Editing principles for Pseudoscience articles in Wikipedia
Please feel free to discuss this on my talkpage, not on this page. Or if you want to say something lengthy, leave a link on my talkpage.
The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition) defines pseudoscience as:
- A pretended or spurious science; a collection of related beliefs about the world mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method or as having the status that scientific truths now have.
I edit lots of pages where pseudoscience is an appropriate appellation. I also edit other pages so don't get the wrong idea. In order to increase efficiency and avoid repetition here are my editing principles. Once a month, or as needed, I'll post to individual talkpages on this issue.
Please note this is NOT an attempt to avoid discussion as some have alleged. I have also used the revert function which unfortunately does not allow an edit summary. Again this is an efficient way to handle the problem of editors who ignore stuff I have already written on talkpages and then have the temerity to say I ignore them. Again, please assume good faith and don't accuse me of being unwilling to seek consensus - that is blatantly untrue.
The problem with pseudoscience is that it pops up all the time like a multi-headed hydra, either by deluded people, by people exploiting vulnerable people, or by half baked professionals whose work has been rejected by science journals but lapped up by other publishing houses. "There's almost a pseudoscience born every minute," he said, not entirely joking.
James Randi in a list which makes no claim to be comprehensive sets out 28 pseudosciences:
- Dowsing. ESP. Precognition. Remote Viewing. Communicating with the Dead and/or "Channeling". Violations of Newton's Laws of Motion (Perpetual Motion Devices). Homeopathy. Chiropractic Healing (beyond back/joint problems). Faith Healing. Psychic Surgery. Astrology. Therapeutic Touch (aka "TT"). Qi Gong. Psychokinesis (aka "PK"). The Existence of Ghosts. Precognition & Prophecy. Levitation. Physiognomy. Psychometry. Pyramid power. Reflexology. Applied kinesiology (aka "AK"). Clairvoyance. The Existence of Auras. Graphology. Numerology. Palmistry. Phrenology.
Wikipedia lists 46 pseudosciences (some overlap and some are disputed by Wikipedians):
- Acupuncture (Williams 2000:3-4; Carroll 2003:5-7),
- Applied kinesiology (Hyman 1999:34-43; Kenny et al. 1988:698-704),
- Astrology (but this was once protoscientific in that it once tried to record measurement of the position of heavenly bodies) (Williams 2000:18-19; Carroll 2003:34-36),
- Anthroposophy (Carroll 2003:25-28),
- Biblical scientific foresight, Christian Science (Williams 2000:51),
- Creation science (Williams 2000:64-65; Carroll 2003:85-89) and its offshoots and many of the "theories" invoked in its defense:, *
- Baraminology, *
- Creation biology, *
- Creationist cosmologies, *
- Flood geology, *
- Intelligent design ( Carroll 2003:180-83), o
- Irreducible complexity, o
- Specified complexity, ,
- Cryptozoology (Williams 2000:70-71; Carroll 2003:9),
- Dianetics (The pseudoscience of Scientology.) (Williams 2000:82-83; Carroll 2003:99-102),
- Duesberg hypothesis (Claims that HIV is a "harmless agent" unrelated to AIDS),
- Eugenics (Williams 2000:98-101),
- Graphology (Williams 2000:137-38; Carroll 2003:156),
- Homeopathy (Williams 2000:148),
- Megalithic yard and other pseudoscientific metrology (Williams 2000:210),
- Melanin Theory, Modern geocentrism (see also Flat Earth Society),
- Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) (Williams 2000:235; Carroll 2003:252-57),
- New Chronology, Novelty Theory (aka "Timewave Zero"),
- Orgonomy (Williams 2000:248-49; Carroll 2003:267-68),
- Palmistry (Williams 2000:256; Carroll 2003:271-72),
- Perpetual motion (Williams 2000:262),
- Personology (Carroll 2003:282-83),
- Phrenology (Williams 2000:266-68; Carroll 2003:286-88),
- Physiognomy (Williams 2000:268;
- Carroll 2003:288-89),
- Pyramidology (Williams 2000:290-91),
- Quantum mysticism,
- Remote Viewing (Williams 2000:301-2; Carroll 2003:331-33),
- Scientology (Williams 2000:312-13),
- Spiritualism (Williams 2000:326-27; Carroll 2003:364-65),
- Synchronicity (Williams 2000:338),
- Telekinesis/Psychokinesis (Williams 2000:288; Carroll 2003:374),
- Telepathy (Williams 2000:346-47; Carroll 2003:374),
- Time Cube (also see Gene Ray),
- Unidentified Flying Objects (Williams 2000:359-60; Carroll 2003:146, 387-88),
- Vedic science (Alexander et al., Select Press; 1st edition, 2005)
So you can see the problem, we as encyclopedists are dealing with because on many pages in wikipedia there are people who will swear blind that they know their particular pseudoscience is true. They are more often inclined to defend their beliefs at all costs rather than write an encyclopedia. They often cite their personal/religious/professional experience (often this holy trinity is one and the same), not understanding their own brain physiology, not understanding the regressive fallacy, not understanding anecdotal evidence is an oxymoron, or not understanding the need for replicability before their claims can be accepted in an encyclopedia or by science. It is difficult dealing with this type of blind religiosity in editors.
