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146) Scientific or not scientific?

Ludwik Kowalski (6/2/04)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043

The following extracts (about scientific methods and pseudosciences) were found in browsing the Internet. I think that they are worth sharing. Keep in mind, however, that any wikipedia article can be changed by any reader. Thus what I extracted today may no longer be there tomorrow.


1) The scientific method
is a sequence or collection of procedures that are considered characteristic of scientific investigation and the acquisition of new scientific knowledge based upon physical evidence. This method is believed to distinguish science from other intellectual traditions, such as painting, philosophy or theology.

2) In the twentieth century Karl Popper introduced the idea that a hypothesis must be falsifiable ; that is, it must be capable of being demonstrated wrong. . . . Today falsifiability is often cited as a main distinction between science and pseudoscience.

3) The essential elements of the scientific method are traditionally described as follows: (a) Observation, (b) Hypothesis/Prediction, (c) Experiment (d) Collect data, (e) Conclusion and (f) Repeat. This can be called the hypothetico-deductive method. These activities do not describe all that scientists do. [It is an idealized description, not all discoveries are made in this way.] Science is a social activity, and one scientist's theory or proposal cannot become accepted unless it has become known to others (usually via publication, ideally peer reviewed publication), criticised, and finally accepted by the scientific community.

4) A hypothesis is a suggested explanation of the observations. It needs to be consistent with the phenomenon or set of facts observed. Sometimes this is nothing more than a "guess," especially in the case of students. Scientists use whatever they can—their own creativity (currently not well understood), ideas from other fields, induction , or even systematic guessing, or any other methods available—to come up with possible explanations for the phenomenon under study. There are no definitive guidelines for the production of new hypotheses. The history of science is filled with stories of scientists claiming a "flash of inspiration", or a hunch, which then motivated them to look for evidence to support or refute their idea.

5) A specific prediction should arise (as a logical consequence of the hypothesis), that can be put to the test of an experiment, which should allow concrete measurements. If results contradictory to the predictions are found, the hypothesis under test is incorrect or incomplete, requiring either revision or abandonment. If results consistent with the hypothesis are found, the hypothesis might be correct, but is always subject to further tests. Deductive reasoning is the way in which predictions are developed with which to test a hypothesis.

6) Experiments, whether widely accepted or not, should be performed by many different scientists so as to guard against bias, error, misunderstanding, fraud, etc. Those that seem to call into question, or even force rejection of, an existing previously satisfactory theory should be especially carefully checked. Scientific journals use a process of peer review , in which scientists' papers describing experimental results and their conclusions are submitted to a panel of fellow scientists for evaluation.

Scientists are rightly suspicious of results that do not go through this process. For example, the cold fusion experiments of Fleischmann and Pons were never peer reviewed—they were announced directly to the press before any other scientists were able to evaluate their efforts or reproduce their results. Their results have not been reproduced elsewhere else in the decades since [is this true?]; the press announcement was regarded at the time, by most nuclear physicists, as very likely wrong. Peer review may well have turned up problems and led to a closer examination of the experimental evidence Fleischmann, Pons, et al. believed they had found. Paul Kammerer 's experiments on acquired physical traits in amphibians (described in Arthur Koestler 's The Midwife Toad) seem to have been deliberately faked, while the confusion in the 60s and 70s about ' polywater ' seems to have been the result of micro contamination. Much embarrassment and wasted effort might have been avoided by proper peer review in many such cases.

7) The primary constraints on science are: (a) Publication, i.e. Peer review and (b) Resources (mostly, funding). It has not always been like this: in the old days of the "gentleman scientist" funding (and to a lesser extent publication) were far weaker constraints. Both of these constraints indirectly bring in the idealised method - work that too obviously violates the constraints will be difficult to publish and difficult to get funded.

8) The study of the scientific method is distinct from the practice of science and is more a part of the philosophy, history and sociology of science than of science itself. Such studies have limited direct impact on day-to-day scientific practice.

9) Scientific Method is often touted as determining which disciplines are scientific and which are not. Those which follow the scientific method might be considered sciences; those that do not are not. That is, method might be used as the criterion for demarcation between science and non-science.

10) In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Kuhn argues that the process of observation and evaluation take place within a paradigm. 'A paradigm is what the members of a community of scientists share, and, conversely, a scientific community consists of men who share a paradigm' (postscript, part 1). On this account, science can be done only as a part of a community, and is inherently a communal activity. For Kuhn the fundamental difference between science and other disciplines is in the way in which the communities function.


1) A pseudoscience is any body of knowledge purporting to be either both factual and scientific, or of an even higher standard of knowledge , but which fails to comply with scientific method. Motivations for the advocacy or promotion of pseudoscience range from simple naivety about the nature of science or of the scientific method, to deliberate deception for financial or other benefit. Some people consider some or all forms of pseudoscience to be harmless entertainment. Others, . . .consider all forms of pseudoscience to be harmful, whether or not they result in immediate harm to their followers.

2) Pseudoscience is distinguishable from revelation ,theology or spirituality in that it claims to offer insight into the physical world by "scientific" means (i.e., most usually in accordance with the scientific method). Systems of thought that rely upon "divine" or "inspired" knowledge are not considered pseudoscience if they do not claim to be scientific or to overturn well established science.

3) Pseudoscience also differs from protoscience . The latter may be defined as speculation or hypothesis which has not yet been tested adequately by the scientific method, but which is otherwise consisent with existing science or which, where inconsistent, offers reasonable account of the inconsistency. Pseudoscience, in contrast, is characteristically wanting adequate tests or the possibility of them, occasionally untestable in principle, and its supporters are frequently strident in insisting that existing scientific results are wrong.

4) The boundaries between pseudoscience, protoscience, and "real" science are often unclear to non-specialist observers. They can even be obscure to experts. Many people have tried to offer objective criteria for the term, with mixed success. Often the term is used simply as a pejorative to express the speaker's low opinion of a given field, regardless of any objective measures.

5) After more than a century of active dialogue, the question of what marks the boundary of science remains fundamentally unsettled. As a consequence the issue of what constitutes pseudoscience continues to be controversial. . . . Examples of fields of endeavor that many consider – to varying extents – pseudoscientific include Cold fusion ,Pseudoarchaeology ,Gene Ray 's Time Cube ,astrology and homeopathy.

6) There are also young fields of science that are sometimes frowned upon by scientists from established fields, primarily because they are speculative in nature. [For example]: (a) exobiology /astrobiology , (b) Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and (c) Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CETI). These fields are not considered pseudoscientific or protoscientific by most scientists, though, and they are studied at many universities and specialized institutes.

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