanations for the observed results.

  3. Dependence on and Acceptance of Authority to Regulate Knowledge:  Consider that from birth until mid to late teens (and beyond) we are all dependent on accepting some Authority figures in our lives (parents/family, teachers/mentors, spiritual/government leaders) who communicate the stories of accumulated knowledge and instruct us in what to believe, what knowledge to acquire, how to interpret the world and how to act in society.  When we are adults we continue to accept various types and levels of Authority that we use to provide (hopefully) reliable information and guidance when we do not completely understand a situation and require assistance - and we may establish our own Authority to instruct others.  Depending on our ethics and skill, our Authority can also be used to scam others.

    Always remember how easy it is believe a story (whether it's true or false) that is well presented by someone who has established themselves as an Authority in a particular subject.  Always question a story-teller's motives (which can be good or bad) and confirm their credentials (which can be non-existent if they are a good enough story-teller).

As you compare Science, NotScience, PseudoScience & BiasScience you will discover that all of them depend on using or misusing the 3 types of learning described above. 

Summary

Uses and Misuses of Knowledge:
Below is an outline that summarizes my understanding of the different ways humans try to understand the world they inhabit and their place in it.
Characteristic Science and the Scientific Method NotScience: Politics, Religion, Arts, Laws, Ethics, Philosophy, Emotions, etc.. PseudoScience BiasScience
Goal To accurately understand and explain the natural laws and processes by which the known universe operates - discover cause and effect relationships. 
That knowledge can be used to make predictions which can be tested scientifically.  If math were part of this discussion it would be related to science's goals of understanding the real world.
To explain & understand non-scientific aspects of humanity including beliefs that involve spirituality, purpose, morals, values, beauty, philosophy, arts, government, politics, emotions, laws, etc.  These beliefs and attributes ultimately dictate how scientists behave and how scientific facts are discovered, interpreted and used. To create a 'reality' that matches one's desires and/or expectations.  That pseudo-reality is fabricated, but it provides an illusion of authenticity by the use of scientific-sounding jargon,  pseudo-experiments, & uncontrolled observations that can't be duplicated or validated by others.  This fabricated scientific-appearing legitimacy helps sell products, services or ideas. To create a 'reality' that matches one's religious, political, philosophical or ethical beliefs and biases by selectively using the methods of science to collect &/or produce 'edited' evidence that appears to validate one's beliefs.
Approach Empirical - The focus is on evidence in the natural world that can be demonstrated to be true by anyone using controlled experiments &/or observations.  The methods of science require critical thinking. Intuitive - The focus is on evidence that is believed to be true and supported by an Authoritative source &/or by one's convictions, faith, biases, passions or principles.  Many of these disciplines employ critical thinking. Goal-Driven - 'Evidence' is collected (without any controls to reduce bias) that seems to explain a cause and effect relationship.  'Evidence' can also be invented to appear true. Goal-Driven - The focus is on evidence that can be made to appear true and supportive of beliefs and biases.
Process General Example:
1.  Formulate question.
2. Develop a hypothesis.
3. Generate testable prediction(s).
4. Test predictions using well documented, controlled observation or experimentation.
5. Analyze results to determine validity of the hypothesis.
No formal process exists that would apply to all NotScience disciplines.  In each discipline information is collected, analyzed, evaluated and conclusions presented according to the practices relevant to the discipline. Not Applicable - whatever processes work to support the expected/desired outcome are used. The same processes as science are employed - in theory - but each step is controlled by biases and expectation rather than impartiality.
Data | Evidence: Collection of information from observations & measurements Data/Evidence must be collected using measurements and interpreted without bias.  Anyone can follow the published methods and obtain the same results.  Two types of evidence:
  1. quantitative (numbers)
  2. qualitative (descriptions)
Data/Evidence cannot be collected to prove that a specific spiritual, ethical, political or artistic belief is True or False.  However, that does not prevent the interpretation of information to support a specific position. Goal-Driven - Data/Evidence is custom-collected or created as needed to describe an imaginary  process, provide 'proof' of effectiveness for some product or demonstrate the 'truth' of an idea believed to be true. Goal-Driven - Data/Evidence is selectively collected and interpreted to support a specific position.
Data Collection -  Observations:
Two types:
Uncontrolled - personal testimonials (anecdotes) Controlled - observations collected using a defined methodology
Uncontrolled Observations provide ideas for further research.
Controlled
Observations produce reliable, reproducible evidence & reduce bias inherent in uncontrolled observations.
Both Uncontrolled and Controlled Observations can be used to evaluate the truth and validity of one's personal or communal beliefs.  However, someone with different beliefs will form different conclusions based on observations of the same available evidence.  There is no scientific way to determine or prove which beliefs are  true or false, good or bad, right or wrong. Uncontrolled Observations are used to provide 'evidence' that demonstrates the 'truth' of marketing claims &/or strongly held beliefs. Both Uncontrolled and Controlled Observations are selected, interpreted, and presented so they can provide 'evidence' to demonstrate the truth of strongly held beliefs.
Data Collection -  Experimentation: Test cause and effect predictions using a controlled process that minimizes bias Controlled to produce reproducible evidence & reduce bias. 
Science is Transparent - methods and results are shared and can be evaluated and replicated by other impartial scientists.
Not Possible - scientific experiments can be used to reveal consequences of actions based on specific beliefs but not to prove that a belief is true or false, good or bad, right or wrong, etc.
The relevance and application of Transparency depends on the specific type of NotScience.
Not Applicable or Goal-Driven and edited to produce 'evidence' that supports marketing claims or strong beliefs. 
Pseudoscience is not Transparent.  Methods are not shared, and results can't be replicated by impartial researchers.
Results from legitimate research are selectively used, 'Cherry Picked', to support strong beliefs.  Goal-Driven 'research' (often missing bias controls) can also be employed to create supporting evidence.
Analysis of Evidence Methods like blinding to reduce bias and statistical analysis to assess probability are employed. Scientific methods of analysis can be used to  reveal consequences of actions based on specific beliefs but not to prove that a belief is true or false, good or bad, right or wrong, etc. Goal-Driven and edited to produce 'evidence' that supports marketing claims or strong beliefs.  Results can't be replicated by impartial researchers. Analyses that support strong beliefs are selectively used.
Conclusions Conclusions are made after data/evidence has been collected (as described above) and analyzed.  All conclusions: hypotheses, theories and natural laws, are testable by anyone, anywhere, and all conclusions are provisional (i.e. subject to change). Conclusions are made based on Personal Beliefs and often on the acceptance of Authority.  The truth or validity of personal or communal beliefs can't be tested by any methods of science. Conclusions exist independently of any repeatable, verifiable evidence.  'Evidence' is collected (or invented) and presented to support specific pre-existing conclusions.  New Conclusions can also be created based on uncontrolled observations. Evidence is selected, interpreted and presented to support specific pre-existing beliefs.  Conclusions are not subject to change based on an impartial evaluation of all available evidence.
Consensus The collective judgment, position, and opinion of the community of scientists in a particular field of study (and at a specific point in time) about what constitutes accurate theories, and other valid descriptions of nature - consensus can also exist across scientific disciplines. There is agreement only among believers within specific religious, philosophical, political, artistic, etc. groups on what constitutes Truth and how the available evidence is selected and interpreted to explain and support the Truth of their beliefs - and cast doubt on those who hold different beliefs. There is agreement only within communities of specific believers of  pseudo-doctrines, pseudo-theories and unsubstantiated claims.  Legitimate scientists ignore these claims unless real, reproducible evidence is presented and tested - if validated the claims become science. There is agreement on the selection and interpretation of evidence only among believers of specific religious, philosophical, ethical, &/or political doctrines.  Evidence interpretations and conclusions are contrary to the consensus of the overall scientific community.
Predictive Ability The methods of science only work if nature is predictable.  Since described cause and effect relationships are consistent, scientific knowledge can then be used to make testable predictions about the natural world/universe. Not Applicable:  Beliefs that involve spirituality, purpose, ethics, values, beauty, philosophy, government, laws, etc. can't be used to predict new beliefs in the same way that science uses established knowledge to make predictions about nature. None - since proposed pseudo-theories are not developed using the scientific method to establish demonstrable cause and effect relationships, those pseudo-theories can't be used to predict anything about the natural world. Nothing useful - only a carefully selected subset of the available scientific evidence is actually used to support beliefs.  Any selected evidence would, by definition, lead to desired predictions.
Processes for Correction and Revision of theories and natural laws This is part of the scientific method.  If other scientists are consistently unable to duplicate results of an observational or experimental study, or if new, different, reliable information becomes available, any theories that depend on it will be modified or rejected. Since experiments can't be used to prove a belief is true or false, good or bad, right or wrong, etc., the only way for change to occur is if the community consensus, or Authority Proclamations, change for some reason - or if someone decides to establish their own Truth. There are no corrective processes for claims based on PseudoScience.  The claims will continue to be used as long as they are effective at selling a product or idea. Correction, in the context of adjusting theories and claims based on new more reliable evidence, does not apply since the original intent is to provide biased information to support a belief.
Ethics A Complex Relationship:
1.  Personal morals, beliefs, goals, philosophy, etc. determine what scientific knowledge will be studied.
2. The processes of science only work if scientists agree to follow basic ethical research practices.
3. The actual knowledge gained by science, is ethically neutral.
4. The uses of scientific knowledge are dictated and evaluated by ethical beliefs.
Beliefs within the 'NotScience' realm define what is ethical.  Different individuals and groups can (and do) come to different conclusions about what is/isn't ethical human behavior.  I am not aware of any impartial methods for validating specific ethical beliefs as Universally True.
The methods of science can't define or test ethical or moral beliefs.
The label PseudoScience refers to any 'theories', beliefs or practices, for which claims of scientific validity are made, yet applying the actual processes of science have repeatedly failed to provide any evidence to support those claims. Uses of PseudoScientific information are dictated and evaluated by the ethical beliefs of those using the information. A person's or group's ethical beliefs can determine how they use scientific knowledge to support their specific political, religious or philosophical positions.  Is it ethical to extract and present only that evidence that supports a specific position?  Science can't answer that question. 
Learning -
Trial & Error Experimentation
T&E experimentation is a significant component of legitimate science.  There are two additional aspects, however:
1.  Controls to minimize personal biases from influencing the design and interpretation of experiments
2. The construction of theories which enable knowledge gained from experiments to be used to design additional experiments.
T&E experimentation is a significant component of NotScience.  Everyone uses the methods of T&E to evaluate whether the specific NotScience knowledge works for them individually or for their community.  For most of the NotScience categories, (Politics, Religion, Arts, Laws, Ethics, Philosophy, etc.) experimentation can be used to generate new knowledge, but unlike science, there is no way to independently, impartially validate that information. T&E experimentation is the only component of PseudoScience - there are no controls.  If some trial or experiment seems to solve a given problem that's the only thing that matters.  If the trial actually produces a legitimate solution, great.  If not -- if the presumed solution was not the real solution and only seemed to work -- there are no processes in place to identify the problem or correct the error. T&E experimentation is a significant component of BiasScience.  Experimentation is done to determine which specific information is effective when presented to the public so the desired interpretation of the scientific results can be communicated successfully.
Learning - Stories Stories that describe the experiments and results that can be examined and duplicated by others are critical to communicating scientific knowledge and theories.  Two key components of science are building on previous knowledge of nature and exposing poorly conducted science. Stories communicate the accumulated wisdom in all the NonScience categories to others.  Non verbal 'stories' can also be communicated in art and music. Personal stories about how a problem seems to have been solved are the primary method of communicating information to others.  PseudoScience produces no knowledge or theories about the natural world that can be used as a foundation for future understanding.  At best, observations can provide a starting point for scientific discovery. Stories convey and enhance the scientific information selected for communication to the public.
Learning - Authority Knowledge of the natural world/universe is transmitted as theories and natural laws.  Each discipline will have experts who are regarded as knowledgeable Authorities.  Textbooks often send the false message that there is a fixed scientific Doctrine.  However, there is no ultimate authority in the realm of science.  Any theory that appears true at some point in time potentially can be modified or overturned with additional knowledge.  Consensus within the scientific community determines theories accepted as valid at a given time. Methods of experimental and observational science cannot be used to test or prove whether any NotScience beliefs and positions are true or false, moral or immoral, right or wrong, good or evil, beautiful or ugly.  Consequently, believers in a specific position must accept their own interpretations of 'reality' or  the pronouncements of some Authority or as True.  In some instances a population can be forced to accept a position believed true by an Authority. Those who create claims about the natural world/universe that have not (and cannot) be independently validated by science must set themselves up as Authorities to convince others to believe in their creations.  No other independent processes exist  that can validate their claims.  So, there are numerous self-proclaimed Authorities.  There is no such thing as PseudoScientific Consensus. Those who extract and present the selected evidence to support their beliefs must establish themselves as Authorities to convince the public that their position - and not the scientific consensus - is True.
By definition the beliefs of those who practice BiasScience run counter to the Scientific Consensus.  Also by definition, the evidence they believe supports their passionately held beliefs has already been evaluated by the scientific community and has been found to be NOT SUFFICIENT to change the Scientific Consensus.

Science and the Scientific Method

Diagram - Scientific Method Flow ChartScience is both the accumulated body of knowledge about how the natural world operates and the processes used to acquire that knowledge (collectively called the Scientific Method).  The Scientific Method includes investigating, observing, and experimenting to acquire reliable, reproducible knowledge and clearly communicating that knowledge to others so the conclusions can be tested and validated. 

Effective implementation of science also requires Critical Thinking strategies to create and implement effective study plans and accurately analyze the results.  All components of the Scientific Method were developed to minimize bias, identify the result of errors and poorly done science and correct them, if possible.

In contrast to T&E experimentation described in the introduction, science is more than just solving a specific problem by trying different solutions to find one that seems to work, although that is an important component.  The goals of science are to understand why a solution works, confirm that there really is a natural cause and effect relationship between the problem and an apparent solution and then use that knowledge to increase understanding of the natural world.  That reliable knowledge can then be used to make successful predictions and create additional solutions that will solve future problems without having to start over each time.

Before reviewing a fairly detailed description of ten characteristics of science and the scientific method, there are several key points to keep in mind:

Ten Characteristics of Science:    Open a summary  (no Java)  |  Compare 10 Characteristics

An excellent example to demonstrate how PseudoScience differs from science is  The Dragon In My Garage analogy from Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World

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Hypothesis: "A Fire-Breathing Dragon lives in my garage"

Suppose I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you'd want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

  • "Show me," you say.

    • I lead you to my garage.

  • You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle--but no dragon.

  • "Where's the dragon?" you ask.

    • "Oh, she's right here," I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon."

  • You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints.

    • "Good idea," I say, "but this dragon floats in the air."

  • Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

    • "Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless."

  • You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

    • "Good idea, but she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick."

  • And so on.

I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work. Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?

If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists?

Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.

What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.

Carl Sagan. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Ballantine: New York, 1996.

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This analogy of a PseudoScientific construct is in no way a proof that God and a spiritual realm do not exist, only that any spiritual beliefs are based entirely on faith and not physical, scientific - testable - reproducible evidence as described in the list of characteristics to the left. 

For those who are Christians,  2 Corinthians 5:6-7 provides sound advice, "We know that while we are at home in the body [i.e. living in the natural world] we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.

All NotScience beliefs depend on faith in (and an acceptance of)  evidence that cannot be tested (either validated or disproved) by any scientific process.

Everyone, scientists included, employs their personal faith in NotScience areas to make sense of the world and interpret all phenomena in the realms religion, love, art, beauty, appreciation of nature, ethics, honor,  morality, good/evil, freedom, philosophy, politics, laws, etc.

None of the NotScience beliefs can be tested by the methods of science.  Try, for example, to design a scientific test that will prove which political party has the Best, most accurate understanding of economics and the best, most effective plan for economic stimulation, Republicans or Democrats - or another group?

One can design observations and experiments to measure the actual economic outcomes of different plans, but every one will have their own, personal interpretation of what 'Best' means: best for them? best for the top earners? best for the short term? best for the long term? best for the under privileged? Best for...?  The validity of what the term 'Best' means to any individual or group can't be tested scientifically.

Similarly, everyone has their own, personal interpretation of what constitutes a moral or immoral act, a good or a bad law or government regulation, a good or evil deed, a beautiful or ugly picture, sculpture or musical composition - some people prefer rap to Beethoven, Picasso to Rembrandt or more government welfare to less, for example.  Are birth control and water boarding (or countless other human behaviors) ethical or unethical, etc., etc.  The validity of any of these personal values and beliefs can't be tested scientifically.

  1. Science is concerned only with the description, investigation and understanding of the natural world.  Scientific knowledge involves only the investigation, discovery and understanding of the physical and chemical laws that govern the universe. 

    Scientific understanding involves discovering natural Cause and Effect Relationships between events.  Once natural cause and effect relationships have been understood, it is possible to make and test predictions about other natural phenomena (related cause and effect relationships). 
    For example, the existence of Neptune was predicted using Newton's law of gravity and perturbations in the orbit of Uranus. Einstein's theory of general relativity predicted that massive objects would distort space-time and bend light.  Maxwell's work on electric and magnetic fields led to the prediction of radio waves. 

    By definition, an observation or cause and effect relationship can never include any references to a supernatural, magical, paranormal or spiritual explanation - not because they can't possibly be causes, but they do not meet the requirement of natural events.  As a result, there is no possible way to test or evaluate those beliefs as causes of natural effects using any process of science. 

    Consequently, belief in paranormal, supernatural, magical or spiritual causes must always depend on faith alone and not scientific evidence.

  2. Scientific understanding involves discovering Natural Cause and Effect Relationships between events.  In order to discover or demonstrate a valid cause and effect relationship between two events five criteria must be met:

    1. Any ideas proposed to explain cause and effect relationships must be testable.  It must be possible to devise an observation or experiment that is able to actually demonstrate that a proposed cause leads to an expected effect.  In other words, observable, measurable expectations must be established that would demonstrate that a proposed cause actually leads to the expected effect. 

    2. Any scientific idea of a proposed solution (hypothesis) must be falsifiable.  In other words, if it is not possible to prove a suggested phenomena or cause and effect relationship is wrong, the idea is not scientific. 

      Read Carl Sagan's fire-breathing dragon example to the right and the proposed experiments to prove it exists.  The way Sagan defines his 'reality', there is no way his belief in the dragon could ever be proven false.

    3. The proposed cause must be shown to always occur before the effect (in the same frame of reference), but that relationship does not, by itself, prove causation - see point v.

    4. A consistent relationship between the presumed cause and the alleged effect must be clearly demonstrated - in other words, whenever the cause is observed the effect will be also be detected, and the effect will not be observed without first witnessing the causal event.  Again, demonstrating a consistent relationship is not sufficient evidence to prove causation - see point v.

    5. All Other possible causes of the effect must be ruled out.  Controlled observations or experiments must be conducted to identify the actual cause of an effect that's under investigation.

      This is probably the most challenging component of demonstrating a true cause and effect relationship.  In many cases it is not an isolated cause and effect event that is being studied - there is a lot of other 'stuff' going on at the same time that can conceal or imitate a real cause and effect relationship.

      These distractions (confounding factors) can consist of both random and correlated events.  Correlated events occur at roughly the same time and have Autism Rates and Organic Food Sales Correlationsimilar patterns, so they appear to be related.  However, as demonstrated in the graph to the right, which shows a strong correlation between autism rates and organic food sales, simply establishing correlations is meaningless without investing the time and other resources necessary to actually control for possible confounding factors and demonstrate a real cause and effect relationship. 

      In this study Ken Perrott counters the claims of fluoridation opponents that ADHD is caused by exposure to the fluoride ion with with startling evidence that the condition is actually linked to elevation.  Many BiasScience arguments confuse correlation and causation.

      As discussed further in both the PseudoScience and BiasScience sections, the strategy of assigning specific cause and effect relationships to events that can, at best, only be shown to be correlated, is used to try and validate ideas, products or services when claims of effectiveness can't be demonstrated using scientific methods.

    Wiki Definitions:

    A scientific hypothesis is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon.  For a hypothesis to be a scientific hypothesis, the scientific method requires that one can test it.  Scientists generally base scientific hypotheses on previous observations that cannot satisfactorily be explained with the available scientific theories.

    A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is acquired through the scientific method and repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation.

    A scientific theory is the ability to make predictions and provide some explanatory insights as to why something happens.  These insights are used to develop further predictions and theories.  Scientific theories generally have both predictive power and explanatory capability. 

    Einstein's Theory of Relativity began to explain what gravity is and why Newton's Law of Gravity actually worked.

    A scientific law is a statement based on repeated experimental observations that describes some aspects of the universe.  A scientific law always applies under the same conditions, and implies that there is a causal relationship involving its elements.

    Laws differ from scientific theories in that they do not posit a mechanism or explanation of phenomena: they are merely distillations of the results of repeated observation.  

    Newton's Law of Gravity describes how two different bodies in the universe interact with each other.  Newton’s law doesn’t explain what gravity is, or how it works.

    A comprehensive understanding of how cause and effect relationships work throughout all of nature is the goal of science.  In most cases, though, the fundamental, underlying causes involved are not easily discovered. 

    A progressively better understanding of different aspects of nature usually evolves over time: first as the more obvious and easily studied cause and effect relationships are investigated and understood; then as knowledge increases, new relationships and more complex and deeply buried cause and effect relationships can be discovered and tested.  Science is an evolutionary process - constantly changing as new evidence is acquired and integrated into the existing theories, used to create new theories and even overturn old theories.

