February 1, 2017
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“Politics?! I thought this was about science!”
This is a common trope that is often leveled against scientists and skeptics that challenge pseudoscience or political policies being pushed by anti-science politicians. However, it is fatally flawed on several different levels.
First, many forms of pseudoscience have deceptive political agendas, such as pushing creationism in public schools, undermining the vaccine schedule, shredding climate agreements or deregulating fake treatments that harm people. These cannot be ignored. Second, anti-science politicians are have no magic immunity shield towards criticism. If they promote nonsense, they are just as viable targets for intellectual criticism as any other profession.
Third, scientific victories were hard-won and should not be conceded so easily. Fourth, when scientists and skeptics argue for evidence-based policy, it is science that justifiably intrude on politics not the other way around like the accusers would have it. Fifth and finally, science crucially depends on science funding that is partially under the control by politicians. If you screw up science funding, you screw up science. Science and scientists should not be intellectual pacifists and not go quietly into the darkness.
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November 24, 2013
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Related: Neuroscience, Memory and the Courtroom, The Criminal Profiling Deception.
Pseudoscience seems to be everywhere: from anti-vaccine activism and HIV/AIDS denialism to postmodern pseudomathematics and quantum quackery. It would appear that no area goes unharmed by the enormous reach of pseudoscience. It has even infiltrated law enforcement where it injects pseudoscientific notions such as hypnosis and graphology, prevent safeguards against error in interrogations and fingerprint analysis or making it more difficult to remove practices that are not supported by the evidence, such as criminal profiling, the use of truth serum or lie detector tests.
This article will discuss a paper by Lilienfeld and Landfield (2008) published in the journal Criminal Justice and Behavior that examine these issues in detail. Lilienfeld and Landfield provide a tentative definition of pseudoscience and then goes on to list ten warning signs of pseudoscience together with an example of each from law enforcement. Finally, the make some recommendations for combating the influence of pseudoscience in law enforcement. It must be pointed out that some of these examples, such as interrogation and fingerprint analysis, are not by themselves pseudoscience. Rather, it is the way that some proponents make use of these tools without the proper safeguards against mistakes that is deserving of the label of pseudoscience.
What is pseudoscience?
Lilienfeld and Landfield (2008) point out that pseudoscience, like the concept of day and night, are fuzzy concepts. Nevertheless, they manage to encapsulate a couple of key aspects of pseudoscience in their descriptions. They state that “pseudosciences are disciplines that possess the superficial appearance of science but lacks it substance” and “pseudosciences are imposters of science: they do not play by the rules of science even though they mimic some of its outward features”.
Ten warning signs of pseudoscience (with examples)
Lilienfeld and Landfield describe ten key warning signs of pseudoscience and provide examples for police work. These warning signs stretch from lack of falsifiability and self-correction to the use of testimonials and the absence of connectivity with broader scientific research fields. Read more of this post