I take pseudoscience to be a pretence at science. Pretences are innumerable, limited only by our imagination and credulity. As Stove points out, ‘numerology is actually quite as different from astrology as astrology is from astronomy’ (Stove 1991, 187). We are sure that ‘something has gone appallingly wrong’ (Stove 1991, 180) and yet ‘thoughts…can go wrong in a multiplicity of ways, none of which anyone yet understands’ (Stove 1991, 190). Often all we can do is give a careful description (...) of a way of pretending, a motivation for pretence, a source of pretension. In this chapter I attempt the latter. We will be concerned with the relation of conviction to rational belief. I shall be suggesting that the question of whether an enquiry is a pretence at science can be, in part, a question over the role of conviction in rational belief, and that the answer is to be found in the philosophical problem of the role of values in rational belief. (shrink)
The term pseudoscience refers to a highly heterogeneous set of practices, beliefs, and claims sharing the property of appearing to be scientific when in fact they contradict either scientific findings or the methods by which science proceeds. Classic examples of pseudoscience include astrology, parapsychology, and ufology; more recent entries are the denial of a causal link between the HIV virus and AIDS or the claim that vaccines cause autism. To distinguish between science and pseudoscience is part of (...) what the philosopher Karl Popper referred to as the demarcation problem, a project that has been dismissed by another philosopher, Larry Laudan, but that keeps gathering much interest in philosophers, scientists, educators, and policymakers. This entry provides the basics of the debate about demarcation, as well as a brief discussion of why it is of vital importance not just intellectually but for society at large. (shrink)
Integrative bioethics is a brand of bioethics conceived and propagated by a group of Croatian philosophers and other scholars. This article discusses and shows that the approach encounters several serious difficulties. In criticizing certain standard views on bioethics and in presenting their own, the advocates of integrative bioethics fall into various conceptual confusions and inconsistencies. Although presented as a project that promises to deal with moral dilemmas created by modern science and technology, integrative bioethics does not contain the slightest normativity (...) or action-guiding capacity. Portrayed as a scientific and interdisciplinary enterprise, integrative bioethics displays a large number of pseudoscientific features that throw into doubt its overall credibility. (shrink)
Using astrology as a case study, this paper attempts to establish a criterion for demarcating science from pseudoscience. Numerous reasons for considering astrology to be a pseudoscience are evaluated and rejected; verifiability and falsifiability are briefly discussed. A theory is said to be pseudoscientific if and only if (1) it has been less progressive than alternative theories over a long period of time, and faces many unsolved problems, but (2) the community of practitioners makes little attempt to develop (...) the theory towards solutions of the problems, shows no concern for attempts to evaluate the theory in relation to others, and is selective in considering confirmations and disconfirmations. This criterion has the interesting consequence that a theory can be scientific at one time but pseudoscientific at another. (shrink)
I respond to two criticisms levelled by A. A. Derksen in a recent issue of this journal against characterizing pseudoscience as structurally flawed practice: I argue that he surreptitiously invokes this conception, his official view that we should concentrate on pseudoscientists' pretensions rather than their practices notwithstanding; and I critically examine his contention that judgements of scientificity (and pseudoscientificity) cannot properly be made independently of a consideration of whether the relevant theories and practices are empirically well-confirmed.
Introduction : science versus pseudoscience and the "demarcation problem" -- Hard science, soft science -- Almost science -- Pseudoscience -- Blame the media? -- Debates on science : the rise of think tanks and the decline of public intellectuals -- Science and politics : the case of global warming -- Science in the courtroom : the case against intelligent design -- From superstition to natural philosophy -- From natural philosophy to modern science -- The science wars I : (...) do we trust science too much? -- The science wars II : do we trust science too little? -- Who's your expert? -- Conclusion : so, what is science after all? (shrink)
I criticize conceptual pluralism, as endorsed recently by John Dupre and Philip Kitcher, for failing to supply strategies for demarcating science from non-science. Using creation-science as a test case, I argue that pluralism blocks arguments that keep creation-science in check and that metaphysical pluralism offers it positive, metaphysical support. Logical empiricism, however, still provides useful resources to reconfigure and manage the problem of creation-science in those practical and political contexts where pluralism will fail.
