April 17, 2003
Acumen is the natural perseverance and depth of insight, wisdom, or sensitivity to reach a trustworthy judgment on practical matters.

Many readers ask about how we can distiguish scientific assertions from pseudoscientific assertions. We are going to give you some guidelines to discover the pseudoscientific assertions through the assessment of some examples.

The term Pseudoscience means "false science". Pseudoscience is an erroneous statement -or body of erroneous ideas- presumed as scientific, but that it does not have a methodological and/or systematic support.

Unreal Science refers to the elaboration of apocryphal narratives, arbitrary exploiting selected scientific references, or the name of favored celebrities of sciences, or scientific institutions for camouflaging that unrealistic setting.

A well-known example of pseudoscience is UFOlogy. UFO means "Unidentified Flying Object", and "-logy" derives from the Greek "logos", which means "knowledge" or "science". Then, the makers of the word have bended the linguistic roots to push deceit near the nonprofessional population. As UFOlogy has not a scientific foundation, the suffix "logos" is a violation of scientific standards and systematic ways of thinking. Actually, the true name for UFO stuff must be UFOism, or alienism, given that it is unscientific and it takes charge of the divulgation of an unusual doctrine about extraterrestrial creatures and their spatial machines.

Sense No.1- We deduce from here that a rule to distinguish among science and pseudoscience is that pseudoscience makes use of programmed dogmatism. Dogmatism is the practice of trying to validate a concept by means of the premeditated mention of an authority or institution, basically by a degree of the authority's credibility before the eyes of the public. For example, ufologists often allude to the name of Carl Sagan or SETI project (search of extraterrestrial intelligent life) to give credibility to their monomania.


Another case of pseudoscience is the search of Sasquash and other fantastic beings. Sasquash is a mythological American being. Analogous to Yeti from Tibet and Chupacabras from Latin America, the Sasquash is a slippery animal, hidden from the eyes of scientists and the great majority of the human beings. Including, there are some crypto-zoologists that are squandering their time and their knowledge in the search of that American simian-man.

Sense No. 2- From this example we understand that pseudoscience makes use of the veto (impediment) on scientists and prudent people to eliminate them from their field of action and to be assured that their fantasies will give the impression of trueness because those fantasies belong to a world that is "out of reach from science and reason".


One more example, Creationist ideology is common at present. Creationists are with a foot attached to science and the other foot on fantasy. They say that Evolution is feasible, but that it was directed by a superior intelligence, be called God, alien, or "upper race". They accept that there is not evidence in favor of the existence of that higher intelligence, but they allude to that neither there are it in against, that is to say, that if you cannot show his existence, you either cannot show that he does not exist. 

Sense No. 3- Pseudoscience disdains the action and reaction axiom when the debate already is lost for them. Concisely, pseudoscience appeals to the old trick that "if you have not evidence neither on favor of, nor against a subject, then this subject is real", but in spite of the flagrant absence of perceptible consequences.


"Regressive hypnosis" is another example of pseudoscience. In this case, a specialist in psychotherapy or clinical psychology assures that, through hypnosis, any person can bring to his memory his remembrances of precedent lives, referring to "passed lives" as "lives lived before being born on this world". In this fashion, hypnotists say that their "science" has verified the reincarnation stuff. Of course, they elude the very important obstruction of an intentional induction that the hypnotist uses on the hypnotized person, and they typically speak a little or nothing about it. When they show a case of glossolalia (when the hypnotized person emits strange and strident sounds) they refer to that erratic group of sounds as "dead tongues", "non-terrestrial languages", "lost dialects from pre-Columbian America", etc.  From here we will append the last two senses for a good acumen.

Sense No. 4- It is evident that pseudoscience resorts to notions that cannot be verified because these are events from the past that were not registered for trustworthy historians. For example, it would be impossible to verify if it is true that the information given by a girl who said that in one of her previous lives she was the daughter of a blacksmith of king Enrique VIII, named Carlo, who violated all his children at night, etc.

