I was just reading an introduction to a book this morning, The Pseudoscience Wars, by Michael D. Gordin. He is discussing the use of the word “pseudoscience.” I had never thought much about it, but his explanation rang true. It does not exist, he said.
There is good science, mediocre science (most) and bad science. Nothing else. The word “pseudoscience” is an epithet. It has no other purpose that to be an attack vehicle.
“What unifies the so-called pseudosciences is that scientists in various fields have chosen to ostracize them in this particular way (as opposed to declaring them incorrect scientific theories). It is a core argument of [his book] that individual scientists (as distinct from the monolithic “scientific community”) designate a doctrine a “pseudoscience” only when they perceive themselves to be threatened – not necessarily by the ideas themselves, but by what those ideas represent about the authority of science, science’s access to resources, or some other broader social trend. If one is not threatened, there is no need to lash out at the perceived pseudoscience; instead one continues with one’s work and happily ignores the cranks.”
So there it is, the use and purpose of the word “pseudoscience,” used by insiders to attack any outsider that threatens their dominance and access to research funds. I have seen it at work, I have seen it work. It is how established scientists undermine the upstarts. It is why it takes decades for new ideas to take hold. Those smug insiders have to die off along with their bad science.
The connection I am going for is another epithet widely used, “conspiracy theorist.” It too has no meaning. What exactly is the content of that phrase? What is a “conspiracy theory” as opposed to merely a general idea of how human society functions? Everything around us is the result of planning. Every project, be it a road or a building or an election campaign, requires group effort, advance planning and a certain amount of inside awareness. People work together, prefer their friends in the hiring process, play cards close to the vest, don’t talk out of school, and generally try to win things … elections, grants, contracts, jobs, money.
So a “conspiracy theory” must be an idea that is a threat to some established way of doing things. Here at this website our readers are going to be cognizant that certain events are probably fake, like the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh recently. We look for evidence to that effect, and find it in crisis actors, illogical motives and actions, phony names, and a little numerology to boot. That information is a threat to the people who planned the fake event, so that calling us “conspiracy theorists” wards off that threat. People who hear those words back away, turn off their brains (as if), and the planners are kept safe behind a wall of fear and ignorance.
I have a standard rote response that I use when someone hurls the conspiracy theorist epithet towards me:
These attitudes you have adopted – I know they comfort you. You are indifferent and incurious about the important events of our times. You are smug about it, thinking yourself wise to be so. But I must advise you that from a distance your attitude is indistinguishable from stupidity.
Oddly, people take offense when I post that on a forum, though on Facebook it draws no comments, as it is more than ten words and does not get read.
The purpose of an epithet is to abuse others. The purpose of both “pseudoscience” and “conspiracy theorist” is to harm other people, discredit them and defame them. Use of these epithets by the smug to attack the authentic and honest among us is grating and offensive. I see only one possible effective response, to not just call them stupid, but to explain why they are stupid.
That is but one weapon we can use in the ongoing fight to win the hearts and minds of the American public. As with all other weapons at our disposal, it too does not work.
11 thoughts on “Pseudoscience and conspiracy theories”
Absolutely spot-on explanation.
I like the message you bring across Mark, but personally take a different approach; the boomerang.
Because it is “conspiracy theories” (‘the news’) and “pseudoscience” (‘false science’/scientism) that we, innocent receivers of the programming get dropped on our heads, that dominate.
Beating them with their own epithets is what I would go for and show the falseness in their stories (‘conspiracy theories’ about boogeymen/women; lack of logic, continuity; how the plots debunk themselves) and especially the non-scientific approach in (accepting) pseudoscience (Global Warming, Moon Landings, and Space Travel in general, BigPharma, and the controlled opposition of ‘homeopathy’, etc.).
I have seen far too many people in this “truth seeking” business go claiming “science is junk”, where they either fail or deliberately do not make a distinction between real science and, … indeed pseudoscience. Or bad science/scientism/psience, just as you want to call it.
I have had great successes using this approach and people either leave speechless, compliment for the Eureka moments they got when their brain cells were challenged, or just turn into trolling mode, so showing they were beaten anyway.
Rather than complaining about the -yes, indeed-loaded language, use those bullets against the shooter, or in less violent terms the boomerang effect.
An example is The Crackpot Index (which belongs in the same category as both words you described here), and how I used the boomerang against the same Index.
Wow … late in the day here but your Crackpot link right away lit me up … Occam’s Razor, so often abused. It does not say the simplest explanation is the correct one, only that introduction of more variables often does not help. But if we look for explanations that explain all the evidence, it can get complicated. We cannot ignore evidence.
I have not encountered the opponent to my ideas having a Eureka! moment. I doff my cap.