    • With the study of gravity, for example, probably the earliest observation made by our ancestors was that most objects did not remain suspended in the air and that stepping off a cliff had significant effects.  In the 17th century Newton described the force of gravity as a cause that had specific effects on matter that could explain observable behaviors of objects from falling apples to the orbits of planets - even enabling the prediction of an 8th planet, Neptune, in the mid 1800s from irregularities noticed in the orbit of Uranus.  No one understood what caused gravity, however.  The underlying causes remained unknown until Einstein introduced his general theory of relativity in 1915 that proposed gravity was caused by spacetime curvature.  The search for an even greater understanding of the fundamental causes of gravity has currently moved into the realm of quantum mechanics.

    • In another example, the modern theory of evolution by natural selection developed over several hundred years as Darwin and other scientists proposed various cause and effect relationships that would explain the distribution and diversity of plant, animal and microbial species currently alive and preserved as fossils.  Until the structure of DNA and its role in storing and transmitting molecular instructions to new generations were proposed by Watson and Crick in 1953 there was no viable hypothesis (proposed cause) that could explain the mechanisms of evolution (effect).  The discipline of molecular evolution has continued to evolve as additional details of cause and effect relationships between gene structure and function are discovered.

    Interrelationship of Scientific DisciplinesNot only does knowledge within all of the different branches and disciplines of science evolve over time, but because, as far as we know, there is only one 'Nature' that is being studied, all scientific disciplines are interrelated in one manner or another - theories and predictions in chemistry support biological theories, geological research supports evolutionary theories, research in physics supports astronomical theories, etc.

    In all these examples, and for all other legitimate scientific research, it is important to understand that at each step of the learning and understanding process the five criteria listed above must be met. 

    At no point during an investigation can a scientist step back in either awe or frustration and conclude that, if a cause for a specific phenomenon that's being studied is not obvious, seems too complex or can't be identified using current methods or technology, its ok to invoke supernatural intervention

    Supernatural intervention can't be ruled out, but that possible explanation is completely outside the realm of science, and there is absolutely no way to test whether that conclusion is true or false or what sort of entity or force might have been responsible.

    Providing a supernatural explanation for any natural event stops science in its tracks - everything is suddenly perfectly explained, there's no need to continue studying the event.  Invoking a supernatural or spiritual cause for natural phenomena also provides no useful theories that can be used to predict future natural events or understand any natural phenomena - absolutely anything can be explained by paranormal, supernatural, magical or spiritual intervention - and ultimately that explains nothing about how the natural world operates.

  3. Science must be Objective:  Accurate descriptions and cause and effect relationships are discovered by observing, measuring and characterizing natural phenomena and by designing and performing experiments to collect and interpret evidence while minimizing personal biases.  Humans can have extremely strong biases, prejudices and expectations - they are also very creative.  It follows that any processes of discovery must be designed and implemented to minimize these distractions that can easily compromise the validity of any data collection process.

    Once compromised, all observations or experiments that were influenced by bias, prejudice and expectation can be expected to provide exactly the results that were desired regardless of reality - at that point the results have moved into the realms of BiasScience or PseudoScience.

    The necessary objectivity of science is related to its moral neutrality (#9).  Extremely strong moral (or other non-science) beliefs can introduce strong biases in the public and scientists that can compromise objectivity of research and understanding of the results.

  4. By definition the natural world and natural cause and effect relationships can only be observed, measured and tested using our 5 basic senses (sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing), perhaps some of our lesser known senses and employing the multitude of tools developed to enhance our senses (cameras, x-ray, microscopes, telescopes, spectrometers, thermometers, Large Hadron Collider, etc.).

    Claims of special powers and senses ('psychic' powers, personal sensitivity to not-natural phenomena like special energy fields, spiritual entities, psychic forces, etc.) and the ability to use special tools (dowsing rods, Ouija boards, tea leaves, planetary alignments, etc.) to understand, describe and control elements within the natural, physical world are rejected by scientists.  Scientists are not inherently prejudiced against these ideas - If true, these claims would be enormously important and exciting. 

    The problem is, that those who believe that special powers and senses exist have NEVER been able to make specific predictions based on their alleged special attributes that meet ANY of the basic criteria of science.  As soon as basic controls are implemented to remove the possibility of manipulating the outcome, all experiments to test the claims suddenly fail - ALWAYS!  If it were otherwise, these claims would become legitimate scientific theories.  Listen carefully to excuses provided by those who fail these controlled experiments, and also notice the details required to set up a fair, controlled experiment: Dowsing, Psychic Powers, Psychic Tests, Dynactiv Wristband, Remote Viewing (starts at 9min 37sec), Energy Emission, Astrology

  5. Science is Transparent and Assumes the Consistency and Predictability of Nature.  Scientific results are Reproducible.  Components of (and interactions within) nature can be observed by anyone using their senses, and it is possible for anyone (with the right skills, knowledge and tools) to perform tests that can prove or disprove any alleged scientifically valid cause and effect relationships.  In other words, science does not involve a body of hidden knowledge, evidence or rituals that only those initiated into the 'inner circle' can reference.  It is true that it takes training, experience and resources to be an effective science, but any scientist anywhere should be able to duplicate the findings of any legitimate, well-documented experiment or observation.

    Science also assumes that natural processes operate the same way anywhere in the universe - consistent and predictable - there aren't special hidden regions where one-of-a-kind events take place that can only be observed by specially gifted individuals.  As illustrated by Sagan's Dragon In My Garage analogy, the universe doesn't operate differently in a specific area to enable a unique creation to exist - or if it does, the methods of science can't deal with it.

  6. Science is a Human Endeavor - Consequently:

    • Scientists are afflicted with human eccentricities:  Scientists may be well trained in specific areas, but like everyone, they all have different personal attributes - biases, beliefs, egos, personalities, ethical standards, limitations of knowledge and experience, goals, resources, etc.  Any of these attributes can influence how individual scientists conduct their observations and research, determine the quality of their results, and dictate how they interpreted their own results and the findings of others.  A single study is usually never a sufficient justification to make any scientific judgment, and that is why the concept of reproducibility of studies by other scientists is critical.  Review of scientific studies by other experts is also an extremely important component of the methods of science.

    • Science is often messy - particularly when dealing with complex issues.  Just because the processes and collected knowledge of science are transparent does not mean there are not disputes and conflicts among scientists regarding the results of observational and experimental research.  Conflicting evidence can easily arise because of the human factors described above.  Legitimate scientific experiments and observations on exactly the same subject can be designed, carried out and interpreted quite differently by different individuals.  These differences can lead to contradictory conclusions.  Throw into the mix conclusions based on PseudoScience and BiasScience, and it is no wonder there can be problems identifying valid research and legitimate conclusions.

    • Uncontrolled Testimonials (anecdotal evidence) cannot provide scientific validation of a proposed cause and effect relationship or any hypotheses to explain observations.  Personal stories that describe the results of individual trial and error experiments can be extremely passionate and compelling.  However, without scientific controls to minimize the effects of bias and various other human characteristics,  there is no way to know whether the described cause and effect relationships were real, random, correlated but not causal or completely invented.  While testimonials can provide ideas to initiate the process of scientific investigation, they can never replace the methods of science for testing theories.

  7. Scientific Consensus is Critical precisely because even the best scientists can come to different conclusions about a phenomenon that's being studied - and there is always the possibility of poor quality, biased studies that can occasionally get published.  Consensus generally develops in each scientific discipline and sub-discipline to identify scientific knowledge and theories that are currently believed to be most accurate, descriptive and predictive at any given time.  According to Wikipedia, "Scientific consensus is the collective judgment, position, and opinion of the community of scientists in a particular field of study. Consensus implies general agreement, though not necessarily unanimity.

    Science is conducted by humans, and as discussed elsewhere, any reasonably complex or partisan scientific topic will have accumulated evidence (good, bad and ugly) to support various interpretations and conclusions.  Legitimate scientific publications employ the process of Peer Review (assessment by other experts) to carefully evaluate all aspects of the research process - the methods for data collection, the analysis and the resulting conclusions - to ensure legitimate studies are published.  Because the review process is also a human endeavor, it has been abused like other aspects of science.  However, Peer Review, even with its flaws, is far superior to the alternative of "Anything Goes as long as it supports a specific bias" which is the default standard of those who embrace BiasScience and PseudoScience.

    • In my opinion, this characteristic explains much of the aggressive disagreements on divisive scientific topics like fluoridation, creation science, anti-vaccination, nuclear power, climate change, alternative medicine, GMOs, etc.  For these issues there is typically a scientific consensus that, by definition, is the position of the majority of scientists who study those specific topics and often are responsible for government policies, funding research projects, reviewing papers and participating in related scientific organizations.  They hold the power and the funds.

    • In any area of a complex scientific discipline in which one does not have considerable experience studying the available evidence, it can be difficult to determine what conclusion the evidence actually supports.  That is precisely why consensus is important.  At some level, scientists and non-scientists alike simply do not have the time, training or experience to evaluate every shred of evidence in all scientific disciplines for themselves.  The consensus provides a benchmark that, according to the methods of science, is the most accurate and reliable interpretation of the available evidence for a given field at a given point in time.     

    • Those individuals, scientists and non-scientists alike, who passionately disagree with the scientific consensus, by definition, hold the minority position.  Their interpretation of the available evidence is different from the consensus - often they have arrived at a completely opposite conclusion.  However, because scientists who accept the majority, consensus position have (again by definition) rejected the minority's evidence and interpretation of the evidence as not compelling enough to cause a change in the consensus, there is little the minority can do within the scientific community unless major, new, legitimate evidence that clearly supports their position is discovered

    • That's why proponents of controversial and emotional issues that are in opposition to the scientific consensus, and who have strong personal beliefs that their interpretation of the evidence is correct, often take their arguments directly to the public.  Evidence that is insufficient to change the scientific consensus can often be presented to the public in a very compelling manner - the delivery methods frequently play on intense emotions, fear, personal biases and strongly held beliefs instead of on presenting valid scientific evidence.  These methods of public engagement are covered in the BiasScience and PseudoScience sections.

    • Discussions on significant, controversial scientific topics are important, and because scientific knowledge is provisional and always evolving, any minority position that is considered at the fringes one day may become the scientific consensus as additional research is performed.  My primary concern with the methods employed to bypass scientific processes and present arguments and 'evidence' directly to the public is that the so-called 'evidence' is carefully crafted to present a specific conclusion with no expectation of the public to understand what they were presented.  The message of minority activists is simply, "believe us and trust that we are presenting an accurate interpretation of the evidence."  And yet that is precisely the evidence that was rejected by the majority of experts in the field.

  8. The concept of scientific consensus might be somewhat confusing to those who are not trained in the sciences because the concept does not really work outside of the sciences.  In the NotScience realm there are numerous contradictory belief systems in the various disciplines that can't be validated by the methods of science.  There are, for example, many political beliefs - conservatives and liberals to name just two conflicting views of how government should operate.  It is impossible to conduct any impartial experiments (or observations) which can conclusively determine which is the best (or even a legitimate) belief.

    Science, on the other hand, deals in observation and experimentation which should produce exactly the same observational or experimental evidence regardless of beliefs or expectations of the scientists - as long as they are performed without bias according to the same protocols.  As a result, at any given point in time, scientific theories exist in different subject areas which, unlike competing viewpoints in the NotScience realm, can be evaluated and judged more accurate, legitimate and descriptive of nature than competing theories. 

    By definition, individuals who promote BiasScience agendas ignore the scientific consensus that has been accepted by experts in the field and promote their beliefs to the public as though they have the same credibility as the accepted theories simply because some individuals accept them as true.

  9. Scientific Knowledge is Provisional, it is never fixed in unchangeable doctrines.  The collective knowledge and understanding of the natural world/universe are constantly evolving as new information is collected, evaluated and integrated into the existing knowledge base.  One can go to textbooks which construct a 'picture' of scientific understanding and beliefs at the time of writing, but they can never provide Truths that will necessarily be accurate next year, never mind 2,000 years in the future.  In contrast, some NotScience beliefs can become Authoritative doctrines that guide people's beliefs for tens, hundreds or even thousands of years since they are not necessarily influenced by the constantly changing dynamics of controlled observation and experimentation.

    The provisional, changing nature of science is often exploited by PsuedoScience and BiasScience to try and demonstrate all scientific conclusions (at least the ones they are fighting) are unreliable because theories that appear legitimate at one time can change.  The answer, of course, is that change does not happen randomly or because someone wants it to change.  New legitimate, reproducable evidence (or interpretations) must be presented that explain the evidence better than the old theory before the consensus changes.

  10. Scientific Knowledge is Morally, Politically and Religiously Neutral.  The scientific theories and laws that describe the Natural World/Universe gained by the processes of science, are neither good nor evil, political or religious - they just describe the reality of nature.  However, the processes of science only work if scientists agree to abide by ethical principles like honesty, objectivity, integrity, etc. 

  11. Scientific descriptions of the natural world (all theories and laws) should not be more complex than required to adequately explain a given natural phenomenon.  This is an often overlooked characteristic of the scientific methods and is commonly described as Occam's Razor or the Principle of Parsimony.  The essence of this characteristic is to start from the simplest possible explanation and make it more complex only if, and when, absolutely necessary (a history and description here).  The relevance of this characteristic is not generally obvious to those who are not actively trying to test hypotheses and support scientific theories. 

    An example, however, might be instructive.  Contrast the explanation (theory) about how traditional Homeopathy works from those who believe the practice is effective with the theory scientists use to explain the observed results of homeopathic treatments.  In order for the theory  of Homeopathy to be accepted as scientifically valid, each of the pieces of the theory below must be true.  Without extremely good evidence to support each piece of the Homeopathic Theory, scientists will choose the least complicated alternative.  The same reasoning applies to all health 'treatments' for which completely unsupported 'scientific' claims are proposed, for example specially treated water (vortexed, oxygenated, alkaline, magnetized, catalyzed, etc.), 'magical' dietary supplements and weight loss programs, etc.

    Homeopathic Theory to Explain a Cure Scientific Theory to Explain Homeopathic Claims
    1. Law of Similars - similia similibus curentur, 'let likes cure likes' - All effective 'drugs' produce symptoms in healthy individuals similar to those of the diseases that they treat.  Reference
    2. Homeopathic Proving - subjects ingest potential 'drugs' and clearly record all of their symptoms as well as the conditions under which they appeared.  The 'drugs' then can then be prescribed to treat the specific identified conditions.
    3. Law of Infinitesimals:  Dilution and Succussion - Since large doses of Homeopathic 'drugs' identified during Provings actually cause harmful symptoms, it is necessary to dilute the 'drug' to preserve the therapeutic effects while removing the harmful effects.  To maintain the potency of the 'drug' after dilution, the process of (potentisation), vigorous shaking and striking on an elastic surface (succussion) is necessary.  A solution that is more dilute is described as having a higher "potency", and more dilute substances are considered by Homeopaths to be stronger and deeper-acting.  Reference
    4. Molecular Memory Transfer to Water - Any Homeopathic solution greater than a 12C dilution is unlikely to contain any molecules (or atoms) of the original 'drug'.  As a consequence, during the processes of dilution and succussion:
      • The atoms or molecules of the original 'drug' must transfer some trait or property to the diluting water molecules.  The more dilute the 'drug' becomes, the more strongly the traits must be transferred. 
      • The water must, in some way, retain a 'memory' of the original 'drug' for an indefinite period of time, and if other substances (commonly alcohol) are added, they can't mess with the Molecular Memory. 
      • No other substances (contaminants) that are in the water besides the 'drug' can have any impact on the desired Molecular Memory transferred to the water even though they undergo the same dilution and succussion processes.
      • If a Homeopathic preparation is made into a pill, the water memory must be effectively transferred to the sugar molecules or whatever else the pill is composed of.
    5. Transfer of Molecular Memory to the Patient - When a patient takes a Homeopathic 'drug' the Memory, the active trait or property that's stored in the water or pill must:
      • survive the digestive system - with its mix of enzymes, acids and other chemicals - unchanged.
      • survive the process of absorption into the blood stream unchanged.
      • direct molecules that contain the Molecular Memory to the correct cells in the body where they will be effective.
      • survive the transfer into the cell.
      • Locate the correct chemical processes required to cause a cure.
      • significantly influence the chemical processes within the cellular environment to cause the desired cure.
    Traditional medications are highly specific and target specific chemical processes.  Homeopathy, on the other hand, must work in exactly the same manner using hundreds of unrelated chemicals that are used to treat hundreds of unrelated health issues with hundreds of different causes.  Truly a magical accomplishment.
    1. The placebo effect, spontaneous Improvement, concurrent behavioral changes and a variety of other causes can successfully explain the observed 'cures' from Homeopathic treatments.

    Note how many fewer 'moving parts' there are to the scientific theory of how Homeopathic products work.

    Scientists point out that after more than 200 years there are no experiments that meet even basic scientific criteria to validate any of the five components of Homeopathic theory described to the left.  

    Scientific research also concludes that in well controlled experiments, there is almost no evidence that Homeopathic remedies are more effective than a placebo.

    It is important to understand that Homeopaths have been unable to scientifically demonstrate the validity of ANY of the five components of the theory created in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann and comprehensively described in his 1810 book, The Organon of the Healing Art.  No functional explanations, for example, of how Water Memory would/could work (steps 3 - 5) have ever been presented, never mind tested and shown to be valid.

    The five components of Homeopathic theory above only deal with how Homeopathy is supposed to work and do not even address whether the process is an effective treatment.  The alleged effectiveness of Homeopathy is supported almost exclusively by testimonials, and nearly all experiments that employ effective controls to reduce bias have failed to demonstrate that Homeopathy is more effective than a placebo treatment.  Consequently, the scientific consensus is that other well established and tested causes, besides any actual biological effects of Homeopathic remedies, are responsible for any observed health benefits.  More here, here, here and here.

    As described, though, testimonials can be extremely powerful and compelling.  In the health arena it is easy to perceive the traditional medical community as uncaring, money-driven and fraught with significant risks.

    Alternative medical practitioners can create an environment that's perceived as more caring, and prescribe treatments that may include beneficial behavioral changes in addition to a Homeopathic remedy.  Homeopathy, unlike traditional medical treatments, will certainly have no direct biological negative side effects.  These alternative treatments can easily lead to both real and perceived health benefits which results in positive testimonials.  However, they can also cause individuals to avoid taking what might be effective traditional medical treatment and suffer the consequences of not treating a treatable disease - see whatstheharm.net, for examples.

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The three fundamental types of human learning applied to the discipline of Science:     Comparison

  1. Use of Trial and Error (T&E) Experimentation and Learning to Gain Knowledge
    T&E experimentation is a significant component of legitimate science.  There are two additional aspects, however:

    1. Controls to minimize personal biases from influencing the design and interpretation of experiments
    2. The construction of theories which enable knowledge gained from experiments to be used to design additional experiments.
  2. Dependence on Stories to Communicate Knowledge
    Stories (research publications) that describe the experiments and results that can be examined and duplicated by others are critical to communicating scientific knowledge and theories.  Two key components of science are building on previous knowledge of nature and exposing poorly conducted science.

  3. Dependence on and Acceptance of Authority to Distribute & Regulate Knowledge
    Knowledge of the natural world/universe is transmitted as theories and natural laws.  Each discipline will have experts who are regarded as knowledgeable Authorities.  Textbooks often send the message that there is a fixed scientific Doctrine.  However, there is no ultimate authority in the realm of science.  Any theory that appears true at some point in time potentially can be modified or overturned with additional knowledge.

    Consensus (collective judgment, position, and opinion) within the scientific community determines which theories in each field are accepted as valid at any given time.  That's as much Authority as legitimately allowed by the processes of science.  A Consensus evolves within any scientific specific field by rigorous examination and review by experts in the field of ALL relevant evidence.  High quality, unbiased, reproducible evidence contributes to the Consensus while poor quality, biased, one-of-a-kind studies are rejected.  By definition, then, beliefs that are presented which are contrary to the Consensus are based on evidence that has been carefully reviewed and rejected by the majority of scientists in the field.

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Remember these key points as you examine the categories of NotScience, PseudoScience and BiasScience.  Each of these other three categories fails to exhibit one or more of the key elements of science. 

