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Rebuttal: Term “pseudoscience” defended

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From Steven Novella at Neurologica blog, in response to science writer Katie L. Burke, who argues that the term is counterproductive:

Burke concludes that, rather than labeling something pseudoscience, we should describe exactly what it is and how it fails. This is a false choice, however. We can do both.

I completely agree that we should not substitute a label for an actual description or analysis of something. This is good advice in any intellectual arena. This is just not what good skeptics and science communicators do.

We do give a detailed analysis of exactly why a claim is wrong, and exactly what brand of pseudoscience it is. Suggesting we don’t betrays an unfamiliarity with the vast majority of popular writing about pseudoscience.

But it is also helpful to understand phenomena as a whole. Pseudoscience is a thing, denialism is a thing, conspiracy thinking is a thing, cults are a thing. These all have demarcation problems in their definitions, but they are useful concepts that describe something real in the world. More.

It’s funny anyone would be saying this stuff in an age when the editor of Nature is slamming peer review, as practiced, as unscientific. “Unscientific” is a thing too. It muddies the question of what it would be unreasonable to believe.

See also: American Scientist: Stop using word “pseudoscience” The term typically replaces conversations with factions. Many things believed to be science have proven valueless, and many things one might have expected to be valueless have proven to be good science.

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3 Replies to “Rebuttal: Term “pseudoscience” defended

  1. 1
    Robert Byers says:

    This dude is just saying NO WE WANT TO LABEL EVERYTHING NOT SCIENCE where we disagree with its conclusions.
    Its just an appeal to authority like the old days.
    Everybody hold fast to the merits and labeling will fail in front of smart folks everywhere.

  2. 2
    EvilSnack says:

    In some instances, the term pseudoscience is applied as part of a fallacy we could name Rebuttal by Categorization, in which the unaccepted idea is placed into a category of ideas that are held to be universally false; this is often done in an effort—often stated overtly—to avoid a rigorous disproof of the unaccepted idea.

  3. 3
    Bob O'H says:

    It’s funny anyone would be saying this stuff in an age when the editor of Nature is slamming peer review, as practiced, as unscientific.

    I think (actually, hope) the link is wrong – that leads to a UD piece about a comment in Nature that wasn’t written by any of their editors.

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