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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
Please read before starting

First of all, welcome to Wikipedia's Pseudoscience article. This article represents the work of many contributors and much negotiation to find consensus for an accurate and complete representation of the topic.

Newcomers to Wikipedia and this article may find that it's easy to commit a faux pas. That's OK — everybody does it! You'll find a list of a few common ones you might try to avoid here.

A common objection made often by new arrivals is that the article presents the fields it lists as "pseudoscience" in an unsympathetic light or violates Wikipedia's Neutral Point of View policy (WP:NPOV). The sections of the WP:NPOV that apply directly to this article are:

The contributors to the article continually strive to adhere to these to the letter. Also, splitting the article into sub-articles is governed by the Content forking guidelines.

These policies have guided the shape and content of the article, and new arrivals are strongly encouraged to become familiar with them prior to raising objections on this page or adding content to the article. Other important policies guiding the article's content are No Original Research (WP:NOR) and Cite Your Sources (WP:CITE).

Tempers can and have flared here. All contributors are asked to please respect Wikipedia's policy No Personal Attacks (WP:NPA) and to abide by consensus (WP:CON).

Notes to editors:
  1. This article uses scientific terminology, and as such, the use of the word 'theory' to refer to anything outside of a recognised scientific theory is ambiguous. Please use words such as 'concept', 'notion', 'idea', 'assertion'; see Wikipedia:Words to avoid#Theory.
  2. Please use edit summaries.


I am sorry , but the whole idea of labeling vast areas of human knowledge as "pseudoscience" is in itself extremely unscientific and has been invented to discredit certain areas of human knowledge that have not been proven, or disproven one way ,or another. Certain scientists it seems are tired of discussing the problems and have therefore come up with a label: Pseudoscience, to dismiss things they don't like to discuss and labeling these areas as an already disproven area of knowledge. Nothing is pseudoscientific. There are things which are not scientific, and things which are. There are things which have been proven and things which have not been. There are just things that we know and those we have proven wrong. To label things as pseudoscience is simply just a form of laziness and purports to have proven things which have not been proved, or disproved. This article must have a disclaimer that it is just opinion and cannot be based upon true science. For instance, very often psychologists have said that astrologers predictions and interpretations are not verified, but recent examinations of studies undertaken by psychologists can only be replicated 40% of the time. This makes all of psychology a pseudoscience not just psychoanalysis, for which the term pseudoscience was invented. We must consider, also, that all of astronomy is pseudoscience, as most of it cannot be disproved, and so fits the moronic definition of what a pseudoscience. We cannot falsify the existence of the stars, they just are. We cannot falsify the existence of the universe itself. the criteria for the invention of the idea of pseudoscience is just a way of a few skeptics to make a name for themselves and make money by being deniers. It is an injustice to science to proclaim such things and the type of attitude implied by this article should not exist as a modern philosophy. We must remember Descartes when he said, "ergo cogit sum." We cannot falsify anything else, so where is this article coming from . Shame, Shame for such a pretense. Brian T. Johnston (talk) 23:22, 26 April 2016 (UTC) (and and

We define the word in the first sentence of the article. It is sourced to external sources. VQuakr (talk) 23:57, 26 April 2016 (UTC)
Brian: The key to understanding what makes pseudo-science pseudo-science is the FALSE CLAIM that it IS scientific. Things that are not scientific but dress themselves up as science. As VQuakr said this is stated in the lead sentence of the article. In my opinion pseudo-science is VERY dangerous and preys on the under-educated and gullible. Alex Jackl (talk) 16:37, 16 May 2016 (UTC)
One of the difficulties of classifying areas of interest as "pseudoscience" is that disproven scientific theories, even if they followed the scientific method from beginning to end (incurring the risk of being disproven) are routinely classed as "pseudoscience", having the potential of dampening research into certain subjects of scientific study. Kortoso (talk) 23:10, 2 August 2016 (UTC)
But that's not our problem. Our articles should reflect what the reliable sources say about a subject, we shouldn't use them to discourage or encourage research. Doug Weller talk 12:40, 3 August 2016 (UTC)
Phlogiston theory was not pseudoscientific in its own time, but it would be pseudoscience if predicated as true in the 21st century. Religion (e.g. "Jesus is God") is not pseudoscience, unless it claims that mental illness is produced by evil spirits, or makes similar claims which are roundly rejected by scientists. Tgeorgescu (talk) 17:33, 4 August 2016 (UTC)
It's not about knowledge, it's about practice. Remember, too, the difference between knowledge and belief. Knowledge is understanding based on solid evidence, pseudoscience is creating "evidence" to support belief. Guy (Help!) 23:27, 29 October 2016 (UTC)

Deconstructing Social Psychology[edit]

