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How to tell real science from pseudo-science December 10, 2011

Posted by aquillam in Science.
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The other day, I read about the Burzynski cancer clinic suing (among others) a high schooler, Rhys Morgan, for libel. You can read Rhys’s post about it at http://rhysmorgan.co/2011/11/threats-from-the-burzynski-clinic/. I took a look at a couple other blog posts too (I followed some of the links in Rhys’s blog), and in some of the comments there was a lot of debate about whether or not the clinic was actually doing real science but unable to get published, or if it was offering false hope, either intentionally bilking patients or honestly misled.

It got me thinking about how to recognize real science.

Science is messy. don’t believe me? Check out this comic:  http://electroncafe.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/scientific-process-rage/ (go take a look. It’s worth it. I’ll still be here when you’re done.)

Science is messy. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about Chemistry, Astronomy, Medicine, or anything else, it’s messy. It’s messy because people are involved. People have their own motivations and biases. Scientists try to be aware of their biases, and try to be careful and impartial about making judgements. Even so, we’re only human. Scientists sometimes fail to recognize a bias, or they refuse to believe something that turns out to be true. One scientist may publish some else’s data and “forget” to acknowledge it.

That is why it is important to have a variety of voices. Most scientists not only know that, they embrace it, even while they’re standing in the hallway yelling at each other in a most unprofessional manner. And that’s how you tell real science from pseudo science.

If someone sues their critics to shut them up, it’s not science.


1. intomind - December 10, 2011

Totally agree with you, theres a lot of biases in science and in publishing in particular

aquillam - December 11, 2011

Actually, I don’t see a lot of biases in publishing in peer-reviewed journals. Of course, that may be because astronomy isn’t a highly politicized field, making my opinion subject to a selection bias.
Generally, I think that if there are enough voices, biases are revealed. Sometimes, there will be a debate about whether or not something is biased, and that usually leads to new understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the conclusions, and the models and analysis that went into making them.

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