List of topics characterized as pseudoscience

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This is a list of topics that have, at one point or another in their history, been characterized as pseudoscience by academics or researchers. These characterizations were made in the context of educating the public about questionable or potentially fraudulent or dangerous claims and practices - efforts to define the nature of science, or humorous parodies of poor scientific reasoning. Criticism of pseudoscience, generally by the scientific community or skeptical organizations, involves critiques of the logical, methodological, or rhetorical bases of the topic in question.[1] Though some of the listed topics continue to be investigated scientifically, others were only subject to scientific research in the past and today are considered refuted but resurrected in a pseudoscientific fashion. Other ideas presented here are entirely non-scientific, but have in one way or another infringed on scientific domains or practices. Many adherents to or practitioners of the topics listed here dispute their characterization as pseudoscience.

Each section summarizes the pseudoscientific aspects of that topic.

Physical sciences[edit]

Physics[edit]

Astronomy and space sciences[edit]

Earth sciences[edit]

  • 366 geometry or Megalithic geometry – posits the existence of an Earth-based geometry dating back to at least 3500 BC, and the possibility that such a system is still in use in modern Freemasonry. According to Alexander Thom and, later, Alan Butler and Christopher Knight, megalithic civilizations in Britain and Brittany had advanced knowledge of geometry, mathematics, and the size of the Earth. Butler correlates Thom's megalithic yard to the polar circumference of Earth using a circle divided into 366 degrees.[29][30]
  • The Bermuda Triangle – a region of the Atlantic Ocean that lies between Bermuda, Puerto Rico, and (in its most popular version) Florida. Ship and aircraft disasters and disappearances perceived as frequent in this area have led to the circulation of stories of unusual natural phenomena, paranormal encounters, and interactions with extraterrestrials.[11]
  • Biodynamic agriculture – method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms. Biodynamics uses a calendar which has been characterized as astrological and unconventional preparations and composts. For example, field mice are countered by deploying ashes prepared from field mice skin when Venus is in the Scorpius constellation.[31][32][33][34]
  • Hollow Earth – a proposal that Earth is either entirely hollow or consists of hollow sections beneath the crust. Certain folklore and conspiracy theories still hold onto this idea however and suggest the existence of subterranean life.
  • Lysenkoism, or Lysenko-Michurinism – denotes the biological inheritance principle propounded by Trofim Lysenko, which derives from theories of the heritability of acquired characteristics.[43] Lysenkoism is a theory of biological inheritance which departs from Mendelism, and which Lysenko named "Michurinism". Lysenko's theories came to prominence in the Soviet Union during the late 1940s and early 1950s, when genetics was declared a "bourgeois science" in the wake of the famines caused by Joseph Stalin's collectivization campaign. The Soviet Union quietly abandoned Lysenko's agricultural practices in favor of modern agricultural practices after the crop yields he promised failed to materialize. By the mid-1950s, his influence had declined considerably. Today Lysenko's agricultural experimentation and research is largely viewed as fraudulent.[44][45]

Energy[edit]

Life sciences[edit]

Psychology[edit]