Sense No. 5- In last instance, pseudoscience resorts to faith -by accepting something as true without evidence- to perceive a fantasy as if it were a reality. Faith is also the preferred resource of all forms of pseudoscience, as Relativist Sociology, creationism, panspermia, Magneto-therapy, iridology, astrology, parapsychology, naturism, holistic medicine, homeopathy, digitpuncture, acupuncture, Telekinesis, Therapeutic Touch, UFOlogy, Hypnotherapy, Astropsychology, etc.


LANGMUIR’S CLUES (from Gratzer, Walter, The Undergrowth of Science.  Oxford University Press.  New York.  2000)

Irving Langmuir (1881-1957), prize Nobel of Physics, found the following six clues (in blue) to identify pseudoscience and pseudoscientific statements or information:

Clue No. 1: The maximum effect observed has been produced by an agent of barely detectable intensity, and the magnitude of the effect is substantially independent from the intensity of the cause. For example, what has been affirmed upon the effect of the greenhouse gases upon the intensity of the current El Niño y La Niña. Actually, the effect is so small that the effects caused by the global warming on both currents do not depend at all from the intensity of the global warming forced by the increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases.

Clue No. 2: The effect is of a magnitude (measurement) that remains close to the limit of detectability or many measurements are necessary because of the low statistical significance of the results. For example, the statistical results on the effect of cigarettes on passive smokers are so low that the real effects remain in the limits of hardly detectable. Another case resides in the statistical results on the differences between Coral Calcium and mineral Calcium for preventing the effects of a deficiency of Calcium. The tradesmen of Coral Calcium exaggerated the statistical results carrying out measurements that not yet have finished because, in the final number of results, both types of Calcium follow identical ways as preventives of Calcium deficiency in our bodies.

Clue No. 3: There are affirmations that the results were achieved with great accuracy. For example, the paleontologists that defend the hypothesis that the Tyrannosaurus rex was an active predator are base on the "accurate" coincidence between the shape of a T. rex’s fang and a bite on a vertebra of a Stegosaurus’ fossilized spinal column. Obviously, to exist such "accuracy" between the shape of the fang and the bite, the tooth used for comparison would have to be, forcibly, the tooth of the T. rex that munched the backbone of that Stegosaurus. Besides, the coincidence between the bite and the shape of the fang does not mean that a T. rex was hunting to the Stegosaurus; perhaps, the T. rex just bite to an already dead Stegosaurus.

Clue No. 4: Fantastic hypothesis are suggested that are in opposition to real events. For example, there is a fantastic hypothesis on the massive extinction of species at the Cretaceous because of a collision of a meteorite against Earth. The experience shows us that massive extinctions (of more than 50% of the existing species) occur approximately each 62 million years. The evidence demonstrates that the massive extinctions are cyclic and gradual and that occur because of drastic decreases in the density of energy available for living beings inhabiting the whole planet. If it were a matter of meteorites, the Earth already had been destroyed for the surplus of collisions with meteorites.

Clue No. 5:  The disapprovals on that information or report are deciphered in the precise moment when the criticisms are offered by means of a pertinent and improvised apology. For example, at some point in televised debates on Global Warming, people in favor of the anthropogenic cause come up with conclusions at the precise moment when they are in a predicament to verify scientifically their feelings. In this way, a false idea arose that the scientists who demonstrated systematically the natural cause of Global Warming were serving to the most polluting companies in trade for special compensations. Also, they fiddle with the concept “consensus”, confounding it with “reality”, and they drive the real quantity of scientists who are in "consensus" up the reality at the just moment, without exhibiting a single list of them. The last is called dogmatism.

Clue No. 6: The number of critics is above an average of 50 percent and subsequently it falls to forgetfulness. For example, the criticisms against Peter Düesberg’s pseudoscience on AIDS reached their maximum height in the number of publications dedicated to refute his antiscientific assertions. After a period of five weeks, all the publications containing censures against Düesberg’s allegations disappeared. On the other hand, the scientific reports on AIDS are maintained more or less constant, with gradual small declines in standards.


Biol. Nasif Nahle


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