Social constructivist approaches to science have often been dismissed as inaccurate accounts of scientific knowledge. In this article, we take the claims of robust social constructivism (SC) seriously and attempt to find a theory which does instantiate the epistemic predicament as described by SC. We argue that Freudian psychoanalysis, in virtue of some of its well-known epistemic complications and conceptual confusions, provides a perfect illustration of what SC claims is actually going on in science. In other words, the features SC (...) mistakenly ascribes to science in general correctly characterize the epistemic status of Freudian psychoanalysis. This sheds some light on the internal disputes in the field of psychoanalysis, on the sociology of psychoanalytic movement, and on the “war” that has been waged over Freud's legacy with his critics. In addition, our analysis offers an indirect and independent argument against SC as an account of bona fide science, by illustrating what science would look like if it were to function as SC claims it does. (shrink)
By the late nineteenth century, science was well established in the public mind as the primary method by which useful knowledge of the material universe is obtained. Surely, it was thought, if science can discover cathode rays and radio waves, then it should easily authenticate a phenomenon that is far more widely experienced: the supernatural power of the human mind. Non-physical, “psychic” energy appeared to be everywhere, as an integral part of human experience. Indeed, psychic forces are seemingly built into (...) the cores, the souls, of each of us. It should be just a matter of securing the evidence with the hard cement of scientific procedure. At least this was the view of many Victorian scientists, and so was begun a program to verify psychic phenomena scientifically, a task that has continued without success until the current day. By the time the fourth decade of the twentieth century was underway, the search for psychic energy had stalled. The huge database of anecdotal human testimony proved too unreliable, too easy to explain away as subjective desire, fakery, or delusion. Whenever serious attempts were made to gather objective data under controlled conditions, plausible explanations such as trickery or simple coincidence were readily found--if not by the investigators, then by their critics. Although these plausibilities were not always conclusively proven, they were never conclusively ruled out. And, as long as ordinary explanations for reports of suggested psychic phenomena.. (shrink)
If evolutionary biologist Massimo Pigliucci didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent him. His Tales of the Rational defines an intellectual space as far removed as hardcore religious fundamentalism from mainstream thinking--but it may be coming closer as scientists and skeptics launch more aggressive attacks on pseudoscience and fuzzy thinking. Pigliucci, a rising star on the evolution-creationism debate circuit, pulls out all the stops in his work, not content merely to defend science against its detractors, but eagerly undermining (...) belief in religion and the existence of any gods at all. Using writing that is strong if rarely eloquent, he defines his terms precisely, makes short work of creationists William Lane Craig and Duane Gish, challenges religious preconceptions, and even ventures to hose down the flames of pseudoscience spouting from chaos theory. Readers with any sympathy for spirituality will run face-first into statements like "I do not see what science has to gain from being reconciled with a system of superstitious beliefs that stands for the exact opposite of free inquiry.". (shrink)
This is an unpublished talk written for a meeting of French philosophers. The paper describes the evolution versus creationism/intelligent design controversy in the U.S. A number of philosophers and scientists try to resolve this issue by sharply distinguishing the realm of science versus any talk of the supernatural. These pro-evolutionists often appeal to science's essential commitment to "methodological naturalism," the view that scientific methodology is essentially committed to naturalism and cannot meaningfully entertain hypotheses concerning the supernatural. I criticize methodological naturalism, (...) suggesting that such an appeal is misguided and counterproductive. I suggest an alternative view of the supernatural consistent with scientific knowledge. (shrink)
