Science and pseudo-science
Science suffers in part because of its own success. If it weren’t widely accepted that science gave us good reasons to accept claims about the natural world, pseudo-science would have no motivation to portray itself as science.Some of the typical features of pseudo-sciences and the ways in which they contrast with genuine science are as follows:“Many crystals have healing properties that you can discover. Crystals vibrate at different frequencies to enhance healing. Quartz crystals have excellent healing properties. Quartz also has the ability to transform an imbalanced energy field. When you feel stressed the crystal can balance your energies and revitalize you. Other minerals beside quartz crystals display healing properties. Small quartz crystals left in water will ionize the water and are a good drink for healing.”
- The scientific method requires scientists to look for ways to falsify their hypotheses. By contrast, pseudo-science tends to start from a claim to which the advocate is committed and looks for evidence to support that claim. Pseudo-science seeks confirmations and science seeks falsifications.
- Science is committed to the idea that we can find evidence to establish with certainty that a claim is false, but that we can never establish with certainty that a claim is true. So the scientist accepts that her best hypotheses and theories are always provisional; she accepts that they could be shown to be false. The pseudo-scientist, by contrast, is typically convinced that her claims are true. (One important implication of this is that we need to be careful not to confuse scientific acceptance of uncertainty with ‘everyday’ uncertainty: scientists are committed to the acceptance of uncertainty as a methodological matter, but they will often have very good grounds for confidence in their beliefs).
- A broader implication of this is that scientists – and good logical and critical thinkers more generally – must come to their enquiries with an open-mind, remaining ready to follow the evidence and the arguments where they lead.
- Notice that none of these differences have to do with the content of any particular scientific or pseudo-scientific claim. The difference between science and pseudo-science has to do with the attitudes and methods that are brought to an enquiry, not whether a particular claim is true. The scientific model gives better grounds for adopting beliefs because it is more likely to identify beliefs that are false. It is not that the claims of science are more plausible in advance. The differences are ones about the method of enquiry; about whether pseudo-scientists are being good logical and critical thinkers.
Logical and Critical Thinking
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