Under the guise of science: pseudoscientific theories in examples and explanations

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Under the guise of science: pseudoscientific theories in examples and explanations
Under the guise of science: pseudoscientific theories in examples and explanations

The situation with the recognition of homeopathy as a pseudoscience drew public attention both to the theory of multiply diluted solutions and to pseudoscientific teachings in general. What is the state of affairs on the front of the struggle against pseudoscientific theories and how can one generally separate science from what is not?

Development of science


As you know, astrology claims that the position of the Sun, Moon and planets at the time of a person's birth affects his subsequent life, personality, career and destiny in general. This means that by observing the movement of celestial bodies in their orbits, one can predict the fate of people. However, modern astrologers are not limited to the fate of only people. Today you can easily get a horoscope and your pet, which, as astrologers assure, will help you find a common language with the animal, as well as a prediction of the future of the whole country with its entire population. Astrology has a wide range of topics, from astrometeorology, which predicts changes in the weather, to horary astrology, that is, astrology of the present moment, which is looking for answers to specific questions.

The attitude to such predictions is different. There are people who literally live by the horoscope. Not a single important decision is made by them without looking back at the predictions of the star magicians. But for others it is entertainment, something like anecdotes on the last page of their favorite newspaper.

Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brahe, Claudius Ptolemy and many of those whom we know as the greatest astronomers of the past did not hesitate to study astrology. Moreover, in many ways they had the opportunity to engage in science only because they made astrological forecasts. Although the same Galileo Galilei, for the sake of earning money, created a workshop and was engaged in the manufacture of telescopes. Even the crowned persons ordered them from him.

It is believed that the final separation of astronomy and astrology took place during the Renaissance (in the XIV-XVI centuries). But for the first time astrology will be called a pseudoscience at the beginning of the 12th century. The Byzantine princess Anna Komnina will name and at the same time put into circulation this term. The daughter of Emperor Alexis Comnenus was one of the first women historians. Among historians, she is known as the author of "Alexiada" - a historical narrative about the era of her father's reign.

So why is astrology not a science after all? Even if you intuitively understand that the movement of planets located millions of kilometers away from us cannot influence your fate and are skeptical about astrological horoscopes in newspapers, it is still important to understand the criteria for distinguishing between science and pseudoscience - to solve the problem of demarcation.

Any scientific doctrine is universal, that is, it is accessible to any person who studies it. Any mathematician can prove the Pythagorean theorem, and a chemist can repeat an experiment from a textbook. But with astrology it will not work out that way. Pseudoscience, as a rule, imitates scientific activity, mimics real science.

An Austrian scientist, founder of the philosophical concept of critical rationalism, Karl Popper, made a serious contribution to solving the problem of demarcation. This concept is based on the principle of falsifiability (potential refutability) of a hypothesis. In general, it consists in the fact that a scientist must always understand what must happen in order for the hypothesis expressed by him to turn out to be incorrect, not to be confirmed, that is, to turn out to be false. Anticipate what result of the experiment will lead him to reject his own hypothesis.

However, the same Galileo Galilei, completely rejecting any possibility of the influence of celestial bodies on earthly events, refused to accept what now seems obvious to us. This was the case, for example, with the assumption of Kepler, who did not neglect astrology, about the possible influence of the moon on the ebb and flow of the sea. Disagreeing with this hypothesis, Galileo tried to build his theory.

Even in his youth, Galileo got acquainted with the works of Copernicus and remained for life a convinced supporter of the fact that it is the Earth that revolves around the Sun, and not vice versa. Subsequently, he will make a number of astronomical discoveries (satellites of Jupiter, phases of Venus, etc.), which will confirm the heliocentric model of the world.

But before the revolution in astronomical science becomes evident, Galileo will have to renounce his beliefs before the Inquisition. The famous phrase: "And yet it turns!" - allegedly pronounced by him after the refusal given under pressure, refers precisely to those events. The Roman Catholic Church will call Copernicus' heliocentrism a dangerous heresy. In our time, this is perhaps identical with pseudoscience.

But should we now consider the geocentric picture of the world a pseudoscience? No. Scientists look at it differently. Pseudoscientific doctrines should be distinguished from hypotheses, that is, grounded theoretical statements in relation to which a decision has not yet been made about their truth.

