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Arbitration Committee Decisions on Pseudoscience

The Arbitration Committee has issued several principles which may be helpful to editors of this and other articles when dealing with subjects and categories related to "pseudoscience".

Four groups


The Wikiproject banners at the top are not tangential categorization. They direct editors to more general fora for content help and advice, and draw new people to the article from the project. Do either of these or any other reason apply for any or all of the philosophy, psychology, medicine, chemistry, or biology wikiprojects? Vitalism is obsolete, and of purely historical interest. - Eldereft (cont.) 20:24, 17 July 2008 (UTC)

Without passing judgment on whether Vitalism is obsolete or not, does it really matter to the projects themselves if a subject is only of historical interest to the project? Isn't up to the members of the project to decide which articles are of interest to them? Perhaps this discussion should take place at the individual project pages. -- Levine2112 discuss 20:29, 17 July 2008 (UTC)
WPMED generally accepts articles from the history of medicine -- and rates them as low importance. Myself, I'd remove psychology, chemistry, and biology. WhatamIdoing (talk) 02:41, 16 September 2008 (UTC)

Bad latin[edit]

The etymology for "animal magnetism", third bullet point in section "Mesmerism", is regretably incorrect.

Specifically, "animal" as an adjective isn't derived from "animus", but from "anima", which is the proper latin term for a soul. Aside from a simple issue of mistake of gender, a worse error is in the given translation itself, since the article, as it is, claims that "animus" means "breath", which is an obvious confusion with another, etymologically unrelated latin term, "spiritus". Anima simply means soul, without any pneumatic connotations. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:12, 17 February 2009 (UTC)

Relationship to emergentism[edit]

Although I acknowledge the value of presenting arguments about the status of emergentism, this article does not seem the appropriate place in which to do that.

First of all, there is by no means a consensus that emergentism is a form of vitalism, and in fact early 20th-century writers who popularized it (e.g. Alexander and Morgan) were explicit in rejecting vitalism. For example...

...if vitalism connote anything of the nature of Entelechy or Elan -- any insertion into the physico-chemical evolution of an alien influence which must be invoked to explain the phenomena of life -- then, so far from this being implied, it is explicitly rejected under the concept of emergent evolution. (Morgan, Emergent Evolution 1931)

If emergentism were clearly an example of vitalism, then it would be appropriate to include it in this article. Since this is not necessarily the case, I would advocate moving this section into the Emergence article. After all, the question "is emergentism a form of vitalism?" has far more to do with the former than the latter.

Any objections? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Pugettia (talkcontribs) 19:34, 1 May 2009 (UTC)

I think the section gives a reasonable account of the "fall" of vitalism and of the new ideas that replaced it. Possibly the header is wrong, but the message that emergence began finally to dispense with the "alien influence" of a "life force" at the time, while the term "vitalism" became disparaged as too wedded to the latter view is, I think, an important part of the article. Please note the "if" at the beginning of your quote. Redheylin (talk) 18:52, 4 May 2009 (UTC)

In Our Time[edit]

The BBC programme In Our Time presented by Melvyn Bragg has an episode which may be about this subject (if not moving this note to the appropriate talk page earns cookies). You can add it to "External links" by pasting {{In Our Time|Vitalism|b00dwhwt|Vitalism}}. Rich Farmbrough, 03:23, 16 September 2010 (UTC).