  • Attachment therapy – common name for a set of potentially fatal[54] clinical interventions and parenting techniques aimed at controlling aggressive, disobedient, or unaffectionate children using "restraint and physical and psychological abuse to seek their desired results."[55] (The term "attachment therapy" may sometimes be used loosely to refer to mainstream approaches based on attachment theory, usually outside the USA where pseudoscientific form of attachment therapy is less known). Probably the most common form is holding therapy in which the child is restrained by adults for the purpose of supposed cathartic release of suppressed rage and regression. Perhaps the most extreme, but much less common, is "rebirthing", in which the child is wrapped tightly in a blanket and then made to simulate emergence from a birth canal. This is done by encouraging the child to struggle and pushing and squeezing him/her to mimic contractions.[11] Despite its name it is not based on attachment theory or research.[56] In 2006 it was the subject of an almost entirely critical Taskforce Report commissioned by the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC).[57] Not all forms of attachment therapy are coercive and since the Candace Newmaker case there has been a move towards less coercive practices by leaders in the field.[57]
  • Conversion therapy – sometimes called reparative therapy, seeks to change a non-heterosexual person's sexual orientation so they will no longer be homosexual or bisexual.[58] The American Psychiatric Association defines reparative therapy as "psychiatric treatment...which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation."[59][60][61]
  • Graphology – psychological test based on a belief that personality traits unconsciously and consistently influence handwriting morphology – that certain types of people exhibit certain quirks of the pen. Analysis of handwriting attributes provides no better than chance correspondence with personality, and neuroscientist Barry Beyerstein likened the assigned correlations to sympathetic magic.[11][62][63][64][65] Graphology is only superficially related to forensic document examination, which also examines handwriting.
  • Hypnosis – state of extreme relaxation and inner focus in which a person is unusually responsive to suggestions made by the hypnotist. The modern practice has its roots in the idea of animal magnetism, or mesmerism, originated by Franz Mesmer.[66] Mesmer's explanations were thoroughly discredited, and to this day there is no agreement amongst researchers whether hypnosis is a real phenomenon, or merely a form of participatory role-enactment.[11][67][68] Some aspects of suggestion have been clinically useful.[69][70] Other claimed uses of hypnosis more clearly fall within the area of pseudoscience. Such areas include the use of hypnotic regression beyond plausible limits, including past life regression.[71] Also see false memory syndrome.
    • Hypnotherapy – therapy that is undertaken with a subject in hypnosis.[72] It is widely considered a branch of Complementary and Alternative Medicine though its founder – James Braid – has been described as "one of the most ardent and influential critics of pseudo-science."[73]
    • It should be noted that using hypnosis for relaxation, mood control, and other related benefits (often related to meditation) is regarded as part of standard medical treatment rather than alternative medicine, particularly for patients subjected to difficult physical emotional stress in chemotherapy.[74]
  • Memetics – approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transfer based on the concept that units of information, or "memes", have an independent existence, are self-replicating, and are subject to selective evolution through environmental forces. Starting from a proposition put forward in the writings of Richard Dawkins, it has since turned into a new area of study, one that looks at the self-replicating units of culture. It has been proposed that just as memes are analogous to genes, memetics is analogous to genetics. Memetics has been deemed a pseudoscience on several fronts.[75] Its proponents' assertions have been labeled "untested, unsupported or incorrect"[75] though the same book contains Susan Blackmore's counter article "Memes as Good Science." Supporters of memetics include EO Wilson, Douglas Hofstadter and many others.
  • Neuro-linguistic programming – an approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created in the 1970s. The title refers to a stated connection between the neurological processes ("neuro"), language ("linguistic") and behavioral patterns that have been learned through experience ("programming") and can be organized to achieve specific goals in life.[76][77] According to certain neuroscientists,[78] psychologists[79][80] and linguists,[81][82] NLP is unsupported by current scientific evidence, and uses incorrect and misleading terms and concepts. Reviews of empirical research on NLP indicate that NLP contains numerous factual errors,[83][84] and has failed to produce reliable results for the claims for effectiveness made by NLP’s originators and proponents.[80][85] According to Devilly,[86] NLP is no longer as prevalent as it was in the 1970s and 1980s. Criticisms go beyond the lack of empirical evidence for effectiveness; critics say that NLP exhibits pseudoscientific characteristics,[86] title,[78] concepts and terminology.[81][87] NLP is used as an example of pseudoscience for facilitating the teaching of scientific literacy at the professional and university level.[82][88][89] NLP also appears on peer reviewed expert-consensus based lists of discredited interventions.[80] In research designed to identify the “quack factor” in modern mental health practice, Norcross et al. (2006) [90] list NLP as possibly or probably discredited, and in papers reviewing discredited interventions for substance and alcohol abuse, Norcross et al. (2008)[91] list NLP in the “top ten” most discredited, and Glasner-Edwards and Rawson (2010) list NLP as “certainly discredited”.[92]
  • Parapsychology – controversial discipline that seeks to investigate the existence and causes of psychic abilities and life after death using the scientific method. Parapsychological experiments have included the use of random number generators to test for evidence of precognition and psychokinesis with both human and animal subjects[93][94][95] and Ganzfeld experiments to test for extrasensory perception.[citation needed]
  • Phrenology – now defunct system for determining personality traits by feeling bumps on the skull proposed by 18th century physiologist Franz Joseph Gall.[11] In an early recorded use of the term "pseudo-science", François Magendie referred to phrenology as "a pseudo-science of the present day".[96] The assumption that personality can be read from bumps in the skull has since been thoroughly discredited. However, Gall's assumption that character, thoughts, and emotions are located in the brain is considered an important historical advance toward neuropsychology (see also localization of brain function, Brodmann's areas, neuro-imaging, modularity of mind or faculty psychology).[97]
  • Polygraphy ("lie detectors") – an interrogation method which measures and records several physiological indices such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and skin conductivity while the subject is asked and answers a series of questions. The belief is that deceptive answers will produce physiological responses that can be differentiated from those associated with non-deceptive answers. Many members of the scientific community consider polygraphy to be pseudoscience.[98][99] Polygraphy has little credibility among scientists.[100][101] Despite claims of 90–95% validity by polygraph advocates, and 95–100% by businesses providing polygraph services,[102] critics maintain that rather than a "test", the method amounts to an inherently unstandardizable interrogation technique whose accuracy cannot be established. A 1997 survey of 421 psychologists estimated the test's average accuracy at about 61%, a little better than chance.[103] Critics also argue that even given high estimates of the polygraph's accuracy a significant number of subjects (e.g. 10% given a 90% accuracy) will appear to be lying, and would unfairly suffer the consequences of "failing" the polygraph.
  • Primal therapy – sometimes presented as a science.[104] The Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology (2001) states that: "The theoretical basis for the therapy is the supposition that prenatal experiences and birth trauma form people's primary impressions of life and that they subsequently influence the direction our lives take... Truth be known, primal therapy cannot be defended on scientifically established principles. This is not surprising considering its questionable theoretical rationale."[105] Other sources have also questioned the scientific validity of primal therapy, some using the term "pseudoscience" (see Criticism of Primal Therapy).
  • Psychoanalysis – body of ideas developed by Austrian physician Sigmund Freud and his followers, which is devoted to the study of human psychological functioning and behavior. It has been controversial ever since its inception.[106] Karl Popper characterized it as pseudoscience based on psychoanalysis failing the requirement for falsifiability.[107][108] Frank Cioffi argued that "though Popper is correct to say that psychoanalysis is pseudoscientific and correct to say that it is unfalsifiable, he is mistaken to suggest that it is pseudoscientific because it is unfalsifiable. […] It is when [Freud] insists that he has confirmed (not just instantiated) [his empirical theses] that he is being pseudoscientific."[109]
  • Subliminal advertising, a visual or auditory information that is discerned below the threshold of conscious awareness and claims to have a powerful enduring effect on consuming habits. It went into disrepute in the late 1970s[110] but there has been renewed research interest recently.[11][67] The mainstream accepted science of Subliminal perception does not have a powerful, enduring effect on human behaviour.[111]

Applied sciences[edit]

Health and medicine[edit]

