How To Distinguish Science From Pseudoscience

Rubina Davtyan

Future biophysicist

The spherical shape of the earth is apparent even to junior high school students, it was theoretically proven hundreds of years ago, and more than 40 years ago the Apollo satellite received its first image from space.

While at the exact approach the world does not have the shape of a ball but rather the look of a pressed ellipsoid from poles, but with many issues, to consider the earth as a sphere will give quite accurate results. But there are people who deny the earth’s spherical shape, ignoring the existing facts, and claiming that it is flat.

Just this example shows the fundamental difference between science and pseudoscience, while science is based on proven facts and develops them, pseudoscience directly denies facts and evidence, citing not scientific research, but questionable sources.

Since in Armenian media they often publishing unscientific materials, I have tried to summarize five questions, the answering of which will help differentiate between science and pseudoscience.

There are obvious refutations of scientific facts and conspiracy theories

The flat earth’s worthy descendants are the denial of the existence of AIDS, the capture of the earth by aliens, creating eternal engines…

This series could continue infinitely, but the similar titles is that red light, the igniting of which is the signal for the regular pseudoscience.

These types of materials deny well-known and proven facts and data, sometimes attributing everything to secret plans or underground organizations, where the main purpose is to somehow harm humankind. Materials based on that are extremely far from being scientific.

Information about a scientific facility is not provided

Long gone are the days when individuals revolutionized the scientific world. Scientific research in the 21st century, especially in the field of natural and exact sciences, is realized thanks to the long-term and targeted work of scientific groups.  

Therefore if the material’s hero is a scientist or doctor, who boasts that he/she alone changed the course of scientific development, while it is not automatic, it is very likely that the claims are pseudoscience.

And in scientific materials not only are the names of specific scientific institutions and scientists responsible for the research listed, but also the methods used and the clear results.

Unfounded claims established instead of scientific results

As a rule, when information regarding a scientific discovery is already available to the mass media, then it is already published in scientific journals or can be found in the publication stage.  

Since the relative level of influence of scientific journals is measured by the so-called impact factor, which is dependent on the amount of citations in the given journal’s articles, therefore the scientists have no benefit in concealing their discovery.

And moreover, they are even interested in their established results and methods to be used and cited by other scientists.

And in pseudoscience articles their scientist, doctor, or other person considered to be a specialist speaks about a shocking world discovery, but refuses to explain his/her methods, which does not allow for those methods to be tested, and therefore, denied or approved by entities.

They promise to cure several diseases

Health-related materials often contain methods that promise to cure a bunch of diseases, beginning with the flu, ending with AIDS. In such cases it is also possible to immediately detect pseudoscience, since the listed diseases often have completely different origins, reasons, manifestations and represent varying degrees of danger, therefore each disease requires targeted treatment.

In a medical practice, even the same diseases have different treatments, according to its type, complexity or the patient’s organism characteristics.

The media’s sources

The links/references of questionable sites or the practice of not substantiating any claims can already be a signal for pseudoscience. But referencing “Nature,” “Science,” or links to scientific journals or well-known scientific institutions is not enough for material to be considered scientific.

Armenian media often operates on the principle of a broken telephone, the media can refer to a well-known magazine, but the material was not based on the source of the material, but based on the intermediate site or sites, which results in even the most scientific material being able to lose its scientific character.

Therefore, in the case of even the smallest suspicion of a material’s pseudoscience, the first necessary step is to check the material’s source.

Rubina Davtyan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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