It is often noted that if someone has a tertiary degree in a scientific field who promotes an anti-science-establishment, antiscience, or pseudoscience agenda, they are very often engineers, dentists, surgeons or medical practitioners. While this does not mean that all members of these professions or disciplines are antiscience, of course, the higher frequency of pseudoscience among them is indicative of what I call the “deductivist mindset” regarding science itself. Opposing this is the “inductivist mindset”, a view that has (...) been deprecated among philosophers since Popper. Roughly, the deductivist mindset tends to see problems as questions that can be resolved by deduction from known theory or principle, while the inductivist sees problems as questions to be resolved by discovery. These form cognitive poles, which nobody ever purely instantiates, but a cognitive tendency to be a deductivist may explain why some people find results that conflict with prior theoretical commitments, whether scientific or not, unacceptable. The deductivist tends to be a cognitive conservative, where the inductivist tends to be a cognitive progressive, and the conservative mindset leads to a ressentiment about modernism, and hence about certain scientific results, more often, or so I shall argue in this chapter. (shrink)
The present paper aims to contribute to the substantivalism versus relationalism debate and to defend general relativity (GR) against pseudoscientific attacks in a novel, especially inclusive way. This work was initially motivated by the desire to establish the incompatibility of any ether theories with accelerated cosmic expansion and inflation (motto: where would a hypothetical medium supposedly come from so fast?). The failure of this program is of interest for emergent GR concepts in high energy particle physics. However, it becomes increasingly (...) important to guard scientific results against their misrepresentation by fundamentally anti-scientific agendas. We therefore argue that although it is not known whether the perceived space-time is fundamental (rather than a condensed state or a particular membrane), in a fundamental theory, space-time must be abstract relational: fundamental space-time is the consistent spatial-temporal arrangement of events. To pursue its own goals, this work should be accessible to a wide audience: physicists, philosophers of science, those being tempted by anti-relativity theories, but also those who vigorously defend some orthodox relativity that is not actually supported by GR. It must thus be extensive in order to satisfy the different parties’ desire to have included and understood their respective positions. (shrink)
Science and philosophy have a very long history, dating back at least to the 16th and 17th centuries, when the first scientist-philosophers, such as Bacon, Galilei, and Newton, were beginning the process of turning natural philosophy into science. Contemporary relationships between the two fields are still to some extent marked by the distrust that maintains the divide between the so-called “two cultures.” An increasing number of philosophers, however, are making conceptual contributions to sciences ranging from quantum mechanics to evolutionary biology, (...) and a few scientists are conducting research relevant to classically philosophical fields of inquiry, such as consciousness and moral decision-making. This article will introduce readers to the borderlands between science and philosophy, beginning with a brief description of what philosophy of science is about, and including a discussion of how the two disciplines can fruitfully interact not only at the level of scholarship, but also when it comes to controversies surrounding public understanding of science. (shrink)
We live in a world that is increasingly shaped by and bathed in science, with most scientific progress occurring in the past century, and much of it in the past few decades. Yet, several authors have puz- zled over the observation that modern societies are also characterized by a high degree of belief in a variety of pseudoscientific claims that have been thoroughly debunked or otherwise discarded by scientists (Anonymous, 2001; Ede, 2000).