I'll just leave this here...[edit] (talk) 02:06, 16 July 2012 (UTC)

Does the detail of School of Athens, featuring Aristotle and Plato, have any business being here? Looks pretty tangential. --Christofurio (talk) 20:25, 7 August 2012 (UTC)

Aristotle does get some mention, but you're right about the image. Still, I'd rather replace it than remove it. We could show a modern example of vitalism-based practice, such as chiropractic. What do you think? Still-24-45-42-125 (talk) 02:55, 8 August 2012 (UTC)
I like Cesium Frog's fix! Good work. --Christofurio (talk) 00:15, 19 August 2012 (UTC)

Volta & Galvani[edit]

These names are immortalised in terms like Galvanised objects and Volts of electricity. Galvani had traced a link both ways between lightning and the animation of animals (frog legs). Volta showed that Galvani's "animal electricity" could be produced without the animal (any salty solution would suffice in its place). Shouldn't their debate be mentioned in this article? Cesiumfrog (talk) 02:16, 10 August 2012 (UTC)

Yes, of course. Do you have a few good sources for us to work from? Still-24-45-42-125 (talk) 02:21, 10 August 2012 (UTC)

Section doesn't fit well in this article[edit]

this section in the article, while I can see how it has some relation to vitalism, well... it just seems kind of thrown in there, and does not relate very well to the rest of the article. I guess something should be done to improve it, or put it elsewhere in the article, or get rid of it altogether. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:08, 31 October 2014 (UTC)


The addition of the above category, which is contentious, was not discussed on this talk-page, so neither need its removal be. Vitalism is an obsolete scientific theory and it is categorised as such. Pasteur, Faraday, Driesch and many others were not pseudo-scientists. If any pseudo-scientific work is mentioned on this page it may be identified as such, but the theory as such may not be, because it was not. Redheylin (talk) 10:32, 18 February 2015 (UTC)

Nobody is saying those scientists are 'pseudo'. The only person stating the category is contentious is you. The category itself was not recently added, but has been in place, uncontested, for ages. Restore your non-consensus changes please. -Roxy the dog™ (resonate) 10:37, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
Yes, it's in the Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience and Edzard Ernst uses this description. So, it wouldn't seem to be contentious at all.
Alexbrn talk|contribs|COI 10:38, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
Have returned the category to what it was. -Roxy the dog™ (resonate) 12:59, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
The Encylopedia of Pseudoscience is not an authoritative work on biology and the history of science, it's a work of popular entertainment, the use of which has been criticised on this page before, and its own wikipage says; "The Skeptical Inquirer review of the book says that, ".. errors, major and minor, can be found throughout.", "It reads more like a collection of opinions", "[needs to] contain material that is both correct and objective. Unfortunately, this tome fails on both counts." It is also noticeable that the present subject fails the authors' supposed criteria.
The Encyclopedia Britannica ( says; //Vitalism, school of scientific thought—the germ of which dates from Aristotle—that attempts (in opposition to mechanism and organicism) to explain the nature of life as resulting from a vital force peculiar to living organisms and different from all other forces found outside living things. This force is held to control form and development and to direct the activities of the organism. Vitalism has lost prestige as the chemical and physical nature of more and more vital phenomena have been shown.// It does not appear to suggest that Aristotle, or any of his followers, was engaged in fakery, does it?
Rational wiki ( states that vitalist theories influence modern pseudoscientific therapies, yet still confirms that "reputable vitalists in biology" existed until recently and that "Vitalists could claim that organism metabolism involves vital force", and that even today, "Mind-body dualism essentially a vitalist theory of mind and consciousness" that has not become entirely untenable. 14:39, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
Webster's New World Dictionary defines "pseudo-science"; as "any system of methods, theories, etc. that presumes without warrant to have a scientific basis or application." The scientists in this article do not qualify. If any non- or-pseudo-science is quoted in the article, then a suitable authoritative source may be invoked to describe them as such. Redheylin (talk) 14:45, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
And (while it will be difficult to find a serious work that states that vitalism is not ever pseudoscience) "Information and the Origin of Life" by Bernd-Olaf Küppers ([1]) states that "Vitalism, even in its pseudo-scientific form, has been shaken to the root by the findings of modern biology", from which it follows that there is, or certainly was, a genuine form that has certainly been shaken - he does not say destroyed even. These are all sensible sources, not comic-books that are even rejected by The Skeptical Enquirer. Redheylin (talk) 15:07, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
None of these sources disclaim the pseudoscience categorization, and in any case book reviews, dictionaries, other encyclopedia and OR are no substitute for following the view evident in secondary sources. I've just added one such source to the article. Alexbrn talk|contribs|COI 15:09, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
Already in the 19th century it was beginning to lose its luster and some considered it pseudoscience. In the 20th and 21st centuries only a minority, like yourself, would dare to suggest otherwise. Although we document their views, we don't let such minorities override mainstream scientific views.
Historically it's an obsolete theory, and now it's considered pseudoscience. There are many alternative medicine and New Age practices which still invoke it, and they too are pseudoscientific. It belongs in both categories. Your single minded devotion to changing the long standing status quo of this article is strongly contested and without merit. By including it in both categories, we respect the historical status and the current status. -- Brangifer (talk) 15:17, 18 February 2015 (UTC)