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very interesting topic. Occam’s razor recommends that explanation of a phenomenon, which requires the least changes in the current status quo as the most relevant one. Some explanations (or theories) only appear easy and simple to us because we got used to them. We stopped questioning them and instead started to believe in them in a religious way. We don’t see the forest anymore hidden after so many trees. The majority of people goes fine with that. They don’t like to question their status quo. It’s reasonable because questioning usually does not improve ones fate. It’s grousers like us who are willing to question themselves. Because that is where it always starts. First you have to question yourself. And what for? To better understand the world? It won’t change anything anyway. That’s why so few ever do that.
what is the difference between pseudoscience and science? The second one always starts at university nowadays. It’s all the professors (like our beloved Judith Resnik) who are by the way being paid from taxpayers money, who decide what science is and what not. I don’t mean teachers being sometimes also called professors here. Only the officially nominated professors count. They secure their budgets, decide whom to hire to do all the teaching work, which students they will promote, etc. They all belong to service clubs where they are being told which way to move. There are no independent professors or judges or head physicians (principals in hospitals) or even chef editors. All those people have to belong to service clubs call it Rotary, Lions or even Illuminati. Fraternities are usually the door you first have to pass. Judith Resnik as “occasional litigator” fought for the admission of women to the Rotary Club. Oh, I just read she played in the movie “Fair Game”? G-sus, I see actors everywhere. lol.
Interesting to see your response to alternative theory doubters, Mark. Wouldn’t work in my milieu. An even harder meme to rebut than “conspiracy theorist” I get is that we invent and believe these alternate, non-official theories to calm ourselves and not worry about the “terror” and BOOGA-BOOGA. i.e. WE are living in a fantasy world. Our arguments then become he said/he said.
A possible argument to that is “even accepting all those terror plots as true, the chance to die from a car crash or shower slip is way bigger”. Do people who participate in traffic or take showers live in a “fantasy world”?
That is why I closed with the idea that there are many ways to approach people with this stuff, and none work.
An interesting website: http://amasci.com/weird/vindac.html
From it this list:
Below is a list of scientists who were reviled for their crackpottery, only to be later proven correct. Today’s science texts are dishonest to the extent that they hide these huge mistakes made by the scientific community. They rarely discuss the embarrassing acts of intellectual suppression which were directed at the following researchers by their colleagues.
Arrhenius (ion chemistry)
Alfven, Hans (galaxy-scale plasma dynamics)
Baird, John L. (television camera)
Bakker, Robert (fast, warm-blooded dinosaurs)
Bardeen & Brattain (transistor)
Bretz J Harlen (ice age geology)
Chandrasekhar, Subrahmanyan (black holes in 1930)
Chladni, Ernst (meteorites in 1800)
Crick & Watson (DNA)
Doppler (optical Doppler effect)
AE Douglass (tree-ring dating)
Folk, Robert L. (existence and importance of nanobacteria)
Harvey, William (circulation of blood, 1628)
Krebs (ATP energy, Krebs cycle)
Galileo (supported the Copernican viewpoint)
Gauss, Karl F. (nonEuclidean geometery)
Binning/Roher/Gimzewski (scanning-tunneling microscope)
Goddard, Robert (rocket-powered space ships)
Goethe (Land color theory)
Gold, Thomas (deep non-biological petroleum deposits)
Gold, Thomas (deep mine bacteria)
Lister, J (sterilizing)
Lovelock, James (Gaia theory)
Maiman, T (Laser)
Margulis, Lynn (endosymbiotic organelles)
Mayer, Julius R. (The Law of Conservation of Energy)
Marshall, B (ulcers caused by bacteria, helicobacter pylori)
McClintock, Barbara (mobile genetic elements, “jumping genes”, transposons)
Newlands, J. (pre-Mendeleev periodic table)
Nott, J. C. (mosquitos xmit Yellow Fever)
Nottebohm, F. (neurogenesis: brains can grow neurons)
Ohm, George S. (Ohm’s Law)
Ovshinsky, Stanford R. (amorphous semiconductor devices)
Parker, Eugene (existence of a ‘solar wind’)
Pasteur, Louis (germ theory of disease)
Prusiner, Stanley (existence of prions, 1982)
Rous, Peyton (viruses cause cancer)
Semmelweis, I. (surgeons wash hands, puerperal fever )
Shechtman, Dan (quasicrystals)
Steen-McIntyre, Virginia (southwest US indians villiage , 300,000BC)
Tesla, Nikola (Earth electrical resonance, “Schumann” resonance)
Tesla, Nikola (brushless AC motor)
J H van’t Hoff (molecules are 3D)
Warren, Warren S (flaw in MRI theory)
Wegener, Alfred (continental drift)
Wright, Wilbur & Orville (flying machines)
Zwicky, Fritz (existence of dark matter, 1933)
Zweig, George (quark theory)
To add: B Belousov, Carl Woese, Gilbert Ling, John C. Lilly
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Thanks! Nice addition to the post.
fast, warm-blooded dinosaurs, (black holes in 1930, rocket-powered space ships, germ theory of disease, existence of dark matter, 1933…to name a few. How was that later proven correct? It’s fake till today. Some of the listed examples are actually correct and useful. Ohm’s Law for instance. All the electric circuits we use are the proof for correctness of the Ohm’s Law. The majority of the examples are hoaxes though. Entire theoretical physics is a hoax. If something in it was for real it would have been applied and no longer theoretical. If it is not applied, it is fake.