Resources:

Below is a list of 16 characteristics of science I found on several sites.  They were apparently copied from an education page that's no longer available.
  1. Science is logical (utilizing the appropriate form of logic), reasonable, and rational.
  2. Science makes well-defined claims based upon the best available evidence.
  3. Scientific hypothesis must be falsifable.
  4. Scientific experiments should be repeatable under similar circumstances.
  5. Science requires that claims be examined by qualified peers.
  6. Science views unexplained gaps in theories or evidence with suspicion.
  7. Science requires caution both in performing experiments, and in examining and evaluating evidence.
  8. Science requires efforts at objectivity, both in control of variables and of biases.
  9. Science does not accept coincidence or unlinked or unproven correlations as proofs.
  10. Science does not accept undocumented anecdotal evidence as good proof by itself.
  11. Science demands extraordinarily good evidence for extraordinary unconventional claims.
  12. Scientific favors parsimony: that the simplest adequate explanation is preferred.
  13. Science assumes that the Laws of Nature are universal, if relative.
  14. Science demands the honest use of the scientific method and truthful reports.
  15. Science demands every effort be made to control or assess all variables.
  16. Science needs the uninhibited exchange of ideas and greatest possible discourse of the material.
This list is another way of stating many of the characteristics I discussed above.  It never hurts, however, to have ideas stated in different ways.
Understanding Science - How science really works: a project of the University of California Museum of Paleontology.  "To understand what science is, just look around you. What do you see? Perhaps, your hand on the mouse, a computer screen, papers, ballpoint pens, the family cat, the sun shining through the window. Science is, in one sense, our knowledge of all the stuff that is in the universe: from the tiniest subatomic particles in a single atom of the metal in your computer's circuits, to the nuclear reactions that formed the immense ball of gas that is our sun, to the complex chemical interactions and electrical fluctuations within your own body that allow you to read and understand these words. But just as importantly, science is also a reliable process by which we learn about all that stuff in the universe."  This is an excellent, non-technical introduction to the processes of science.  If you have never experienced an interesting and complete description of science you can find it here.
Carl Sagan, Cosmos Series:  For me, this is one of the most effective series that combines a description the knowledge gained by impersonal findings of science with the very unscientific respect for and wonder of nature.  All thirteen complete episodes were available on YouTube as of this writing.  A review: Cosmos: Probably the greatest science documentary in the universe, by James Kingsland states, "To be honest, my first impressions were not favorable. The music was corny, the opening sequence in which Sagan strides along a clifftop above a rocky shore felt like a documentary cliche, his introduction was painfully drawn-out, the promised poetry was turning the sea air purple. ...But then the real business got started, and it was breathtaking. Sagan strolls through the Library of Alexandria in the 3rd century BC and places it in the context of the entire history of the cosmos. In the "cosmic calendar", the big bang is on 1 January, first life on Earth arrived on 25 September, reptiles and trees on 23 December ("The dinosaurs perished around the time of the first flower"), humankind turns up in the last minutes and written records in the final 10 seconds. It puts things in perspective.  ...Cosmos is a complete science course, encompassing not just cosmology but also chemistry, physics, biology, and the history of human discovery. It should be on the science curriculum of every school."
The Value of Science (1955) by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman: , "I would now like to turn to a third value that science has.  It is a little more indirect, but not much.  The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think.  When a scientist doesn't know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant.  When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain.  And when he is pretty darn sure of what the result is going to be, he is in some doubt.  We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize the ignorance and leave room for doubt.   Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty – some most unsure, some nearly sure, none absolutely certain."
On Being a Scientist - National Academies Press: describes the ethical foundations of scientific practices and some of the personal and professional issues that researchers encounter in their work. "The scientific enterprise is built on a foundation of trust. Society trusts that scientific research results are an honest and accurate reflection of a researcher’s work. Researchers equally trust that their colleagues have gathered data carefully, have used appropriate analytic and statistical techniques, have reported their results accurately, and have treated the work of other researchers with respect. When this trust is misplaced and the professional standards of science are violated, researchers are not just personally affronted—they feel that the base of their profession has been undermined. This would impact the relationship between science and society. On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research presents an overview of the professional standards of science and explains why adherence to those standards is essential for continued scientific progress. In accordance with the previous editions published in 1989 and 1995, this guide provides an overview of professional standards in research. It further aims to highlight particular challenges the science community faces in the early 21st century."  Free PDF download - requires registration.
Does Truth Matter? Science, Pseudoscience, and Civilization:  "Science has beauty, power, and majesty that can provide spiritual as well as practical fulfillment. But superstition and pseudoscience keep getting in the way providing easy answers, casually pressing our awe buttons, and cheapening the experience." Carl Sagan, Skeptical Enquirer, March/April 1996
Scientific & Nonscientific Approaches To Knowledge:  "What are the differences between scientific and nonscientific approaches to knowledge? Basically, science is a specific way of analyzing information with the goal of testing claims. What sets science apart from other modes of knowledge acquisition is the use of what is commonly known as the scientific method. ...the scientific method is rooted in observation, experimentation, and knowledge acquisition through a process of objective reasoning and logic." (Jamie Hale, 2008)
Introduction to the Scientific Method: "[an] introduction to the scientific method and how scientific tests contribute to our knowledge about "the world." The principle benefit of having explored the general nature of scientific research is that you should be sensitive not just to the limits of scientific research, but to the role of assumptions (theoretical, methodological, etc.) within both arguments and scientific tests."
What Separates Science from Non-Science?  "So, if mind-bending statistical analysis doesn't make a field scientifically rigorous, what does? Five concepts characterize scientifically rigorous studies:" (Alex B. Berezow & Tom Hartsfield, 5/30/2012)
The Scientific Method by Donald E. Simanek - "Science progresses through trial and error, mostly error. Every new theory or law must be skeptically and rigorously tested before acceptance. Most fail, and are swept under the rug, even before publication. Others, like the luminiferous ether, flourish for a while, then their inadequacies accumulate till they are intolerable, and they are quietly abandoned when something better comes along. Such mistakes will be found out. There's always someone who will delight in exposing them. Science progresses by making mistakes, correcting the mistakes, then moving on to other matters. If we stopped making mistakes, scientific progress would stop."

Issues with legitimate science that provide ammunition for PseudoScientists and BiasScientists to criticize the processes of science and suggest that their conclusions are the only legitimate alternative.  Always remember that 'their conclusions' have used absolutely no processes to ensure impartial, accurate evaluation of the evidence, and it is the processes of science that always uncovered any problems in science.
Is Science Self-Correcting? "It's not all bad, and I do not want to paint an overly bleak picture. It is possible to look at all of the problems with scientific research and conclude that it is all hopelessly flawed. That would be nihilistic at best, and denialism at worst. Rather, the point of highlighting all the potential problems with research is not to argue that it's hopeless, just that it's difficult. We can still get to a reliable conclusion in science by carefully reviewing all the research, weeding out the bad, relying mostly on the most rigorous research that has been adequately replicated." (JREF Swift BlogDr. Steve Novella, 10/19/2013)
Scandals prompt return to peer review and reproducible experiments: "High-profile fraud has galvanised scientists to urge a return to a crucial element of the scientific method. The Stapel case was an outlier, an extreme example of scientific fraud. But this and several other high-profile cases of misconduct resonated in the scientific community because of a much broader, more pernicious problem: too often, experimental results can't be reproduced. That doesn't mean the results are fraudulent or even wrong. But in science, a result is supposed to be verifiable by a subsequent experiment. An irreproducible result is inherently squishy. And so there's a movement afoot, and building momentum rapidly. Roughly four centuries after the invention of the scientific method, the leaders of the scientific community are recalibrating their requirements, pushing for the sharing of data and greater experimental transparency."  Joel Achenbach, The Guardian, 2/7/20152015

What Is NotScience

Politics, Government, Religion, Arts, Entertainment, Morals, Philosophy, Emotions, Laws, etc.

NotScience is defined, for purposes of this discussion, as all human activities, endeavors and attributes that are not science and do not relate specifically to the study of cause and effect relationships about the natural universe and the formation of theories that describe them.  This is a designation that encompasses a variety of disciplines and human attributes including Politics, Government, Religion, Arts, Literature, Ethics, Values, Laws, Emotions, Philosophy, etc.  These endeavors fundamentally depend on beliefs, opinions, and creations that cannot be demonstrated as true or false, good or evil, moral or immoral, real or imaginary by the scientific method.  Most of the disciplines I would characterize as NotScience are generally classified as The Humanities, "academic disciplines that study the human condition, using methods that are primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences." (wikipedia, Outline of the Humanities)

NotScience provides the human context that determines how scientific knowledge is gathered, interpreted and used. 

Information in this section is NOT intended to justify or refute any NotScience attributes - it is provided only to demonstrate the enormous variety of human endeavors and beliefs that are completely distinct from Science.  These are almost exclusively human characteristics - one does not find many animals discussing the ethics of predator-prey relationships or whether Mozart's compositions are superior to those of Stravinsky.

The methods of legitimate Science can be used to provide evidence that justifies NotScience beliefs.  Scientific studies, for example are used to validate the effectiveness of seat belt and drunk driving laws, FDA rules and EPA regulations.  It is important to remember, however, that Science can't determine whether rules, laws and regulations are good or bad, moral or immoral - only the outcomes of applying or not applying them.  Actual beliefs about what is good or bad, moral or immoral can't be tested by Science.

Similarly, T&E experimentation (without controls for bias) as described in the introduction is often employed to justify NotScience beliefs.  I experiment listening to different types of music, and after experiencing many kinds, I believe for the most part, classical, folk, barbershop and some old rock & roll styles are more musical than heavy metal or rap.  My evaluation of my listening experiments are completely dictated by my existing biases - and can change on a whim.  Science can be employed to provide evidence of specific characteristics of different forms of music, but the results can't be used to justify any personal biases toward (or against) any specific type of music.  Other scientific studies can measure the effects of music on our brains, but again can't dictate what music someone should classify as enjoyable or dreadful.

Before reviewing a detailed description of ten NotScience characteristics, there are several key points to keep in mind:

Ten Characteristics of NotScience:    Open a summary  (no Java)  |  Compare Characteristics

There are so many manifestations of NotScience it is difficult to provide a generalization that covers all aspects.  Below are some of the more important characteristics, and you can see how they contrast with Science, PseudoScience and BiasScience.

  1. NotScience beliefs, attributes, knowledge and activities are concerned with all aspects of the human experience EXCEPT the specific processes and findings of science.  However, NotScience beliefs are critical to Science because they control how and why scientific knowledge is acquired and dictate how that knowledge is interpreted and used.

    Strong beliefs and biases frequently influence the collection and interpretation of evidence (physical and otherwise) to support NotScience beliefs. 

    Below are some definitions (from Wikipedia unless otherwise noted) and some questions to ponder while considering the various types of NotScience:
    As you consider your personal answer to the questions posed in each of these examples think about whether (or how) scientific evidence could be used to help formulate and justify each "How do you know?" answer.

    1. Philosophy, the study of the general and fundamental nature of reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language, pretty much covers most of the NotScience categories.  According to Wikipedia, "Philosophy has been divided into many sub-fields. ... The major topics being epistemology, logic, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics.  ... As a method, philosophy is often distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its questioning, critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument.  ... In casual speech, the term can refer to any of "the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group
      Philosophy deals with questions like:
        If all the contents of awareness are ideas, how can we know that anything exists apart from ideas?  What is truth?  Which moral position is correct and who decides?  How do you know? 

    2. Government, "the political direction and control exercised over the actions of the members, citizens, or inhabitants of communities, societies, and states; direction of the affairs of a state, community, etc."
      Questions:  Is the constitution of the United States more or less ethical than constitution of the United Kingdom?  How about ethics of the Platform of the National-Socialist German Workers' (Nazi) Party?  How much control over individual freedoms - and in which areas - should governments (national and local) be granted?  What does "Government of the people, by the people, for the people" mean?  How do you know?

    3. Politics, "the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power."
      Questions:  "Which political party has the best, most accurate understanding of economics and the best, most effective plan for economic stimulation, Republicans or Democrats?"  How do you know?

    4. Morals & Ethics, "are concerned with distinguishing between good and evil in the world, between right and wrong human actions, and between virtuous and nonvirtuous characteristics of people. and with establishing rules governing these behaviors/beliefs"
      Questions: Are water boarding and other forms of 'aggressive questioning' immoral, ineffective and never justified or are the techniques ethical, effective enough and justified in certain situations in which one life (or thousands of innocent lives) may depend on gaining critical information quickly?  Are birth control and abortion morally valid options?  Is it ever justifiable to lie or to kill?  How do you know?

    5. Religion, "is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence.  Religions typically have a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. Many religions have narratives, symbols, and sacred histories that aim to explain the meaning of life, the origin of life, or the Universe." (Wikipedia Dictionary)
      Questions:  Does God (or a spiritual relam) exist?  Which Christian denomination has the best, most accurate understanding of God and the scriptures, Catholics or Baptists?  Are the spiritual beliefs of Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists and Christians valid?  Was the universe created by God over a 6 day period less than ten thousand years ago, in six epochs over millions or billions of years or is there another explanation?  What is the meaning of life?  How do you know?

    6. Arts, "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, such as painting, music, literature, and dance., producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power."
      Questions:  Who is the best classical composer - Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Handel  Stravinsky, Schoenberg or someone else?  Who is the best painter - Picasso, van Gogh, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Warhol or someone else?  What was the best folk group - Simon and Garfunkel, Peter Paul and Mary, The Carter Family, or a different group?  Which is the most pleasing color - red, blue, green, turquoise or some other color?  Who is/was the most compelling author in history? How do you know? 

    7. Emotions  "an affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced, as distinguished from cognitive and volitional states of consciousness. Feelings may be accompanied by certain physiological changes, as increased heartbeat or respiration, and often overt manifestation, as crying or shaking."
      Questions:  What is love?  What is hate?  What is prejudice?  What do people find funny?  What makes people angry?  How do you know?

    8. Laws: According to Wikipedia, "Law is a system of rules that are enforced through social institutions to govern behaviour. Laws can be made by a collective legislature or by a single legislator, by the executive through decrees and regulations, or by judges through binding precedent."
      Questions:  Two examples should suffice.  Was Obama's 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act a good law?   Was Bush's 2001 Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act a good law?  How do you know?

    9. Fields like technology, sociology, cultural studies, economics and psychology, are often considered applied science or social sciences.

    Reality is far more complicated than the outline above would suggest - the different categories can be completely intertwined and interdependent.  Individual or community religious beliefs (or lack of beliefs), for example, can influence (or dictate) laws, morals and ethics, politics, government, art, philosophy, any other NotScience category, and how science is interpreted and practiced.
  2. NotScience knowledge involves discovering and creating an understanding of the interaction of humans with each other, with all other elements of the natural world and with spiritual realms.

  3. NotScience beliefs and interpretations of the world are Subjective (a person's experience and perception of reality).  However, humans continually observe the natural world and accumulate Objective Knowledge which is then used to develop, support, justify or refute NotScience beliefs.  These observations may or may not be scientific, and there is confusion about what elements of NotScience beliefs scientific evidence can address.

    To give just one example of the role of scientific evidence in a NotScience issue, consider the public health policy of drinking water fluoridation.  Science can provide specific evidence that demonstrates a measurable reduction in dental decay and increased dental health that result from fluoridation, identify potential health risks of exposure to fluoride ions, determine optimal exposure levels that balance benefits and risks, the feasibility of implementation, and establish costs associated with fluoridation.  Scientific evidence and methods, however, cannot determine if a specific, government-imposed public health program like fluoridation should be implemented.

    Ideally, Science and NotScience function in a symbiotic relationship -- NotScience beliefs and ethics guide the scientists and provide a moral foundation for the interpretation and application of scientific knowledge while accurate, factual, morally neutral scientific knowledge helps create the foundation on which the NotScience components of human civilization are built.

  4. As far as anyone can reliably demonstrate, the natural world can only be observed, measured and tested using our 5 basic sense, and this information also contributes to our NotScience understanding of the world.  Much of NotScience, though, involves personal, internal reactions to (and interpretations of) events happening within the natural world - belief, disbelief; happy, sad; good, evil; fearful, confident; angry, calm; giving, greedy; beautiful, ugly and other emotional, moral and artistic feelings and judgments.  These reactions cannot be judged by the methods of science.  Similarly, the validity of any spiritual beliefs cannot be judged (or tested) by the methods of science.  The methods of science have no way to test for the existence (or non-existence) of God or anything outside the physical realm of nature.

  5. It is difficult to make generalization about the Transparency of NotScience beliefs and activities since the category covers so many disparate areas of human activity and belief.  Most NotScience assumes the consistency and predictability of nature (or the spiritual realm), however.  Similarly, the concept of reproducibility of results, as used in the description of Science, does not apply to NotScience.

  6. NotScience is a Human Endeavor - Consequently:
    • NotScientists beliefs and activities are afflicted with human eccentricities.
    • NotScience is often messy.
    • All sorts of evidence - some scientific and some not - is used to support the various beliefs and activities within the NotScience realm.  All evidence is filtered and evaluated, accepted or rejected by NotScience beliefs.
  7. It is impossible to describe Consensus within the NotScience realm.  However, typically individual groups like those with specific political, religious, artistic, philosophical, etc. beliefs and goals will have a Consensus of beliefs within the group.  The accepted fluidity of Consensus in NotScience endeavors and the fact that Consensus is based on beliefs and opinions instead of testable hypotheses can make it difficult for non scientists to understand scientific consensus which depends on testable hypotheses instead of beliefs and opinions.

  8. In the realm of NotScience, belief in the permanence of knowledge, and the possible ways in which this knowledge might be subject to change, is extremely variable and depends exclusively on the group.  Some beliefs constantly change (like many artistic endeavors), some have beliefs that are a bit more fixed (like law and politics), and some are relatively unchanging for centuries (like many religious beliefss) .

  9. Specific moral (and other NotScience) beliefs are a central component of (and define) many NotScience endeavors and often dictate how any new information is acquired and processed.

  10. The complexity of beliefs about the working of the natural and spiritual realms varies with the various NotScience endeavors, and consequently no generalizations can be made.

Review your answers to the questions from the different NotScience types in characteristics #1a- 1h above.

  1. For each question, how did you form your belief?

  2. How strongly held are your beliefs about your answers?

  3. How do you justify your specific answers - what specifically do you use as evidence that your beliefs are valid?  Remember, science can't provide evidence to validate (or disprove) your fundamental NotScience beliefs. 

  4. Why do you believe that the information & evidence that's used to support your position is more compelling and convincing than the evidence used to validate other contradictory positions?

  5. What is the source of the evidence you use to support your beliefs - did you gather and evaluate the evidence yourself, or did you accept someone else's evaluation of the evidence? 

  6. Can you imagine any scientific evidence that would cause you to question or change your NotScience beliefs?

  7. Consider a hypothetical situation where you discover that the physical, scientific evidence actually (and irrefutably) disproves one of your NotScience beliefs.  What would you do?


NotScience:  The Interpretation of Evidence and Formation of Beliefs

I will only discuss several of the specific questions about NotScience in the examples below.  Except for one question that illustrates problems when science is expected to justify a belief system, every question asked in the characteristics (#1a - #1h above) deals with beliefs, values, preferences and judgments that cannot be tested or justified by science.  Exactly the same scientific evidence can be interpreted differently by those who hold different NotScience beliefs, Consequently, evidence provided by the methods of science can never be used to demonstrate the validity of any NotScience beliefs, values, preferences or judgments.

  1. Political Beliefs:  Which political party has the most accurate understanding of economics and the best, most effective plan for economic stimulation - how do you know?  If you happen to be a Republican you will answer, Republican - if a Democrat, the answer will obviously be Democratic.  If you are of another political persuasion the answer would likely be 'neither - my way is correct', or perhaps, 'both parties have some valid points'.  The evidence for the current economic situation and the effects of past efforts to stimulate the economy that's available to people of all political persuasions is essentially identical - with some dedicated digging.

    It is possible to collect new evidence (experimental and observational) on how different economic approaches and policies have impacted the economy.  Unfortunately though, each step of the process; The choice to ask specific questions, the decision to collect specific evidence (and ignore other data), the methods of evidence collection, analysis of the evidence and any conclusions about what the evidence actually demonstrates all can be biased and the results interpreted completely differently by people with different pre-existing political beliefs.  It is possible for evidence to be presented that would be compelling enough to change your personal political biases, but that would not mean science proved one party was better.  It is ultimately impossible to use the methods of science to answer the question "which political system is BEST" because there is no universal agreement on what would constitute the BEST (and most effective) political system.  The bottom line: You know what your political truth is based on your beliefs, and they can't be proven right or wrong by the methods of science.  It is fundamentally impossible for any methods of science to examine or test whether any component of political belief is correct.

  2. Moral Beliefs:  Is 'aggressive questioning' (a.k.a. torture) justified in any circumstance (to potentially save a single innocent life - or perhaps to stop a plot intended detonate a nuclear bomb in a large city where your family lives) - how do you know?  This is ultimately a moral question for which no scientific evidence can be provided to prove either position is ethically justified.  Evidence can be (and has been) collected and presented to suggest that the practice is/isn't effective in various situations.  Like politically driven evidence, however, the questions that are asked and all phases of data collection, analysis, presentation and interpretation are judgment calls and will be influenced by (possibly entirely controlled by) underlying moral and ethical beliefs for which science can't provide answers.

    There are many other human issues; abortion, contraception, capital punishment, gay rights, euthanasia, slavery, war, etc., where scientific observation and evidence can be collected to demonstrate consequences of actions based on a particular moral belief, however, it is impossible to use the methods of science to define or prove what constitutes a moral conviction. 

    Here is a real dilemma, where moral NotScience beliefs can determine scientific research which can potentially produce drugs that can influence moral beliefs. I just read this article, December 2016, "What if you could take a pill for a better, more moral, you? Neuroethicists ponder the panacea".  The intersection between Science and NotScience is extremely complex.

    The bottom line: You know what your moral truth is based on your beliefs, and they can't be proven right or wrong by the methods of science.   It is fundamentally impossible for any methods of science to examine or test whether any component of moral belief is correct - but it may be possible for science to "adjust" those beliefs.

