Science vs. Pseudoscience

Posted on September 28, 2011


The task of distinguishing science from pseudoscience is known as the demarcation problem. It is not altogether straightforward, because the boundaries within which “science” is defined are themselves vague. However, most philosophers of science agree that the following notions represent relatively good distinctions. I am separating them here into two categories: “differences of principle” (which refer to epistemological issues, and are therefore more fundamental) and “differences of practice” (which refer to superficial issues, and are more suggestive). Hyperlinks help guide you to relevant discussions.

Differences of Principle

Science Pseudoscience
Valorizes falsifiability Avoids falsifiability
Accuracy in measurement Vagueness in measurement
Unproven as false = unproven Unproven as false = true
Emphasis on refutation Confirmation bias
Prioritization of parsimony Indifference towards parsimony
Burden on claimant, not critic Reversed burden of proof

Differences of Practice

Science Pseudoscience
Publication of data Secrecy of data
Peer review Science by press conference
Argument “ad rem” Argument “ad hominem”
Formal empirical evidence Tolerance of anecdotal evidence
Appeals to reductionism Appeals to holism
Acceptance of paradigms Lack of theoretical agreement
Shared endeavour Exaggerated importance of key persons