Cognitive architectures - task-general theories of the structure and function of the complete cognitive system - are sometimes argued to be more akin to frameworks or belief systems than scientific theories. The argument stems from the apparent non-falsifiability of existing cognitive architectures. Newell was aware of this criticism and argued that architectures should be viewed not as theories subject to Popperian falsification, but rather as Lakatosian research programs based on cumulative growth. Newell's argument is undermined because he failed to demonstrate (...) that the development of Soar, his own candidate architecture, adhered to Lakatosian principles. This paper presents detailed case studies of the development of two cognitive architectures, Soar and ACT-R, from a Lakatosian perspective. It is demonstrated that both are broadly Lakatosian, but that in both cases there have been theoretical progressions that, according to Lakatosian criteria, are pseudo-scientific. Thus, Newell's defense of Soar as a scientific rather than pseudo-scientific theory is not supported in practice. The ACT series of architectures has fewer pseudo-scientific progressions than Soar, but it too is vulnerable to accusations of pseudo-science. From this analysis, it is argued that successive versions of theories of the human cognitive architecture must explicitly address five questions to maintain scientific credibility. (shrink)
We initially characterize what we’ll call existence problems as problems where there is evidence that a putative entity exists and this evidence is not easily dismissed; however, the evidence is not adequate to justify the claim that the entity exists, and in particular the entity hasn’t been detected. The putative entity is elusive. We then offer a strategy for determining whether an existence problem is philosophical or scientific. According to this strategy (1) existence problems are characterized in terms of causal (...) roles, and (2) these problems are categorized as scientific or philosophical on the basis of the epistemic context of putative realizers. We argue that the first step of the strategy is necessary to avoid begging the question with regard to categorization of existence problems, and the second step categorizes existence problems on the basis of a distinction between two ways in which an entity can be elusive. This distinction between kinds of elusiveness takes as background a standard account of inference to the best explanation. Applying this strategy, we argue that the existence of a multiverse is a scientific problem. (shrink)
In 1996, Alan Sokal, a Professor of Physics at New York University, wrote a paper for the cultural-studies journal Social Text, entitled: 'Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity'. It was reviewed, accepted and published. Sokal immediately confessed that the whole article was a hoax - a cunningly worded paper designed to expose and parody the style of extreme postmodernist criticism of science. The story became front-page news around the world and triggered fierce and wide-ranging controversy. -/- (...) Sokal is one of the most powerful voices in the continuing debate about the status of evidence-based knowledge. In Beyond the Hoax he turns his attention to a new set of targets - pseudo-science, religion, and misinformation in public life. 'Whether my targets are the postmodernists of the left, the fundamentalists of the right, or the muddle-headed of all political and apolitical stripes, the bottom line is that clear thinking, combined with a respect for evidence, are of the utmost importance to the survival of the human race in the twenty-first century.' The book also includes a hugely illuminating annotated text of the Hoax itself, and a reflection on the furore it provoked. (shrink)
Public discussions of science are often marred by two pernicious phenomena: a widespread rejection of scientific findings (e.g., the reality of anthropogenic climate change, the conclusion that vaccines do not cause autism, or the validity of evolutionary theory), coupled with an equally common acceptance of pseudoscientific notions (e.g., homeopathy, psychic readings, telepathy, tall tales about alien abductions, and so forth). The typical reaction by scientists and science educators is to decry the sorry state of science literacy among the general public, (...) and to call for more science education as the answer to both problems. But the empirical evidence concerning the relationship between science literacy, rejection of science and acceptance of pseudoscience is mixed at best. In this chapter I argue that—while certainly important—efforts at increasing public knowledge of science (science education) need to be complemented by attention to common logical fallacies (philosophy), cognitive biases and dissonance (psychology), and the role of ideological commitments (sociology). Even this complex, multi-disciplinary approach to science education will likely only yield measurable results in the very long term. Meanwhile science remains, as Carl Sagan famously put it, a candle in the dark, delicate and in need of much nurturing. (shrink)
