A similar realization came upon me when I discovered The Complete Book of Extraterrestrial Encounters by Randall Fitzgerald (Collier Books, 1979) -- a more or less complete catalog of all the UFO claims that had been made up to its publication. The breadth of what different people believe about U.F.O.'s is startling and while probably not more than one person can grasp, certainly more than one could believe together.
It is no wonder that scientists often turn away from such speculative thinking. If they did not they would not have time to do their work. Given any well intended attention purveyors of pseudoscience could easily overwhelm any serious investigator. Unfortunately negative attention or lack of it has its own consequences -- usually an accusation that the scientific community is ignoring a great idea or suppressing it when nothing could be further from the truth.
of pseudoscience according to the Skeptic's Dictionary include the following:
Not that any given pseudoscience manifests all these characteristics. Only one or a few may be apparent in any case.
Pseudoscience appears to be real science but is not because it commits one or more fallacies or errors in logic or scientific procedure. It is sort of like an actor in a television commercial donning a white lab coat to sell a patent medicine. Pseudoscience is not science but it plays science on the public stage. There is a benefit to pseudoscience in this charade. By this association pseudoscience and its practitioners enjoy the positive countenance given science in society as a whole. This can lead to acceptance, recognition and reward outside the scientific community.
The most serious trend in pseudoscience today is the way it is used to take advantage of the general social acceptance of anything scientific to put across specific agendas such as creationism. Close behind is its use by con artists who produce devices that claim to improve health or car mileage but whose primary purpose is to separate people from their money. The odd thing about our highly technical, science loving culture is that most of us have little actual knowledge of science. As a consequence we are fair game for deception and fraud in the name of science. P.T. Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every minute", and apparently not much along that line has changed in the century since.
The danger in pseudoscientific deception is that it will lead to cynicism about science and technological and scientific issues. Pseudoscientific deception can be used to directly make people cynical about science by misrepresenting real concerns such as global warming and by misinterpreting valid back and forth discussion among scientists as confusion. Pseudoscience can also lead to cynicism when people who are unable to distinguish between it and the real thing learn that it has been misleading or is wrong. The worst thing that can happen to us is that when we need technical and scientific direction most we begin to think that science doesn't matter or that it is just another opinion.
Sometimes the difference between fringe science and the scientific fringe -- between pseudoscience and science that is just not yet accepted -- seems minimal and unimportant. Surely some of those things that seem outlandish to us today will seem common place tomorrow. But thinking this way is to confuse what science is. Science is not about the answers we arrive at but about how we arrive at the answers. Pseudoscience starts with an answer and seeks to prove it true. Real science starts with an answer and seeks to prove it false. Only by failing to do so does it discover what is true. Scientific methodology has gotten us to where we are today in our technologically advanced society, not scientific answers. Pseudoscientific answers will not keep the technological engine of society going.
complete catalog of pseudoscientific theories is too large for me to
fair and adequate treatment to them all. If I tried I would no
end up as Feynman suggests realizing that I had just sent a lot of time
that could be used for other more worthwhile activities tying up a lot
system resources that could be used to support more interesting
So here's a brief list of some pseudoscientific theories with links to
other resources for those interested in more information: