Signs of Pseudoscience
via Psychology - From Inquiry to Understanding
An imposter of science is pseudoscience: a set of claims that seem scientific but aren’t. In particular, pseudoscience lacks the safeguards against confirmation bias and belief perseverance that characterize science. We must be careful to distinguish pseudoscientific claims from metaphysical claims, which as we’ve seen, are untestable and therefore lie outside the realm of science. In principle, at least, we can test pseudoscientific claims, although the proponents of these claims often avoid subjecting them to rigorous examination.
Pseudoscientific and other questionable beliefs are widespread. A recent survey of the U.S. public shows that 41 percent of Americans believe in extrasensory perception (ESP); over 30 percent in haunted houses, ghosts, and telepathy; and 25 percent in astrology (Musella, 2005).
The fact that many Americans entertain the possibility of such beliefs isn’t by itself worrisome, because a certain amount of open-mindedness is essential for scientific thinking. Instead, what’s troubling is that many Americans appear convinced that such claims are correct even though the scientific evidence for them is either weak, as in the case of ESP, or essentially nonexistent, as in the case of astrology. Moreover, it’s troubling that many poorly supported beliefs are more popular, or at least more widespread, than well-supported beliefs. To take merely one example, there are about 20 times as many astrologers as astronomers in the United States (Gilovich, 1991).
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