I refer to the 31 January 2014 article: “Where is the proof in pseudoscience?” by Peter Ellerton from University of Queensland, published on The Conversation.
The difficulty of proof in science
Taking issue with even the title, it is well known that it is very difficult to actually prove or disprove anything in science, except in a temporary way for current expediency.
This is not going to be an exhaustive critique, as I could write a volume on the subject. However I’ll make some points that stood out to me upon first reading the article.
The value of knowledge
The author uses homeopathy as an example of ‘pseudoscience’ and principally uses as his criticism the fact that it doesn’t “generate discernible growth in knowledge or practice” and “no corresponding increase in knowledge linked to effectiveness”. Talk about cherry-picking criteria! And talk about being influenced by modern (sick) economic-style thinking that says endless growth is a premium determinant of value.
This “no increase in knowledge” is NOT a valid criticism. If some process in nature is found to work and be useful, it does not have to grow to be valid. It does not have to be (economically) useful to be valid. It simply exists and goes on working.
Nature needs no justification
Take one of a vast number of examples taken for granted every day that any scientist could think of: buffering.
Buffering of acids and alkalis is a chemical phenomenon that occurs in nature. It is used constantly as a foundational process in virtually every experimental laboratory in the world that uses living subjects, tissues, and/or chemicals, from medicine and biology to physical chemistry, geology and engineering. It doesn’t advance in knowledge itself, but it is extremely useful and even necessary. From buffering arose a bevvy of techniques and equipment that are routinely used: ph sticks and meters, indicator solutions, titrations, etc. Just tools of the trade in carrying out the work you are doing.
I’m not making a direct comparison between buffering and homeopathy, the alternate field of medicine, but pointing out that natural processes are just that and do not need to fulfill any other criteria in order to be considered true, real or valid.
Nature vs culture
Homeopathy at its foundation is based on the experimentally-observed phenomenon of energetic signatures being left by substances in water. This natural process was actually discovered accidentally in a normal mainstream laboratory where chemicals were being tested at various concentrations. Like buffering, it’s a simple, consistent phenomenon that does not of itself grow in knowledge, but is very useful to those who want to use it. (In fact, modern science is seriously remiss for not exploring this phenomenon a great deal further).
Certainly a culture may grow up around a natural process, as in the case of homeopathy. That culture may have all kinds of mythologies that may or may not hold up scientifically, but it does not invalidate the foundational process upon which it is based. It does not mean that the foundational process is pseudoscience. Nor is it wisdom for scientists to ‘throw out the baby with the bathwater’ when considering all the so-called ‘pseudosciences’. I personally choose not to use homeopathy and never will. However I do understand the phenomenon of energetic imprinting scientifically and experientially, and include that awareness in my day-to-day life.
Anecdote as data
I also bring attention to the author’s statement that the plural of anecdote is not data. Actually, anecdote, when summed over a large number of humans and time, IS data, the kind of data of life experience that provides more than merely signposts for research, but becomes that knowledge “which is so settled that it is available as a resource for further enquiry”, which is apparently the author’s own stated yardstick for science.
Just one simple example: I can state confidently that over 1 million people materially benefit from a health supplement which I take myself because I benefit from it. The pharmaceutical corporations do not want that knowledge ‘getting out’, so they use legislative processes to block the transmission of even the medical knowledge about it. Basically, they want to own and control it for themselves, and don’t want anybody else to have ‘the gold’. So they cry ‘pseudoscience’ to destroy the ‘opposition’ until they are ready to sweep it up and profit from it themselves, at which time they will be crying ‘science’!
Who’s crying ‘pseudoscience’?
It’s very important to look deeply at whoever is crying ‘pseudoscience’. It may be, as in the case of Peter Ellerton, that they do not have any vested interest in a product or in the publication they are writing in (in contrast to my example above), but they (and he) may have a different kind of ‘vested’ interest: a vested interest in maintaining the safety and comfort of the current dogmas and thus limitations of science. For an excellent read of ‘myth-busting’ scientific dogma, get yourself a copy of Rupert Sheldrake’s 2012 book “Science Set Free”. His is only one of many highly-qualified voices taking issue with the dogma that is crippling science today.
Thus I must criticize the critique of pseudoscience in The Conversation, for coming from a highly biased, dogmatic position rather than an ‘objective’ scientific one. It’s also very obvious that the author has chosen as his subjects for criticism homeopathy and NLP, arguably two of the most ‘woo woo’ practices in the alternate. He has quietly ignored the massive realm in between those and modern science, for which there is a large and growing body of evidence both mainstream and ‘alternate’, such as remote sensing, consciousness as a universal field, the primacy of energy in physical manifestations, etc. Better read some of the old physicists, biologists and philosophers, who thought and wrote before the corporate and religious stranglehold of the last 50 years got a grip.
Dianne Trussell BSc Hons
16 years medical and biological research at Flinders U of SA and U of Queensland