Categorization is not a zero-sum game. There are clearly aspects of this article which are relevant to a categorization of the topic as pseudoscience. There are also aspects of this article which are more properly categorized as other things. That's why there are multiple categories. Categorizing an article as "pseudoscience" doesn't mean that everything mentioned in the article is pseudoscience. jps (talk) 15:59, 18 February 2015 (UTC)

" and now it's considered pseudoscience." - just bring forward a genuine biology or philosophy text-book that says this, please. Redheylin (talk) 16:12, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
"Your single minded devotion to changing the long standing status quo of this article is strongly contested and without merit." - I WROTE the bloody article - or at least did a thorough job on it, and I read the whole history, and the works of the major players, which is why I could. Please refrain from this long string of personal attacks. You write; "There are many alternative medicine and New Age practices which still invoke it" - good, call them pseudo, but there are many such that invoke "quantum" physics - that of itself does not invalidate QP itself, nor will it when, in the future, QP is subsumed into a newer paradigm. Redheylin (talk) 16:17, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
Here's a philosophy text which explicitly says that vitalism has been used as an epithet to refer to certain pseudoscientific gloss: [2]. jps (talk) 16:23, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
"I WROTE the bloody article"Not really. BullRangifer is one of many who has contributed more text it seems. In any event, a WP:OWNership mentality isn't good. Alexbrn talk|contribs|COI 16:25, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
I am not claiming ownership, I am rejecting the personal attack that I have interfered in a long-standing status quo. jps - this looks like a worthwhile text, but the relevant part is not visible on your URL - please add a quote, page number or better link, thanks. If it says flat out "vitalism is pseudo-science", that will be fine Redheylin (talk) 16:30, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
page 104: "In medicine and biology, vitalism has been seen as a philosophically-charged term, a pseudoscientific gloss that corrupted scientific practice and allowed concepts such as "spirit" and "soul" to creep into genuine understandings of the body." jps (talk) 16:34, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
I added this earlier today. Alexbrn talk|contribs|COI 16:35, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
Yes, I see it now - the book - which goes further than I would - says that this has sometimes been the case, that vitalism has been seen as a dubious, animistic idea - but then goes on "in the 20th century things have got a little more complex", and that some "vitalistic theories have had more explanatory power" and the idea has been "rehabilitated". So it is saying the "pseudoscience idea" is itself out of date, which surprises me, but there it is. Now, has anybody got an authoritative text on biology or history or philosophy of science, that says that vitalism is pseudoscience?, because the onus is on those who want to ADD the data, not me. Redheylin (talk) 16:43, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
Rehabilitating an idea does not mean that it is suddenly no longer the purview of its normally considered state. We've met your challenge, it's time for you to let the argument drop. jps (talk) 17:51, 18 February 2015 (UTC)

User:Alexbrn in view of the tenor of the quoted text, I think you have quoted it misleadingly. Redheylin (talk) 16:49, 18 February 2015 (UTC)

