What Is Pseudoscience?

In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable: and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.

- Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery

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How do you tell science from non-science? Karl Popper thought that the falsifiability of a hypothesis was the best indicator. Massimo Pigliucci is not so sure about this. Here he discusses the important issue of demarcation with Nigel Warburton.

Listen to Massimo Pigliucci on the Demarcation Problem

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Short Article of the Day

Philosophers of science have been preoccupied for a while with what they call the “demarcation problem,” the issue of what separates good science from bad science and pseudoscience (and everything in between). The problem is relevant for at least three reasons.

The first is philosophical: Demarcation is crucial to our pursuit of knowledge; its issues go to the core of debates on epistemology and of the nature of truth and discovery. The second reason is civic: our society spends billions of tax dollars on scientific research, so it is important that we also have a good grasp of what constitutes money well spent in this regard. Should the National Institutes of Health finance research on “alternative medicine”? Should the Department of Defense fund studies on telepathy? Third, as an ethical matter, pseudoscience is not — contrary to popular belief — merely a harmless pastime of the gullible; it often threatens people’s welfare, sometimes fatally so. For instance, millions of people worldwide have died of AIDS because they (or, in some cases, their governments) refuse to accept basic scientific findings about the disease, entrusting their fates to folk remedies and “snake oil” therapies...

Continue reading Pigliucci & Boudry's article: The Dangers of Pseudoscience

Further Reading

Demarcations of science from pseudoscience can be made for both theoretical and practical reasons (Mahner 2007, 516). From a theoretical point of view, the demarcation issue is an illuminating perspective that contributes to the philosophy of science in the same way that the study of fallacies contributes to the study of informal logic and rational argumentation. From a practical point of view, the distinction is important for decision guidance in both private and public life. Since science is our most reliable source of knowledge in a wide variety of areas, we need to distinguish scientific knowledge from its look-alikes. Due to the high status of science in present-day society, attempts to exaggerate the scientific status of various claims, teachings, and products are common enough to make the demarcation issue pressing in many areas...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Science and Pseudo-Science

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Related Topics

 KnowledgeScienceScientific Method | Testimony | The Value of Knowledge

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