Beware of Junk – Science

I know I said I was going to continue covering play, creativity and genius this month but something came up and I felt like I needed to address it. Yes I’m beating a dead horse but the horse hasn’t completely died which is why it is important that we keep having this conversation….

JUNK science is alive and well  just as fake news despite the crackdown by social media outlets and Google.

I was pushed to comment on this after watching a TED talk video by Molly Crockett a neuropsychologist (AKA neuroscientist). Crockett talks about how marketers use junk science in their marketing efforts to get us to buy a product. Claims like “this will make you smarter”, ” improve your memory” or in the case of lumosity.com “extreme brain training for a healthier brain.”

You may know this already but you may not be as familiar with it. What is pseudoscience? Pseudoscience also referred commonly as junk science is any statement that use scientific principles without actually having any basis in science. Pseudoscience attempts to make a theory without a hypothesis and a hypothesis without any data. Pseudoscience claims are post-hoc assumptions made in a factual statement. Another possible characteristic of pseudoscience is that their claims cannot be tested scientifically (mainly because their theory was made prior to any data collection).

In Marketing, commerce, etc. Pseudoscience can be as innocent in appearance as simply appearing to look scientific. There are two ways you can convince someone that something has more credibility simply by wearing a white lab coat or showing someone a picture of a brain.

While little white lies at times can be harmless – they can be downright dangerous. Pseudoscience is often supplemented with various logical fallacies – the most noted ones to date are anecdotal claims. Anecdotal claims have given strength to pseudoscience such as the anti-vaccination movement, big foot sightings and faith-healing. The anecdotes often go along the lines of ” I know of someone who knew someone who died a week after receiving that new vaccine” or ” I know someone who was seconds from death when all of the sudden we saw improvements just moments after such and such said a prayer.” Anecdotal claims almost always go against well established fact. Vaccines are safe, sure on occasion someone may experience an allergic reaction, vaccination injuries have been known to happen but it’s rare.

Another tactic pseudoscience utilizes is one of our most primitive of emotions – fear.

                          

When IBM’s  Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in a game of computerized Chess in 1997 it marked the first time an artificial intelligence defeated a chess champion. As one would believe – the fear that A.I would dominate our species was of great concern.

20 years later and despite all the worries of the uninformed – Artificial Intelligence is no more smarter than it was back in 1997 or the 1940’s. Computers have yet to gain autonomy. Despite for Google’s push for autonomous vehicles – computers cannot identify objects the same way that humans can. The war between man and the machine is at a stand still.

Fear is one of the oldest emotions we experience, it’s understandable for survival unfortunately pseudoscience advocates use this human vulnerability to their advantage.  Despite not having a single shred of evidence – many doomsayers proclaim that the apocalypse will occur every New Years.

Pseudoscience & fear-mongering are detrimental to the progressive nature of Science and discovery. Fear that X would lead to Y and cause Z are what lobbyists use to dissuade the funding for scientific research. Fear that vaccines would cause irreversible damage to the human body only leads to to those who need the vaccine the most (children ) from getting it plus the onset of super bugs that come about as a result of mutation from having infected a unvaccinated host.

There is a cure to Pseudoscience – that is real science. You can fight against pseudoscience by asking hard questions, demand evidence, question authority, question any website with a .com or a .net.

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