  3. Religious Beliefs:  Does God (or a spiritual real) exist?  Which religious denomination has the best, most accurate understanding of God and the scriptures, Catholics or Baptists - how do you know?  Does a spiritual realm exist?   What interactions occur between the spiritual and natural realms?  Consider the evidence that Catholics and Baptists (or any other religious group) have available to support their positions.  All first-hand evidence for the Christian faith is nearly 2,000 years old.  There is, of course, considerable debate on how that evidence is to be evaluated, but ultimately, interpretation is based entirely on a person's experiences, underlying belief system and biases.  And, of course, there are a substantial number of other religious, spiritual and non-spiritual beliefs in which potential 'supporting evidence' is evaluated according to those beliefs.

    It is fundamentally impossible to use the methods of science to answer the spiritual questions: "Which religious denomination (or belief system) has the best, most accurate understanding of God?" or, for that matter, "Does a god or spiritual realm beyond the confines of nature even exist?".  The bottom line: You know what your spiritual truths are based on your beliefs, and they can't be proven right or wrong by the methods of science. 

    As noted above, belief (or non-belief) in the existence of a spiritual realm and a supernatural Creator of the natural universe cannot be based on science.  It is also impossible for science to prove or disprove belief in a God that interacts with nature to create miracles, communicates with humans, answers prayers and grants eternal spiritual life after physical death.  You know what your spiritual truths are based on your beliefs - not on a scientific evaluation of evidence.

    Were the heavens and the earth and all living things created by God over a period of six, 24-hour days less than ten thousand years ago - how do you know?  These are question Young Earth Creation Science (YECS) leaders answer in the affirmative, and they claim that all scientific evidence actually proves the universe is 6-10 thousand years old and a universal flood occurred 4,300 years ago.  YECS beliefs lead to BiasScience because they makes very specific claims about the natural universe that can be tested scientifically, and those claims completely contradict all of mainstream science.

    As a former Young Earth Creationist, I was taught to believe in the six days of creation, Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, the fall from grace and Noah's Flood as literal historic events long before I had any education in the sciences.  I completely understand the desire to align the findings of science with a specific interpretation of Scriptures, but I also experienced spiritual trauma when my continuing scientific training in biology, chemistry, geology, paleontology, astronomy, archaeology and other disciplines gradually eroded my belief in the "scientific" explanations of the specific, literal Young Earth Creation interpretation of the Bible.  The problem I encountered was that the foundation of my spiritual beliefs was anchored in the shifting sand of scientific knowledge and understanding.  When the scientific evidence I discovered began to conflict with what would be expected from a YECS scenario, the foundation began to crumble, and all spiritual beliefs it had supported began to topple.

    I was able to preserve my faith by completely giving up any expectation that science can provide proof of religious or spiritual Truths.  I, like others who have experienced conflict between the unnatural linking of spiritual teachings with the scientific observations and study of nature, eventually concluded:

    1. religion and science have completely different, non-antagonistic roles in how humans understand the universe  and our role in it.

    2. it is impossible to devise a scientific observation or experiment that can prove or disprove the existence of a spiritual realm, God, or any specific interactions between spiritual and the natural realms. 

    3. I have found no passage in scripture that states or implies, "My faith shall depend on the findings of a constantly changing human endeavor called Science." or "The findings of Science shall determine what portions of scripture are valid or to be taken literally." 

    4. there are numerous scriptural statements (and warnings) of how Science is NOT to be used to support one's Faith including; 2 Corinthians 5:7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight), Romans 10:10, John 3:16, Galatians 2:26-27, Hebrews 11:1-3, Mark 1:24, John 11:25-26, Galatians 3:26-27, Proverbs 3:5. and Romans 1:20.  These passages make it clear, to me anyway, that any qualities of God are "invisible", entirely outside the realm of scientific investigation and to be accepted on Faith alone.

    5. it is unwise to base any spiritual beliefs on constantly evolving scientific understanding and theories.  Several hundred years ago the YECS beliefs fit comfortably within most people's understanding of nature.  As scientific understanding of nature evolved, mainstream theories that explained nature diverged further and further from the unchanging YECS interpretation of scripture.  What would happen to YECS beliefs if science discovered completely undeniable proof that the universe is billions of years old and a global flood never happened?  Most scientists already believe the existing evidence disconfirms YECS claims and accept the evolutionary framework that the universe and earth are billions of years old. 

    6. Many Christians have the same fundamental spiritual beliefs as YECS proponents without the necessity of requiring belief in a recent, literal six-day creation or a global flood that allegedly left natural, physical evidence that is available for scientific study and evaluation. 

    The specific problems that arise when individuals insist that science must support specific religious (or other) beliefs and interpretations of scripture will be discussed in the BiasScience section.  This reference should provide evidence that science and religion are not incompatible, 50 Nobel Laureates and other Great Scientists Who Believe in God.


An interesting attempt to describe how science can be used to validate moral beliefs is the book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris.  I found this discussion on Amazon interesting:
 Are there right and wrong answers to moral questions?  (Amazon Exclusive Interview)
Harris:  Morality must relate, at some level, to the well-being of conscious creatures. If there are more and less effective ways for us to seek happiness and to avoid misery in this world, and there clearly are, then there are right and wrong answers to questions of morality.
Q: Are you saying that science can answer such questions?
Harris:  Yes, in principle. Human well-being is not a random phenomenon. It depends on many factors, ranging from genetics and neurobiology to sociology and economics. But, clearly, there are scientific truths to be known about how we can flourish in this world. Wherever we can act so as to have an impact on the well-being of others, questions of morality apply.
Q: But can't moral claims be in conflict?  Aren't there many situations in which one person's happiness means another's suffering?
Harris:  There are some circumstances like this, and we call these contests "zero-sum." Generally speaking, however, the most important moral occasions are not like this. If we could eliminate war, nuclear proliferation, malaria, chronic hunger, child abuse, etc., these changes would be good, on balance, for everyone.

As of this writing (1/2016) there were about 4.4 times more 4 & 5 star reviews than 1 & 2 star reviews.  I recommend you read reviews at both ends of the scale - I found the details and conclusions of the critical reviews well described the basic flaws in Harris' logic that I noticed.  In order for his premise to work, Harris must redefine science to fit his conclusions.  As noted in my description of science, the concepts of ethics, faith, philosophy, beliefs, preferences, goals, etc. are critical for driving science, ensuring the process is carried out with minimal bias, and in the application of scientific knowledge - these are the NOTSCIENCE human characteristics.  The knowledge gained by science - if it was carried out correctly - is just a collection of amoral facts and testable theories devised to explain observations of natural events and make predictions.  The facts and resulting theories could be collected and deduced by any properly trained, experienced scientist regardless of their faith, desires, political persuasion, preferences, biases and other human traits.  The facts of nuclear fusion are just facts - they can't be 'nudged' into conforming to a specific belief...  Well, yes they can - remember the cold fusion proclamations of Fleischmann and Pons in 1998

I take issue with Harris' first sentence in the Amazon interview where he begins (and basically ends) his argument by making a non-evidence-based value statement about morality relating to the "well-being of conscious creatures" that must be accepted (without scientific evidence) before even evaluating his other points.  The last quoted sentence in response to the question, "But can't moral claims be in conflict?" is also problematic.  Harris attempts to divert this valid question toward arbitrary situations where the moral Truth 'should be' obvious, "If we could eliminate war, nuclear proliferation... these changes would be good, on balance, for everyone." 

Swell..., just how does Harris suggest war be eliminated? ...scientific determination of values?  If the Nazis had confined their moral and ethical beliefs and values to writing stories and poetry there would have probably been little bloodshed.  However, their specific beliefs and morality dictated extermination of non-believers and those they perceived as inferior.  Hitler stated his rational for 'scientific morality' in Mein Kampf: According to "the will of Nature for a higher breeding of all life [...] the stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing his own greatness. Only the born weakling can view this as cruel. [...] The consequence of this racial purity universally valid in nature is not only the sharp outward delimitation of the various races but their uniform inherent character.."  Perfectly logical scientific thinking...

Personally, I detest the thought and practice of war or nuclear proliferation, but how can the methods of science possibly determine whether wars &/or nuclear proliferation were historically morally bad for everyone, much less predict the possibility there may in the future be moral justification for waging war or developing new weapons.  If all of human history is any indication, just because one country takes the "moral high ground" and chooses not to develop weapons, does not mean other countries would not seek to develop new weapons and use them to eliminate those on the "moral high ground".

I submit that the terrible consequences of the war that resulted from trying to stop the consequences of Hitler's 'morality' were significantly less horrific than if Hitler had been able to implement his plans without opposition.  I am extremely grateful to those who had the moral conviction and courage to fight against the moral convictions of the Nazis and even the moral decisions that quickly ended Japanese aggression. 

Harris simply waves a 'magic wand' and proclaims that if everyone in the world accepts and agrees on his definition of (and beliefs about) science and specifically what constitutes 'well-being', morality and the "scientific truths to be known about how we can flourish in this world", humans can logically determine the "right and wrong answers to questions of morality" using the methods of science and live happily ever after.  The methods of science, however provide "just the facts".  Pre-existing beliefs, moral convictions, philosophies, etc. ultimately determine how those facts are collected and interpreted.


The three fundamental types of human learning applied to NotScience:   Comparison

  1. Use of Trial and Error (T&E) Experimentation and Learning to Gain Knowledge
    T&E experimentation is a significant component of NotScience. Everyone uses the methods of T&E to evaluate whether the specific NotScience knowledge works for them individually or for their community. For most of the NotScience categories, (Politics, Religion, Arts, Laws, Ethics, Philosophy, etc.) experimentation can be used to generate new knowledge, but unlike science, there is no way to independently, impartially validate that information or the conclusions drawn from it.

  2. Dependence on Stories to Communicate Knowledge
    Stories communicate the accumulated wisdom in all the NotScience categories to others. Non verbal 'stories' can also be communicated in art and music.

  3. Dependence on and Acceptance of Authority to Distribute & Regulate Knowledge
    Methods of experimental and observational science cannot be used to test or prove whether any NotScience beliefs and positions are true or false, moral or immoral, right or wrong, good or evil, beautiful or ugly.  Consequently, believers in a specific position must accept their own interpretations of 'reality' or the pronouncements of some recognized Authority as True.  In some instances a population can be forced to accept a position believed true by an Authority.

References:

Science and Non-Science in Liberal Education - "Yet it is striking that science cannot prove scientifically that science is good for human beings. In practice, scientists assume that science is good but they will admit that no proof can be stated in strictly scientific terms. In social-science methodology, the embarrassed admission turns into a stern insistence on the so-called fact-value distinction which says that facts can be proved scientifically but not values." (Harvey C. Mansfield, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government at Harvard University)
Philosophy Is Not a Science - "In sum, philosophy is not science. For it employs the rational tools of logical analysis and conceptual clarification in lieu of empirical measurement. And this approach, when carefully carried out, can yield knowledge at times more reliable and enduring than science, strictly speaking. For scientific measurement is in principle always subject to at least some degree of readjustment based on future observation. Yet sound philosophical argument achieves a measure of immortality."
Is Philosophy a Science? - "So, I just don’t see philosophy as a science. Biologists look at organisms. As a philosopher of biology I don’t look directly at organisms, but rather at the biologists – not so much as people, that is for the historian or the sociologist – but at the ideas and theories and practices of the biologist." (Michael Ruse)
What is Philosophy? - "I don't want to leave the impression that philosophy and science are identical, for there are some important differences. Perhaps the most important has to do with the sorts of questions they attempt to answer. Scientists typically focus on questions that can only be answered by means of observation, such as 'What sorts of gases occur in the atmosphere of Mars?' or 'How do genes work to prevent diseases?'  By contrast, philosophers, much like mathematicians, typically focus on questions which cannot be answered by means of observation alone." (Dr. Keith Allen Korcz)
What are Humanities? - “The humanities—including the study of languages, literature, history, jurisprudence, philosophy, comparative religion, ethics, and the arts—are disciplines of memory and imagination, telling us where we have been and helping us envision where we are going.” (Alan Liu)
Science is not your Enemy - "If one were to list the proudest accomplishments of our species (setting aside the removal of obstacles we set in our own path, such as the abolition of slavery and the defeat of fascism), many would be gifts bestowed by science. The most obvious is the exhilarating achievement of scientific knowledge itself. We can say much about the history of the universe, the forces that make it tick, the stuff we’re made of, the origin of living things, and the machinery of life, including our own mental life. Better still, this understanding consists not in a mere listing of facts, but in deep and elegant principles, like the insight that life depends on a molecule that carries information, directs metabolism, and replicates itself." (Steven Pinker)
Humanities aren't a science. Stop treating them like one - "The tools of mathematical and statistical and scientific analysis are invaluable. But their quantifiable certainty is all too easy to see as the only “real” way of doing things when really, it is but one tool and one approach—and not one that is translatable or applicable to all matters of qualitative phenomena. That's one basic fact we'd do well not to forget." (Maria Konnikova)
Is a Science of Politics Possible? "Having said only this much we can understand why such a science cannot be modeled on the so-called 'hard' natural sciences and mathematics. A human community or institution is not a 'kingdom' of bees, or a herd of animals, or a forest of trees. The bond of a human political community is characterized by human decisions, judgments, arguments, allegiances, compliance (or not) with public laws, and ongoing development over the generations." (James W. Skillen)

There is a tremendous difference between (1) trying to prove  that prayer works (or that God exists) by conducting scientific experiments, and (2) proving that people who have faith in God or a spiritual belief system have effective ways to cope with the trials and tribulations of human existence.  If it were possible to prove the first proposition by double blinded scientific experiments, belief would not be based on faith but on the provisional 'truth' of scientific evidence.  Can Prayer Heal?
Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer - "Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and long-awaited study has found. And patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, the researchers suggested."
Science Proves the Healing Power of Prayer - “The benefits of devout religious practice, particularly involvement in a faith community and religious commitment, are that people cope better. In general, they cope with stress better, they experience greater well-being because they have more hope, they're more optimistic, they experience less depression, less anxiety, and they commit suicide less often.  They have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, and probably better cardiovascular functioning.” (Harold G. Koenig, M.D., duke University)

What is PseudoScience?

"If you are in possession of this revolutionary secret of science, why not prove it and be hailed as the new Newton?
Of course, we know the answer.  You can't do it.  You are a fake.
"

Richard Dawkins on pseudoscientists

The 10 Characteristics of PseudoScience

  1. PseudoScience claims are not limited to phenomena in the natural world.  Any claim within the realm of human imagination is acceptable.
  2. PseudoScience understanding attempts to describe Cause and Effect Relationships between events, but neither the causes nor the effects have to be natural.  Also, obvious correlations between phenomena are often accepted as demonstrating causation because there are no processes that require testing of those assumptions in a controlled manner.
  3. Personal biases and beliefs are precisely what create PseudoScience.  PseudoScience is not limited to Objective, Natural reality:  Cause and effect relationships are invented after observing and describing natural phenomena or after witnessing events that are perceived as supernatural.
  4. The natural &/or supernatural world and natural &/or supernatural cause and effect relationships can allegedly be observed using not only our 5 basic sense, but any invented senses or measurement tools that can be created to support the theory.
  5. PseudoScience is not Transparent.  Only those who hold specific beliefs are able to 'validate' claims.  There is no assumption of the Consistency and Predictability of either Natural or Supernatural realms.
  6. PseudoScience is a Human Endeavor.  Pseudoscience allows full expression of uncontrolled human creativity.
  7. Consensus is Irrelevant in the realms of PseudoScience.  Only believers can find the 'evidence' to support their beliefs.
  8. PseudoScience beliefs can become unchangeable doctrine or they can change at the whim of the instigator - there are no rules or expectations.
  9. PseudoScience Knowledge is Morally Neutral.   As with legitimate science, the ethics and morals of those who practice PseudoScience both determine how the information is acquired, interpreted and used.
  10. PseudoScience descriptions of 'reality' are simply presented in the most effective manner using compelling stories to convince others of their validity.

The bottom line is that 'anything goes' in the realm of pseudoscience.  There are no requirements or processes to test claims and ensure the accuracy of beliefs.  Compare Characteristics of Science, NotScience and BiasScience with PseudoScience.

The next time you encounter some extraordinary, exciting, apparently scientific claim, think about Richard Dawkins' question to pseudoscientists above.  Ponder why this extraordinary idea, product or service that has so many alleged miraculous benefits for so many people is not front page news.

The goal of pseudoscientists is for their claims to have the Prestige and Authority of Scientific Truth to help persuade others to buy their idea, product or service.  Actual scientific validity, however, is irrelevant and impossible.

PseudoScience is any information (or the processes that collect or invent it) that is presented as scientifically valid yet is lacking any controls that minimize personal beliefs and biases from influencing the collection and interpretation of data.  By definition, all pseudoscientific claims lack independent verification and validation - in other words, the only ones who can provide evidence to 'prove' the claims are those who have made the claims and who believe them to be true. 

PseudoScience, like BiasScience, does not contribute anything to the advancement of legitimate, mainstream science because the processes for collecting and interpreting "evidence" do not meet any of the criteria for legitimate science.  Those who practice PseudoScience pick the "truth" they wish to "prove" and then twist or invent "science" to try and make it happen.

PseudoScientific claims can be entertaining if taken with a grain of salt, but they can also be harmful if accepted without question:

  1. PseudoScientific health claims can make one feel better because of the placebo effect, but taking 'feel-good' treatments instead of scientifically validated medical treatments can lead to unnecessary harm.

  2. PseudoScience claims can only be presented as true if the methods of science are discredited - specifically the elements of rigorous control of biases, peer review and scientific consensus.  Since so much of today's civilization is either driven or strongly influenced by science, it is important that the general public public have an accurate understanding of science instead of one distorted by promoters of PseudoScience.

It is important to remember that if additional supporting evidence were to be provided by other independent, unbiased sources, the claims would begin to move into the realm of valid science.  It is always the responsibility of those making the initially unsubstantiated and possibly PseudoScientific claims to:

  1. make only claims about cause and effect relationships within the context of the natural universe that can be independently tested in some manner.  Science, by definition, deals only with natural cause and effect relationships, and any claims that employ a supernatural, magical or paranormal intervention may or may not be true, but they can never be tested by the methods of science.  I have never found another method, besides science, to test claims made about any cause and effect relationships.

  2. provide sufficient details about the claims to allow others to evaluate the evidence and for validity independently using controlled observations &/or experimentation to minimize bias.

Those who are not trained to think scientifically can easily confuse PseudoScience beliefs with legitimate scientific theories and information regardless of their intelligence and their experience and expertise in non-scientific disciplines.   An illustrative example is the ability of a skilled magician to fool nearly everyone except other magicians with their illusions.  PseudoScience is an illusion designed to impersonate science.  I believe there are several reasons that explain why PseudoScientific claims can be so compelling.

Despite the lack of any reliable supporting evidence, pseudoscientific ideas and claims can be extremely compelling.  They often deal with intriguing and emotional topics (evidence of extraterrestrial life, special mental abilities, paranormal and extrasensory powers, predictive abilities, extraordinary healing processes, and other extraordinary experiences).  These observations are presented in a convincing and persuasive manner that can provide the illusion of security, predictability, control over one's circumstances, better health and hope in an often uncertain world in areas where science does not, and often cannot, provide any answers or hope. 

Two common tactics are used by PseudoScientists to provide the 'evidence' that appears to 'prove' their claims:

  1. One is the collection (or creation) of non-verifiable 'pseudo-evidence' to support an idea or belief.  This strategy is used all the time in creating fictional works that are not represented as reality, but it becomes problematic when an unsupported claim is promoted as scientific fact.  Check out the Animal Planet mermaid story then some scientific responses (1, 2, 3).  This is the type of strictly observational &/or fabricated 'evidence' that's used to support claims of UFO sightings, dowsing, psychic phenomena, vital energy, astrology, numerology, perpetual motion and hundreds of other unsubstantiated beliefs about reality.  I discuss the problem of promoting unverified and unverifiable fiction as fact in a comparison of The Little Prince, a fictional story by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, with a work by Masaru Emoto, Hidden Messages in Water, that describes alleged scientific experiments he claims prove water molecules have the power to understand words and music and respond to human emotions by changing crystallization patterns.

    Think about this for a moment - if you had never heard of Emoto, and a friend came over all excited, showed you a handful of pictures and claimed they proved water molecules were able to change the way they formed ice crystals after exposure to words like 'beautiful', 'ugly', 'love', and 'hate' would you believe the claim?  Why or why not?  Is there anything in your life experiences that would suggest water had those abilities?  Why believe Emoto's claims?  Did his appearance on the pseudo-documentary movie 'What the Bleep' lend legitimacy to his claims?

  2. The second PseudoScience tactic is to use an observed correlation of events to try and prove a cause and effect relationship.  Because event 1 occurred before (or around the same time as) event 2 you can assume event 1 caused event 2, right? 
    Nude Tourists Caused Earthquake?A fascinating example of correlation=causation thinking became a news sensation as I was writing this page, June 2015.  It seems that a group of young tourists posed nude on top of a 'sacred' mountain in Malaysia and were responsible for causing a serious earthquake in the region several days later.

    Extremely good examples of correlation=causation 'proofs' are the thousands of 'miracle' cures and health products that are promoted using only testimonials (personal stories) of effectiveness instead of legitimate, verifiable scientific evidence.  If someone purchases a product or service that is claimed to have a health benefit and they actually feel better later (for whatever reason) they will most likely attribute their positive experience to the specific 'treatment' and yet another uncontrolled testimonial of effectiveness will have been created.

