I know; If you’re a n00b skeptic like me, the letters, “WTF” followed by “???” may have just popped into your head from the title, but a little thought will show that it’s true: There is a very real upside to both mainstream anti-science and a lot of fringe-claims posing as science — they’re not completely negative in their implications.
Certainly, uncritical acceptance of pseudoscientific claims can crowd out good science with bad, both indicate and promote social irrationality, and in extreme instances can even kill, but but let’s look at a few reasons why it is, as the title of this post says, also a Good Thing™.
A note: We skeptics are NOT crusaders, we are NOT saviors, and we are NOT icons of rationality. We will never ‘stop the madness in a world gone insane’…We are not fracking superheroes.
…We are damage control, educators, and often rather outspoken advocates of, or just peeps who value, scientific literacy and skilled reasoning, and yes, reasoning is a skill — we must learn to do it well to think effectively and arrive at reliable knowledge.
We are humans, like everyone else, no better, no smarter, than our opposition and we would do well to remember that.
But without pseudoscience, there would be no such thing as scientific skepticism as it is known today*, no skeptical community, and science would not be
nearly as rigorous as it is with anti-science and fringe-claims to contrast with and threaten it**.
Without pseudoscience, I would never be a skeptic, and in fact, would never have even heard of skepticism. Without claims of the paranormal, for example, there would be no reason to address them.
I love the paranormal, and claims that sound like science but ain’t, and I got into skepticism to assess these claims from a more rational and realistic perspective than I otherwise might as a believer.
Pseudoscience is interesting and cool.
Skepticism allows me the chance to examine these claims, and not only know if they are spurious, but exactly how and why as well. It allows me to sharpen my reasoning skills, to learn from those more skilled and knowledgeable than I, the skeptics, teachers, scientists, magicians, philosophers, and others, past and present, even across centuries.
Pseudoscience has from the beginning existed alongside science, and it serves the essential function of providing something to contrast with it, to force scientists and philosophers of science to look closer, to better examine the conceptual tools of their craft, and make them better.
It forces scientists to better communicate their findings with the public, spotty though this sometimes is, it forces them to more closely look at and improve their methods, and yes, a linear “classic scientific method” is a fiction that exists only as a popular misconception.
Challenges to science force scientists to better polish their argumentation, and their public speaking and debating skills when necessary, as the need to openly counter the fallacious arguments of anti-science leads to the making of better, stronger arguments by scientists, not always, but the impetus is there, and often gets effective results.
Irrational claims posing as science, and even occasional scientific fraud, show the limitations of its corrective mechanisms, leading to more examination of these limits, and improvements in the conduct of science when they are addressed and adjusted, better allowing scientific progress and evolving it by tweaking how it works.
Pseudoscience drives the need to improve scientific literacy, the thinking and methodology as well as the data, and thus provides a reason to promote better education in public schools, such as that often is.
And none of this would ever come to be without pseudoscience and paranormal claims around to make it all happen***.
That is all. Fnord.
*That is, more exactly, scientific skepticism as it is also practiced by those not themselves professional scientists. Of course any scientist worthy of the job is skeptical in approach. In light of commentary on this piece I seem to have not made this very clear. My bad.
**I seem to have overstated this a bit, as the conduct of science could be nearly as rigorous, but pseudoscience, fraudulent science, and ideological attacks on science may serve to force examination of it and improvement, other social influences lacking.
***Correction: It could come to be, but not to the extent that it has in terms of the public promotion of science and skeptical advocacy. While without pseudoscience, science itself may have done quite nicely, the fact remains that anti-science nonsense exists, and by its own existence has created the need to actively oppose it. A better way of putting this would be that without pseudoscience, we would need something else to use to show us what science is rather than by examining and deconstructing its mirror universe evil twin and reliably demonstrating what it also is not.