When the idea of the internet first came out sometime in the 60’s and the 70’s, people had such lofty hopes for it, with many experts believing it to be a future receptacle for all human knowledge, a virtual library of our shared existence.
And they’re not wrong! From the internet boom of the 90’s all the way to today, the internet went from being the domain of geeks, techies, and shady government programs, to such an everyday essential that the U.N. is considering internet access as an essential human right.
But of course, it’s not all good stuff: the internet has also become a hive for pseudoscience and fringe beliefs, some of them trivial (like astrology or Biokinesis), to potentially fatal (like “miracle” cures and alternative medicine). Rather than a receptacle of human knowledge¸ the internet has become a receptacle of information, a place where fact and fiction can sometimes be blurred by people with little-to-zero scientific method or reasoning. But hey, my opinion is just as good as yours, right? (Hint: it’s not, especially when it comes to science).
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some popular “sciences” and see why they’re, for lack of a better word, ridiculous:
To be fair, Astrology has been around since the time of, well, the Ancient Egyptians. A version of Astrology as we know it today has existed since the 2nd Millennium BCE and has been used to try and both explain and predict the present and the future using signs from the stars.
I mean, astrology is kind of understandable in a way in the Ancient world: a majority of cultures didn’t have an established scientific body that governed their way of thinking. Rather, religion and mythology ruled their explanation for phenomena. Of course, exemptions exist, like the Arabic cultures that developed various mathematical and scientific formulas to explain the natural world thousands of years before the West did, but by and large the world believed that the movement of stars not only affected your day, it affected your entire destiny.
Sorry, I should say still believe. That’s right, in an age where entire seasons of TV shows can be downloaded in a few minutes and in a world where a Large Hadron Collider exists, there are still millions of people out there who believe in Astrology. Forgetting the fact that stars are huge balls of flaming plasma millions upon millions of miles away in space, there’s absolutely zero evidence that their mere existence and place in the sky can influence on our everyday lives.
What is Biokinesis? Well, Biokinesis is the belief that, by using the “power of the mind” (whatever that means), a person can change the very fabric of their DNA. One thing pseudoscientific disciplines love to do to sound “legitimate” is to give themselves pseudoscientific names and use science-y terms, like Biokinesis, DNA, mental energy, among other things.
What I personally love about Biokinesis is that it advertises itself as this wonderful system that requires only the sheer strength of human will to possibly cure diseases, create “light beams” filled with “positive” energy to heal plants and animals and humans, and yet, search for “Biokinesis” on Google, and the top results will most likely be “Use Biokinesis to change your eye color”.
Seriously, that’s what Biokinesis advocates busy themselves with. If Biokinesis even had a shred of scientific legitimacy (it doesn’t), or evidence of its both existence (it doesn’t) and efficacy (it doesn’t), why would you use it for something as mundane as eye color? I mean, sure, all the other stuff I mentioned above, curing cancer and healing people etc., is also included in many Biokinesis literature, but it’s usually buried in between techniques on using it to turn your eyes from a boring brown to a vivacious violet, or growing impressive abs and pecs in seconds.
A hotly contested and extremely debated “medical” practice, chiropractic is the practice of “correcting mechanical disorders of the musculo-skeletal system”, which is a fancy way of saying “we’ll crack your ligaments until something feels right”.
Of course, proponents of chiropractic medicine would balk at what I just said. “How dare you!”, they’ll yell, “I’ll have you know my chiropractor cured my blablabla” insert some weird, undiagnosable-by-conventional-medicine syndrome here. And that’s the problem with chriropractic medicine: it mostly deals with treating pain. In medicine, pain is one of the most difficult symptoms to treat for a number of reasons, one of which is its subjectivity. Pain levels can vary wildly between people and can be affected by a number of reasons such as age, gender, race, even occupation.
Causes of most pain, of course, can be found by most doctors, but what about pain that doesn’t seem to have a cause? This happens more frequently than you might think, and the reason chiropractors get so much business is because they claim to be able to cure that pain with a pseudoscientific understanding of the musculo-skeletal system, while still being kind of vague about how the whole thing works.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or the MBTI, is an introspective test that seeks to categorize people based on their psychological makeup. Introduced in 1944, the MBTI has become so popular that it’s now used in many schools and even in businesses, where corporations lean favorably towards one MBTI type or another when hiring executives.
On the surface, the MBTI does seem sound: it’s based on Jungian psychology (although that in is itself also hotly debated in psychology circles), there are metrics and key performance indices, and to be fair, the construction of the MBTI was approached using a scientific method.
However, this is where it gets a little murky: many psychologists, scientists, even philosophers, have criticized the MBTI for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is lack of evidence. Critics of the MBTI make the claim that most, if not all, the purported “success” stories of the MBTI were derived from MBTI Foundation-funded organizations and papers like the Center for the Application of Psychological Type (which is a training ground for MBTI-certified counselors and professionals and is funded by sales of the MBTI manual) or the Journal of Psychological Type (which is run by MBTI advocates who earn money of the sale of the MBTI).
Aside from this, experiments have been conducted where people were made to take the MBTI multiple times, only to find that they got different results every time in as little as a few weeks. In my opinion, the MBTI is a great way for lazy psychologists to pigeon-hole people into easy categories.
Spotting Fake Science
If you’re unsure if a particular theory or discipline is scientific, always remember: NOTTUS. NOTTUS is an abbreviation of classic scientific characteristics: Natural, Observable, Testable, Tentative, Uncertain, and Social.
First of all, it has to be Natural. This characteristic refers to the idea that science is a way for Man to make sense of the world around him. While many of the pseudosciences we explained above try to do this, they don’t dwell deep enough: the approach to the explanation must be scientific as well.
To do this, a scientific theory or discipline must be Observable. Whether its results or its theorems at work, something that claims to be scientific must be observable by both our senses and by tools like microscopes, computers, large hadron colliders, or anything that can give an objective and quantitative observation.
On that note, Natural and Observable scientific theories must be Testable. Through testing, scientists can observe, prove, disprove, or build upon certain ideas based on how a particular phenomenon changes or reacts to that experiments. In this regards, tests must also be predictable and, above all, repeatable.
The findings, however, of these experiments and this theories must be Tentative. Over time, new evidence, new ideas, new approaches to certain disciplines will challenge, even change, the way we see our world. For a theory or discipline to be scientific, it must acknowledge the tentativeness and temporariness of its findings, that it is only true for the moment until new evidence is presented.
And that is one of the key marks of a scientific theory, Uncertainty. Theories and scientific disciplines must be open to the idea that, while every new evidence to support their stand makes them that much more certain, they can never attain complete and utter certainty. A scientific discipline must be open to the idea of being wrong, provided that scientific evidence disproves it. Never trust anything, or anyone, that claims to be “true and 100% factual”: they most certainly aren’t.
Finally, science is always Social, in more ways than one. Experiments are best when it’s done in collaboration with other scientists, with results shared amongst peers and the scientific community, and having it open to being proven wrong. Most importantly, science must also be working towards a goal of elevating the human social experience, providing solutions not just to explain the universe, but also to apply these findings for the good of all, even if it is just changing your eye color at will!