Four arguments are examined in order to assess the state of the Intelligent Design debate. First, critics continually cite the fact that ID proponents have religious motivations. When used as criticism of ID arguments, this is an obvious ad hominem. Nonetheless, philosophers and scientists alike continue to wield such arguments for their rhetorical value. Second, in his expert testimony in the Dover trial, philosopher Robert Pennock used repudiated claims in order to brand ID as a kind of pseudoscience. His (...) arguments hinge on the nature of methodological naturalism as a metatheoretic shaping principle. We examine the use of such principles in science and the history of science. Special attention is given to the demarcation problem. Third, the scientific merits of ID are examined. Critics rightly demand more than promissory notes for ID to move beyond the fringe. Fourth, although methodological naturalism gets a lot of attention, there is another shaping principle to contend with, namely, conservatism. Science, like most disciplines, tends to change in an incremental rather than revolutionary manner. When ID is compared to other non- or quasi-Darwinian proposals, it appears to be a more radical solution than is needed in the face of the anomalies. (shrink)
This chapter offers a critique of intelligent design arguments against evolution and a philosophical discussion of the nature of science, drawing several lessons for the teaching of evolution and for science education in general. I discuss why Behe’s irreducible complexity argument fails, and why his portrayal of organismal systems as machines is detrimental to biology education and any under-standing of how organismal evolution is possible. The idea that the evolution of complex organismal features is too unlikely to have occurred by (...) random mutation and selection (as recently promoted by Dembski) is very widespread, but it is easy to show students why such small probability arguments are fallacious. While intelligent design proponents have claimed that the exclusion of supernatural causes mandated by scientific methods is dogmatically presupposed by science, scientists have an empirical justification for using such methods. This justification is instructive for my discussion of how to demarcate science from pseudoscience. I argue that there is no universal account of the nature of science, but that the criteria used to judge an intellectual approach vary across historical periods and have to be specific to the scientific domain. Moreover, intellectual approaches have to be construed as practices based on institutional factors and values, and to be evaluated in terms of the activities of their practitioners. Science educators should not just teach scientific facts, but present science as a practice and make students reflect on the nature of science, as this gives them a better appreciation of the ways in which intelligent design falls short of actual science. (shrink)
In his recent anthology, Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics, Robert Pennock continues his attack on what he considers to be the pseudoscience of Intelligent Design Theory. In this critical review, I discuss the main issues in the debate. Although the rhetoric is often heavy and the articles are intentionally stacked against Intelligent Design, there are many interesting topics in the philosophy of science to be found. I conclude that, contra Pennock, there is nothing intrinsically unscientific about Intelligent Design. (...) At this stage, however, it remains more of a provocative idea than a research program. Whether design theorists can bridge this gap is still very much in question. In any case, the debate serves as a modern case study for such classic problems as the nature of scientific explanations, theory change, the demarcation problem, and the role of metaphysical assumptions in the development of science. (shrink)
The creation-evolution “controversy” has been with us for more than a century. Here I argue that merely teaching more science will probably not improve the situation; we need to understand the controversy as part of a broader problem with public acceptance of pseudoscience, and respond by teaching how science works as a method. Critical thinking is difficult to teach, but educators can rely on increasing evidence from neurobiology about how the brain learns, or fails to.
An immunizing strategy is an argument brought forward in support of a belief system, though independent from that belief system, which makes it more or less invulnerable to rational argumentation and/or empirical evidence. By contrast, an epistemic defense mechanism is defined as a structural feature of a belief system which has the same effect of deflecting arguments and evidence. We discuss the remarkable recurrence of certain patterns of immunizing strategies and defense mechanisms in pseudoscience and other belief systems. Five (...) different types will be distinguished and analyzed, with examples drawn from widely different domains. The difference between immunizing strategies and defense mechanisms is analyzed, and their epistemological status is discussed. Our classification sheds new light on the various ways in which belief systems may achieve invulnerability against empirical evidence and rational criticism, and we propose our analysis as part of an explanation of these belief systems’ enduring appeal and tenacity. (shrink)
