Skeptefinitions: Pseudoscience & Antiscience

Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science

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This is the first in what I find to be increasingly needed on this site: a compilation of working definitions of the terms I use on the Call to refer to, well, just about anything I post on with even a vaguely technical nature that requires a more precise meaning than those same terms often used in common parlance.

I’ve found that most words are notoriously difficult to agree upon concerning how to define them, especially if used informally, drastically increasing the chances of misinterpretation and straw-persons, most of it avoidable if a specific set of meanings and usage are stipulated beforehand.

It’s not enough to rely on most published dictionaries to provide these, as even published sources can vary substantially in their wording, potentially distorting interpretations of that wording, and the cultural and historical context of the period and date they are published.

They are also ripe for quote-mining.

Many such words, even when the sources agree in the wording of their descriptions, have multiple ambiguous and even conflicting meanings, further muddying the waters of discussion, encouraging fallacies of equivocation and presumption.

In this series of posts, which I shall link back to periodically, are the operative meanings of those terms in the sense, or set of senses, that I use them on this blog, sometimes prefaced by…Let’s assume for the sake of argument…

Note that I may in this series repeat those stipulated definitions posted separately in previous articles, for ease of immediate reference and to avoid the hassle of opening browser tabs ad nauseam.

These are the meanings I use. Period. I’ll warn you: I may be a bit pedantic with this, but it’s important to be thorough:

  • First, there is the specified meaning of the ever-so popular word, sometimes loaded, though not always, Pseudoscience:

n. Any tenet, doctrine, claim, or belief-system that attempts to present itself as science, but which does not abide by its benchmarks or criteria and makes often demonstrably false claims or in principle untestable or unfalsifiable ones, in rejecting scientific reasoning, method, or its process, and which because its claims are not in accord with compelling evidence must promote and perpetuate itself by way of a mix of fabricated propaganda, logical fallacies, conspiracy theory, and/or anecdotal reasoning.

If there’s any question, I don’t use this word for ideas with that have nothing to do with claims about physical reality, nor for unorthodox ideas that are genuinely scientific. If an idea makes no claim to be scientific, implicitly or explicitly, or it abides by the rules of science in the methods used to discover and test it, it ain’t pseudoscience. The term does have derogatory connotations, so I won’t be using it that much regarding specific doctrines.

  • And then there is another that gets abused a lot, Antiscience:

n. Similar in some respects to pseudoscience, sometimes a sub-set of it, but focusing on denying and/or hindering scientific research for political, religious, economic, or other ideological ends and/or for financial gain by way of personal attacks, legislative bans and funding cuts, physical, psychological, or legal coercion, propaganda, logical fallacies, conspiratorial reasoning, out-of-context *gotcha!* anecdotal soundbites, and in extreme cases (look up Lysenkoism under Josef Stalin’s rule), the imprisonment, exile or capital punishment of the offending researcher. Primarily characterized by a rejection, implied, denied, or explicit, of the core scientific values of curiosity, empiricism, and progress through the advancement of objective knowledge.

I try to base my beliefs on objective reality, and it doesn’t matter whether that reality sits well with me, so I don’t use that last term on ideas that don’t meet the above criteria just because they make me uncomfortable.

But (with a big hat-tip to fellow blogger Lousy Canuck…)while I’m just as susceptible to bias and fallacies, and to accusations of these, as anyone else, I’m potentially just as susceptible to accusations of being a 500-foot tall Tyrannosaurus rex in a holographic human disguise with a bad habit of indulging in late night snacks of unrefined plutonium to fuel my atomic death-ray breath…


Such is life.

One response to “Skeptefinitions: Pseudoscience & Antiscience

  1. Pingback: Finding Pseudoscience is not an Exact Science | Dan McCormick

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