Robert Park’s article ‘The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science is a result of his attempt to help judges faced with expert witnesses making scientific arguments. He has attempted to come up with heuristics of bad science: ‘indicators that a scientific claim lies well outside the bounds of rational scientific discourse’
Here they are:
- 1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.
- 2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.
- 3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.
- 4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.
- 5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.
- 6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.
- 7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.
It’s a good list. Sadly, however, telling the difference between sense and nonsense is never going to be easy. Even the best of us, when we get out of our field, can feel at a loss. It feels to me that your position on the classic controversial science debates (global warming, alternative medicine, creationism) is utterly removed from the facts either way, but instead depends on the pre-theoretical commitments you have made. So, for example, a preference for conventional vs alternative medicine, or creation science vs evolution, is in fact impossible to refute from within the frame of reference of the person with that preference (this will be obvious to any creationist who has tried talking to an evolutionist, or vice-versa). Rather than a choice which can be faulted on facts, it is really a case of choices about what kinds of information define facts. All views of the world have biases in them, the distinction between a scientist and a pseudoscientist is not about which each believes to be true, but rather about what set of systemmatic biases each has decided to place their faith in.