Science, Pseudoscience, and Untested Hypotheses.

I have observed that people can be easily mislead by persons acting under the guise of experts in regards to scientific issues, and this problem (like most such mistakes) seems to stem from trusting “experts” rather than evaluating the facts, combined with the problem of laypeople that think that they themselves should be trusted leaders.

Laypeople that think that they should be known as trusted leaders tend to want people to believe that they should be able to solve any problem.  Therefore, if they encounter a problem that they can’t solve themselves, they will most likely go out and choose an “expert” to solve the problem for them, reimbursing or extorting the “expert” in some fashion to complete the task for them.  In time, some of the “experts” may realize that they can profit from this situation by providing dishonest results.  Specifically, they may choose to provide pseudo-scientific results.

Pseudoscience is the act of concluding that a given result is caused by an effect without proper elimination of outside variables that could be affecting the experiment.  It occurs both intentionally by deception and unintentionally by ignorance.  A common example of pseudoscience is found in superstitions.  People observe a positive or negative result, and then they attribute it to things that may not contribute to that result at all such as “lucky socks” or “walking under a ladder.”  Those people know that the result came after the object of the superstition, but they have not eliminated the other factors which could have contributed to the result, and they may even refuse to even try to eliminate those other factors.  Pseudoscience is also commonly found in advertising, where a certain product is said to have special health benefits because people that regularly use it or a similar thing are healthier on average even though there may be other contributing factors such as different life styles.

What is the difference between strict science and pseudoscience?  The answer is essentially conservatism.  Strict science conserves all of the facts precisely as and how they were observed, and reports that those facts either support a given hypothesis or don’t support a given hypothesis.  Strict science is very hesitant to claim that a hypothesis is proven, but may or may not be liberal or bold when forming the hypotheses.  In strict science, there is technically not a problem with forming a hypothesis that common cats emit gamma rays (though I don’t recommend it, as people might start to form pseudo-scientific superstitions about one’s sanity if one were to present such a hypothesis), as long as the experiment to test the hypothesis is performed and reported as accurately as possible.  Basically, strict science is conservative when making conclusions, while pseudoscience is liberal when making conclusions.

Finally, there is a third thing that is not really either science nor pseudoscience, at least not yet.  That third thing is an untested hypothesis.  Any untested hypothesis can be introduced as long as it is not falsely represented as being fact, and there is no inherent risk in the creation or spread of untested hypotheses except perhaps for the person that creates them.  Such a person might find their theories disproved, but as long as they strictly adhered to a policy of not representing those theories as being facts, the risk is small.  Several of the designs I’ve recently posted fall into this category.  People often are not attracted to untested hypotheses, because there is a potential that they can later be disproved.  This can cause a perspective scientist to feel a pressure to promise results that the scientist should not promise, in order to attract funding.  Such a path leads to ever more risk on that scientist, which increases the likelihood of such a person eventually falsifying results or producing pseudoscience.  I would not go down such a path.

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