Science does not stand still, it is in constant search. Cognition of the world is a continuous process of putting forward hypotheses, their refutation, or, on the contrary, confirmation and subsequent universal acceptance by the scientific community. The geocentric picture of the world, Ptolemy's model, is one such hypothesis theory. In the competition with Copernicus' heliocentrism, she lost. I lost because I didn’t give convincing answers to many questions. For example, about the reasons for the backward motion of the planets - one of the main mysteries of astronomy since ancient times.



The Commission to Combat Pseudoscience and Falsification of Scientific Research, whose memorandum on the recognition of homeopathy as pseudoscience recently made a lot of noise, was created back in 1998. Its creation was initiated by the Soviet and Russian theoretical physicist, Doctor of Physics and Mathematics and 2003 Nobel Prize Laureate in Physics Vitaly Ginzburg. At present, the commission includes about 60 volunteer scientists. Its main activity is the examination of theories and developments, applying for funding from the state budget.

The RAS memorandum on the pseudoscientific nature of homeopathy is the second such document of this organization. Memorandum # 1, issued in May 2016, which spoke of the pseudoscientific status of commercial testing for skin patterns of fingers (dermatoglyph testing), caused less reaction.

The theoretical principles of homeopathy were laid down at the end of the 18th century by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann, who became disillusioned with modern medicine. However, it can be understood: many of the methods practiced at that time can hardly now be called scientifically sound. Since then, homeopathy has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry with millions of consumers on all continents.

Homeopathy is based on two basic principles. The first is that "like is treated by like." The substance used in the preparation of a medicinal product should cause the same symptoms as the disease itself, for which it is to be treated. This principle is reflected in the name of homeopathy (from the Greek όμοιος - "similar" and πάθος - "disease"). For example, ingestion of cinchona bark causes the same symptoms as malaria: fever, tremors and joint pain, hence quinine can be used to treat the disease.

The second principle is multiple dilution.The original substance is diluted sequentially many times, while the solution is constantly shaken (potentiation), which is believed to enhance its healing properties. At the time of the birth of homeopathy, scientists still believed that matter is infinitely divisible, which means that you can dilute a substance as many times as you like.

But in a preparation with a dilution index of 30C (that is, diluted by a factor of 1060), the probability of the presence of at least one molecule of the original substance tends to zero. But, according to the assurances of homeopaths, the effect of the drug at such high dilutions, on the contrary, even intensifies. This is explained by the fact that "water has memory." By the way, the next memorandum of the commission for combating pseudoscience is supposed to be about the memory of water.

Using homeopathy as an example, several more criteria can be demonstrated by which one can distinguish true science from false. So, homeopathic remedies and methods of treatment, despite many clinical trials conducted in various countries, have not been able to experimentally prove their effectiveness. A 2015 National Health and Medical Research Australia report on the effectiveness of homeopathy proved conclusively that homeopathy is no better than placebo.

Any explanations of how homeopathic remedies and methods work are contrary to the modern laws of physics, chemistry and biology, as well as the ideas of science about the very mechanism of action of drugs.

The above "principles of homeopathy" are dogmatic and speculative statements. Their origins lie in the proto-scientific stage in the development of physiology and medicine. Still, the commission does not call for a ban on homeopathy. As its chairman, academician Yevgeny Aleksandrov, notes, the memorandum is about abandoning it in state medicine, as well as correctly labeling homeopathic medicines.


Folk history

The winds of change in the second half of the 80s of the last century made many a desire to revise the official history. In one case, this resulted in the cleansing of history from the ideological component associated with the Soviet period, in the other, it led to the emergence of such a phenomenon as folk history.

An excellent example of folk history is Fomenko-Nosovsky's New Chronology. The authors argue that the conventional story is the result of multiple falsifications. In reality, in their opinion, writing originated only by the middle of the first millennium AD, and therefore, no written evidence of events that took place earlier than the 9th century can exist, archaeological finds, in turn, cannot be unambiguously interpreted either. The generally accepted history of the 9th – 17th centuries is somewhat more reliable than the history of earlier periods. And only about the events that have taken place since the 18th century, one can speak with confidence.

