Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Pseudoscience - making reasonable people believe in quackery

Recently, many of my friends and acquaintances have been posting so much pseudo-scientific info on Facebook that I feel the need to post links to reputable sources debunking these mythical “cures” and “remedies.” 

Pseudoscience is defined by the National Science Foundation as "claims presented so that they appear [to be] scientific even though they lack supporting evidence and plausibility" (Shermer 1997, p. 33). In contrast, science is "a set of methods designed to describe and interpret observed and inferred phenomena, past or present, and aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or confirmation" (Shermer 1997, p. 17).

Anecdotal evidence, i.e. “It worked for my mom!”  “I tried everything, but this was the only thing that worked.” is not scientific proof.  If it hasn't been shown to be effective in scientific studies, then it isn't proven.

Much of this “evidence” comes from the Placebo or Nocebo effect.  Some people are very prone to suggestion.  If I give a group of people plain purified-water and call it medicine then tell them, “this will improve memory, give you extra energy, and make your hair and nails stronger,” some people will report experiencing those effects and spend lots of money to get more of this “miracle” substance.  If I give another group the same plain water, call it medicine, and tell them, “side effects include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea,” some people will develop those side effects.  Most people will probably experience neither a “cure” nor a side effect, but if they hear the rest of the group saying it worked for them, they are likely to report that they saw some improvement or side effect as well.  The water isn't actually doing ANY of those things; it’s all in those people’s minds.  This effect has been proven via scientific method many times.  Suggestion is a powerful thing. 

Here are the pseudoscience topics that I see posted again and again that are driving me crazy!  These articles do a good job of supporting their claims based on actual research and study.

Amber teething necklaces:

Essential Oils/Aromatherapy:


Chiropractic Care:

So what pseudoscience topics drive you crazy?  Have you been taken-in by some pseudoscience claims and then been embarrassed to realize it was false?  I was almost on-board with the amber teething necklaces, it seemed plausible until I started researching it.