Monday, October 17, 2011

What is pseudoscience?

Science as a whole, often states that UFOlogy is a "pseudoscience."

An article in the September 2011 issue of Scientific American (Volume 305 number 3 p.77) about this topic, caught my eye. Written by Michael Shermer (click here) , it looks at the question of pseudoscience. It opens with "Climate deniers are accused of practicing pseudoscience, as are intelligent design creationists, astrologers, UFOlogists..."

Shermer notes that in Massimo Pigliucci's (click here) 2010 book 'Nonsense on stilts' (click here) he writes "...the boundaries separating science, nonscience and pseudoscience are much fuzzier and more permeable than Popper (or, for that matter, most scientists) would have us believe." Popper (click here) famously declared 'falsifiability' as the ultimate criterion of demarcation."

"The problem is that many sciences are nonfalsifible such as...the extraterrestrial hypothesis (click here)  On the last short of searching every planet around every star in every galaxy int he cosmos, can we ever say with certainty that ET's do not exist?"

"Sherman suggests a new test? "...does the revolutionary new idea generate any interest on the part of working scientists for adoption in their research programs, produce any new idea of research, lead to any new discoveries, or influence any existing hypotheses, models, paradigms or worldviews. If not, chances are its a pseudoscience."

Do reader's think that UFOlogy is a pseudoscience?


  1. Ufology is scientific in the basic sense that it is falsifiable: ufology makes positive claims that can, in theory, be disproved.
    The problem is not the claims but the claimants: many of them won't accept disconfirmation of any kind.
    A notorious example is Stanton Friedman's refusal to address the HIPPARCHOS data that demolishes the Hill-Fish map. This has been brought to his attention on multiple occasions (by Martin Shough in 2008 and 2011 on UFO Updates, and again in 2011 by Robert Sheaffer). But Mr. Friedman insists on sticking to 40-year-old data, remaining silent about the recent astronomical findings.
    This is a case of a claim (the Betty Hill map represents a real configuration of neighbouring stars) that can be tested (against stellar coordinates) but the main proponent (Stanton Friedman) has been committed to one data set for so long that he pretends that the new data doesn't exist.

  2. Hiya Pauline, I think ufology is what it is and there's little anyone can do to change it.

    Guys like Shermer have, historically, made it impossible for some subjects to be discussed openly. Ridicule isn't scientific so are fellows like that pseudoscientists? Although I'm not one of them, some would argue that psychology (Shermer's education) is soft, pseudo and overly interpretive.

    Likewise, several ufologists are also responsible for the subject being a self-conscious affair. Typically, the higher the profile, the more pseudo the science. Without debunkers, I'd still be unable to talk openly about good cases because of the embarrassment factor being heightened by these, often, ridiculous characters.

    Some of the finest researchers apply scientific methodology but the folk like Shermer won't ever read them because they already *know* it's all BS. I'm thinking of examples like Swords, Tulien, Sturrock and Teodarani...even Hynek.

    So is ufology pseudoscientific? Absolutely partially! :)

    @ Terry - Good call on Shough, he brings a lot to this subject and a witty turn of phrase on the updateslist.

  3. > Shough, he brings a lot to this subject

    I just wish I knew how to pronounce his name!

  4. The biggest problem isn't so much that UFOlogy isn't a science. It's that the science that we need to understand the phenomenon has arrived yet- at least not publicly. Take three important facets of the problem- its connection to psychic phenomena, its shadowing forth of a new physics, and its possible links to human spirituality. I think that some people are getting closer to the physics of it, but as most of us have no idea how psychic phenomena and various spiritual traditions are related, the science is missing;even if we had it, we're still far from the answers.

    Science certainly can be done in this area- photo/video analysis, radar tracking, trace cases- but these things aren't going to tell us what we really want to know. In my case, I want to know who they are, where they're from, and what they're doing. All I have to work with is a monstrous library and a computer. Wish me luck.

    It is sad that the field is so full of embarrassing allies and people making absurd claims but it's up to us to police our own minds. There's a lot of sloppy writing and thinking out there but open-minded AND critical thinkers are in short supply, not that I'm that brilliant myself.