    Does drinking bottled water cause autism?  The graph seems to indicate it.As I was writing this page it occurred to me that I had read numerous articles that described the dramatic increase in the number of recorded autism cases beginning in the early 1990s.  I also realized that bottled water consumption had increased significantly during that same period.  I thought, "Mmmmm.... perhaps I can help determine the cause of autism.

    I found data from what appeared to be reliable sources and created a graph using 16 years of data (1992 - 2007) on bottled water consumption and autism rates in the U.S.  Sure enough, the increase in bottled water use during those 16 years correlates very closely with the increase in autism. (larger graph)  Can we conclude then that drinking bottled water actually causes autism?  The evidence certainly seems to suggest that's the case.

    The Spurious Correlations website provides similar graphs of interesting correlations, including how a case could be made for claiming that an increase in U.S. spending on science, space and technology between 1999 and 2009 caused an increase in suicides by hanging, strangulation and suffocation - all related to death by lack of air - and of course space is noted for its lack of air.

    Science Process Flow Chart DiagramIt is important to understand that the problem with all of the above examples is not that the questions, observations and proposed answers about cause and effect relationships are necessarily wrong: the problems occur when they are promoted as scientific, factual descriptions of nature and reality when, in fact, those who promote and believe these ideas have simply accepted their 'obvious', preferred conclusions and have:

    • failed to consider other often more plausible explanations for their observations, for example:

      • accepted an alleged 'miracle treatment' to explain a health change instead of placebo effects, normal healing processes or behavior changes.

      • interpreted strange lights in the sky as a UFO sighting instead of reflected lights, unusual atmospheric conditions or swamp gas.

      • experienced a psychic encounter instead of an illusion from someone with a good understanding of human nature and the ability to spin a good story.

    • failed to use controlled observations and experiments to rule out the other possible alternatives..

    • failed to present well-documented, testable theories and procedures so others can replicate their findings and validate their conclusions.

Attempts to Justify PseudoScience by Criticizing Science

One common argument by those who promote PseudoScientific agendas is the claim that science (or disciplines like medicine that depend on it) is ineffective, and subject to various problems that render it worthless as a reliable method of understanding the natural world.

Criticisms that identify problems with science are occasionally valid - scientists are human and their biases and and other individual faults can result in flawed observations, experiments and theories.  Science, however, has self-correcting mechanisms that eventually 'kick in' and enable others to identify incorrect scientific conclusions. 

Note - it is the scientific processes that identify flawed science NOT any processes associated with PseudoScience.  PseudoScientific alternatives, on the other hand, have no self-correcting processes to identify and eliminate worthless claims.  Pointing out the human limitations of science and medicine does not mean either that science is worthless or that pseudoscience is a legitimate alternative.

Hoffer's, statement is far more relevant to most Alternative Medicine practices where all treatment claims are accepted equally with no validation process required, and advertisers are free to create whatever claims will sell a product or service.

These failures to actually follow basic scientific processes of validation are a primary reason the claims are assigned to the PseudoScientific category.

Compare diagrams of the PseudoScientific Method with those of the Scientific Method.

Scientists examine PseudoScientific conclusions and, based on their knowledge and experiences, understand that there are other, more legitimate causes that will better explain the phenomena than those offered by PseudoScience promoters.

PseudoScientific Assumptions:     

It is important to realize that many practitioners of PseudoScience are completely unaware that the alleged scientific foundation of the product or idea they embrace and promote as true and valid is completely missing.  Their belief in the legitimacy of the product or idea is supported entirely by acceptance of an Authority that assures them the testimonials are accurate and the interpretation of supportive observations and possibly experiments are legitimate. 

Because bias, prejudice and expectations, have not been controlled, the results of their observations and experiments are positive and sufficient to prove their beliefs are true.  However, scientists are trained to recognize these situations.  They understand that the conditions for scientific legitimacy have not been met, and the the burden of proof for actually demonstrating the claim are valid rests entirely with those making the claims, and so the claims are assigned to the category of PseudoScience.

However, those who believe PseudoScience products, services or ideas are valid have often had personal experiences that seemed to prove the validity of the product, service or idea, and consequently they don't care anything about scientific proof - personal experience is completely sufficient proof.  Denial of their reality by scientists does not make sense - it worked, so what's the problem.

Carl Sagan, perhaps one of the best communicators of scientific understanding, had this to say, "In the way that skepticism is sometimes applied to issues of public concern, there is a tendency to belittle, to condescend, to ignore the fact that, deluded or not, supporters of superstition and pseudoscience are human beings with real feelings, who, like the skeptics, are trying to figure out how the world works and what our role in it might be. Their motives are in many cases consonant with science. If their culture has not given them all the tools they need to pursue this great quest, let us temper our criticism with kindness. None of us comes fully equipped." ― The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Fringe Science: "There are differing definitions of fringe science. Fringe science may be valid science which is not considered mainstream. Alternatively, it may be a questionable scientific approach to a field of study. In any case, it is an inquiry in an established field of study which departs significantly from the mainstream theory in that field. "  As noted in the article, Fringe Science is often related to PseudoScience, and like PseudoScience, some claims once thought to be Fringe Science, like evolution heliocentrism and continental drift, can later be validated by continuing scientific testing and become legitimate theories.  Most Fringe Science, however, is never validated by other researchers and remains speculative.

Carl Sagan on Pseudoscience, Science is a Way of Thinking: This is a conversation with Dr. Carl Sagan on Science Friday from 1996.  Ira Plato starts the conversation about Sagan's new book, Demon Haunted World asking if he is angry at the popularity of pseudoscience and the lack of rational thought, and Dr. Sagan responds, "...Maybe I am a little angry that we have such great tools, such powerful mental apparatus at our command which we tend to ignore.  I mean science, more than a body of knowledge, is a way of thinking.  And it's enormous success is due to accepting contentions only on the basis of evidence and compelling evidence at that.  It doesn't matter if it feels good, what matters is if its true.  And naturally there are people who want what feels good, I mean, that makes a lot of sense.  And if discovering that we are not at the center of the universe, we're not the apple of God's eye, and so on - those contentions rub a lot of people the wrong way, and they would rather not hear from science on such issues.  They'd rather have their own fantasies which make them feel good."  Ira then asks if all the shows that highlight pseudoscientific issues is a new phenomenon, "Are we going through an unusual period in history where there is a tremendous popularity in this that there has never been before?"    Sagan replies, "No, I don't think so.  I think this way of looking at things, embracing pseudoscience and superstition and fundamentalist zealotry has been with us humans for all of our history.  It's not surprising that we should find that its still around.  But what is a little surprising is that science, which is so successful which is responsible for our lives in most cases is so poorly taught, is so poorly understood and that the kind of skepticism that we would use in purchasing a used car is in many cases not in evidence on ESP, and crop circles, and literal interpretation of what's written in the Bible, and so on."  


The three fundamental types of human learning exploited by PseudoScience:   Comparison

  1. Use of Trial and Error (T&E) Experimentation and Learning to Gain Knowledge
    T&E experimentation is the only component of PseudoScience - there are no controls. If some trial or experiment seems to solve a given problem that's the only thing that matters. If the trial actually produces a legitimate solution, great. If not -- if the presumed solution was not the real solution and only seemed to work -- there are no processes in place to identify the problem or correct the error.
  2. Dependence on Stories to Communicate Knowledge
    Personal stories (testimonials) about how a problem seems to have been solved are the primary method of communicating information to others. PseudoScience produces no knowledge or theories about the natural world that can be used as a foundation for future understanding. At best, observations can provide a starting point for scientific discovery.
  3. Dependence on and Acceptance of Authority to Distribute & Regulate Knowledge
    Those who create claims about the natural world/universe (or spiritual realm) that have not (and cannot) be independently validated by science must set themselves up as Authorities to convince others to believe in their creations. No other independent processes exist that can validate their claims. Consequently, there are numerous self-proclaimed Authorities. There is no such thing as PseudoScientific Consensus
    .

It is impossible to catalog all the beliefs, products or services that are classified as PseudoScience.  The list is constantly changing, driven by the infinite imaginations of individuals who have ideas and passion but no knowledge of science and by charlatans who deliberately devise schemes to scam people with their deceptive practices alleged to be science-based.  Some of the more common subjects classified as PseudoScience are listed below, but it is far more important to be able to identify PseudoScientific deceptions by recognizing the traits described above and in the references below.

A Brief Summary of PseudoScience Warning Signs and Cautionary Tactics:
  1. If a belief, product or service promoted as scientific seems to be "too good to be true", it is probably PseudoScience. 

  2. Don't just believe claims, no matter how compelling and well-presented.  Request specific references to published papers that support the specific claims.  If legitimate published supporting studies do not exist, the belief, product or service is probably PseudoScience.

  3. If publlished scientific references are provided, carefully track down the original published sources of any alleged scientific evidence (www.pubmed.gov) and verify that they are relevant and valid.  Look for additional published studies that have the same conclusions - particularly if only one reference is provided.

  4. If the provided scientific references are poor quality or do not actually support claims about a belief, product or service, the claims are extremely unlikely to be valid.

  5. If legitimate scientific evidence is not available, scammers will provide many explanations - don't believe them.

  6. If support for a belief, product or service is nearly all testimonials (it worked for me and for a bunch of others), it is extremely unlikely to be valid.

  7. Claims that a belief, product or service can treat or cure a variety of unrelated illnesses or solve a lot of unrelated problems indicate it is almost certainly a scam.  Most legitimate products, services, etc. have very specific properties that address a very limited number of issues.

  8. Claims that a belief, product or service can cure a major disease needs to be thoroughly researched for supporting evidence.  Those claims can't be made without FDA approval.

  9. Promotions using "incredible", "secret", "ancient formula" "amazing results" or any outrageous verbiage should be avoided.

  10. Any marketing claims that use fear to try and sell a belief, product or service -- particularly if you are told you are at risk and must make a decision quickly -- are a red flag.  Actually, any offer that is time sensitive and requires a quick response so you don't don't miss out on something (and also don't have time to properly evaluate the offer) is a serious red flag

  11. If you do not have the training and and experience to effectively evaluate science-sounding claims, find a science teacher or someone with scientific training and experience to help you evaluate the evidence.  Some of the warning signs above, 6 - 10, can be detected by most people who approach any marketing propaganda with caution and some skepticism.  Warning signs 1 - 5, and require an evaluation of scientific evidence however, can be very difficult to detect if you have little scientific training and experience and the PseudoScientist scammer is a good actor.  Evidence that appears to be scientific can be created using a multitude of effective techniques, and bogus studies - that have not been reviewed - can actually be published in what appear to be online scientific journals just by paying a fee.

All humans seek patterns. That's our nature. We are also storytellers because it helps us find meaning in a chaotic world. In order to survive, we have evolved to find cause-and-effect relationships in nature, and then weave a plausible story to explain them. Our ancestors who identified the pattern linking the seasons to animal migrations ate better and left behind more offspring.

But because believing that the rain gods can be appeased through rituals isn't fatal, we also have inherited magical thinking. Add to this the fact that many of these beliefs make us feel better, meet some emotional need, promise miracle cures or instant wealth, and in general appeal to our emotional brains and bypass our rational brains. What can we do about this? Think sceptically. How? Here are a few questions to ask when considering extraordinary claims:
10 questions - Michael Shermer

References:
Pseudoscience: What is it? How can I recognize it? - "A pseudoscience is a belief or process which masquerades as science in an attempt to claim a legitimacy which it would not otherwise be able to achieve on its own terms; it is often known as fringe- or alternative science. The most important of its defects is usually the lack of the carefully controlled and thoughtfully interpreted experiments which provide the foundation of the natural sciences and which contribute to their advancement."
Pseudoscience - "Pseudoscience describes any belief system or methodology which tries to gain legitimacy by wearing the trappings of science, but fails to abide by the rigorous methodology and standards of evidence that are the marks of true science.
Promoters of pseudoscience often adopt the vocabulary of science, describing conjectures as hypotheses, theories, or laws, providing "evidence" from observation and "expert" testimonies, or even developing what appear to be mathematical models of their ideas. However, in pseudoscience there is no honest attempt to follow the scientific method, provide falsifiable predictions, or develop double blind experiments.
Although pseudoscience is designed to appear scientific, it lacks any of the substance of science.
"
Some of the subjects classified PseudoScience - RationalWiki

Astrology, Prophecy, Biorhythms, Creation Science  (I actually classify C.S. under BiasScience), Paranormal  Subjects (Channeling, ESP, Spiritualism, etc.), Cryptozoology  (Bigfoot, L.N. Monster), Fairies, Elves, Perpetual Motion,  UFOs, Erich von Däniken's Ancient Astronauts, Crop Circles,

Applied Kinesiology, Aura Analysis, Reiki, Therapeutic Touch,

Ear Candling, Laetrile, Q-Ray, Magnetic/Crystal Healing,

Homeopathy, Faith Healing, Various Cleanses and Detox programs, Alternate Water Treatments (alkaline, magnetic, vortex, photonic, etc.)

----------------------------------------

Note: These and other subjects are on the list because, to date, there is no legitimate scientific evidence to support any claims made by believers.  The only "evidence" is anecdotal.  If that ever changes, the subject will be moved to the Science column.

Science, Pseudoscience, and Irrationalism - Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
List of Pseudosciences - This is a list of fields of endeavors and concepts that have been regarded as pseudoscientific by  organizations that are representative of the international scientific community and/or mainstream skeptical organizations. They may have explicitly called a field or concept "pseudoscience" or used words to that effect. Also included are important concepts associated with the main entries, and concepts that, while notable, have not elicited commentary from mainstream scientific bodies.  Notable parodies of pseudoscientific concepts are also included.  (RationalWiki)
Pseudoscience - "is a claim, belief or practice which is incorrectly presented as scientific, but does not adhere to a valid scientific method, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status.  Pseudoscience is often characterized by the use of vague, contradictory, exaggerated or unprovable claims, an over-reliance on confirmation rather than rigorous attempts at refutation, a lack of openness to evaluation by other experts, and a general absence of systematic processes to rationally develop theories."  (Wikipedia)
What Is Pseudoscience? Distinguishing between science and pseudoscience is problematic - "The boundary problem between  science and pseudoscience, in fact, is notoriously fraught with definitional disagreements because the categories are too broad and fuzzy on the edges, and the term 'pseudoscience' is subject to adjectival abuse against any claim one happens to dislike for any reason."
Pseudo Science And The Age Of Irrationalism - "Of all of the subjects that students can master in their STEM learning, I think understanding the scientific method way of thinking is the most important lesson that can be learned. In the scientific approach to analysis, people create a hypothesis, describe the facts that support the hypothesis, and then publish their findings as conclusions. Science has a built in system of checking for errors, by letting anyone on the planet try to find errors in the facts or conclusions. The theory is based on provable facts and your conclusions will not be accepted until a majority of the critics agree they are valid."
The Pseudoscience of Beauty Products: Why the dubious claims of so many skin-care companies go unquestioned and untested.  "Last year, as part vanity project, part science experiment, I decided to adopt a new skin-care routine, something that an aging celebrity might use on a daily basis. My goal was to determine whether, in fact, a high-tech routine can make a difference. Are beauty products worth it?  
I have been using the products provided at my visit to the skin-care clinic in Calgary relatively faithfully during the past year. This is the most, by far, that I have ever done for my skin. The products used in the routine were expensive and the commitment of time considerable. So are there any measurable improvements?
Instead of going back to the original Calgary clinic, I decide to go to a different dermatologist, one who has no idea that this is an after test. This strategy, or so my thinking goes, will help to ensure a relatively objective assessment. If my skin has improved, it should be noticeable by any skin-care expert. I simply tell the staff at the new clinic that I am curious about the condition of my skin, which is absolutely true, and that I want to know what can be done to improve it.
The new clinic, which will remain nameless, has the identical Star Trek machine that was used to assess my skin in Calgary one year ago. The clinic staff takes pictures of my face just as the first staff did. To be fair, I suppose there may be calibration differences between the machines. But any significant difference, one that would be visible to the outside world - which is, after all, the whole point - should be detectable."
The results? ... ... ...
"  Read the article to find out.
Blog - Science versus pseudoscience according to Carl Sagan - "I will quote here, at length, various passages from The Demon-Haunted World bearing on the definition and value of bona fide science.  Sagan so often said it so very well:

One of the primary phenomena that enables pseudoscientific treatments to appear effective is the Placebo Effect:
Mechanics of the Placebo Effect - How Placebo Works in Depression 5/2/2015 "The placebo effect refers to the phenomenon wherein an inert treatment leads to clinical improvement simply because the research participant expects improvement. Some people believe that, during clinical trials, in light of the availability of effective psychiatric medications, it's unethical to give somebody a 'sham' treatment which has no intrinsic chemical effect. However, placebos do provide benefit in the form of placebo effect. Thus, in a simulated environment that is same for both the placebo control and experimental groups, members of the control group still benefit from the mere expectation of improvement."
Placebo: Even When You Know It's Fake 1/3/2011 "A very recent study conducted at Harvard and published in the journal PLoS One examined whether placebos would still work for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients even if they were explicitly told that the pills were inactive. The 80 IBS patients were randomly selected to receive either no treatment (the control condition) or a pill they were told was inactive "like a sugar pill" without any medication in it. Patients in the placebo condition were also told about the placebo effect and that such inactive sugar pills have been shown to produce significant mind-body self-healing processes. The placebo pills were marked with clear labels that read "placebo pills" so that there would be no confusion and so that patients would be constantly reminded that they pills they were taking were placebo pills 2 times a day. Amazingly, the placebo effect was still found to be present."
Placebo effects without deception? 12/27/2010 "No, the reason I say this is because, all their claims otherwise notwithstanding, this study doesn't really tell us anything new about placebo effects. The reason is that, even though they did tell their subjects that the sugar pills they were being given were inert, the investigators also used suggestion to convince their subjects that these pills could nonetheless induce powerful 'mind-body' effects."
Placebo Power Hype 3/14/2015 "The power of belief is strictly limited and accounts for only some of what we think of as the placebo effect. There are no mentally-mediated healing miracles. But there is an awful lot of ideologically motivated hype about placebo. Placebo is interesting, but not nearly as interesting as most people seem to think these days, and as a general rule they are nowhere near powerful or consistent or real enough justify deliberate prescription (lying to patients), or as a reason to continue using treatments that are otherwise proven to be ineffective or barely effective. Placebo, in short, is not therapy."
Placebo Prescriptions - 5/12/2011 "Whether it's acupuncture, homeopathy or the latest supplement, placebo effects can be difficult to distinguish from real effects. Today's post sets aside the challenge of identifying placebo effects and look at how placebos are used in routine medical practice. Iv'e been a pharmacist for almost 20 years, and have never seen a placebo in practice, where the patient was actively deceived by the physician and the pharmacist. So I was quite surprised to see some placebo usage figures cited by Tom Blackwell, writing in the National Post last week: The practice is discouraged by major medical groups, considered unethical by many doctors and with uncertain benefit, but one in five Canadian physicians prescribes or hands out some kind of placebo to their often-unknowing patients, a new study suggests.
What Is the Placebo Effect? 1/3/2011 "A placebo is anything that seems to be a "real" medical treatment -- but isn't. It could be a pill, a shot, or some other type of 'fake' treatment. What all placebos have in common is that they do not contain an active substance meant to affect health.
50% of Doctors Prescribe Placebos 10/23/2008 "More than half of doctors offer fake prescriptions to make patients feel better -- and that's OK, most doctors say. The findings come from a survey of 679 internists and rheumatologists. Doctors in these specialties often see patients with chronic illnesses or chronic pains that are difficult, if not impossible, to cure. Sometimes fake medicine -- placebos -- make such patients feel better. Fake drugs can have very real benefits. It's called the placebo effect. In clinical trials, many patients who receive placebos do better than real-world patients who get no treatment at all, notes study researcher Jon C. Tilburt, MD.
Behold the spin! What a new survey of placebo prescribing really tells us - "As better quality research increasingly confirms that the effects from CAM are largely, if not completely, attributable to placebo effects, we've seen the promoters of CAM shifting tactics. No longer able to honestly claim that CAM has therapeutic effects, 'treatments' such as acupuncture or homeopathy are increasingly promoted as strategies that harness the power of placebos without all the pesky costs or side effects of real medical interventions."
The Placebo Narrative - "...popular writers like Begley talk about physiological mechanisms like endorphins and dopamine without mentioning all the other effects that are being measured in those clinical trials they are citing as evidence for how powerful those mechanisms are. What is measured in the placebo response includes things like reporting bias, or the desire of subjects to feel better, to please their doctor or the researcher, and to justify their prior decisions (to trust the doctor, take the treatment, enter the study, etc.)."  This is important because when results of a study are described, the results of the active treatment are compared against the placebo.  There is seldom a non-intervention arm of a study, so all results can include placebo effects.
More credulous reporting on placebo effects - "Unfortunately, CAM practitioners, who apparently have switched from complementing real medicine with quackery to integrating quackery into real medicine to produce integrative medicine, have seized upon placebo effects to justify their nostrums, having apparently started to realize that science and evidence are not showing any specific therapeutic effects attributable to their woo. 'Hey!' they seem to be saying, I know that acupuncture doesn't really do anything, but it invokes the powerful placebo effect, and that's what heals. Heck, you can even have placebo effects without deception (except that, no, you really can't.)"
Placebo Use in the United Kingdom: Results from a National Survey of Primary Care Practitionerss - "We surveyed 1715 general practitioners and 783 (46%) completed our questionnaire. Our respondents were similar to those of all registered UK doctors suggesting our results are generalizable. 12% (95% CI 10 to 15) of respondents used pure placebos while 97% (95% CI 96 to 98) used impure placebos at least once in their career. 1% of respondents used pure placebos, and 77% (95% CI 74 to 79) used impure placebos at least once per week. Most (66% for pure, 84% for impure) respondents stated placebos were ethical in some circumstances.  Impure placebos are interventions with clear efficacy for certain conditions but are prescribed for ailments where their efficacy is unknown, such as antibiotics for suspected viral infections. Pure placebos are interventions such as sugar pills or saline injections without direct pharmacologically active ingredients for the condition being treated."
http://www.aplacebo.com/ This site was set up to promote the safe and effective use of placebo in treating minor problems.

