Thursday, April 19, 2007


Vaccine rejection, "alternative" health and creation "science" are all examples of pseudoscience. They are personal beliefs dressed up in the language of science in order to appear more convincing. Homebirth advocacy is not a pseudoscience, but it relies for its persuasive power on many of the same techniques as pseudoscience.

How can we tell the difference between science and pseudoscience? This is an important question because proponents of pseudoscience try very hard to muddle the essential differences. This list by physics professor Donald Simanek is very instructive. He created the list to describe pseudoscience in physics, but with slight alternations is applies to life sciences as well. I have bolded the criteria that are particularly applicable to homebirth advocacy.

1. Pseudoscientists have deficient or superficial knowledge and understanding of well-established science.
2. Their proposals are therefore based on faulty understanding of very basic and well established principles of physics and engineering.
3. Pseudoscientists are often unaware of the flaws in their reasoning.
4. They feel that science is unnecessarily complicated because scientists are 'blind' to simpler explanations.
5. Some complain that science is "too mathematical" while others dazzle the innocent with mathematical gymnastics ...
6. They obsessively focus on a narrow problem without grasping the powerful interconnectedness of scientific theory. Therefore they may not be aware of the broader implications and consequences of their ideas.
7. They have inordinate confidence in themselves, plus an almost religious faith that their feelings, intuitions and hunches provide a reliable guide to scientific truth.
8. Anyone who fails to see their genius is labeled 'blind'. They love to compare themselves to innovators of the past whose ideas were initially rejected. "They laughed at Galileo, didn't they?"
9. Pseudoscientists are angry that their ideas are ignored by the scientific community...
10. Pseudoscientists have over-reliance on personal testimony of individuals, and other anecdotal evidence.
11. Pseudoscientists have an obsession with anomalous observations that seem not to fit established science theory.
12. Pseudoscientists often display an attitude of "If it feels right to me, it must be right."
13. Pseudoscientists feel that "Nothing is a coincidence."
14. Pseudoscientists have an obsession with finding "patterns" in data. Scientists must be pattern-seekers too, but it's a mistake to seek significance in patterns of things that have no possible connection or relation, such as patterns of stars in the sky (constellations), tea leaves, or ink blots.
15. Pseudoscientists often commit various abuses and misuses of statistics.
16. Pseudoscientists are motivated by considerations that lie outside the scope of science, or have already been thoroughly discredited. Example, the acupuncturists' acceptance of the reality of specific "energy pathways" in the human body. Another example: the creationists' view that science must be in harmony with their particular interpretation of the King James translation of the Bible.

These criteria can be used to analyze the claims of various types of pseudoscience. Using these criteria, it is obvious that vaccine rejection, "alternative" health and creationism are nothing more than pseudoscience. These criteria also demonstrate that many of the claims of homebirth advocacy are also pseudoscience.


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