  • Alternative medicine has been described as pseudoscientific. The National Science Foundation has conducted surveys of the "Public Attitudes and Public Understanding" of "Science Fiction and Pseudoscience", which includes studying the popularity of alternative medicine. It considers belief in alternative medicine a matter of concern, defining it as "all treatments that have not been proven effective using scientific methods." After quoting the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry's listing of alternative medicine as one of many pseudoscientific subjects, as well as mentioning the concerns of individual scientists, organizations, and members of the science policymaking community, it comments that "nevertheless, the popularity of alternative medicine [with the public] appears to be increasing."[112] "At least 60 percent of U.S. medical schools devote classroom time to the teaching of alternative therapies, generating controversy within the scientific community."[112] It has been reported that universities are "increasingly turning their backs on homoeopathy and complementary medicine amid opposition from the scientific community to "pseudo-science" degrees."[113] Degrees in alternative medicine have been described as "'pseudo-science' degrees",[112][113][114] "anti-scientific", and "harmful".[115]
  • Anthroposophic medicine, or anthroposophically extended medicine – school of complementary medicine[116] founded in the 1920s by Rudolf Steiner in conjunction with Ita Wegman based on the spiritual philosophy of anthroposophy. It is an individualized holistic and salutogenic approach to health, deemphasizing randomized controlled trials.[117][118] Medications are formulated to stimulate healing by matching "key dynamic forces" with symptoms,[119] and are prepared for external, oral, or parenteral introduction in various dilutions ranging from whole to homeopathic.[120] The use of vaccinations, antibiotics, and antipyretics is generally restricted or delayed.[121][122][123] Skeptic Robert Carroll likens to sympathetic magic the principle that curative plants may be identified by distortions or abnormalities in their morphology or physiology.[124] Carroll and others state that the system is not based in science.[124][125][126] Edzard Ernst suggests that no thorough scientific analysis of the efficacy of anthroposophical medicine as a system independent of its philosophical underpinnings has been undertaken; and that no evidence-based conclusion can be drawn as to the overall efficacy of the system.[127]
  • Applied kinesiology (AK) – a diagnostic method using manual muscle-strength testing for medical diagnosis and a subsequent determination of prescribed therapy, which proponents believe can identify health problems or nutritional deficiencies through practitioner assessment of external physical qualities such as muscle response, posture, or motion analysis. A variety of therapies are prescribed based on tested weakness or smoothness of muscle action and a conjectured viscerosomatic association between particular muscles and organs. For example, a practitioner will give the patient a jar containing a substance to hold in one hand, then test for muscle strength in the other hand; if there is little resistance, the practitioner may conclude that the patient is allergic to that substance. The sole use of Applied Kinesiology to diagnose or treat any allergy[128] or illness[129][130] is not scientifically supported, and the International College of Applied Kinesiology requires concurrent use of standard diagnostic techniques.[131] Applied kinesiologists are often chiropractors, but may also be naturopaths, physicians, dentists, nutritionists, physical therapists, massage therapists, and nurses.[129][132] Applied Kinesiology should not be confused with kinesiology, the scientific study of human movement.
  • Chakra - In Hindu metaphysical tradition and other belief systems, chakra (also chakro) are points in the human body, i.e. major plexuses of arteries, veins and nerves, that are allegedly centers of life force (prana), or vital energy. The concept of chakra features in tantric and yogic traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism.
  • Kundalini - a spiritual energy which allegedly can be awakened by shaktipat (spiritual transmission by a Guru or teacher), or by spiritual practices such as yoga or meditation.
  • Maharishi Ayurveda – traditional Ayurveda is a 5,000 year old alternative medical practice with roots in ancient India based on a mind-body set of beliefs.[148][149] Imbalance or stress in an individual’s consciousness is believed to be the reason of diseases.[148] Patients are classified by body types (three doshas, which are considered to control mind-body harmony, determine an individual’s "body type"); and treatment is aimed at restoring balance to the mind-body system.[148][149] It has long been the main traditional system of health care in India,[149] and it has become institutionalized in India's colleges and schools, although unlicensed practitioners are common.[150] As with other traditional knowledge, much of it was lost; in the West, current practice is in part based on the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1980s,[151] who mixed it with Transcendental Meditation; other forms of Ayurveda exist as well. The most notable advocate of Ayurveda in America is Deepak Chopra, who claims that Maharishi's Ayurveda is based on quantum mysticism.[151]
  • Bates method for better eyesight – an educational method developed by ophthalmologist William Bates intended to improve vision "naturally" to the point at which it can allegedly eliminate the need for glasses by undoing a habitual strain to see.[152] In 1929 Bates was cited by the FTC for false or misleading advertising in connection with his book describing the method, Perfect Sight Without Glasses,[153] though the complaint was later dismissed.[154] Although some people claim to have improved their eyesight by following his principles, Bates' ideas about vision and accommodation have been rejected by mainstream ophthalmology and optometry.[155][156][157][158][159]
  • Biorhythms – hypothesis holding that human physiology and behavior are governed by physical, emotional, and intellectual cycles lasting 23, 28, and 33 days, respectively. The system posits that, for instance, errors in judgment are more probable on days when an individual's intellectual cycle, as determined by days since birth, is near a minimum. No biophysical mechanism of action has been discovered, and the predictive power of biorhythms charts is no better than chance.[11][160][161][162] For the scientific study of biological cycles such as circadian rhythms, see chronobiology.
  • Body memory – hypothesis that the body itself is capable of storing memories, as opposed to only the brain. This is used to explain having memories for events where the brain was not in a position to store memories and is sometimes a catalyst for repressed memories recovery.[163] These memories are often characterised with phantom pain in a part or parts of the body – the body appearing to remember the past trauma. The idea of body memory is a belief frequently associated with the idea of repressed memories, in which memories of incest or sexual abuse can be retained and recovered through physical sensations.[163][164]
  • Brain Gym – commercial training program that claims that any learning challenges can be overcome by finding the right movements, to subsequently create new pathways in the brain. They claim that the repetition of the 26 Brain Gym movements "activates the brain for optimal storage and retrieval of information",[165] and are designed to "integrate body and mind" in order to improve "concentration, memory, reading, writing, organizing, listening, physical coordination, and more."[166] Its theoretical foundation has been discredited by the scientific community, which describe it as pseudoscience.[167][168][169][170] Peer reviewed scientific studies into Brain Gym have found no significant improvement in general academic skills. Its claimed results have been put down to the placebo effect and the benefits of breaks and exercise. Its founder, Paul Dennison, has admitted that many of Brain Gym's claims are not based on good science, but on his "hunches".[171]