Points commonly made by pseudoscientists
1. Pseudoscience is an offensive word and a POV label.
- Wrong. It's a perfectly useful word and should be used when appropriate. If other people find it offensive, we can't help that. As encyclopedists we don't pander to people's feelings. We describe things accurately.
2. You need to cite a source before using the word.
- No. We are perfectly at liberty to draw inferences in writing an encyclopedic article. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck etc. If it fits the definition as above then use it.
3. My pseudoscience has lots of scientists working on it. But I know it's a possibility that it's not fully supported by science.
- Yes there is enormous effort being put into research in all sorts of areas. Usually the underlying theories (eg meridians in acupuncture or vertebral subluxation in chiropractic) are not supported by the scientific method and studies are usually disputed. The fact that research exists, even in peer reviewed journals may not be enough to avoid fitting the definition of pseudoscience.
4. My pseudoscience is supported by governments or universities.
- Governments usually make decisions for political, not scientific, reasons. The lobbying power of some psuedosciences is enormous and of course we have the problem of cultural memes. Universities these days are unfortunately more market driven than otherwise. Thus government or university support does not change the fact that your field may be a pseudoscience. Don't forget how many people thought the world was flat.
5. My career is built on this pseudoscience. I've been trained. I'm an expert. I've seen with my own eyes.
- See regressive fallacy. Anecdotal evidence is an oxymoron. We need replicability before such claims can be accepted in an encyclopedia or by science.
6. You can't say that one day my pseudoscience might be proven and we are working on it. Scientists say further research needs to be done.
- True. But in the meantime the appellation might fit and we are writing an encyclopedia here not speculating and not providing material for scientists to pad their research applications with. Perhaps enough research has been done to conclude that your pseudoscience is not a good bet.
7. The onus is on you to disprove my pseudoscience.
- No. You can't prove a negative.
8. You're not being balanced about my pseudoscience.
- Balance is a weasel word which people seem to prefer instead of truth or accuracy. The notion that balance has to be given to the idea, to pick an example I hope will offend nobody, that the moon is made of blue cheese is unacceptable. Maybe it is legitimate to put more brickbats than bouquets in an article about your pseudoscience.
9. Whether the moon is made of blue cheese is subject to scientific research. There is no scientific consensus over whether or not evidence supports this. Please replace the bolded words with your pseudoscience. You may then be able to see that perhaps this form of words is not appropriate in an encyclopedia. It may be a POVish attempt to place your pseudoscience within the realms of science, as noted variously above.
So if you feel that an edit of mine doesn't fit within the above reasons please feel free to leave me a message. I'll do my best to reply if the reply hasn't already been made, but I reserve the right to avoid lengthy philosophical discussions if we seem unable to agree. I will continue to use the revert function, but will do so only under the conditions outlined above.
Once again, please assume good faith. And if I appear abrupt on talkpages please forgive me, it's usually only an attempt to be efficient with my time. This little essay is a substantive attempt to add value to the project of building the encyclopedia; please take it in that spirit. Mccready 09:49, 2 June 2006 (UTC)