I'm not sure if the link I used is copyvio or not, so I'm not including it. The GBooks link is here. This would need to be attributed, accurate and not copyvio to use. As I haven't read it all I'm not sure if we'd need to point out it's discussing social psychology, specifically "the psychological theories used to legitimate oppressive practices." eg many forms of " racist, sexist, heterosexist and class biased research". The author is arguing that "Instead of allowing ourselves to be deflected into arguments about scientific evidence and methodological technique, and thus participating in the production of normal science, we need to take an imaginative leap beyond the boundary walls of the positivist paradigm. Only if we can rise to the challenges of postpositivism can we begin to deconstruct social psychology’s oppressive structure and create practical alternatives which will offer real opportunities for radical social and political change." That wasn't conveyed by the summary, and might be hard to convey. Doug Weller talk 11:37, 29 October 2016 (UTC)

I did attribute well, and cited arguments from John Shotter's chapter. I do agree that it needs to be pointed out that his views come from social sciences. Here is removed content:

In Deconstructing Social Psychology authors argue that radical researchers should avoid rhetoric of pseudoscience. As one of the three main reasons they state that the term is used to dismiss the research of ideological or political opponents. Also, they state that demonstrating that researching is pseudo-scientific is not working as a method to discredit it. Authors claim that the rhetoric of pseudoscience is very attractive to many people because it appears to offer legitimate language to discredit oppressive research findings. It also suggests that if we demonstrate the assertion lacks scientific authority, we can remove its credibility, and it will be demoted from fact to fallacy, from truth to hypotheses. [1] (talk) 12:11, 29 October 2016 (UTC)

As I said, copyvio - a copyright violation. The source says " It is sometimes suggested that if only we can demonstrate that a given assertion lacks scientific authority, we can remove its credibility: it will be demoted from fact to fallacy or from truth to hypothesis". You have neither quoted nor attributed (which means say who wrote it). You also left out the word "sometimes suggested" changing it to "also suggests", which is clearly not what she wrote. And if you cited examples from Shotter's chapter I have no idea what they were, you haven't mentioned him/attributed it to him, nor have you added relevant the relevant page number or numbers. And as he doesn't mention pseudoscience so far as I can see, why? Doug Weller talk 13:00, 29 October 2016 (UTC)
really confused! "John Shotter. (2015) pp 61-75." it is there pages 63-65. (talk) 17:50, 29 October 2016 (UTC)
I don't know why you are confused, it clearly says "THE RHETORIC OF PSEUDOSCIENCE [pp. 61-75] Celia Kitzinger, a sociologist at if I remember correctly York. Shotter's chapter is pp 153-169. Doug Weller talk 18:12, 29 October 2016 (UTC)
Sorry about that, my bad! Not sure how I got that wrong. (talk) 02:44, 30 October 2016 (UTC)
No problem, easy to do. But any edited book will have multiple authors and references always should specify the author as well as the editor - and this isn't done nearly often enough, leading at times to editors being attributed, by name, to statements made by others. Doug Weller talk 07:30, 30 October 2016 (UTC)

I think "rhetoric of pseudoscience" is a really weird way of saying "calling something a pseudoscience". At first I thought the term "rhetoric of pseudoscience" referred to the typical rhetoric pseudoscientists use - it really is typical - and it got me confused. --Hob Gadling (talk) 08:42, 30 October 2016 (UTC)

Yes, their argument goes in line with this findings. And I didn't perceive it as limited to social sciences, only those examples being used.. although it may be.. (talk) 18:45, 1 November 2016 (UTC)
What you wrote has no connection to what I wrote. Why did you indent it as if it had?
It seems to me that there is no real reasoning in Eriksson's "findings". She simply disagrees with the categorizing of what those people do as non-science, but does not say why. This is shallow. Isn't it part of scientists' expertise to be able to say how to do science within their disciplines, and how not to do it? Why should sociologists be better at telling good biology from bad biology than biologists? --Hob Gadling (talk) 12:09, 2 November 2016 (UTC)


  1. ^ The Rhetoric of Pseudoscience, in Deconstructing Social Psychology. Edited by Ian Parker, John Shotter. (2015) pp 61-75.

article much much too long[edit]

Information displayed in any article, however well sourced, if too lengthy constitutes a form of undue weight, even if those sources taken as a proportion of the available facts have been given due weight. I read this article from start to finish after glancing through it, and my final feeling about it is that it expounds too heavily on areas of detail and although reasonably well sourced, it cites too many examples and expounds on more details than are necessary to make the point about what pseudoscience is. This article is important as "pseudoscience" is a widely used and highly contentious term on wikipedia. It's important that if a visitor or an author references this page that they get a succinct view of wikipedia's view to this subject. They should have an immediate impression and not be made to feel that they are being given a "hard-sales" pitch. I'll submit rewrite proposals as replies under this thread.Edaham (talk) 04:51, 5 December 2016 (UTC)