  • Chiropractic is an alternative medicine practice focusing on spinal manipulation. Many modern chiropractors target solely mechanical dysfunction, and offer health and lifestyle counseling.[172][173] Many others, however, base their practice on the vitalism of D.D. Palmer and B. J. Palmer, maintaining that all or many organic diseases are the result of hypothetical spinal dysfunctions known as vertebral subluxations and the impaired flow of Innate intelligence, a form of putative energy.[174][175] These ideas are not based in science, and along with the lack of a strong research base are in part responsible for the historical conflict between chiropractic and mainstream medicine.[176][177][178][179] Recent systematic reviews indicate the possibility of moderate effectiveness for spinal manipulation in the management of nonspecific low back pain.[180][181][182] The effectiveness of chiropractic spinal manipulation has not been demonstrated according to the principles of evidence-based medicine for any other condition.[183] Adverse events with possible neurologic involvement following spinal manipulation, particularly upper spinal manipulation, occur with a frequency of between 33% and 61%. Most events are minor, such as mild soreness, fainting, dizziness, light headedness, headache, or numbness or tingling in the upper limbs; serious complications such as subarachnoid hemorrhage, vertebral artery dissection, or myelopathy are observed infrequently.[184][185][186][187][188]
  • Innate intelligence – form of putative energy, the flow of which is considered by some chiropractors to be responsible for patient health. Chiropractic historian Joseph C. Keating, Jr., PhD. stated: "So long as we propound the 'One cause, one cure' rhetoric of Innate, we should expect to be met by ridicule from the wider health science community. Chiropractors can’t have it both ways. Our theories cannot be both dogmatically held vitalistic constructs and be scientific at the same time. The purposiveness, consciousness and rigidity of the Palmers’ Innate should be rejected."[189]
  • Vertebral subluxation – a Chiropractic term that describes variously a site of impaired flow of innate or a spinal lesion that is postulated to cause neuromusculoskeletal or visceral dysfunction. Scientific consensus does not support the existence of chiropractic's vertebral subluxation.[190]
  • Colon cleansing (colonics, colon hydrotherapy) – encompasses several alternative medical therapies intended to remove fecal waste and unidentified toxins from the colon and intestinal tract. Practitioners believe that accumulations of putrefied feces line the walls of the large intestine and that they harbor parasites or pathogenic gut flora, causing nonspecific symptoms and general ill-health. This "auto-intoxication" hypothesis is based on medical beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks, and was discredited in the early 20th century.[191][192]
  • Craniosacral therapy – involves the therapist placing their hands on the patient, which allows them to "tune into the craniosacral rhythm".[193] Craniosacral therapists claim to treat mental stress, neck and back pain, migraines, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and for chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia.[194][195][196] A systematic review conducted in 1999 "did not find valid scientific evidence that craniosacral therapy provides a benefit to patients", noting that "[t]he available health outcome research consists of low grade of evidence derived from weak study designs" and "[a]dverse events have been reported in head-injured patients following craniosacral therapy."[197] Craniosacral theraphy has been variously characterized as pseudoscientific or discredited.[198][199][200][201][202][203]
  • Crystal healing – belief that crystals have healing properties. Once common among pre-scientific and indigenous peoples, it has recently enjoyed a resurgence in popularity with the New Age movement.[204][205]
  • Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) – reported sensitivity to electric and magnetic fields or electromagnetic radiation of various frequencies at exposure levels well below established safety standards. Symptoms are inconsistent, but can include headache, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and similar non-specific indications.[206] Provocation studies find that the discomfort of sufferers is unrelated to hidden sources of radiation,[207][208] and "no scientific basis currently exists for a connection between EHS and exposure to [electromagnetic fields]."[209]
  • Faith healing – act of curing disease by such means as prayer and laying on of hands. No material benefit in excess of that expected by placebo is observed.[11][210][211] However, faith-healing advocates respond by stating that what doctors describe as the placebo effect is a form of faith healing.[212]
  • Homeopathy – the belief that giving a patient with symptoms of an illness extremely dilute remedies that are thought to produce those same symptoms in healthy people. These preparations are often diluted beyond the point where any treatment molecule is likely to remain.[213] Studies of homeopathic practice have been largely negative or inconclusive.[214][215][216][217] No scientific basis for homeopathic principles has been substantiated.[218][219][220][221][222][223][224]
  • Iridology – means of medical diagnosis which proponents believe can identify and diagnose health problems through close examination of the markings and patterns of the iris. Practitioners divide the iris into 80–90 zones, each of which is connected to a particular body region or organ. This connection has not been scientifically validated, and disorder detection is neither selective nor specific.[225][226][227] Because iris texture is a phenotypical feature which develops during gestation and remains unchanged after birth (which makes the iris useful for Biometrics), Iridology is all but impossible.
  • Leaky gut syndrome – in alternative medicine, a proposed condition caused by the passage of harmful substances outward through the gut wall. It has been proposed as the cause of many conditions including multiple sclerosis and autism, a claim which has been called pseudoscientific.[228] According to the UK National Health Service, the theory is vague and unproven.[229] Some skeptics and scientists say that the marketing of treatments for leaky gut syndrome is either misguided or an instance of deliberate health fraud.[229]
  • Lightning Process – a system claimed to be derived from osteopathy, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and life coaching.[230] Proponents claim that the Process can have a positive effect on a long list of diseases and conditions, including myalgic encephalomyelitis, despite no scientific evidence of efficacy.[231] The designer of the Lightning Process, Phill Parker, suggests certain illnesses such as ME/CFS arise from a dysregulation of the Central Nervous System and Autonomic Nervous System, which the Lightning Process aims to address, helping to break the "adrenaline loop" that keep the systems' stress responses high.[231]
  • Magnet therapy – practice of using magnetic fields to positively influence health. While there are legitimate medical uses for magnets and magnetic fields, the field strength used in magnetic therapy is too low to effect any biological change, and the methods used have no scientific validity.[11][232][233]
  • Naturopathy, or Naturopathic Medicine, is a type of alternative medicine based on a belief in vitalism, which posits that a special energy called vital energy or vital force guides bodily processes such as metabolism, reproduction, growth, and adaptation.[234] Naturopathy has been characterized as pseudoscience.[235][236] It has particularly been criticized for its unproven, disproven, or dangerous treatments.[237][238][239][240] Natural methods and chemicals are not necessarily safer or more effective than artificial or synthetic ones; any treatment capable of eliciting an effect may also have deleterious side effects.[192][236][241][242]
  • Osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) or osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) – the core technique of osteopathic medicine. OMM is based on a philosophy devised by Andrew Taylor Still (1828–1917) who held that the body had self-regulating mechanisms that could be harnessed through manipulating the bones, tendons and muscles. It has been proposed as a treatment for a number of human ailments including Parkinson's disease, pancreatitis, and pneumonia but has only been found to be effective for lower back pain by virtue of the spinal manipulation used.[243][244][245] It has long been regarded as rooted in "pseudoscientific dogma".[246] In 2010 Steven Salzberg referred to the OMT-specific training given by osteopathic colleges as "training in pseudoscientific practices".[247]
  • Radionics – means of medical diagnosis and therapy which proponents believe can diagnose and remedy health problems using various frequencies in a putative energy field coupled to the practitioner's electronic device. The first such "black box" devices were designed and promoted by Albert Abrams, and were definitively proven useless by an independent investigation commissioned by Scientific American in 1924.[248] The internal circuitry of radionics devices is often obfuscated and irrelevant, leading proponents to conjecture dowsing and ESP as operating principles.[249][250][251] Similar devices continue to be marketed under various names, though none is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration; there is no scientific evidence for the efficacy or underlying premise of radionics devices.[252][253] The radionics of Albert Abrams and his intellectual descendants should not be confused with similarly named reputable and legitimate companies, products, or medical treatments such as radiotherapy or radiofrequency ablation.
  • Reflexology, or zone therapy, is an alternative medicine involving the physical act of applying pressure to the feet, hands, or ears with specific thumb, finger, and hand techniques without the use of oil or lotion. It is based on what reflexologists claim to be a system of zones and reflex areas that they say reflect an image of the body on the feet and hands, with the premise that such work effects a physical change to the body.[254] A 2009 systematic review of randomised controlled trials concludes that the best evidence available to date does not demonstrate convincingly that reflexology is an effective treatment for any medical condition.[255] There is no consensus among reflexologists on how reflexology is supposed to work; a unifying theme is the idea that areas on the foot correspond to areas of the body, and that by manipulating these one can improve health through one's qi.[256] Reflexologists divide the body into ten equal vertical zones, five on the right and five on the left.[257] Concerns have been raised by medical professionals that treating potentially serious illnesses with reflexology, which has no proven efficacy, could delay the seeking of appropriate medical treatment.[258]
  • Therapeutic touch – form of vitalism where a practitioner, who may be also a nurse,[259] passes his or her hands over and around a patient to "realign" or "rebalance" a putative energy field.[50] A recent Cochrane Review concluded that "[t]here is no evidence that [Therapeutic Touch] promotes healing of acute wounds."[260] No biophysical basis for such an energy field has been found.[261][262]
  • Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)traditional medical system originating in China and practiced as an alternative medicine throughout much of the world. It contains elements based in the cosmology of Taoism,[263] and considers the human body more in functional and vitalistic than anatomical terms.[264][265] Health and illness in TCM follow the principle of yin and yang, and are ascribed to balance or imbalance in the flow of a vital force, qi.[266][267] Diagnostic methods are solely external, including pulse examination at six points, examination of a patient's tongue, and a patient interview; interpractitioner diagnostic agreement is poor.[264][268][269][270] The TCM description of the function and structure of the human body is fundamentally different from modern medicine, though some of the procedures and remedies have shown promise under scientific investigation.[266][271]
  • Acupuncture – use of fine needles to stimulate acupuncture points and balance the flow of qi. There is no known anatomical or histological basis for the existence of acupuncture points or meridians.[268][272] Some acupuncturists regard them as functional rather than structural entities, useful in guiding evaluation and care of patients.[266][273][274] Dry needling is the therapeutic insertion of fine needles without regard to TCM knowledge. Acupuncture has been the subject of active scientific research since the late 20th century,[275] and its effects and application remain controversial among medical researchers and clinicians.[275] Because it is a procedure rather than a pill, the design of controlled studies is challenging, as with surgical and other procedures.[266][275][276][277][278] Some scholarly reviews conclude that acupuncture's effects are mainly placebo,[279][280] and others find likelihood of efficacy for particular conditions.[275][281][282][283]
  • Acupressuremanual non-invasive stimulation of acupuncture points.[284]
  • Acupuncture points or acupoints – collection of several hundred points on the body lying along meridians. According to TCM, each corresponds to a particular organ or function.[284]
  • Cupping therapy – an ancient Chinese form of alternative medicine in which a local suction is created on the skin; practitioners believe this mobilizes blood flow in order to promote healing.[285] Suction is created using heat (fire) or mechanical devices (hand or electrical pumps). Only one controlled trial of cupping has been conducted, and it did not demonstrate any effectiveness for pain relief. A book by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst claims that no evidence exists of any beneficial effects of cupping for any medical condition.[286]
  • Meridians – are the channels through which qi flows, connecting the several zang-fu organ pairs.[264][287] There is no known anatomical or histological basis for the existence of acupuncture points or meridians.[268][272]
  • Moxibustion – application on or above the skin of smoldering mugwort, or moxa, to stimulate acupuncture points.
  • Qivital energy whose flow must be balanced for health. Qi has never been directly observed, and is unrelated to the concept of energy used in science.[288][289][290]
  • TCM materia medica – a collection of crude medicines used in Traditional Chinese medicine. These include many plants in part or whole, such as ginseng and wolfberry, as well as more exotic ingredients such as seahorses. Preparations generally include several ingredients in combination, with selection based on physical characteristics such as taste or shape, or relationship to the organs of TCM.[291] Most preparations have not been rigorously evaluated or give no indication of efficacy.[271][292][293] Pharmacognosy research for potential active ingredients present in these preparations is active, though the applications do not always correspond to those of TCM.[294]
  • Zang-fu – concept of organs as functional yin and yang entities for the storage and manipulation of qi.[264] These organs are not based in anatomy.
  • Urine therapy – drinking either one's own undiluted urine or homeopathic potions of urine for treatment of a wide variety of diseases is based on pseudoscience.[295]
  • Promotion of a Vaccine-autism link has been characterized as pseudoscience.[296] Many epidemiological studies have found a lack of association between either the MMR vaccine and autism, or thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.[297] Consequently, the Institute of Medicine has concluded that there is no causal link between either of these varieties of vaccines and autism.[298]
  • Vitalism – doctrine that the processes of life are not explicable by the laws of physics and chemistry alone and that life is in some part self-determining. The book Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience stated "today, vitalism is one of the ideas that form the basis for many pseudoscientific health systems that claim that illnesses are caused by a disturbance or imbalance of the body's vital force." "Vitalists claim to be scientific, but in fact they reject the scientific method with its basic postulates of cause and effect and of provability. They often regard subjective experience to be more valid than objective material reality."[299]

