Sunday, November 16, 2008

Barry Beyerstein on Pseudoscience and other related matters

I've been neglecting both blogs I'm involved in, lately... One part of me feels like it's been spinning its wheels in the mental mud of descending seasonal affective disorder, while another part has become rather fascinated with active digestion and absorption of Berry Beyerstein's wonderful 50 page exposition, Distinguishing Science from Pseudoscience. I wrote several posts on SomaSimple on the topic, and compiled them into a single "digest" to try to keep life simple.

Important gleanings I took from this relatively short and cursory foray into the topic, are as follows:


From Mario Bunge: rather than dividing cognitive domains into sciences and non-sciences, we might divide them into "belief fields" and "research fields."

Belief fields include "religions, political ideologies, pseudosciences and pseudotechnologies, as well as any mystical system that believes that enlightenment can be gained through revealed truth rather than painstaking examination."
"The primary attribute of belief fields is that, for their devotees, evidence is personal and subjective. I.e., they advocate using emotional criteria to distinguish truth from falsehood. Belief fields hold private feelings and hunches to be reasonable grounds for certainty—or, as New Age writers put it, “You create your own reality.”"

Research fields "can include disciplines not typically thought of as scientific, as long as their practitioners are committed to gathering objective data to support their positions."
"evidence in research fields is interpersonal. That is, it can be compared by disputants, according to open and objective criteria. It is sometimes said that objectivity is merely inter-subjectivity. I.e., an “objective” consensus is reached by comparing various individuals’ perceptions with each other and against agreed-upon external standards."


Contravene any of these and you are skating on thin ice too close to open water.
They are:
1. The inverse square law
2. Laws of Thermodynamics (e.g. the Law of Entropy)
3. Laws of Conservation of Energy, Momentum, etc.
4. Injunctions against reverse causality ("Time's Arrow")
5. One or more of C.D. Broad's "Basic Limiting Principles"
6. Data of modern Neuroscience, psychology, and psychophysiology

"Many pseudosciences claim extraordinary precision, power, or yields, well beyond those achievable by conventional scientists (and often by means of secret proprietary processes, formulas, or equipment)." Chiropractic springs to mind. PT often isn't very far behind however.. and many PTs seem to admire the marketing employed by chiropractors as if it were something to be aspired to instead of either ignored or pointing a finger at.

My favorite is number 6., ignoring the nervous system, a serious error my profession and the PT people in it make all the time, trying to pretend it isn't there, that it doesn't "sense", trying to work around it in order to make life simple for themselves, working from "models" (such as a joint biomechanical model) that refuses to take the nervous system into account at all - even the physical 72 kilometers of it weaving throughout the "body" referred to in "the literature" as "nerves"(!). This is so rampant that there are even PT university profs using the biomechanical model as their teaching platform who have the audacity to declare that pain doesn't exist and isn't our business as PTs. Ahem, I beg to differ, strenuously.

Broad's "Basic Limiting Principles" are listed here.


Unknown said...

I had to laugh when I read aobut the perils of oversimplifying even human joints with biomechanical models. My master's thesis was on biomechanical analysis of artifical hips. The centerpiece was a computer generated stress analysis using the awesome power of the IBM 370 mainframe at Cornell in the early 70's. This was roughly the equivalent of the circuitry on a cheap digital watch to do the analysis. The professor I worked with devoted a thirty plus year career to continuuing to refine such models. I'm sure they became quite elaborate. And it is likely that many benefits accrued from those efforts. Nonetheless, the more I learn about the human body, the more I am astonished by the complexity and subtle interplay of components, inputs, etc.

One sure sign that I am dealing with a Pseudo scientist is the first whiff of "this is all really very simple and I have figured it out".

Diane Jacobs said...

"One sure sign that I am dealing with a Pseudo scientist is the first whiff of "this is all really very simple and I have figured it out"."


Then the clincher is when they offer to tell it to you over a succession of costly "training levels."

Understanding a bit about the nervous system and how to conceptualize it and work with it instead of against it, has saved me bucket loads of money.

Unknown said...

Also agreed: costly esoteric knowledge and "levels" that one can attain are huge warning flags for me.

Patricia Yeargin said...

It's finally happened. The beautiful Beyerstein essay on Distinguishing Science from Pseudoscience no longer seems accessible on the web. Your link doesn't work and I can't seem to find another place where it's published. Luckily, I have my own copy but it's getting harder and harder to cite!

Diane Jacobs said...

It loads just fine for me, Patricia. Try again?