Pseudosciences are the imposters of real science. They attempt to mimic the activities and language used by scientists, but have no intellectual substance beneath their shallow surface. This is likely because science has such a strong cultural authority and has been responsible for many beneficial and exciting discoveries during the past few centuries. Anything that attempts to parasitize on science can potentially steal some of this authority from science.
Yet, because pseudosciences are not based on credible arguments or evidence, they contain a combination of wishful thinking and stuff that is plainly made up. Because critical thinking and scientific evidence plays very little role (in any), it is not surprising that inconsistencies and contradictions have crept into many forms of pseudoscience. These contradictions do not just occur between different kinds of pseudosciences, such as chiropractors claiming that giving birth is a massive trauma and that newborns must get spinal adjustments while natural birth activists think that giving birth in the wilderness is completely safe. They can also be found within a specific pseudoscience and that produces many great ironies that many quacks and cranks seem completely oblivious to. Let us look at six such hilarious pseudoscience contradictions.
#1: Pushing “hidden cancer cure” nonsense while opposing cancer-preventing vaccines
Some conspiracy theorists actively believe that large, multinational pharmaceutical companies have already found the cure for cancer and is withholding it from the average citizen just to make money, while giving it to political leaders, celebrities and industry billionaires to keep them alive.
In reality, cancer is an umbrella term for hundreds of different cancer diseases, from pancreatic cancer to leukemia. Because there is such diversity among cancer forms and types, it is virtually impossible to find a single treatment that cures all of them. Cancer cures are likely to be highly specific to one or perhaps a few types. Hidden cancer cure conspiracy theories are flawed in at least ten separate ways from misunderstanding basic economics to it costing even more money to hide the cure. Also, many famous people like Steve Jobs, Farrah Fawcett, David Bowie and Patrick Swayze have directly or indirectly died due to cancer. If this allegedly hidden cancer cure was kept from the public but used by world leaders, celebrities and so on, why do people in these groups regularly die from cancer as well?
Many alternative medicine proponents who push the hidden cancer cure myth are also against vaccines. This is highly ironic since the vaccines against HPV and hepatitis B reduce the risk of developing specific cancers of the cervix and the liver, respectively.
HPV vaccination has been found to have an efficacy of 93% at reducing precancerous cervical lesions and also protects against HPV strains that cause genital warts and even against HPV strains not included in the vaccine via cross protection. There are currently over 350 million people around the world who have a chronic hepatitis B infection that will likely last their entire lives in the absence of the development of new treatments. Every year, about 600 000 people die from hepatitis B (including liver cancer and cirrhosis) and it probably cause about half of all liver cancers. The vaccine against hepatitis B is around 95% effective, with a range from 80% to 100% and typically last at least 20 years.
Thus, if you want to reduce your risk of cancer, HPV and hepatitis B vaccination is a good idea in addition to avoiding smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, too much sun tanning and so on.
#2: Being against GMOs “because pesticides” when GMOs reduce more dangerous pesticides
Some extreme environmentalists are against genetically modified crops because they are concerned about pesticides. In reality, GMOs has either reduced the use of dangerous pesticides or replaced it with much safer pesticides. It is thus highly ironic that anti-pesticide activists oppose a technology that can help reduce dangers from pesticide.
For decades, both conventional and organic agriculture has used the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis as a “natural biopesticide” to combat specific insect pests that can otherwise decimate plants like corn, soy and cotton. Modern biotech solutions involve genetically modifying some plants so that they themselves express the same active substance that the bacteria does to target this specific insect pest. These Bt crops have reduced the need to spray fields with much more dangerous insecticides. Other GM applications, like herbicide resistant crops, make plants resistant to the herbicide glyphosate so that weeds can be eliminated without risking the crops themselves. Although glyphosate use has increased over time, this has resulted in the decline of more dangerous herbicides. Yet other GM applications improve the plants’ natural resistance to viruses. This was the key behind saving the Hawaii papaya from the disastrous consequences of the papaya ringspot virus (PRSV).
#3: Claiming dating methods are flawed while claiming they prove a young Earth
Radiometric dating methods convincingly show that the Earth is several billion years old. They do not assume that decay rates have been constant, that initial amounts are known or that it has been a closed system. All of these things can be carefully estimated or measured.