Finance[edit]

Social sciences[edit]

Classical social evolution, before Darwin's work on the Origin of Species, some models incorporated the Enlightenment ideas of social progress and thus, according to philosopher of science Michael Ruse, were pseudoscientific by current standards and may have been viewed as such during the 18th century as well as into the start of the 19th century (though the word pseudoscience may not have been used in reference to these early proposals). This pseudoscientific and often political incorporation of social progress with evolutionary thought continued for some one hundred years following the publication the Origin of Species.[308][309]

Racial theories[edit]

  • Scientific racism – claim that scientific evidence shows the inferiority or superiority of certain races, or alternatively the claim of "classifying" individuals of different phenotypes into discrete races or ethnicities.[310][311]
    • Aryanism – claim that there is a distinct "Aryan race" which is superior to other putative races.[312]
    • Melanin theory – belief founded in the distortion of known physical properties of melanin, a natural polymer, that posits the inherent superiority of dark-skinned people and the essential inhumanity and an inferiority of light-skinned people.[313][314]

Paranormal and ufology[edit]

Paranormal subjects[18][21][218] [315] have been subject to critiques from a wide range of sources including the following claims of paranormal significance:

History[edit]

  • Fomenko's chronology – argues that the conventional chronology is fundamentally flawed, that events attributed to antiquity such as the histories of Rome, Greece and Egypt actually occurred during the Middle Ages.
  • Holocaust Denial – The Leuchter report attempted to demonstrate on a forensic level that mass homicidal gassings at Nazi extermination camps did not take place.

Religious and spiritual beliefs[edit]

Spiritual and religious practices and beliefs, according to astronomer Carl Sagan, are normally not classified as pseudoscience.[341] However, religion can sometimes nurture pseudoscience, and "at the extremes it is difficult to distinguish pseudoscience from rigid, doctrinaire religion", and some religions might be confused with pseudoscience, such as Traditional Meditation.[341] The following religious/spiritual items have been related to or classified as pseudoscience in some way:

  • Biblical scientific foreknowledge (Judaism and Christianity) – asserts that the Bible makes accurate statements about the world that science verifies thousands of years later.[342]
  • Koranic scientific (Islam) – Koranic Science (or Qur'anic science or Hadeeth science) asserts that foundational Islamic religious texts made accurate statements about the world that science verified hundreds of years later. This belief is a common theme in Bucailleism.[342][343]
  • Christian Science is generally considered a Christian new religious movement. Some have called it "pseudoscience" because of Eddy's use of "science" in its name and because of its former stance on medical science. "Eddy used the term Metaphysical science to distinguish her system both from materialistic science and from occult science."[344] The church now accepts use of medical science including vaccinations. In 1901, Eddy at age 80 ended the ban on vaccinations.[345]

Creation science[edit]

AKA Creationism, the belief that the origin of everything in the universe is the result of a first cause, brought about by a creator deity, and that this thesis is supported by geological, biological, and other scientific evidence.[17][21][98]