Appendix A - 116 CAM Therapies:
Acupressure
Acupuncture
Anthroposophy
Apitherapy (Bee Venom)
Applied Biomechanics
Applied Kinesiology
Aromatherapy
Art Therapy
Autogenic Therapy
Aversion Therapy
Ayurvedic Medicine
The 'Science of Life'
Bach Flower Remedies
Balneotherapy
Biofeedback
Body Electronics
Bowen Therapy
Breathwork - Holotropic & Transformational
Cell Therapy (not done in US)
Cheirology (Palmistry)
Chelation Therapy
Chiropractic
Coaching
Cognitive Therapy
Colon Hydrotherapy
Chromatotherapy or Color Therapy - Luminous & Molecular
Contact Reflex Analysis (CRA)
Craniosacral Therapy
Crystal Therapy (Gemstone Therapy)
Cupping (Moxibustion)
Detoxification Therapy
Didjeridoo
Dream Therapy
Ear Candling
Electrotherapy (TENS)
Emotional Freedom Technique (Tapping)
Enzyme Therapy
Essences Therapy
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Fasting (Cleansing)
Feldenkrais Method
Gerson Therapy
Gestalt Therapy
Guided Imagery
Healing Touch
Hellerwork
Herbal Medicine
Homeopathy
Humor Therapy
HunaT
Hydrogen Peroxide Therapy
Hydrotherapy
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Hyperthermia
Hypnotherapy
Iridology
Jaffe-Mellor Technique (JMT)
Jin Shin Jyutsu
Juice Therapy
Kegel Exercises
Kirlian Photography
Macrobiotics
Magnet Therapy
Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)
Marma Therapy
Massage Therapy
Medical Intuitive
Meditation & TM
Mind-Body Medicine
Music Therapy
NAET (Nambudripad's Allergy Elimination Therapy)
Naprapathy
Nasal Irrigation
Naturopathic Medicine & Naturopathy
Neuromuscular Therapy (Trigger Point Myotherapy)
Nutritional Therapy
Orthomolecular Medicine
Ozone-Oxygen Therapy (Bio-oxidative Therapy)
Panchakarma Therapy
Past Life Therapy
Pet Therapy
Pilates
Polarity
Pranic Healing
Prayer
Prolotherapy
QiGong
Radiance Technique (TRT)
Rapid Eye Technologylogy
Reflexology
Reiki
Relaxation Therapy
Rolfing
Rosen Method
Rubenfeld Synergy
Shamanism
Shiatsu
Somatic Ontology
Structural Integration
Stress Management
Tai Chi
TAO
Therapeutic Touch
Traditional Chinese (Oriental) Medicine
Transsage
Trager Method
Transpersonal Psychology
Tuina
Urine Therapy
Visualization
Visceral Manipulation
Vitamin Therapy
Watsu
YogaYoga
Zero Balancing
I included this list of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Therapies to illustrate the extraordinary diversity of alternative medical treatments that are available.  It is virtually impossible to make any global statement about the legitimacy and effectiveness of CAM treatments.  Some entries in the list (Acupuncture, Applied Kinesiology, Aromatherapy, Ear Candling, Magnetic Therapy, Urine Therapy, etc.) are focused on a single process while others (Chiropractic, Naturopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, etc.) incorporate a number of different treatments in their repertoire.   The Mayo Clinic has some suggestions for evaluating alternative medical claims.

CAM Therapies: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States, 2005, Appendix A. "The [list to the right] may or may not be considered a part of CAM, depending on one's accepted definition of CAM. Practitioners provided the individual therapy definitions cited [in the appendix].
One of the difficulties in any study of CAM is trying to determine what is included in the definition of CAM. Does CAM include vitamin use, nutrition and diets, behavioral medicine, exercise and other treatments that have been integrated into conventional medical systems? Should CAM include prayer, shamanism, or other therapies that may not be considered health care practices? As discussed further in Chapter 6, the reasons for defining modalities as 'CAM therapies' are not only scientific but also political, social, [and] conceptual (Jonas, 2002). In the United States, some of the most frequently used and well-known therapies that are recognized as CAM are relaxation techniques, herbs, chiropractic, and massage therapy (Eisenberg et al., 1998). Chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage therapy are licensed in most states. Naturopathy and homeopathy are licensed in fewer states. Numerous other therapies and modalities are considered unlicensed practices and at present few or no formal regulations apply to these therapies and modalities. The New York State Office of Regulatory Reform and CAM has identified more than 100 therapies, practices, and systems that could be considered CAM (see Appendix A for a list of therapies)
."
List of topics characterized as pseudoscience - "This is a list of topics that have, at one point or another in their history, been characterized as pseudoscience by academics or researchers. These characterizations were made in the context of educating the public about questionable or potentially fraudulent or dangerous claims and practices - efforts to define the nature of science, or humorous parodies of poor scientific reasoning. Criticism of pseudoscience, generally by the scientific community or skeptical organizations, involves critiques of the logical, methodological, or rhetorical bases of the topic in question. Many adherents to or practitioners of the topics listed here dispute their characterization as pseudoscience."
Donald Simanek's Skeptical Documents and Links: What s Science, What is Pseudoscience - "A visitor to my web site asks "What is the diefinition of pseudoscience?" That's a fair, but challenging, question. Normally one would expect the practitioners of a discipline to define it, but in this case the practitioners of pseudoscience don't recognize the validity of the label."
Cutting down the dissonance: the psychology of gullibility - Why do people embrace irrational belief systems even after repeated disconfirmation by scientists?
Dangers of Pseudoscience - "The borderlines between genuine science and pseudoscience may be fuzzy, but this should be even more of a call for careful distinctions, based on systematic facts and sound reasoning. To try a modicum of turtle blood here and a little aspirin there is not the hallmark of wisdom and even-mindedness. It is a dangerous gateway to superstition and irrationality."
Homeopathic Study of Cancer Treatment Fails. Homeopaths Conclude It Works - "And here is the big thing. The one conclusion that I can draw is that there is evidence here that a significant number of people offered homeopathy as a complementary therapy to mainstream therapy refuse genuine therapies when they might save their lives. That is a horrible possibility that ought to send shock waves through the supporters of co-called Integrated Medicine, such as the College of Medicine. Their good intentions to ‘blend the best of mainstream and CAM’ might actually be doing measurable harm by sucking people into the intellectual black hole of superstitious and pseudoscientific treatments." Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States, 2005 - "The goal of evidence-based medicine is to ensure that, to the extent possible, individual clinical decisions and broader health policy decisions about tests and treatments be based on the published results of rigorous studies of efficacy and effectiveness. Because not all treatments have been subjected to formal study and because some treatments cannot be studied without investment in massive clinical trials, it will not be possible to base all treatment decisions on published evidence. Nevertheless, the concept of evidence-based medicine asks that decisions be based on published scientific evidence when it is available and that investments be made to gather evidence in as many areas of medical care as possible."

What Is BiasScience

The 10 Characteristics of BiasScience

  1. BiasScience is usually concerned only with the descriptions of the natural world.  The one major exception I am aware of is Creationists - they claim scientific evidence actually supports Creation by divine intervention instead of evolution.  The problem is that, by definition, Creationism requires supernatural intervention into otherwise completely natural processes.
  2. BiasScientific understanding should involve describing only natural Cause and Effect Relationships between events.  Creationism adds periodic episodes of supernatural intervention.
  3. BiasScience, by definition is NOT Objective: Cause and effect relationships are created by observing, measuring and describing natural phenomena and by designing and performing experiments to collect and interpret evidence while maximizing personal biases.  Research that does not conform to required biases is ignored, and experiments are designed, carried out and results analyzed to justify a specific belief.
  4. By definition the natural world and natural cause and effect relationships can only be observed, measured and tested using our 5 basic senses and tools that extend them.
  5. BiasScience is BiasTransparent (only information that supports specific beliefs is shared as accurate).  BiasScientific results are reproducible only by those who share the beliefs, follow the biased methods and accept the biased analyses and interpretations.
  6. BiasScience is a Human Endeavor - Consequently:
    • BiasScientists allow their eccentricities to control the design, methods, analyses and interpretation of research.
    • BiasScience is perceived as less messy than legitimate science because only a small, edited portion of the available evidence that supports a specific position is presented.
    • Uncontrolled Testimonials (anecdotal evidence) are employed to enhance the biased interpretation of evidence.
  7. Consensus in BiasScience is only among those who have the same strong biases.  By definition, beliefs in any BiasScience area are NOT shared by the majority of scientists who accept the Consensus.
  8. BiasScience Knowledge is fixed in unchangeable doctrines by the strong beliefs that drive BiasScience.
  9. The acquisition and distribution of BiasScientific Knowledge can be driven by strong moral beliefs.
  10. The complexity of BiasScientific descriptions of the natural world (all theories and laws) is often less than those of legitimate science because evidence that conflicts with the beliefs has been edited out.
Compare Characteristics with Science, NotScience, and PseudoScience BiasScience.

BiasScience exists precisely because of the FACT THAT NATURE IS NOT BIASED - - - and humans are When the methods of science are used correctly to reduce bias from the experimental and/or observational processes there is no guarantee that the results will support the original hypothesis that is being tested.  If someone attempts to justify a passionate personal belief scientifically and nature fails to cooperate, there can be a strong motivation (conscious or unconscious) to overlook inconvenient results, modify the methods to produce 'better' results, and selectively pursue the outcomes necessary to sustain, justify and prove the fundamental belief valid.

There are six important features of BiasScience that distinguish it from legitimate scientific disagreements.  As you read through BiasScience propaganda and compare it with evidence that supports the current consensus of experts in a given field, watch for specific examples of the following characteristics:

  1. Ignore or Dispute the Concepts of Scientific Consensus and Weight of Evidence:  As noted elsewhere, complex, important scientific topics often have hundreds to thousands of experiments and observations that have been conducted over the years in an effort to understand the topic.  Unfortunately, because of the nature humans as they employ the processes of science, these studies and observations can include a wide variety of conclusions (some contradictory), and the quality of the research can vary greatly. 

    The methods of science, however, do not suggest that the quality and reliability of studies be determined by tossing a coin or voting on which conclusion is preferred.  Each study is carefully reviewed by experts in the field and a determination is made on how reliable the study and resulting conclusions are.  Conclusions from reliable, reproducible, high quality research are more likely to be considered valid and contribute to the expert consensus than those from poor quality, obviously biased or unrepeatable studies.  

    This assessment of all available evidence in a specific area of study leads to the formation of a scientific consensus, "the collective judgment, position, and opinion of the community of scientists in a particular field of study.  Consensus implies general agreement, though not necessarily unanimity." - Wikipedia  The process is not perfect, but there is no other way to effectively evaluate evidence that can even come close.

    It is important to understand that the alleged evidence, selectively picked to support BiasScience conclusions, has already been evaluated by the scientific community and rejected because it does not meet the criteria necessary to change the Scientific Consensus.  Obviously, those who's beliefs and desires clash with the consensus do not accept that fact.  They are not pleased and argue that the idea of a scientific consensus is just a way for "The Establishment" to maintain control over the population. 

    • One component of the attack on Scientific Consensus is to try and demonstrate that Scientific Consensus has changed over the years, and some very poor and dangerous conclusions have been accepted as true by some members of the scientific community for a limited period of time.  Therefore, they argue, the entire idea of a trustworthy consensus of experts is flawed and should be abandoned - at least in the areas of their specific bias. 

      This allegation fails to address the fact that it has always been the processes of science that exposed and corrected the problems and changed the Scientific Consensus if necessary.  Legitimate science always is subject to the possibility of change and evolution with the introduction of new, legitimate information.  The fact is that BiasScience 'evidence' is generally neither new nor legitimate - otherwise it would be able to influence the consensus.

    • A second component of the attack on Scientific Consensus is promoting the illusion that legitimate disagreement about elements of specific theories within a discipline "proves" the processes of science (or specific conclusions) are fundamentally flawed.  This is another indication that those who employ BiasScience have no understanding that passionate disagreements are a normal component of the evolution of scientific consensus and generally relate to relatively minor details that do not impact the overall consensus in the specific topic of controversy.  BiasScience activists provide no alternative to replace the Scientific Consensus they try to discredit, and by default they constitute a "minority consensus" based on a minority interpretation of the evidence.

    • A third component of BiasScience attacks on the Scientific Consensus that's employed by some BiasScience activists (usually those with health-related agendas) is to claim that "The Establishment Scientists" (i.e. those who accept the consensus) are all part of some government, industrial, health &/or pharmaceutical conspiracy that forces citizens to accept programs and regulations that are actually harmful instead of beneficial as claimed by the consensus.  Specific, documented evidence to expose these massive conspiracies, however, is never provided - but evidence is not required to spread distrust of "The Establishment", and that is all that matters.

      The fact is all health-related BiasScience claims are understood and rejected by most health professionals.  You can visit sites of national and international health organizations and read the scientific consensus regarding specific health issues as well as the specific reasons BiasScience arguments are not valid.  These organizations have thousands of members - practicing health care professionals.  In order to accept the BiasScience claims that specific health programs are harmful, one would need to assume that most health care professionals don't understand the scientific evidence well enough to comprehend the harm, don't recognize that their patients are actually suffering from these practices, are part of the conspiracy, and/or simply don't give a darn about the compromised health of their patients.

    The most effective way to handle claims that seem to question the consensus for well established scientific theories like those discussed below is to read the actual studies and the actual conclusions of the authors - which works if you have an excellent understanding of the specific scientific or medical specialty.  The alternative to accepting the scientific consensus is to rely on the opinions of a small minority who have scientific training, who have presumably examined all available evidence in a given discipline and who have reached completely different conclusions than nearly all experts in the field.

  2. Outlier Professionals:  Since science is conducted by humans, and since humans can have a variety of extremely passionate NotScience beliefs, there can be disagreements about the interpretation of the natural evidence collected by the processes of science.  Also, as mentioned elsewhere, the quality and degree of impartiality of the scientists and their research can be determined by passionate beliefs.  Consequently, it is not surprising that there is disagreement in many areas of science, particularly those which are complex and those with conclusions that conflict with specific, fervent moral, political or religious beliefs which do not depend on natural, scientific evidence. 

    Most of those who believe in and passionately promote BiasScience views are not scientists and do not have training and practical experience in the relevant fields.  There are, however, a relative few individuals who do have scientific training and yet interpret the available evidence in a manner completely contrary to the consensus.

    Those who have scientific training and choose to support BiasScience positions do not have a different set of evidence than those who accept the scientific consensus - they have simply chosen to interpret that evidence differently than mainstream scientists.  Although BiasScience promoters use the argument that the scientific consensus can change (and has changed - often dramatically), they can provide no new, unique evidence that has not already been examined and shown to be of insufficient quality or reliability to change the consensus of most scientists. 

    This is another challenging characteristic for non-scientists to evaluate because it appears to pit scientist against scientist.  Which scientists are providing an accurate interpretation of all the available evidence?  Again, those who are not skilled at accurately evaluating complex scientific subjects must depend on an Authority - either supporters of the scientific consensus or a small minority who have interpreted the evidence differently.  

  3. Cherry Pick "Evidence":  Scientists are always pleased when an unbiased observation or experiment supports their hypotheses.  Those who have passionate beliefs about some natural phenomena would always prefer to have Scientific Evidence to support their beliefs.  However, if someone has a specific, strongly-held belief about a natural phenomenon they already "know to be true", maintaining that belief requires specific conclusions to be reached by any experiment or observation - otherwise their belief can't be promoted as scientific.

    If nature does not "cooperate", and legitimate scientific evidence does not support the required conclusions, those who employ BiasScience must exploit other processes (selection of poor quality research or using out of context content from legitimate studies) so the appearance of scientific validity can be maintained. 

    The term commonly used to describe this process of selectively choosing "evidence" that can appear to support a specific conclusion is "cherry picking".  This results in a body of "evidence" that might superficially appear to be scientifically legitimate but, in fact, is seriously flawed because only selected and edited pieces of 'evidence' are presented. 

    The most effective way to identify reliable evidence to generate and support scientific positions is to read the primary research papers or published reviews.  The National Library of Medicine, for example contains over 23 million journal articles in the life sciences.  There are other journals that publish specialized research papers in paleontology, astronomy, physics, climatology, etc.  Experts in the various scientific disciplines use previous published studies to direct their research and then contribute their results to the body of evidence.  Legitimate scientific publications employ the process of Peer Review to carefully evaluate all aspects of the research process - the methods for data collection, the analysis and the resulting conclusions - to ensure only legitimate studies are published.  

    Because the review process is also a human endeavor, it has been abused like other aspects of science.  However, Peer Review, even with its flaws, is far superior to the alternative of "Anything Goes as long as it supports a specific bias" which is the default standard of those who embrace BiasScience and PseudoScience. 

    One relatively recent complication to depending on studies published in journals as a way to find legitimate scientific evidence and understand the scientific consensus is the proliferation of online journals - many of which publish any content the authors pay for with little or no peer review.  Even with a degree in science it is difficult sometimes to identify legitimate online publications.

    Evaluating published scientific evidence to identify legitimate research and conclusions is one of the more difficult challenges for non-scientists because recognizing poor quality studies and identifying edited conclusions requires a fairly good understanding of science.  Consequently, most people who hold a belief based on scientific evidence must ultimately rely on the evaluations of those they accept as authorities -

  4. Conduct Public Campaigns to Discredit Mainstream Science:  Since the scientific community understands and has rejected the BiasScience interpretation of evidence, the only option remaining to promoters is to try and directly convince the public their beliefs and interpretation of the evidence are correct.  The only way to convince the public that their beliefs are scientifically legitimate is to denounce the parts of the scientific process that have rejected their claims.  During these public campaigns, a common BiasScience strategy is to accuse the Scientific Consensus of being flawed because all the experts involved are ignorant, uninformed, greedy - on the payroll of "BIG-Establishment", and/or scared of coming out against those "In Power".

    BiasScience promotions also, by default, ignore all evidence from legitimate studies that does not support their conclusions, and they extract anything from any study that can be manipulated to support their conclusions.  There are often demands for public debates because (1) debates can lend a venire of scientific respectability and provide the illusion that both sides are equally legitimate and scientific, and (2) in a debate it is extremely easy to throw out dozens of controversial issues (real and fabricated) that are common in a complex scientific topic.  It is impossible to address any of the issues adequately in a debate format.  This debate technique has been called Gish Gallop.

  5. Employ Fear:  Fear is an extremely powerful motivator.  If you are scared about your safety or the safety of your family and friends, you are likely to take the most obvious protective action quickly without wasting time studying the nuances of your possible options. 

    This 'fight or flight' response is one of our most primitive survival strategies, and it is difficult to counter fear with a calmly considered discussion.  In a more subtle example, if you have been told your spiritual beliefs could be compromised by accepting specific science-based theories you are probably reluctant to even consider them. 

    If you are reading this page because you have heard that community water fluoridation is damaging to your health, vaccines are harmful or that belief in evolutionary theory (change over long periods of time) will destroy the foundations of your Christianity (or any other similar claims that "science has it wrong"), I encourage you to set aside your fears and consider the following content with an open mind.  There are plenty of places you can regain that fear later if I am unable to convince you that your fears are unfounded.

  6. BiasScience, like PseudoScience, ultimately contributes nothing to the advancement of legitimate scientific knowledge because the processes for collecting and interpreting "evidence" depend on supporting strong moral, political or religions beliefs instead of conducting objective evaluations.  Those who practice BiasScience pick the "truth" they wish to "prove" and then "adjust" science to try and make it happen.  The only goal is to conduct "experiments" or accumulate "evidence" that supports an inflexible pre-determined conclusion. 

The bottom line:  Those who exploit BiasScience to promote their passionate agendas construct a presentation of their position that can appear extremely believable to the general public.  Those who employ BiasScience are not constrained in any way by legitimate scientific evidence, and they have no regard for following legitimate scientific processes.  Consequently, those who employ BiasScience are free to manipulate evidence to fabricate an illusion of scientific legitimacy.  That illusion frequently exploits strong emotions like fear, morality and/or religious beliefs to help convince those who don't have the training, expertise, experience or time to evaluate the evidence for themselves to reject the Scientific Consensus.  The BiasScience agenda is an attempt to establish a pretense of Authority to enhance acceptance of their propaganda.


The three fundamental types of human learning exploited by BiasScience:   Comparison

  1. Use of Trial and Error (T&E) Experimentation and Learning to Gain Knowledge
    T&E experimentation is a significant component of BiasScience. Experimentation is done to determine which specific information is effective when presented to the public so the desired interpretation of the scientific results can be communicated successfully.  Occasionally science-appearing studies are performed, but the goal is to Prove the hypothesis true rather than Test the validity of the hypotheses.