As for the history of the Ancient World and the early Middle Ages, it is the result of an incorrect interpretation of the available historical sources, erroneous or deliberate. Events, states, historical figures of this time are just "phantom reflections" in somewhat similar events, states and characters of a later time. For example, the Trojan War, dating from the official history at the turn of the XIII-XII centuries BC. e., and the Gothic War of 377-382 AD are descriptions of the same real war.

Among other statements, it is based on the assumption of the existence in the past of a gigantic empire ruled by the Russian khans, covering Europe and Asia, and in later editions also America.

The "New Chronology" is an excellent example of one of the distinguishing characteristics of pseudosciences - ignorance of the broad scientific context.The works of Fomenko and Nosovsky contradict not only the research results of many historians around the world, but also the conclusions of scientists from other spheres of science. History is not only the result of the work of historians, archaeologists, astronomers, physicists, linguists, philologists and geneticists take part in the recreation of the events of the past. All science is involved in this process in one way or another. "New Chronology" rejects all this accumulated experience and explains the contradictions in the most convenient way - conspiracy and large-scale falsification. Having no support from the scientific community, its authors appeal to the general population. The editions devoted to "New Chronology" are a commercial success. To date, more than 100 books have been published. Their total circulation exceeded 800,000 copies.


Pseudoscience Mini-Guide

Alchemy, the main goals of which are the transformation of "base metals", such as lead, into "noble" ones (gold and silver), as well as the search for a philosopher's stone (elixir), capable of turning some metals into others, curing all diseases and ensuring eternal youth.

Astrology states that the position of the heavenly bodies at the moment of birth affects the subsequent life of a person, his personality, career and destiny.

Bioenergology (she is also bioenergetics) insists that a person has a "biofield", acting on which, it is possible to treat diseases.

Wave genetics (the theory of the "Wave genome") states that DNA has a wave nature. The DNA molecule is capable of transmitting and receiving genetic information in a wave way. According to followers, with the help of wave genetics, you can heal any disease and prolong the life of people.

Homeopathy suggests that the disease can be cured by a drug containing ultra-low doses of substances that, in large doses, cause symptoms similar to those of the disease in a healthy person.

Cryptozoology searches for animals that are considered legendary or mythological (such as unicorns or dragons), extinct (such as dinosaurs) or existing according to eyewitness statements (Loch Ness monster or Bigfoot).

Michurinsk Agrobiology, who argued that the change in heredity is determined by living conditions and denied the importance of chromosomes as a carrier of hereditary information. It flourished in the first half of the 20th century in the USSR. The founder and largest representative is T. D. Lysenko.

Scientific creationism insists that there is scientific evidence of the biblical act of creation and a number of other episodes of biblical history, in particular the Flood. Considers the Bible to be a reliable source for natural science and rejects scientific evidence for evolution.

Numerology argues that there are some mystical connections between numbers and physical objects, processes and human life, and therefore, the fate of people and entire nations can be predicted by numbers.

Parapsychology is engaged in the study of paranormal phenomena, such as supernatural psychic abilities of people (clairvoyance, telepathy, the ability to predict the future, etc.), the phenomena of life after death and the like, using scientific methodology.

Torsionics (theory of torsion fields) - the "theory" of members of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences Shipov G.I. and Akimov A.E., which is based on the assertion about the existence of special fields that do not have energy, but at the same time are capable of transferring information, and immediately between any points in space -time.

Ufology collects and verifies reports of UFOs, and also tries to find a scientific or parascientific explanation for them.

Physiognomy states that the type of personality of a person, his mental qualities and state of health can be determined based on the analysis of facial expressions and its external features.

Folk history - claiming to be scientific, but not scientific literary and journalistic works and ideological and theoretical concepts on historical topics. A typical example is the "New Chronology" by A. T. Fomenko and G. V. Nosovsky.

Phrenology insists on the presence of a connection between the human psyche and the structure of the surface of his skull. All mental properties are localized in different parts of the brain. The skull repeats the shape of the cerebral cortex, and the presence of a "bump" indicates a particular ability.

Palmistry suggests the possibility of predicting the fate and determining the individual characteristics of a person by the skin relief of the palms (papillary and flexor lines), the appearance of the hand and the bumps on the palm.

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