    • Creationist cosmologies – cosmologies which, among other things, allow for a universe that is only thousands of years old.[87]
    • Baraminology – taxonomic system that classifies animals into groups called "created kinds" or "baramins" according to the account of creation in the book of Genesis and other parts of the Bible.[346]
    • Creation biology – subset of creation science that tries to explain biology without macroevolution.
    • Flood geology – creationist form of geology that advocates most of the geologic features on Earth are explainable by a global flood.[132][250][347][348]
    • Searches for Noah's Ark – attempts to find the burial site of Noah's Ark, that according to the Genesis flood narrative is located somewhere in the alleged "Mountains of Ararat". There have been numerous expeditions with several false claims of success; the practice is widely regarded as pseudoscience, more specifically pseudoarchaeology,[349][350][351][352][353][354] though some scientists have searched for the Ark without expecting success, using scientific methods.[citation needed]
    • Modern geocentrism – citing uniform gamma-ray bursts distribution, and other arguments of this type, as evidence that we (being in the Milky Way galaxy) are at the center of the cosmos.[355][356][357] Proponents got their initial belief from the Bible, then they cherry-pick scientific evidence to justify their position and claim that geocentrism is supported by science.[358]
    • Intelligent design – maintains that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."[359] These features include:[98][360]
      • Irreducible complexity – claim that some biological systems are too complex to have evolved from simpler systems. It is used by proponents of intelligent design to argue that evolution by natural selection alone is incomplete or flawed, and that some additional mechanism (an "Intelligent Designer") is required to explain the origins of life.[361][362]
      • Specified complexity – claim that when something is simultaneously complex and specified, one can infer that it was produced by an intelligent cause (i.e., that it was designed) rather than being the result of natural processes.[98][360]
  • Feng shui – ancient Chinese system of mysticism and aesthetics based on astronomy, geography, and the putative flow of qi. It is widely considered a pseudoscience, and has been criticised by many organisations devoted to investigating paranormal claims. Evidence for its effectiveness is based on anecdote, and there is a lack of a plausible method of action; this leads to conflicting advice from different practitioners of feng shui. Feng shui practitioners use this as evidence of variations or different schools; critical analysts have described it thus: "Feng shui has always been based upon mere guesswork."[363][364] Modern criticism differentiates between feng shui as a traditional proto-religion and the modern practice: "A naturalistic belief, it was originally used to find an auspicious dwelling place for a shrine or a tomb. However, over the centuries it... has become distorted and degraded into a gross superstition."[363]
  • Quantum mysticism – builds on a superficial similarity between certain New Age concepts and such seemingly counter-intuitive quantum mechanical concepts as the uncertainty principle, entanglement, and wave–particle duality, while generally ignoring the limitations imposed by quantum decoherence.[11][365][366][367][368] One of the most abused ideas is Bell's theorem, which proves the nonexistence of local hidden variables in quantum mechanics. Despite this, Bell himself rejected mystical interpretations of the theory.[369]

Scientology[edit]

  • Dianetics, a therapeutic technique promoted by Scientology, purports to treat a hypothetical reactive mind by means of an E-meter. L. Ron Hubbard was later legally forced to admit it "does nothing".[370][371][372][373][374]
  • Scientology's Purification Rundown and Narconon programs purport to clean the human body of toxins and drugs respectively. Their methodology consists of very long saunas over many days, extremely large (possibly toxic) doses of vitamins including niacin, and Scientology 'training routines', sometimes including attempts at telekenesis. The programmes have been described as "medically unsafe",[375] "quackery"[376][377][378] and "medical fraud",[379] while academic and medical experts have dismissed Narconon's educational programme as containing "factual errors in basic concepts such as physical and mental effects, addiction and even spelling".[380] In turn, Narconon has claimed that mainstream medicine is "biased" against it, and that "people who endorse so-called controlled drug use cannot be trusted to review a program advocating totally drug-free living."[381] Narconon has said that criticism of its programmes is "bigoted",[382] and that its critics are "in favor of drug abuse ... they are either using drugs or selling drugs".[383]
  • Touch assist, Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard said that when one is in pain, "the energy from a shock will make a standing wave in the body," going on to explain that the purpose of a "touch assist" is to "unlock the standing waves that are small electronic ridges of nervous energy that is not flowing as it should." [384] This contradicts medical science's current conception of the nervous system, which holds that nerves transmit pain, and do not store it.

Consumer products[edit]

  • Cosmetics and cleaning products frequently make pseudoscientific claims about their products.[385] Claims are made about both the benefits or toxicity of certain products or ingredients. Practices include Angel dusting, the addition of minuscule amounts of active ingredients to products which are insufficient to cause any measurable benefit. Examples of products include:

Idiosyncratic ideas[edit]

The following concepts have only a very small number of proponents, yet have become notable:

  • Lawsonomy – proposed philosophy and system of claims about physics made by baseball player and aviator Alfred William Lawson.[387]
  • Morphic resonance - The idea put forth by Rupert Sheldrake that "natural systems, such as termite colonies, or pigeons, or orchid plants, or insulin molecules, inherit a collective memory from all previous things of their kind". It is also claimed to be responsible for "mysterious telepathy-type interconnections between organisms".[388]
  • Penta Water – claimed acoustically-induced structural reorganization of liquid water into long-lived small clusters of five molecules each. Neither these clusters nor their asserted benefits to humans have been shown to exist.[389][390]
  • Polywater – hypothetical polymerized form of water proposed in the 1960s with a higher boiling point, lower freezing point, and much higher viscosity than ordinary water. It was later found not to exist, with the anomalous measurements being explained by biological contamination.[391]
  • Timewave zeronumerological formula that was invented by the late psychonaut Terence McKenna with the help of the hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine. After discovering 2012 doomsday predictions, he redesigned his formula to have a "zero-point" at the same date as the Mayan longcount calendar.[392][393]
  • Torsion field – hypothetical physical field responsible for ESP, homeopathy, levitation, and other paranormal phenomena.[394]
  • Welteislehre – notion by the Austrian Hans Hörbiger that ice was the basic substance of all cosmic processes.[395]