  2. Dependence on Stories to Communicate Knowledge
    Emotional stories convey and enhance the edited bits of scientific information selected for communication to the public.

  3. Dependence on and Acceptance of Authority to Distribute & Regulate Knowledge
    Those who extract and present the selected evidence to support their beliefs must establish themselves as
    legitimate Authorities to convince the public that their position - and not the Scientific Consensus - is True.
    By definition the beliefs of those who practice BiasScience run counter to the Scientific Consensus. Also by definition, the evidence they believe supports their passionately held beliefs has already been evaluated by the scientific community and has been found to be NOT SUFFICIENT to change the Scientific Consensus.

Consequences of accepting BiasScience claims without challenge:

  1. The primary consequence - and the reason for my passion to present this information - is that BiasScience erodes trust in the legitimacy of science and scientific knowledge.  BiasScience claims can only be accepted by the public as true if the methods of science are discredited --- specifically the elements of rigorous control of biases, peer review and scientific consensus --- and the BiasScience alternative are established as Authoritative. 

    Nearly all of modern civilization is either driven by or strongly influenced by science.  The public is responsible for maintaining a representative "government of the people, by the people, for the people...".  Consequently, it is critical that the people have an accurate understanding of the methods of science and the knowledge it provides instead of depending on beliefs dictated by promoters of BiasScience.

  2. With the erosion of trust in science, inaccurate information that directly contradicts the scientific consensus becomes commonly accepted as true (or at least a legitimate alternative) in the public arena.  The public is responsible for electing and monitoring government officials who are responsible for making critical public decisions.  If those members of the public who are elected to serve and the members of the public who elect them base their decisions on biased, inaccurate 'scientific' information, the potential consequences to a democracy which depends on an educated, scientifically literate public and elected/appointed government officials can be enormous.  Decisions can be made that will have a negative impact on the wellbeing of our planet and humanity.

  3. To the extent that BiasScience promoters are successful in selling their agendas to the people, their agendas become public policy.  The BiasScience promoters become the go-to Authorities, their candidates get elected, their agendas become policy.  Invest the effort it takes to actually understand the evidence that supports both sides of contentious scientific issues like those discussed here, and do not believe either side simply because the conclusions appear to support your initial beliefs.

  4. BiasScience health claims (vaccines, fluoride ions and mercury amalgams are dangerous, for example) can lead to unnecessary harm if the public listens to and believes the fabricated testimony or fear-based distortions of scientific evidence from BiasScience promoters. 

  5. The BiasScience agenda is not to actually understand or continue to gain a more accurate understanding of the issues.  Instead, the sole goal is to interpret existing evidence or create new "evidence" in a manner that continues to be effective at convincing the public their anti-consensus interpretation is correct and the expert consensus is wrong. 

    BiasScience contributes little, if anything, to the overall advancement of scientific knowledge.  Those who employ BiasScience to support their strongly held biases and beliefs are typically not interested in the impartial acquisition of scientific knowledge and understanding the natural universe - only in supporting their beliefs and promoting their agendas.

Processes of science and the activities of legitimate scientists are conducted with the goal of integrating new, valid scientific evidence with previous knowledge.  Most often new evidence contributes to the existing expert consensus, possibly adjusting it as a result of new facts or a better understanding (the recent lowering of the optimal fluoridation recommendation from the original range of 0.7-1.2 ppm to 0.7 ppm is one example).  Occasionally new evidence is shown to be of poor quality or highly biased - and consequently refuted and largely ignored by experts.  Rarely is new scientific evidence presented that completely changes the scientific consensus virtually over night.

Consequently, change in scientific consensus for most scientific topics (particularly those that are complex with decades of existing research) is evolutionary and relatively slow.  There have been no extraordinary research discoveries in any of the four BiasScience issues listed below that would require any changes to the current scientific consensus - either rapid or evolutionary.



There are numerous examples of BiasScience, and I will discussed four important examples below: (1) Creation Science (Intelligent Design); (2) Anti-Fluoridation; (3) Anti-Vaccination; and (4) Climate Change Deniers.  In each of these illustrations of BiasScience I will provide a description of the issue. and provide links to other sites that explain in greater detail how the BiasScience beliefs have distorted or ignored the scientific consensus and failed to provide legitimate scientific evidence to support their beliefs.  I will not, for the most part, provide links to sites supporting BiasScience (except for quotes that demonstrate a specific position) --- anyone who has concerns about the validity of evolution, drinking water fluoridation, vaccination or climate change will already be extremely familiar with sites that contradict the scientific consensus on these issues.

1 - Creation Science (Intelligent Design):  This controversy is of particular interest to me, first, because I believed and promoted the Young Earth Creation Science (YECS) agenda for many years, and I must now atone for my sins.  And Second, because the primary claim (belief) --- that the orderliness of the natural universe and the complexity of living organisms PROVES the existence of a Creator who continually interacts with the creation --- immediately disqualifies the belief as scientific because it is impossible to test that core belief using science.  A claim (belief) that there is no spiritual realm or Creator also disqualifies that belief as scientific, because that too is an untestable statement of faith.  All science can do is discover and understand natural cause and effect relationships in the natural universe.

Belief in an Omnipotent Creator-God, can explain any creation scenario and any evidence found within the created universe and doesn't require scientific proof.  YECS beliefs, however, require that all natural, scientific evidence supports their specific interpretation of natural and human history, which, in turn, proves their specific interpretation of Scripture is True.  I am passionate about the YECS discussion because, according to Young Earth Creationists, a key foundation of all True Christian Beliefs is a very specific, very literal interpretation of a few verses in the Bible which requires the unquestioning acceptance of a young earth and a series of very recent catastrophic historic events.  I have personally experienced the consequences of this unnatural interdependence between faith and science described by Sir William Bragg, 1915 Nobel Laureate who was both a Christian and a renowned scientist, "I am sure that I am not the only one to whom when young the literal interpretation of Biblical texts caused years of acute misery and fear."

The full implications of immutably linking the finding of science (a constantly evolving human endeavor to understand and explain the natural universe) with unchanging spiritual doctrine can't be understood unless you have experienced the fear generated when an evolving understanding of science begins to expose what appeared to be serious problems with the YECS interpretations and explanations of natural, scientific evidence.  As my understanding of and experience in the sciences grew I was faced with three options. 

  1. Continue to ignore the scientific consensus and learn how to fit all newly discovered evidence into the existing YECS belief structure.  "[Skeptics] need to be shown that what we see in this world around us only makes sense in the light of God’s Word." (Dr. A. Snelling)
  2. Accept what I was learning about science as valid and reject the YECS scientific interpretations along with my spiritual beliefs inexorably based on them.  This is the only alternative provided by YECS authorities - God's way or the atheistic, humanist alternative.  "Instead of using the Creator’s Word as our test of truth, our natural tendency now is to use our own opinions, the opinions of rebellious, fallen man." (AIG)
  3. Accept what I was learning about science as valid and explore the possibility that other legitimate interpretations of scriptures support the same spiritual beliefs and do not require any scientific support for those spiritual beliefs.  "Our message is that you can believe in the Bible, and believe that the earth is billions of years old, with or without evolution, without any conflict." (OEM)

I chose the third option, but I know individuals who have chosen option two because their scientific understanding was stronger than their belief in the teachings of Young Earth Creationists, their rigid religious training allowed no compromise and provided them no alternative choice.  I suppose, as YECS beliefs dictate, I, along with most scientists (Christians and non-Christians), could be completely wrong, but the more knowledge science generates, the more I learn about the sciences, the more physical evidence I evaluate and the more I read about the YECS explanations of that evidence, the stronger are my convictions that the young earth models have no foundation in any legitimate science.

If nothing else, I hope to provide an argument that it is possible (and more reasonable) to accept an evolutionary (old and changing) interpretation of the available physical evidence in addition to belief in a God who is revealed both in the Bible and in the Created Universe and imperfect (fallen) humans who were redeemed by the death of Jesus Christ.  In my interpretation, everything except the evaluation and interpretation of natural evidence is a spiritual, non-scientific belief.

Specific spiritual beliefs (or lack of spiritual beliefs) are created from a combination of personal experiences and teachings from many different sources as a person encounters various events (good and bad) throughout their life.  These beliefs then determine how future life events are interpreted.  I am both a Christian and a scientist.  I have faith that there is a spiritual component to the universe and a God who created the universe and interacts with the creation.  How can I PROVE this belief scientifically?  I can't - I HAVE FAITH.  How can I PROVE scientifically which specific incidents the in the history of the universe, our solar system, our earth and the development of life depended on supernatural intervention?  I can't - I HAVE FAITH.  How can I PROVE scientifically which specific incidents in my life resulted from supernatural intervention?  I can't - I HAVE FAITH - just as those without spiritual beliefs HAVE FAITH that all of reality consists ONLY of the visible and measurable aspects of the natural universe.

Belief in a continually changing universe over a great span of time (evolution) does not mean I do not believe in God.  It does mean I believe in a God who created a universe that operates on consistent natural laws that can be discovered and understood by humans.  Those natural laws mean that anyone, regardless of faith (or lack of faith) can study the same natural phenomena and discover the evidence created by the same natural laws as a Christian.  The bottom line is that whatever I believe about my spiritual faith can have no requirement or expectation of scientific proof.  The world and universe should look and behave physically in exactly the same manner if I: 
(1) believed that the universe simply began 13.8 billion years ago with no requirement of a God or a spiritual realm (atheistic evolution).
(2) believed that God created the universe 13.8 billion years ago with a completely developed plan that would play out "automatically" without constant supernatural tweaking through a process described as evolution (theistic evolution). 
(3) believed that God created the universe millions or billions of years ago with a plan that required periodic tweaking to add different elements of the universe, earth and living organisms we see today (like humans) at different times as needed. (Old Earth Creationism).  Old Earth Creation (OEC) proponents generally agree that, "God created the earliest primitive micro-organisms on earth approximately 3.8 billion years ago and continued to create life through the “days” of creation (long epochs of time), including all plant life, sea and flying creatures, land animals including primitive bipedal primates, and finally humanity’s actual historical parents, Adam and Eve, God’s 'crown-jewel' of creation, made in His image."  There are, however, many different, specific OEC beliefs depending on the nature, number and timing of the specific ongoing creation events individuals believe took place between the formation of the universe and evaluation of that evidence.

An omnipotent God could have created the universe in 6 days six thousand years ago, deployed a catastrophic world wide flood four thousand years ago and then adjusted the evidence to support an evolutionary theory.  So believers must ultimately depend on Faith Alone to accept the teachings of scripture.  Belief in an all-powerful Creator means any creation scenario is possible - and, by definition, untestable and un-scientific.  Belief that science must support a specific, literal interpretation of scripture is neither scientific nor Biblical.

Most fundamental beliefs (Christian, Hindu, Muslim, agnostic, atheistic, etc.) accept a natural universe everyone can see, experience and study today - a universe in which we can explore, test and understand natural cause and effect relationships using the methods of science.  As described in the Science section, anyone with any spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof) should be able to perform the same observations or experiments and collect exactly the same evidence while studying any natural phenomenon.  Interpretation of that evidence, however, can depend on the beliefs and expectations of scientists - and that is where the disconnect between evolutionary and Young Earth Creation models originates.  The recognized fact that accurate scientific research can be compromised by passionate beliefs (as well as poor methods and other issues) is the reason that confirmation of scientific results by others, or reproducibility, (preferably by those who challenge the conclusions) is a key component of the scientific method.  One key fact to be aware of is that there is no independent confirmation of any YECS hypotheses provided to explain specific elements of the natural universe.

Flagellum - Irreducible Complexity and Intelligent DesignAn example of how supernatural intervention explanations can put a halt to scientific exploration is the argument of "irreducible complexity" frequently employed by creationist proponents.  This idea, promoted by Michael Behe, "argues that some biochemical structures are too complex to be explained by known evolutionary mechanisms and are therefore probably the result of intelligent design [i.e. supernatural intervention]."  One of the more common examples at the microscopic level is the bacterial flagellum, which, according to Behe, "is the extremely sophisticated, ultra complex biological outboard motor that bacteria use to swim...  ...anyone looking at a drawing of the flagellum immediately apprehends the design."  The problem?  If God created flagella (and related structures) fully formed there would be no reason to study the related structures in different organisms and possibly discover a mechanism and intermediate forms which could actually explain how one structure could evolve into another.  The notion of "irreducible complexity" like the claim that "no intermediate fossils exist" are moving targets that must constantly be adjusted as science continues to discover more evidence.
wiki - Evolution of flagella
The bacterial flagellar motor: brilliant evolution or intelligent design?
Evolution in (Brownian) space: a model for the origin of the bacterial flagellum - N. J. Matzke, 2003
A Video description of Matzke's Hypothesis

YECS leaders tend to be the most vocal group of creationists.  Their beliefs depend on a very specific, literal interpretation of the Bible (particularly a few passages in Genesis), and require (according to their calculations) a very young earth -- by most of their interpretations not more than 10,000 years old, and an even more recent catastrophic global flood around 4,300 years ago. 

This discussion will focus on YECS beliefs. 

Biblical Timeline from Answers In Genesis
(with several additions)
Major event Date
Stratigraphic Column   Creation - The Entire Universe, our Solar System, Earth and All Life Six 24 hour Days in
4040 BC
Curse 10 days after creation
Pre-Flood Civilization, Climate and Geology
→ All evidence of the pre-flood civilization, climate and most geology was completely eliminated by Noah's Flood
4040-2348 BC
(1,692 years)
Geological and Fossil History Noah's Global Flood and Continental Sprint formed the mountains of Ararat, the Alps, Andes, Himalayas, the Caledonian and Appalachian mountains, the sediments that formed the Grand Canyon, the White Cliffs of Dover to name a few examples.  This includes the break up of Rodinia and the formation and break up of Pangaea. (AIG)
2348 BC
All events occurred over the space of one year.
    → Four pairs of humans and about 1,000 to 8,000 pairs of land animals (the "Kinds") left the ark. 
Animals begin to migrate to all newly formed continents and evolve into one to six million species.  One suggestion by creationists is that Noah and his family were Neanderthals.
→ Antarctica and the Arctic experience temperate to subtropical climates.
2347 BC
Ice Age → The Ice Age Begins:
→ Four human pairs, Noah and his family reproduce and move to Shinar
→ Antarctica and the Arctic were rapidly covered by ice.
→ First appearance of Mastodons
After 2347 BC
Tower of Babel
Human migration begins to all the newly formed continents
→ First tools and Human fossils.
→ Stone Age begins.
2242 BC
105 years after Noah's flood
All evidence of human history → Egypt began after the Tower of Babel but prior to Abraham going to Egypt
→ All other civilizations begin:
   - First permanent settlements
   - First cities
After 2242 BC
→ Call of Abraham 1922 BC
Ice Age Peak
   (500 years after the Flood)
1848 BC
→ Ice Age Ends 1747-1647 BC
→ Time of the Judges
   (Moses was the first)
1491 BC
God appears to Moses in the burning bush
The Exodus
   (according to Bible chronology)
1446 BC
→ Time of the Kings
   (Saul was the first)
1095 BC
→ Split Kingdom 975 BC
→ Christ was born ~4 BC
It is one thing to hold a belief in a universe that's no older than 10,000 years as a purely Spiritual Truth.  It is quite another challenge to claim, and try to prove with legitimate scientific evidence, that ALL evidence from ALL Interrelated disciplines of science (biology, genetics, chemistry, physics, geology, astronomy, astrophysics, climatology, paleontology, archeology, etc.) in addition to ALL documented human history actually proves:

It is ironic that YECS leaders use legitimate disagreements among evolutionary scientists as an argument that conventional scientific theories are not to be trusted while there is far from universal agreement among young earth proponents about many of their alternative explanations.  Just one example of differing explanations:  In a discussion of post-flood Neanderthal dispersion three different timings of "Continental Sprint" were discussed - the "breakup of the earth occurred" (a) during the flood, (b) 200 years after Babel, or (c) 159 years after Babel depending on the interpretation of various scriptures and other considerations.  There are also apparent disagreements about "Hominin Baraminology" within the YECS ranks.

As you read the YECS alternatives to an extremely old universe and standard evolutionary processes, always be aware that the speculations are not supported by any processes observable today.  For example, there are many lines of evidence that support continental drift (plate tectonics) over many millions of years, including actual measurements of movement to various seafloor structures.  On the other hand, there are only YECS speculations, like "The facts indicate that the separation of the continents, rifting of the ocean floor, and underthrusting of ocean trenches, were accomplished by rapid processes, not occurring today, initiated by a catastrophic mechanism" unaccompanied by any supporting evidence.

In This page I examine the YECS arguments from the perspective of one who used to accept them as valid. This page covers problems with YECS explanations and tactics.

Cosmic Timeline and Creation ScienceExplore a side-by-side comparison of the scientific and YECS timelines in a Cosmic Calendar, similar to the one used by both Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson in their respective Cosmos series.

The organization Answers In Genesis (AIG), provides the date of Noah's Flood (accurate within 12 months), "...in the year 2348 BC. Some may look for an exact date (i.e., month and day), but we are not given that sort of precision in Scripture."  According to AIG, creation of the universe, our solar system, our earth and all pre-flood life occurred over a one week period 1,656 years earlier, in 4004 BC.  

According to the Institute for Creation Research, "At the end of the Flood, after thick sequences of sediments had accumulated, the Indian subcontinent evidently collided with Asia, crumpling the sediments into mountains. Today they stand as giants—folded and fractured layers of ocean-bottom sediments at high elevations. No, Noah's Flood didn't cover the Himalayas, it formed them!"

It is important to recognize the challenges YECS leaders face when they attempt to "prove" that all scientific evidence actually supports their beliefs.  According to mainstream scientific consensus, the combined evidence from all scientific disciplines accumulated over at least 150 years, aligns to clearly demonstrate the universe is quite a bit older than the 6-10 thousand years calculated by YECS leaders --- about 400 to 600 thousand times older.  The actual timescale of the creation process differs even more dramatically - over 1.3 trillion days for scientific creation vs. 6 days for the YECS process of creation (that's a natural period of creation over 200 billion times slower than allowed by YECS leaders).  This remarkable difference in the time available for the formation of the universe as we experience and understand it today leads to some interesting challenges for YECS leaders and their speculations.

The YECS interpretation of natural history is equivalent to examining a 90 year old man or woman and concluding that  their entire history (all life experiences and changes in their bodies, from conception to the present) actually occurred within the most recent second of their existence.  There would be no possible natural explanation for this observation. 

Individuals can believe in a creator or they can be atheistic or agnostic and participate in legitimate science, as long as they avoid the temptation to allow their theistic (or atheistic) beliefs to influence their practice of science and the interpretation of the evidence. 