Young earth creationists have a seething opposition to scientific dating methods. This is because the latter convincingly show that the Earth is billions of years old and not just a few thousand years like they believe. This often lead to a very comical contradiction, where young earth creationists attack any scientific dating method that shows that the Earth, the Sun and the universe is old, while simultaneously claiming that these very same dating methods somehow prove that the Earth is young. This is typically done by violating the requirement for the methods to work.
They also misrepresent modern geology as naive uniformitarianism and reject dating methods because they allegedly assume that rates have always been constant. Without so much as a hint of being aware of the great irony, they turn around and unleash a great number of flawed claims about how the earth is supposedly young that critically rely on assuming constant rates for processes that we know are not constant.
#4: Being against “chemicals” while taking untested alt med stuff bought online
In science, a chemical is just a chemical substance. It does not matter what the source of this substance is or if it is “natural” or made by humans in a lab. This means that everything from water and vitamin C to botulinum and glyphosate is a chemical. However, in the world of anti-science fearmongers, “chemical” exclusively refers to harmful artificial chemicals and you can buy the alleged “cure” for it in their webshop.
However, buying untested and largely unregulated supplements and other products online puts you at considerable risk. You do not know what is really in those pills. It could be contaminated by heavy metals, pesticides or even prescription medication that you should not currently take. It can also contain a completely different core substance than the one it says on the bottle. In some cases, it might not even contain any active substance whatsoever. The excellent PBS documentary Supplements and Safety discuss these problems in additional detail.
#5: Claiming that climate is chaotic and unpredictable while insisting that climate sensitivity is low
Those who reject mainstream climate science use a wide range of distractions to try to prevent people from understanding that there is a current warming trend, that humans are largely responsible for it and that the consequences can be quite severe. There are hundreds of false claims made by climate deniers that have been refuted by scientific evidence. There are also dozens of internal contradictions between various claims put forward by climate deniers.
For instance, it is often claimed by climate deniers that the climate is way too chaotic to be predictable or even researched by science in the first place. However, if this is the case, all arguments deployed by climate deniers that rely on the predictability of the climate and the possibility of doing research would be false. In particular, it is common for climate deniers to claim that climate sensitivity is low and that releasing a massive amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will not have any detrimental effect on the environment. But they cannot have their cake and eat it too. Either climate is chaotic and unpredictable or predictions can be made and tested against the evidence.
Finally, climate sensitivity is around 3 degrees centigrade. This means that a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration from pre-industrial levels will cause 3 degree centigrade of warming. This is based on many independent lines of evidence from paleoclimate to modern measurements.
#6: Thinking that bin Laden is still alive and that he was already dead before the raid
Perhaps one of the most astonishing discoveries that has been made when it comes to those who believe in conspiracy theories is that they can sometimes hold beliefs that are clearly and demonstrably in conflict with each other. Not just in some highly intellectual way that can only be uncovered by knowing a lot about complex scientific topics, but in a such a way as to be completely obvious to everyone.
According to a 2012 study on belief in contradictory conspiracy theories, the more people believe that Princess Diana had fooled by world by faking her own death, the more likely the exact same people were to believe that she was murdered instead of dying in a car accident. The same finding could be found with regards to Osama bin Laden too. The more people believed that he was still alive, the more likely they were to hold the contradictory belief that he was already dead before the U. S. raid on his compound in Abbottabad.
Because they are not based on evidence, conspiracy theories and other forms of pseudoscience are often implausible and sometimes even outright contradictory. People who claim there is a hidden cancer cure that are kept from people sometimes want to prevent people from getting vaccines that can prevent some forms of cancer. Those that are against pesticides are sometimes against GMOs even though GMOs can reduce harmful pesticide usage.
Young earth creationists insist that modern geology is based on flawed uniformitarian assumptions of constant rates while themselves relying on constant rate assumptions where we know them to be false. Some alternative medicine proponents spread fear about “chemicals” while buying untested stuff online. Some climate deniers simultaneously claim that the climate is too chaotic to be predictable, while also making highly specific climate predictions.
Finally, some conspiracy theorists (apparently without any insight into the irony) believe that Osama bin Laden is both alive and that he was dead before the raid that killed him.
This highlights the crucial evidence-free nature of conspiracy theories. Far from being the result of critical thinking applied to mainstream scientific models, it is a fundamental lack of critical thinking. Pseudoscience activists often accuse science advocates of being “sheeple”, but it is clear that they are stuck in a filter bubble where opposing information is systematically excluded.