We’re all familiar with the half-baked “science” fan (and closet fascist, quite often) who wants to “stamp out pseudoscience.” Sabine Hossenfelder is
But what we call pseudoscience today might once have been science. Astrology for example, the idea that the constellations of the stars influence human affairs was once a respectable discipline. Every king and queen had a personal astrologer to give them advice. And many early medical practices weren’t just pseudoscience, they were often fatal. The literal snake oil, obtained by boiling snakes in oil, was at least both useless and harmless. However, they also prescribed tape worms for weight loss. Though in all fairness, that might actually work, if you survive it.
And sometimes, theories accused of being pseudoscientific turned out to be right, for example the idea that the continents on earth today broke apart from one large tectonic plate. That was considered pseudoscience until evidence confirmed it. And the hypothesis of atoms was at first decried as pseudoscience because one could not, at the time, observe atoms.
So the first lesson we can take away is that pseudoscience is a natural byproduct of normal science. You can’t have one without the other. If we learn something new about nature, some fraction of people will cling on to falsified theories longer than reasonable. And some crazy ideas in the end turn out to be correct.
But pseudoscience isn’t just a necessary evil. It’s actually useful to advance science because it forces scientists to improve their methods.Sabine Hossenfelder, “How I learned to love pseudoscience” at BackRe(Action)
Hossenfelder: “And some crazy ideas in the end turn out to be correct.” Yes, and it could be worse than that. Given the complexity of life, there should be no surprise if dimwits played by fanatics and grifters – Establishment or otherwise – are fronting poorly supported ideas and trying to stamp out more correct ideas as “pseudoscience” because the poorly supported ideas are convenient, comforting, and profitable.
Anyone who doubts that factor either hasn’t been around long or has not been paying attention.