No, you have. For example saying the book says of vitalism that the idea has been "rehabilitated" when it in fact says "just when its significance was being rehabilitated, it lost its value as a coherent notion". This source is more than ample to justify the restored PS category staying put. Alexbrn talk|contribs|COI 16:53, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
Yes, it says it has become so complex that it is no longer possible to say what "vitalism" means, or that it means a single thing, and certainly can not be simplistically opposed to mechanical theories, but that it remains "a useful heuristic". Very interesting book, but the piece you quote is being refuted. It quite clearly says that the "pseudo-scientific gloss" is no longer valid.Redheylin (talk) 17:00, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
That's totally beside the point. The book is a source that the term is so used. Whether it should be used in such a way is not Wikipedia's problem. We just report that it is used that way. jps (talk) 17:49, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
By the way, Alexbrn, I am troubled that you intervened as an admin warning me of edit wars, and have now taken an extreme stance in this debate. How did you come to happen along, may I ask? Redheylin (talk) 17:01, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
I am not an admin. This article has been raised at WP:FT/N which I watch. I am not extreme :-) Alexbrn talk|contribs|COI 17:05, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
Oh, OK, sorry. So it is just a question of why you decided to take sides. You did not comment on that page, so I guess you just took someone else's word for my supposed "edit-warring". Never mind. I am used to such things. The thing is; the quoted source says that, "just at the moment that vitalism has been rehabilitated by its superior practical explanatory power, it has also ceased to be a single, dubious, animistic view that can be opposed to mechanism or treated as a "pseudo-scientific gloss", and that now the situation is that there are many barely related ideas that can be classed as vitalistic - things like free will, the hard problem of consciousness, certain medical interventions. So it is wrong to quote the essay in the way you have, and the addition of "pseudoscience" requires a clear, authoritative statement. A science book, to be brief. I do not need it. You need it if you want to include it. Redheylin (talk) 17:18, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
    • Scientific focus: Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and its content on scientific and quasi-scientific topics will primarily reflect current mainstream scientific consensus.** OK? A science book. Redheylin (talk) 17:21, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
I saw you had reverted to your preferred version twice, which is the start of edit warring. My softly-worded warning was just that, as edit warring can lead to sanctions. (You also called another editor a proxy, which might be frowned on if this got to the drama boards). I have no "side" here other than the side of the sources. I disagree with your intepretation of the "tenor" of the source I added - my addition is okay in my view, but more could be added ... from this source in general. There's some decidedly iffy sourcing in this article as it is. Alexbrn talk|contribs|COI 17:25, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
Yes, I said so, and I think so. I also think that the same editor posted to "Fringe" purely to canvas action from pushers of a similar point of view, and I think so because those editors made no meaningful debate there, and were poor in ettiquette, to say the least, there and before. As I said, I am used to these things, and the only blessing is that such people are so generally ignorant of the subjects in question that most articles escape their attention. The source you have quoted quite clearly raises the word "pseudoscience" purely to reject it, and mentions "coherence" just to make clear that its influence has been multiple and various.
Now, what is the point of this? You just do not have any source adequate to the changes you wish to make in an article that is about science and the history and philosophy of science, not about dodgy healers or fake scientists. It is a waste of time. Please, just hold off until you find an authoritative text that puts your point of view. It is not "edit-warring" to remove improperly sourced or represented material. Redheylin (talk) 17:45, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
The claim that the source only talks about the pseudoscientific nature of vitalism in order to reject the characterization is not the reading I get. It seems, in fact, that the source identifies that this is the prevailing view of the subject. Do you have an authoritative source which says that vitalism is generally not considered pseudoscientific? Because I haven't seen that yet. jps (talk) 17:52, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
