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In the philosophy of science, a protoscience is a new science trying to establish its legitimacy. Protoscience is distinguished from pseudoscience by its standard practices of good science, such as a willingness to be disproven by new evidence, or to be replaced by a more predictive theory. Compare fringe science, which is considered highly speculative or even strongly refuted. Some protosciences go on to become an accepted part of mainstream science.
All sciences would have qualified as protosciences before the Age of Enlightenment, since the scientific method still hadn't been developed, and there was no structured way to prove legitimacy. A standard example is alchemy, which from the 18th century became chemistry, or pre-modern astrology which from the 17th century became astronomy.
A “protoscience” may be a field where the hypothesis presented may or may not be in accordance with the known evidence at that time, and a body of associated predictions have been made, but the predictions have not yet been tested, or cannot be tested, due to current technological limitations. Such was the case for general relativity at the time of its proposal, which is now considered science, and the case for string theory, which at the time of this article being written is a protoscience.
In any case, there are many fields—I shall call them proto-sciences—in which practice does generate testable conclusions but which nevertheless resemble philosophy and the arts rather than the established sciences in their developmental patterns. I think, for example, of fields like chemistry and electricity before the mid-eighteenth century, of the study of heredity and phylogeny before the mid-nineteenth, or of many of the social sciences today. In these fields, too, though they satisfy Sir Karl's [ Popper's] demarcation criterion, incessant criticism and continual striving for a fresh start are primary forces, and need to be. No more than in philosophy and the arts, however, do they result in clear-cut progress. I conclude, in short, that the proto-sciences, like the arts and philosophy, lack some element which, in the mature sciences, permits the more obvious forms of progress. It is not, however, anything that a methodological prescription can provide. Unlike my present critics, Lakatos at this point included, I claim no therapy to assist the transformation of a proto-science to a science, nor do I suppose anything of this sort is to be had.
— Thomas Kuhn, Criticism and the growth of knowledge, 1970, pp. 244-245
See also 
- Methodical culturalism
- Obsolete scientific theories
- Pathological science
- List of topics characterized as pseudoscience
- History of science
- Philosophy of science
- Questions to help distinguish a pseudoscience from a protoscience (a new science trying to establish its legitimacy). Adapted from "BCS Debates a Qi Gong Master," Rational Enquirer, Vol 6, No. 4, Apr 94
- Dutch, Steven I (January 1982). "Notes on the nature of fringe science". J Geol Ed 30 (1): 6–13. ISSN 0022-1368. OCLC 427103550. ERIC EJ260409.
- Reflections on the reception of unconventional claims in science, newsletter Center for Frontier Sciences, Temple University (1990).
- Brakel, Jaap, "protoscience and protochemistry", Philosophy of chemistry: between the manifest and the scientific image, Leuven Univ Pr, December 2000
Further reading 
- H Holcomb, Moving Beyond Just-So Stories: Evolutionary Psychology as Protoscience. Skeptic Magazine, 1996.
- D Hartmann, Protoscience and Reconstruction. Journal of General Philosophy of Science, 1996.
- R Tuomela, Science, Protoscience and Pseudoscience. Rational Changes in Science.
- JA Campbell, On artificial intelligence. Artificial Intelligence Review, 1986.
- G Kennedy, Psychoanalysis: Protoscience and Metapsychology. 1959.
- AC Maffei, Psychoanalysis: Protoscience Or Science?. 1969.
- N Psarros, The Constructive Approach to the Philosophy of Chemistry. Epistemologia, 1995.
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