Pseu-pseu-pseudio

Pseu-pseu-pseudio

Pseu-pseu-pseudio

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
May 25 2005 10:29 PM

Pseu-pseu-pseudio

Note added May 26, 2005: I submitted the following entry to the Skeptics' Circle carnival of critical thinking, and good ol' St. Nate accepted it for the Ninth Skeptics' Circle, even though I was a couple of hours late on the deadline. Thanks Nate!

Note added June 1, 2005: and if that's not enough, it's also part of The Tangled Bank, a collection of science blogs. As usual, there are some really stellar entries there, so go take a look!

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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I was just over at RedStateRabble, and he mentions a creationist, calling him a "pseudoscientist". I used to use this term, but I've stopped. I have a new one, but first I want to say why I switched.

I read a book talking about "framing", the idea that phrasing things in a certain way can engender a desired response. It's more than just using a name for something, it's sculpting the name in such a way as to bring about an almost reflexive response in your listener.

An example: not to be contentious, but take abortion. People who are for it are "pro-choice". People who are against it are "pro-life". Where is the word "abortion"? Nowhere. Are people who are not "pro-life" then "anti-life"? Not necessarily, but the words certainly imply it. Are people who are not "pro-choice" then "anti-choice"? Again, not necessarily, but it sure sounds like it.

Framing.

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I put up a web page last year about debating pseudoscientists. Incidentally, I still stick to what I said there. In it, I use the word "pseudoscientist" many times. A pseudoscientist is someone who is not a scientist and does not practice the scientific method, but who does make extraordinary claims on little or no evidence, and discusses these claims using a veneer of scientific-sounding language.

At least, that's what skeptics think when they use the word. But I suspect that to the public, this sounds more like "someone-who-is-sorta-like-a-scientist". To them, "pseudo" might mean "quasi", and not "false", as it should.

This framing of the situation isn't aggressive enough, and may be misunderstood. We need a word that shows, correctly, that these pseudoscience jokers are not only not scientists, but are actively eroding away at science, trying to promote ideas that chip away at peoples' ability to think critically. Creationists, Moon Hoax proponents, the Planet X crowd... you can think of a few on your own, I have no doubt.

So I came up with the word "antiscientists". That's a frame I think gets the point across. These twinkies aren't sortof scientists, or even bad scientists. Science uses evidence, is testable, and if it fails the test, the idea is modified or dropped. When an antiscientist talks about their idea, they fabricate evidence, or wildly distort real evidence, or wildly misinterpret real evidence. When confronted with truth, they ignore it, or claim it to be false, or cast aspersions on the person who said it and then ignore it. That is not, that is precisely what science does not do, and is the antithesis of science.

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They're antiscientists, and what they do is antiscience.

That's the term I've started using for these people. I like it. I long ago decided to walk the path of skepticism, but there are a lot of ways to walk it. Some are confrontational, some are argumentative, some are quiet, some are polite. I prefer to be polite. I enforce that rule on my discussion forum, and I practice it when I give lectures in public. It's not for everyone, but it is for me.

I'll note that it's rare for me to use words that are aggressive when dealing with crank science. I usually use silly words, calling my opponents "twinkies" or "goofs", instead of what someone like, say, Penn Jilette might call them (and in many if not most cases, he's right on the money with his call).

So I like the word "antiscience". I like the way it feels when I say it. It's barbed, and to-the-point. I want it to sting a bit, but I don't want it to be just name-calling like the examples above.

And to a skeptic like me, it has the ring of truth to it. Have no doubt: what these people are doing is, in fact, antiscience. And I call 'em like I see 'em.

I have to. I'm a pro scientist.