What qualifies a method as scientific?

What qualifies a method as scientific?


Science and pseudo-science

We have decided that science is a method more than it is a body of knowledge, which may prompt us to see it as a way of knowing just as much as an area of knowledge. Anything that adheres to the rules of procedure for the scientific method can be called ‘scientific’. Anything that does not, falls into another category, such as pseudo-science or superstition. Pseudo sciences have been nicely explained by Daisie and Michael Radner in the Skeptic’s Dictionary. They identify common characteristics as being:

  1. The tendency to propose theories as scientific, but which cannot be empirically tested in any meaningful way
  2. The dogmatic refusal to give up an idea in the face of overwhelming evidence that the idea is false and the use of ad hoc hypotheses to try to save the theory
  3. Selective use of data: the tendency to count only confirming evidence and to ignore disconfirming evidence
  4. The use of personal anecdotes as evidence
  5. The use of myths or ancient mysteries to support theories, which are then used to explain the myths or mysteries
  6. Gullibility, especially about paranormal, supernatural, or extraterrestrial claims

Other characteristics of pseudoscience could be listed, such as:

  1. The promise of understanding everything about you without knowing anything about you
  2. The claim that a single cause and cure has been found for all diseases
  3. The claim that some sort of gizmo can align, balance, strengthen, harmonize, or otherwise positively affect your “energy field”
  4. The lack of scientific studies to support claims made in testimonials or referring to those testimonials when the claims fail scientific tests
  5. The claim that mysterious energies, not yet detectable by scientific instruments, explain how your pseudoscience works
  6. The tendency to be extremely complex, making it very difficult to determine exactly what the pseudoscience can predict and therefore very difficult to test
  7. The tendency to be ignorant of or to ignore alternative explanations for observations, e.g., ignorance of physics or psychology leading to claims about ghosts; ignorance of placebo and non-specific effects leading to claims that a bogus therapy “works”
  8. The tendency of the purveyor of a product to put all his money into marketing and production, and none into research and testing (look especially for those products promoted by celebrities or athletes that either contradict the experts in the medical sciences or claim to be able to magically enhance your intelligence, strength, reproductive power, etc.)
  9. The assertion of completely absurd and stupid statements such as “That’s why we don’t use double-blind controlled experiments: they don’t work!” (Asserted after a pseudoscience fails a scientific test.)

Find out a little about the following, and explain why we generally consider them ‘pseudo-sciences’:

  1. The Flat Earth Society
  2. Paranormal investigations
  3. Ufology
  4. Phrenology
  5. Crystal healing
  6. Creation science

But before we pour scorn on those believe in pseudo-sciences, consider that some things that we accept now have started off as pseudo-sciences. For example, the origins of of meteorites being from outer space, and the theory of continental drift – so the line between the two isn’t always as distinct as we may like.

Cite this page as: Dunn, Michael. What qualifies a method as scientific? (10th May 2013). theoryofknowledge.net. http://www.theoryofknowledge.net/areas-of-knowledge/the-natural-sciences/what-qualifies-a-method-as-scientific/ Last accessed: 23rd February 2017


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