  • I think it is silly to tag superseded views as pseudoscientific. There is nothing inherently pseudoscientific about vitalism, or flogiston theory etc - they are simply theories that have been proposed, tested and failed. It would be pseudoscientific to propose these theories today, because evidence is not against it but it wasnt when they were first proposed.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 18:51, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
    • It's silly unless there are proponents of the superseded views that have been identified as promoting the views pseudoscientifically. Are there current phlogiston proponents? There certainly are vitalists still about and they have been identified by reliable sources as promoting pseudoscience. Again, the categorization does not mean that the only relevant thing about a subject is its categorical inclusion. It just means that there is an aspect of the topic that is pseudoscientific. jps (talk) 20:41, 18 February 2015 (UTC)
WP:CAT "Categorizations appear on article pages without annotations or referencing to justify or explain their addition; editors should be conscious of the need to maintain a neutral point of view when creating categories or adding them to articles. Categorizations should generally be uncontroversial; if the category's topic is likely to spark controversy, then a list article (which can be annotated and referenced) is probably more appropriate. A central concept used in categorising articles is that of the defining characteristics of a subject of the article. A defining characteristic is one that reliable sources commonly and consistently define the subject as having"
In this case the categorisation is not seen as neutral by several editors and is clearly controversial. Editors have failed to show that reliable sources "commonly and consistently define the subject" as "pseudo". In fact, I have seen only claims of sources, and no action. Opinionated statements may not be stated as fact without attribution. This is a science page. One can not describe all science as "pseudo" on the grounds that "some research is fake or commercially-driven", but this is what the above argument implies should be done. I am not aware of any policy or guidance that says that "if anybody still credits, or pretends to credit any abandoned theory, then that theory becomes pseudo" - if you know of it, bring it forward, along with these legendary references. Redheylin (talk) 02:43, 19 February 2015 (UTC)
PS - Canter and Ernst do correctly say that broadly vitalistic therapies exist and are pseudo-scientific, and it is fine to include that view in the body of the text. However, overall, Canter's views, while hard-line, are inconsistent: whereas the title of the cited essay says "Vitalism and other pseudo-science", the text reads vitalism "has the merit at least of being honestly unscientific.... this is in sharp contrast with the insidious pseudoscientific theories of unproven theories." This is the final statement of the essay, so he can not be cited simply as saying "vitalism is pseudo-science", he is talking about vitalistic therapies in rather inexact and equivocal language that ought to be reflected if quoted. I must add that his grasp of the history of the subject is poor. Redheylin (talk) 02:54, 19 February 2015 (UTC)
WP:IDIDNTHEARTHAT seems to be what you are hanging your hat on. jps (talk) 16:46, 19 February 2015 (UTC)
the sources you bring support the categorisation as Pseudoscience. Well done. I agree. -Roxy the dog™ (resonate) 10:07, 19 February 2015 (UTC)
PS. I am not changing my user name to Roxy The Proxy either, but will ignore the rather silly personal attacks made in this thread. -Roxy the dog™ (resonate) 10:13, 19 February 2015 (UTC)
  • Agree with Redheylin and User:Maunus: Pre-scientific doctrines cannot be construed as "pseudoscientific". -A1candidate 13:43, 19 February 2015 (UTC)
+ + + rushes off to remove pseudoscience categorisation of Flat Earth Theory based on A1c's flawed logic + + + -Roxy the dog™ (resonate) 13:52, 19 February 2015 (UTC)
Indeed! The repetition of a straw man argument won't work. No one is construing the "pre-scientific" aspects as pseudoscientific. Period. Stop attacking that straw man. It is not its historical role which is labeled as pseudoscientific, but the fact that there are still proponents (even on this page) in this day and age. Vitalism lives on as the pseudoscientific basis for various New Age and alternative medicine practices. Our sources are clear about that, and the category applies to them.
We use categories as an aid for readers, and this subject contains significant elements which are covered by several categories. The objections to the use of the label pseudoscience are nothing more than the allergic reactions of believers in pseudoscience who feel struck. Me thinks they doth protest too much. -- Brangifer (talk) 15:36, 19 February 2015 (UTC)