A definition of pseudoscience is proposed, according to which a statement is pseudoscientific if and only if it (1) pertains to an issue within the domains of science, (2) is not epistemically warranted, and (3) is part of a doctrine whose major proponents try to create the impression that it is epistemically warranted. This approach has the advantage of separating the definition of pseudoscience from the justification of the claim that science represents the most epistemically warranted statements. The (...) definition is used to explain why proponents of widely divergent criteria for the demarcation between science and pseudoscience tend to be in almost complete agreement on the particular demarcations that should presumably be based on these general criteria. (shrink)
At Columbia University in 1906, William James gave a highly confrontational speech to the American Philosophical Association (APA). He ignored the technical philosophical questions the audience had gathered to discuss and instead addressed the topic of human energy. Tramping on the rules of academic decorum, James invoked the work of amateurs, read testimonials on the benefits of yoga and alcohol, and concluded by urging his listeners to take up this psychological and physiological problem. What was the goal of this unusual (...) speech? Rather than an oddity, Francesca Bordogna asserts that the APA address was emblematic—it was just one of many gestures that James employed as he plowed through the barriers between academic, popular, and pseudoscience, as well as the newly emergent borders between the study of philosophy, psychology, and the “science of man.” Bordogna reveals that James’s trespassing of boundaries was an essential element of a broader intellectual and social project. By crisscrossing divides, she argues, James imagined a new social configuration of knowledge, a better society, and a new vision of the human self. As the academy moves toward an increasingly interdisciplinary future, William James at the Boundaries reintroduces readers to a seminal influence on the way knowledge is pursued. (shrink)
George Holmes Howison’s 1895 essay entitled “The Limits of Evolution,” argued that there are four things evolutionary theory does not explain. In examining whether 11 decades have made a difference in these four, I argue that the arrogance of scientists over the past century in refusing to distinguish between full explanations and explanatory hypotheses is in some ways responsible for the fundamentalist backlash against evolutionary science. A scientific community that is honest and forthcoming about its limitations is to be sought. (...) The best response to Intelligent Design, Creation Science, and other current trends in pseudoscience is to be very clear about the limits of evolutionary theory and the scope of scientific explanation. (shrink)
Despite a widespread impression that the public is woefully ignorant of science and cares little for the subject, U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) surveys show the majority are very interested and understand that they are not well informed about science. The data are consistent with the author’s view that the popularity of pseudoscience does not indicate a rejection of science. If this is so, opportunities for scientists to communicate with the public promise a more rewarding result than is commonly (...) believed among scientists. In fact, the increasing visibility of science in the mass media correlates with a slow, steady improvement in public understanding of science in recent years. (shrink)
Preface for instructors -- Preface for students (you really should read it) -- What is logic about? -- Sentential logic basics -- Sentential logic proofs -- More sentential logic : contradictions, tautologies and assumptions -- Predicate logic basics -- Proofs in predicate logic -- Probability : the basic rules of life -- The theorem of Dr. Bayes -- Probability illusions : why we are so bad at inductive reasoning -- Studies have shown ... or have they? -- Inference to the (...) best explanation -- Rhetoric : the art of persuasion -- Won't get fooled again (fallacies and other foibles) -- Spin, spin, spin (or how not to be a sucker) -- Everything you know is wrong! : pseudoscience and bogus scholarship. (shrink)
A philosophical position may be characterized in different ways. Here we try to say how the naturalist answers certain crucial questions . The questions come from very different areas; the spectrum of subjects is therefore quite mixed. There are, however, aspects of order: We start with (questions about) abstract subjects like logic, mathematics, metaphysics, then turn to problems of realism. And since in general naturalists are realists, the following questions on truth, laws of nature, origin of the universe, cosmology, evolution, (...) body-mind-problem, freedom of the will, religion, moral, and pseudoscience, are answered against a realistic background. German Eine philosophische Haltung kann man auf verschiedene Weisen charakterisieren. Hier versuchen wir zu sagen, wie der Naturalist auf bestimmte Kernfragen antwortet. Die Fragen stammen aus sehr verschiedenen Gebieten; das Themenspektrum ist deshalb recht bunt. Es gibt aber durchaus Ordnungsgesichtspunkte: Wir beginnen mit (Fragen zu) eher abstrakten Gegenständen wie Logik, Mathematik, Metaphysik, kommen dann zu Problemen des Realismus. Und da Naturalisten im Allgemeinen Realisten sind, werden die anschließenden Fragen über Wahrheit, Naturgesetze, Weltentstehung, Kosmologie, Evolution, Leib-Seele-Problem, Willensfreiheit, Religion, Moral und Pseudowissenschaften vor einem realistischen Hintergrund beantwortet. (shrink)