Parody pseudoscience[edit]

The following are notable parodies of other pseudosciences and pseudoscientific concepts, or scientific jokes posing as serious theories.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

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  377. ^ Kyle Smith (20 April 2007). "DON'T BE TRICKED BY $CI-FI TOM-FOOLERY". New York Post. "Those who want a tan from his celebrity glow will urge a fair hearing for his quackery. Obscure City Councilman Hiram Monserrate suddenly finds himself talked about after issuing a proclamation of huzzahs for L. Ron Hubbard. Three: The Ground Zero maladies are so baffling that workers will try anything. Anyone who feels better will credit any placebo at hand – whether Cruise or the Easter Bunny. In 1991, Time called Scientology's anti-drug program "Narconon" a "vehicle for drawing addicts into the cult" – which the magazine said "invented hundreds of goods and services for which members are urged to give up 'donations' " – such as $1,250 for advice on "moving swiftly up the Bridge" of enlightenment. That's New Age techno-gobbledygook for advice on buying swiftly up the Bridge of Brooklyn. Scientology fronts such as the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project – its Web site immediately recognizable as the work of Hubbardites by its logo, which looks like the cover of a Robert Heinlein paperback from 1971 – hint that their gimmicks might possibly interest anyone dreaming of weight loss, higher I.Q. or freedom from addiction. And you might be extra-specially interested if you've faced heart disease, cancer, Agent Orange or Chernobyl. As Mayor Bloomberg put it, Scientology "is not science." Nope. It's science fiction." 
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  379. ^ Abgrall, Jean-Marie (2001). Healing Or Stealing?: Medical Charlatans in the New Age. p. 193. ISBN 1-892941-51-1. Retrieved 24 September 2012. "Narconon, a subsidiary of Scientology, and the association “Yes to Life, No to Drugs” have also made a specialty of the fight against drugs and treating drug addicts. ... Drug addicts are just one of the Scientologists’ targets for recruitment. The offer of care and healing through techniques derived from dianetics is only a come-on. The detoxification of the patient by means of “dianetics purification” is more a matter of manipulation, through the general weakening that it causes; it is a way of brainwashing the subject. Frequently convicted for illegal practice of medicine, violence, fraud and slander, the Scientologists have more and more trouble getting people to accept their techniques as effective health measures, as they like to claim. They recommend their purification processes to eliminate X-rays and nuclear radiation, and to treat goiter and warts, hypertension and psoriasis, hemorrhoids and myopia. . . why would anyone find that hard to swallow? Scientology has built a library of several hundreds of volumes of writings exalting the effects of purification, and its disciples spew propaganda based on irresponsible medical writings by doctors who are more interested in the support provided by Scientology than in their patients’ well-being. On the other hand, responsible scientific reviews have long since “eliminated” dianetics and purification from the lists of therapies – relegating them to the great bazaar of medical fraud. ... Medical charlatans do not base their claims on scientific proof but, quite to the contrary, on peremptory assertions – the kind of assertions that they challenge when they come out of the mouths of those who defend “real” medicine." 
  380. ^ Asimov, Nanette (2 October 2004). "Church's drug program flunks S.F. test / Panel of experts finds Scientology's Narconon lectures outdated, inaccurate". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 7 September 2012. "The program, Narconon Drug Prevention & Education, "often exemplifies the outdated, non-evidence-based and sometimes factually inaccurate approach, which has not served students well for decades," concluded Steve Heilig, director of health and education for the San Francisco Medical Society. In his letter to Trish Bascom, director of health programs for the San Francisco Unified School District, Heilig said five independent experts in the field of drug abuse had helped him evaluate Narconon's curriculum. ... "One of our reviewers opined that 'this (curriculum) reads like a high school science paper pieced together from the Internet, and not very well at that,' " Heilig wrote Bascom. "Another wrote that 'my comments will be brief, as this proposal hardly merits detailed analysis.' Another stated, 'As a parent, I would not want my child to participate in this kind of 'education.' " Heilig's team evaluated Narconon against a recent study by Rodney Skager, a professor emeritus at UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, describing what good anti-drug programs should offer students. "We concurred that ... the Narconon materials focus on some topics of lesser importance to the exclusion of best knowledge and practices," Heilig wrote, and that the curriculum contained "factual errors in basic concepts such as physical and mental effects, addiction and even spelling."" 
  381. ^ Asimov, Nanette (27 March 2005). "Doctors back schools dropping flawed antidrug program". San Francisco Chronicle. "The California Medical Association has declared unanimous support for school districts that have dropped Narconon and other "factually inaccurate approaches" to antidrug instruction from their classrooms, and will urge the American Medical Association to do the same. Nearly 500 California doctors also endorsed "scientifically based drug education in California schools"" 
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  389. ^ Goldacre, Ben (27 January 2005). "Testing the water". The Guardian (London: Guardian News and Media, Ltd.). Retrieved 29 April 2008. 
  390. ^ Water Cluster Quackery. The junk science of structure-altered waters, Stephen Lower
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  392. ^ Dynamics of Hyperspace
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  395. ^ Science gone wrong
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  397. ^ Analog science fiction & fact 126 (10–12). 1 January 2006. p. 86. "Even sending messages backwards-in-time has mind-bending consequences and has become a standard theme in science fiction (examples: Isaac Asimov's "thiotimoline" pseudo- science-fact articles in Astounding(...)" 
  398. ^ Jonathan C. Smith (2009). Pseudoscience and Extraordinary Claims of the Paranormal: A Critical Thinker's Toolkit. Wiley Desktop Editions Series (illustrated ed.). John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 978-1-4051-8123-5. 
  399. ^ "The dangers of creationism in education". Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. Retrieved 22 October 2007. 
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  401. ^ Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory, The Onion

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