LEDE: (not too bad - one paragraph could go here) Pseudoscience is a term used to describe a claim, belief, or practice presented as scientific, but which does not adhere to the scientific method.[Note 1][3] A field, practice, or body of knowledge can reasonably be called pseudoscientific when it is presented as consistent with the norms of scientific research, but it demonstrably fails to meet these norms.[4]
Pseudoscience is often characterized by the following: contradictory, exaggerated or unprovable claims; over-reliance on confirmation rather than rigorous attempts at refutation; lack of openness to evaluation by other experts in the field; and absence of systematic practices when rationally developing theories. The term pseudoscience is often considered pejorative[5] because it suggests something is being inaccurately or even deceptively portrayed as science. Accordingly, those labeled as practicing or advocating pseudoscience often dispute the characterization.[6]
Science is distinguishable from revelation, theology, or spirituality in that it offers insight into the physical world obtained by empirical research and testing.[7] Commonly held beliefs in popular science may not meet the criteria of science.[8] "Pop science" may blur the divide between science and pseudoscience among the general public, and may also involve science fiction.[8] Pseudoscientific beliefs are widespread, even among science teachers and newspaper editors.[9] <--- seems to deep for the lede
The demarcation between science and pseudoscience has philosophical and scientific implications.[10] Differentiating science from pseudoscience has practical implications in the case of discerning genuine health care from medical quackery, expert testimony, environmental policies, and science education.[11]
The ability to distinguish scientific facts and theories from pseudoscientific beliefs such as those found in astrology, alchemy, occult beliefs, and creation science when presented as combined with scientific concepts, is part of science education and scientific literacy.[12][11]Edaham (talk) 05:06, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
I am willing to entertain the idea that the article may be too long, but when I read it just now, it was not clear to me what could be omitted without doing damage to the overall picture it paints. Yes, some long sections might be split out into sub-articles, but that would probably require collaboration with other editors to succeed.
As for your first proposal, to eliminate the third paragraph of the lead and the two words from the final paragraph of the lead, I support these changes.  —jmcgnh(talk) (contribs) 07:19, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
Thanks, it's my first time editing this article so I thought it better to test the water rather than to just begin hacking at it. I will look at the subsequent sections with a view to improve it in terms of brevity and clarity. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Edaham (talkcontribs) 07:48, 5 December 2016 (UTC)

Maybe a little too biased in favor of real science?[edit]

Before I continue, I will note I'm very strongly in favor of scientifically studying things and critically analyzing proposed theories, and that most of what this particular article covers are ill-formed at best. I'm not attempting to discredit anything here, but merely asking about the slightly distracting bias in the article.

I feel several portions of this article are a little too focused on trying to debunk the various pseudoscience fields and discredit those who believe in them without giving adequate background to understand what ideas and assertions it's debunking, in likely violation of WP:NPOV (especially WP:YESPOV). Not saying that any of these ideas are true (and I'd agree that it's best to make clear the lack of scientific support), but staying on topic is much better than attacking the subject and its believers, even if it's backed with reliable facts. Here's a few of the ones I'm referring to:

Despite failing to meet proper scientific standards, many pseudosciences survive. This is usually due to a persistent core of devotees who refuse to accept scientific criticism of their beliefs, or due to popular misconceptions. Sheer popularity is also a factor, as is attested by astrology, which remains popular despite being rejected by a large majority of scientists.
I acknowledge and agree with this entirely, but I feel the emphasis is a little misguided here. In particular, the second sentence is taking a very derogatory tone towards those who believe the (usually false) theories despite evidence against, and because it's first, places undue emphasis on the minority case of those who ignore evidence versus the majority who just have the misconceptions. I'm fairly certain this is in violation of WP:YESPOV.
Robert T. Carroll stated, in part, "Pseudoscientists claim to base their theories on empirical evidence, and they may even use some scientific methods, though often their understanding of a controlled experiment is inadequate. Many pseudoscientists relish being able to point out the consistency of their ideas with known facts or with predicted consequences, but they do not recognize that such consistency is not proof of anything. It is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition that a good scientific theory be consistent with the facts."
First, the raw quote doesn't really add much, and it doesn't flow stylistically with the rest of the section. Second, raw quotes are inherently emphasized in their very nature, and a full paragraph quote of a skeptic accusing them of not being serious at all in their work doesn't make for a particularly unbiased presentation. (In my opinion, it's borderline WP:YESPOV) A paraphrasing with less overt pro-skepticism bias would work much better, because it would be much less degrading of the pseudoscientists themselves (Wikipedia articles aren't the place for this) and it would actually fit in better with the surrounding text.
  • In the list-only sections below that of the previous point (starting here), there's quite a bit of overlap, and the section breaks are rather awkward.
1. There should be a minor section break should be after "The following are some of the indicators of the possible presence of pseudoscience.", and the rest should just be subsections within that.
2. There is a lot of overlap inside each lists and between them, and several parts could be merged. "Assertion of a claim with little or no explanatory power" in the first section is just a subset of the previous point of "Assertion of scientific claims that are vague rather than precise, and that lack specific measurements", for example. Also, these are very similar to "Assertions that do not allow the logical possibility that they can be shown to be false by observation or physical experiment" and "Assertion of claims that a theory predicts something that it has not been shown to predict" from the second list. The duplication places some undue weight on certain aspects of the content anyways, but it's also a signal of needing revision.
3. The section headers themselves are not quite neutral. For example, "Use of misleading language" would be better labelled "Scientific unfamiliarity", with several of the other bullet points moved to it. "Use of vague, exaggerated or untestable claims" would be better labelled as "Lack of falsifiability or testability", so it doesn't place undue weight on the non-technical qualities of the claims. Similarly, "Absence of progress" could be replaced with "Apparent stagnation". (In this particular case, "absence of progress" would also almost falsely hit some areas of computer science, where several areas of progress are currently hindered by the P vs NP problem.)
Scientists do not want to get involved to counter pseudoscience for various reasons. For example, pseudoscientific beliefs are irrational and impossible to combat with rational arguments, and even agreeing to talk about pseudoscience indicates acceptance as a credible discipline. Pseudoscience harbors a continuous and an increasing threat to our society.
This quote in the next-to-last paragraph may have a source, but it should be attributed to a person as their opinion, not written as if it were a factual part of the article. This is actually itself recommended by WP:ASSERT (in the NPOV FAQ), and is definitely an example of WP:WEASEL.
Pseudosciences such as homeopathy, even if generally benign, are magnets for charlatans. This poses a serious issue because it enables incompetent practitioners to administer health care. True-believing zealots may pose a more serious threat than typical con men because of their affection to homeopathy's ideology. Irrational health care is not harmless, and it is careless to create patient confidence in pseudomedicine.
There's similar WP:WEASEL and WP:ASSERT issues here in the last paragraph.

impinball (talk) 11:38, 6 December 2016 (UTC)

Thanks for pointing out those issues, Impinball. However, I feel the way forward is to tag and then tackle those particular instances of what you claim are POV, and to me seem more like issues of tone, one-by-one. You have identified a few problems in a very long and well-sourced article and I feel the POV banner is unnecessary and accords undue weight to these few lapses. Famousdog (c) 12:28, 6 December 2016 (UTC)
I've removed the generic tags. Please list (and/or tag) any specific statements that are problematic. It's clear that the article as a whole is reasonably good quality and should not be subject to an orange warning at the top. Jehochman Talk 16:48, 6 December 2016 (UTC)
I've tagged the appropriate sections. I'm not sure if {{create-list}} was the correct template to use for the prose list in the first paragraph of Pseudoscience#Pseudoscientific_concepts (I'd prefer an inline equivalent), though. I'm not a frequent contributor on Wikipedia in general, so I'm not quite as familiar with everything. impinball (talk) 22:50, 6 December 2016 (UTC)

Etymology Section -- has problems[edit]

The Etymology section appears to be in error. It says:

"...the term has been in use since at least the late 18th century (e.g. used during 1796 by James Pettit Andrew in reference to alchemy[1][2])..."
  1. ^ "pseudoscience". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)(subscription required)
  2. ^ Andrews & Henry (1796), p. 87
"Among the first recorded uses of the word "pseudo-science" was during 1844 in the Northern Journal of Medicine, I 387..."

I do not have access to the 2003 version of the OED of the first footnote. I hate to suggest the OED is wrong about this, but this scholarly work (which comes 12 years later than 2003) shows that the term was used at least as early as 1645:

In 1645, the French priest Pierre Le Cazre (1589–1664) , who was at that time rector of the Jesuit college in Dijon, took up the accusation of "pseudo". In his polemical work Physica demonstratio, which was 44 pages in length and included drawings, he depicted Galileo's laws of gravitation as pseudoscience. Le Cazre was prompted to publish this work, which carried the accusation of "pseudo-scientia" in its title, by the publication of the treatise De Motu Impresso by the mathematician, physicist and priest Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655)....

That site shows allows one to look at the title page of Physica demonstratio: here where it is easy to see the phrase "Pʃeudo-ʃcientiam."

--David Tornheim (talk) 11:17, 15 April 2017 (UTC)