An example - Two different interpretations of the same scientific evidence:

  1. BiasScience - Lack of craters "proves" Pluto is a very young planet
    Pluto's Surface Is Young - Planetary scientists who are committed to belief in a 4.5-billion-year-old solar system are at a complete loss to explain the lack of craters on Pluto.  ...We may yet find a few craters on Pluto's surface, but those would be inconsequential to the conclusions that we can draw. It is very clear that Pluto is young, far younger than the billions of years generally assumed. While this is unexpected and hence unexplainable for evolutionists, this is something that we might expect if the universe is only thousands of years old as the Bible indicates. The preliminary results from the New Horizons space probe are good news indeed for the recent creation model." (Answers in Genesis).  Notice, the patently untrue claim that scientists "are at a complete loss to explain the lack of craters on Pluto."  As described in the articles below, there actually are craters on Pluto's surface, and scientists are not (nor have they ever been) at a complete loss to explain the evidence of regions without craters - on Pluto or on other planets.  Statements that deliberately misinterpret the conclusions of mainstream science in an effort to support YECS opinions is disingenuous at best.  Th
  2. Scientific Consensus - Lack of craters suggests the surface of Pluto is active and has been modified relatively recently  to erase craters.
    The biggest discovery in new images of Pluto is what scientists didn't see - We have not yet found a single impact crater on this image," John Spencer, one of the co-investigators on the New Horizons team, said in a news conference. 'This means that Pluto has a very young surface. Those are signs the dwarf planet is geologically active.
    Four Months after Pluto Flyby, NASA's New Horizons Yields Wealth of Discovery - Crater counts of surface areas on Pluto indicate that it has surface regions dating to just after the formation of the planets of our solar system, about four billion years ago. But there also is a vast area that was, in geological terms, born yesterday -- meaning it may have formed within the past 10 million years.
    Newly-Discovered Mountains on Pluto Finally Have Those Missing Craters -
    The lack of craters within the light heart is indicative of curiously young terrain freshly-resurfaced within the past 100 million years.
    NASA - Pluto's Layered Craters and Icy Plains

References that demonstrate evolutionary science and Christianity are not incompatible:
Young Earth Creationism Makes Life Difficult for Everyone, "Many of us at Christian colleges really grieve at what a problem this young-earth creationism makes for the Christian witness. It's almost like they're adding another thing you have to believe to become a Christian. It's like saying, You have to believe the world is flat to be a Christian, and that's absolutely unreasonable."
The Transformation of a Young-earth Creationist, "I was processing seismic data for a major oil company. This was where I first became exposed to the problems geology presented to the idea of a global flood. I would see extremely thick (30,000 feet) sedimentary layers and wonder how the flood could have deposited all that sediment and still given time for footprints to be formed if it was all deposited in one year. One could follow beds with footprints from the surface down to those depths where they were covered by such thicknesses of sediment that much time would have been required."
Is Young-Earth Creationism Biblical?, "Coming to the point in this post’s title, how would Genesis itself invite readers to approach it? What were the accounts’ genre or literary type? Would Genesis’s ancient audience have understood the stories about creation in the same way that they understood stories about the patriarchs or, later, kings? ...Genesis was written in Hebrew to an ancient audience that was interested far more in who created than in the details of how creation took place. Perhaps young-earth creationism, in its zeal to defend the truth of Genesis, has inadvertently obscured its message."
Naturalis Historia, "is the collective works and thoughts of  Joel Duff, a professor of biology at the University of Akron, who has spent many years discussing and writing about the intersection of science and faith."
Why I Reject A Young Earth View: A Biblical Defense of an Old Earth, "In this short essay, I have hoped to show that, while Genesis 1 allows for the strict “seven-consecutive-24hour-day” interpretation, it does not demand that we take it that way. While one wants to be careful to consider all of Scripture, we must be similarly careful not to read beyond what the text actually says. While the issue of the age of the earth will undoubtedly continue to be a point of disagreement among Christians, it should not be made into a hill on which to die. It should not be a point over which the church should divide."
The GeoChristian, "A blog primarily about the relationship between the Earth sciences and Christianity."
Age of Rocks "is an online resource for anyone interested in the Earth sciences, but particularly those from a Young-Earth Creationist (YEC) background. I explore a wide range of topics in geology and even theology, typically in response to claims made by creation ministries such as Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research."
God and Science, "Although young earth creationism is the primary creation theology in the U.S., it suffers from numerous scientific problems, including evidence for the age of the universe. Young earth creationists often use discredited "science" as support for their young earth interpretation, including moon craters, a decreasing speed of light, polonium halos, Moon dust, rings around Saturn, etc. Let's look at what science really has to say about the age of the universe and the age of the Earth..."
Old Earth Ministries, "is a privately operated website, dedicated to sharing the Gospel, supporting Christians who believe in an old earth, and ending the false teaching of young earth creationism."
Letters to Creationists, "Welcome to  Letters to Creationists.  This represents my attempt to parse reality: what things happen in accord with natural laws, and what is supernatural ?  Two major themes are creation/evolution and present-day miracles."
Reasons to Believe, "The Bible never declares an age for the Earth, but evidence derived from the text fits most comfortably with a date far older than a few thousand years. RTB holds the position that the six days of creation represent long time periods and that the creation accounts reconcile well with the scientific date for Earth’s formation 4.6 billion years ago."
3 Seriously Bad Theological Implications of Young-Earth Creationism, "...here are three logical consequences that follow from the fundamental teachings of young-earth creationism, and a few reasons it deserves to be a theological punching bag for once. ... Under the young-earth model, this asteroid [that created the Vredefort crater] never could have struck. We know that, because if it did plow into the earth some time in the last 10,000 years, history most definitely would have recorded it, and we would still see the effects of its impact today. In fact, most likely, it would have caused mass extinctions and life would not have yet come close to recovering."

References that address Young Earth Creationist claims:
Fossil Tracks and Other Trace Fossils Refute Flood Geology - "Flood Geology" refers to the view of "young-earth" creationists (YECSs) that most of the fossil record to a violent global flood which occurred only several thousand years ago, and lasted approximately one year. This position, disputed even by many Biblical scholars, is contradicted by vast amounts of geologic and paleontological evidence. For these reasons virtually all geologists, including most Christian ones, rejected Flood Geology in the 1800's.
Must Human Evolution Contradict Genesis? - Many are scandalized when they compare the Genesis account to that of the current evolutionary theory and discover what appears to be clearly deviant chronology. Suggesting that the first man might have lived as early as 500,000 years ago appears to fly in the face of the patriarchal genealogy found in Genesis. Genesis 5 and 11 give the genealogies from Adam to Abraham. Adam was 130 years old when he “begot” Seth. Seth begot Enos when he was 105. Enos begot Kenan when he was 90, and so forth. The genealogy gives the age of each patriarch when he begot his offspring, until, finally, Terah begot Abram (Abraham) when he was 70. Added together, the sum from Adam to Abraham is just over 2,000 years. Since we know the time from Abraham to Christ was a little less than 2,000 years, the total time from the present back to Adam must be about 6,000 years – certainly not 500,000 years! The chronology problem appears insurmountable. (Dennis Bonnette, Ph.D.)   This is an interesting discussion on Creation, Evolution, the "spiritual soul" and Adam and Eve.  Dr. Bonnette describes "current human evolutionary theory’s interface with legitimate scriptural interpretation."  He makes interesting points, but his arguments conclude that belief in spiritual truths exists completely independently of science and cannot be supported by science.
The GeoChristian - "The primary objective of The GeoChristian is to increase science literacy among Evangelical Christians, especially in the areas of the Earth and environmental sciences. I aim to discuss controversial topics in ways that are sound both Biblically and scientifically, and to do so in a way that treats all readers with respect."  A Christian geologist examines the science that exposes YECS claims as false, particularly many arguments from the organization Answers in Genesis.
How Old is the Earth - A Response to “Scientific” Creationism by by G. Brent Dalrymple, U.S. Geological Survey, 1984 - "The tenets of 'scientific' creationism include the beliefs that the Earth, the Solar System, and the universe are less than 10,000 years old and that nearly all the sedimentary rocks on the Earth were deposited in about one year during a worldwide flood. Both of these propositions are disproved by a vast and consistent body of scientific evidence."
The Question of Noah's Flood:  A debate between John D. Morris of the ICR and Frank R. Zindler 1989
The Geologic Column and Its Implications to the Flood, Glenn R. Morton: "A detailed examination of the young earth creationist claim that the geologic column does not exist. It is shown that the entire geologic column exists in North Dakota. This is not done to disprove the Bible but to encourage Christians who are in the area of apologetics to do a better job of getting the facts straight. "
15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense - "When Charles Darwin introduced the theory of evolution through natural selection 143 years ago, the scientists of the day argued over it fiercely, but the massing evidence from paleontology, genetics, zoology, molecular biology and other fields gradually established evolution's truth beyond reasonable doubt. Today that battle has been won everywhere--except in the public imagination."
Forum on Dinosaur Eggs, Nests, and Tracks
Creation Science (RationalWiki)
Creation Science (Wikipedia)
Flood Geology (Wikipedia)

More references that describe the processes of evolution as understood by scientists:
A few problems with Young Earth creationism, "You don’t have to be a geologist to understand that easily observed surface features discount YEC. There are hundreds of impact craters, thousands of extinct volcanoes, and several extinct super-volcanoes observed on Earth today. ... If we add up all that heat and gas, and then assume it was all produced in the last 10,000 years, it adds up to so much activity that our air would be clogged with gaseous residue and the surface covered in many places by cooling ash and lava."
Evolution and the Beginnings of Life On Earth - "The age of the earth, the origins of life, the primordial soup model and the bubble model, evolution and Charles Darwin's Natural Selection, fossils, and the classification of organisms are some of the topics we'll be covering in this article."
National Geographic, A Fin is a Limb is a Wing - "Today biologists are beginning to understand the origins of life’s complexity—the exquisite optical mechanism of the eye, the masterly engineering of the arm, the architecture of a flower or a feather, the choreography that allows trillions of cells to cooperate in a single organism.   ...Evolution, ruthless and practical, is equally capable of building the most wonderful structures and tossing them aside when they’re no longer needed."
Understanding Evolution - "What is evolution and how does it work? Evolution 101 provides the nuts-and-bolts on the patterns and mechanisms of evolution."
Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science, "The document that you are about to read is addressed to several groups at the center of the ongoing debate over evolution: the teachers, other educators, and policy makers who design, deliver, and oversee classroom instruction in biology. It summarizes the overwhelming observational evidence for evolution and suggests effective ways of teaching the subject. It explains the nature of science and describes how science differs from other human endeavors. It provides answers to frequently asked questions about evolution and the nature of science and offers guidance on how to analyze and select teaching materials."


2 - Anti-Fluoridation:
I have spent several decades studying the benefits and risks of community water fluoridation.  Since my website began as an information source for drinking water related issues, I created several pages devoted to the examination of fluoridation. 
Drinking Water Fluoridation: Safety and Effectiveness - If you agree with those who claim that community water fluoridation is ineffective, harmful, unethical and should be discontinued immediately, you might wonder how those individuals responsible for studying, recommending and implementing fluoridation programs can be so uncaring, ignorant, uninformed and incompetent to even consider fluoridation.  This page explains why I concluded that the anti-F agenda is based entirely on BiasScience practices.
Drinking Water Fluoridation: References - This page continues the discussion of anti-F practices and provides links to over sixty books, articles, endorsement, position statements and discussions of anti-F tactics.  The page also contains links to over 200 published, reviewed studies that demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of community water fluoridation.  I also provide a specific example of the difference between how the evidence is collected, evaluated and used by scientists and by fluoridation opponents.


It is remarkable that, if any of the anti-F claims were valid, over 100 prestigious science and health organizations (and their thousands of members) continue to recognize the public health benefit of fluoridation as a safe and effective method to reduce dental decay. These organizations include The WHO, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association.  This page provides specific statements from organizations and individuals in support of fluoridation. 

 
The World Health Organization report: Fluoride and Oral Health, a 2016 update of the 1994 report containing an extensive history and review of fluoride exposure and oral health.  Below are just a few of the relevant conclusions:
—> "Since [1945] hundreds of millions of people worldwide have regularly consumed artificially fluoridated water: currently around 380 million, plus approximately 50 million whose drinking water supplies naturally contain optimal fluoride concentrations"
—> "Studies from many different countries over the past 60 years are remarkably consistent in demonstrating substantial reductions in caries prevalence as a result of water fluoridation. One hundred and thirteen studies into the effectiveness of artificial water fluoridation in 23 countries conducted before 1990, recorded a modal percent caries reduction of 40 to 50% in primary teeth and 50 to 60% in permanent."
—> "More recently, systematic reviews summarizing these extensive databases have confirmed that water fluoridation substantially reduces the prevalence and incidence of dental caries in primary and permanent teeth. Although percent caries reductions recorded have been slightly lower in 59 post-1990 studies compared with the pre-1990 studies, the reductions are still substantial."
—> "The question of possible adverse general health effects caused by exposure to fluorides taken in optimal concentrations throughout life has been the object of thorough medical investigations which have failed to show any impairment of general health."
—> This review has a very complete description of the actions and benefits of fluoridation, and is an excellent source to help understand the scientific consensus.
 http://www.who.int/oral_health/publications/2016_fluoride_oral_health.pdf 

Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has been researching fluoridation for more than 60 years, and released its latest findings in September 2016 which concluded:
—> “Water fluoridation within the current recommended range in Australia (0.6 to 1.1 mg/L) is effective in reducing the occurrence and severity of tooth decay in children, adolescents and adults. In Australia, water fluoridation within this range can be associated with an increase in dental fluorosis. This is often not readily visible and it has no effect on the function of teeth. There is no evidence that water fluoridation within the current Australian range is associated with any adverse health effects.”
https://www.scimex.org/__data/assets/file/0017/106523/16399-NHMRC-Fluoride-Information.pdf

Some additional resources
http://ilikemyteeth.org/fluoridation/ 
http://americanfluoridationsociety.com/home/ 
http://bfsweb.org/ 
http://msof.nz/ 
http://ada.org/en/public-programs/advocating-for-the-public/fluoride-and-fluoridation 
http://cdc.gov/fluoridation/index.html
http://Scientificamerican.com/article/a-plan-to-defend-against-the-war-on-science/ 
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/03/science-doubters/achenbach-text 
https://neuroanthropology.net/2010/04/25/be-afraid-america-be-very-afraid-the-effect-of-negative-media/


3 - Anti-Vaccination:
Anti-Vaccine, Ant-Fluoridation Tactics
There are probably few medical issues more thoroughly researched than vaccines. There are some risks, as there are with any human activity, but the I evidence I have seen demonstrates that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh any risks.

I suppose it is possible that:

I choose to accept the scientific consensus that the benefits of vaccination are far greater than any risks.  In order to change a firmly established scientific consensus supported by decades of research, reproducible evidence of exceptional quality is required.  I have not seen such scientific evidence.  When I examine anti-V "evidence" I find exactly the same type of distortions (poor quality studies, conclusions that are taken out of context or 'edited') that I find in the anti-F propaganda and anti-CC arguments.
World Health Organization: Vaccine Safety 
2013 IOM Childhood Immunization Schedule and Safety 
Summary of 2013 IOM report 
Vaccine Studies Examine the Evidence
Systematic Review of Vaccine Safety 
AMA: Physicians agree: vaccination crucial to public health 
CDC: Vaccine Safety
Australian Government Department of Health: Safety of Vaccines
Health Canada: Don't Wait, Vaccinate! 
General vaccine safety and science
Vaccine & Autism Research 
What’s the real reason Britons aren't offered the chickenpox vaccine? 


4 - Climate Change Deniers:
Global Warming (1850 - 2014)Berkeley Earth has constructed an estimate of the global average temperature during 2014, including land and sea. The key findings are:

  1. The global surface temperature average (land and sea) for 2014 was nominally the warmest since the global instrumental record began in 1850; however, within the margin of error, it is tied with 2005 and 2010 and so we can’t be certain it set a new record.
  2. For the land, 2014 was nominally the 4th warmest year since 1753 (when the land surface temperature record began)
  3. For the sea, 2014 was the warmest year on record since 1850
  4. For the contiguous United States, 2014 ranked nominally as the 38th warmest year on record since 1850.

The Simple Proof of Man-Made Global Warming - "Today I'm going to talk about some simple factual observations that anyone can make, that unambiguously prove human activity is driving warming of the Earth. I'm not going to mention climate models, politics, predictions, economics, or how many scientists agree or disagree — any of the topics on which there is debate. I'm only going to share a few of the most solid basics, the results of absolute measurements, over which there is no debate. These are the things nobody disagrees with, but so few people understand. Despite its contentious topic, this episode is intended to be — and should be — completely non-controversial."

Chasing Ice Documentary: "Chasing Ice is the story of one man’s mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of our changing planet. Within months of that first trip to Iceland, the photographer conceived the boldest expedition of his life: The Extreme Ice Survey. With a band of young adventurers in tow, Balog began deploying revolutionary time-lapse cameras across the brutal Arctic to capture a multi-year record of the world’s changing glaciers."

Extreme Ice Survey: "Founded in 2007 by James Balog, the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) is an innovative, long-term photography program that integrates art and science to give a “visual voice” to the planet’s changing ecosystems. We believe that the creative integration of art and science can shape public perception and inspire action more effectively than either art or science can do alone."

97.2% of papers on climate change assumed humans play a role in global warming - "That humans are causing global warming is the position of the Academies of Science from 80 countries plus many scientific organizations that study climate science. More specifically, around 95% of active climate researchers actively publishing climate papers endorse the consensus position."

Explaining climate change science & rebutting global warming misinformation - "Scientific skepticism is healthy. Scientists should always challenge themselves to improve their understanding. Yet this isn't what happens with climate change denial. Skeptics vigorously criticize any evidence that supports man-made global warming and yet embrace any argument, op-ed, blog or study that purports to refute global warming. This website gets skeptical about global warming skepticism. Do their arguments have any scientific basis? What does the peer reviewed scientific literature say?"

How to Determine the Scientific Consensus on Global Warming - "An academic feud swirls around how best or even whether to express the scientific consensus around climate change."

Scientific consensus: Earth's climate is warming - "Climate change is real. There will always be uncertainty in understanding a system as complex as the world’s climate. However there is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring. The evidence comes from direct measurements of rising surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures and from phenomena such as increases in average global sea levels, retreating glaciers, and changes to many physical and biological systems. It is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities." (2005, 11 international science academies)

Scientific Consensus on Global Warming - "Scientific societies and scientists have released statements and studies showing the growing consensus on climate change science. A common objection to taking action to reduce our heat-trapping emissions has been uncertainty within the scientific community on whether or not global warming is happening and if it is caused by humans. However, there is now an overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is indeed happening and humans are contributing to it."

No, climate scientists are not manipulating their data - Discussion of an "article, written by Christopher Booker (who flat out denies human-induced global warming), is somewhat subtly titled “The Fiddling With Temperature Data Is the Biggest Science Scandal Ever.” In it, Booker claims that climate scientists have adjusted temperature readings from thermometers in Paraguay to make it look like the temperature is increasing, when the measurements off the detectors actually show the opposite. The theme of the article is that scientists “manipulated” the data on purpose to exaggerate global warming."  The comments are interesting and demonstrate exactly the same pattern of consensus deniers as found in comment sections of articles about fluoridation, vaccination or other science issues that are controversial in the public view but not from the perspective of most scientists.

Common Denier Arguments - "Deniers continue to repeat several arguments long after they have been debunked by experts. In the past, deniers have contended (and some continue to argue) that the world is not warming."

The 97% consensus on global warming, "Science achieves a consensus when scientists stop arguing.  When a question is first asked – like ‘what would happen if we put a load more CO2 in the atmosphere?’ – there may be many hypotheses about cause and effect. Over a period of time, each idea is tested and retested – the processes of the scientific method – because all scientists know that reputation and kudos go to those who find the right answer (and everyone else becomes an irrelevant footnote in the history of science).  Nearly all hypotheses will fall by the wayside during this testing period, because only one is going to answer the question properly, without leaving all kinds of odd dangling bits that don’t quite add up. Bad theories are usually rather untidy."

Science Quotes

I selected these quotes from scientists (and those intimately familiar with science) to help illustrate fundamental characteristics of scientific thinking and scientific processes. 

Carl Sagan - Carl Sagan's legacy continues with Cosmos - Carl Sagan Portal

"If we lived on a planet where nothing ever changed, there would be little to do. There would be nothing to figure out. There would be no impetus for science. And if we lived in an unpredictable world, where things changed in random or very complex ways, we would not be able to figure things out. But we live in an in-between universe, where things change, but according to patterns, rules, or as we call them, laws of nature. If I throw a stick up in the air, it always falls down. If the sun sets in the west, it always rises again the next morning in the east. And so it becomes possible to figure things out. We can do science, and with it we can improve our lives."

"It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful ideas from the worthless ones.

"The method of science is tried and true. It is not perfect, it's just the best we have. And to abandon it, with its skeptical protocols, is the pathway to a dark age."

"At the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes, an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive they may be, and the most ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense."

"Too much openness and you accept every notion, idea, and hypothesis, which is tantamount to knowing nothing. Too much skepticism, especially rejection of new ideas before they are adequately tested, and you're not only unpleasantly grumpy, but also closed to the advance of science. A judicious mix is what we need."

"One of the great commandments of science is, 'Mistrust arguments from authority'. (Scientists, being primates, and thus given to dominance hierarchies, of course do not always follow this commandment.)"

"It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works, that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it."

"Science is much more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking. This is central to its success. Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don't conform to our preconceptions. It counsels us to carry alternative hypotheses in our heads and see which ones best match the facts. It urges on us a fine balance between no-holds-barred openness to new ideas, however heretical, and the most rigorous skeptical scrutiny of everything - new ideas and established wisdom. We need wide appreciation of this kind of thinking. It works. It's an essential tool for a democracy in an age of change. Our task is not just to train more scientists but also to deepen public understanding of science."

"A central lesson of science is that to understand complex issues (or even simple ones), we must try to free our minds of dogma and to guarantee the freedom to publish, to contradict, and to experiment. Arguments from authority are unacceptable."

"We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That's a clear prescription for disaster."

"There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That's perfectly all right; they're the aperture to finding out what's right. Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny."

"There is a reward structure in science that is very interesting: Our highest honors go to those who disprove the findings of the most revered among us. So Einstein is revered not just because he made so many fundamental contributions to science, but because he found an imperfection in the fundamental contribution of Isaac Newton."

"Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works."

"Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist, and then we beat it out of them. A few trickle through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science intact."

"Human beings have a demonstrated talent for self-deception when their emotions are stirred."

"The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what's true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth - never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key."

"The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition."

"Anything you don't understand, Mr. Rankin, you attribute to God. God for you is where you sweep away all the mysteries of the world, all the challenges to our intelligence. You simply turn your mind off and say God did it."  Contact, p 166

Isaac Asimov
"Science does not purvey absolute truth, science is a mechanism.  It's a way of trying to improve your knowledge of nature.  It's a system for testing your thoughts against the universe and seeing whether they match."

E. O. Wilson
"The heart of the scientific method is the reduction of perceived phenomena to fundamental, testable principles. The elegance, we can fairly say the beauty, of any particular scientific generalization is measured by its simplicity relative to the number of phenomena it can explain."  

Freeman Dyson

"All of science is uncertain and subject to revision.  The glory of science is to imagine more than we can prove." 
"We've learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature's phenomena will agree or they'll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven't tried to be very careful in this kind of work."

"In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is, if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is to it."

"The only way to have real success in science, the field I'm familiar with, is to describe the evidence very carefully without regard to the way you feel it should be. If you have a theory, you must try to explain what's good and what's bad about it equally. In science, you learn a kind of standard integrity and honesty."

"We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize our ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty, some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain."

"Scientific knowledge is an enabling power to do either good or bad, but it does not carry instructions on how to use it."

"Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there."  

    Copyright, 2005, Randy Johnson. All rights reserved.

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Updated April 2015