By now, we really should know the differences between real science and pseudoscience… but that’s not always the case — and on the internet, that’s often not the case. I mean, we’re surrounded by science every single day, but then again, we’re also surrounded by bad science. We have a limited attention span and sometimes, whoever screams the loudest gets our attention. Astrology, homeopathy, conspiracy theories, they’re everywhere; here are just some of the more common examples of pseudoscience which you really shouldn’t fall for.
The ‘2012 phenomenon’ consists of a series of apocalyptic beliefs that cataclysmic events would happen on the 21st of December, due to the association with different astronomical alignments and numerological formulae, generally derived from misinterpreting the Long Count Maya Calendar. But as 2012 came and passed and the world didn’t end, the belief still stemmed, based on little more than voodoo and ignorance. Seriously, the Aztecs didn’t predict anything like this, neither did Nostradamus, and there’s nothing set to happen and end the world as we know it in the near future.
There was also a New Age version of the event which was less tragical – it only implied the beginning of a new era marked by spiritual transformation and purification. Terms like ‘solar storm’ or ‘pole shift’ were abusively used by the communities in favor of this belief.
If there’s one pseudoscience that I’d wish would just go away, it’s astrology. The belief that your life and personality are somehow decided by groups of stars that somehow look like mythical things is just ridiculous. Astrology is based on a horoscope, a divination system where there is a strong connection between what happens in the world and astronomical alignments. The Indians, Chinese and Mayans are only a few cultures that practice astrology.
The scientific community rejects astrology as having no explanatory power for describing the universe, and consider it a pseudoscience. Scientific testing of astrology has been conducted, and no evidence has been found to support any of the premises or purported effects outlined in astrological traditions.
There’s a hypothesis (and I use that term lightly) that intelligent extraterrestrial beings have visited Earth in prehistoric times, leaving behind artifacts, such as cave paintings, the Stonehenge or the pyramids. There isn’t even the slightest evidence to support such a claim. It’s all wishful thinking and a rich imagination.
Moon landing conspiracy theories
Of course, there had to be a conspiracy theory regarding the Apollo moon landing. By far the most popular pseudoscientific belief is that the six manned landings were faked and none of the astronauts actually went to the Moon – that everything was filmed in a Hollywood basement. The conspiracists first came up with this idea in the 1970s, and some still believe this idea. There are numerous documentaries on the subject, where all kinds of conspiracists present their claims on the matter, using half-baked theories and seemingly convincing arguments. Ironically, while the technology to land on the Moon was available at the time, the technology to forge the footage wasn’t.
Ah yes, the Devil’s Triangle: a region that’s not clearly defined in terms of geographical localization, but where lots of strange, supernatural things happen. It is believed that many aircrafts and ships magically disappeared under mysterious circumstances during relatively recent history. Despite all the fuss that was made around this name, whose activity is most often associated with paranormal and alien interventions, The U.S. Board on Geographic Names doesn’t even recognize this place as registered. Documented evidence indicates that a significant percentage of the incidents were spurious, inaccurately reported, or embellished by later authors. In a 2013 study, the World Wide Fund for Nature identified the world’s 10 most dangerous waters for shipping, but the Bermuda Triangle was not among them.
Climate change denialism
Ah yes, we’re labeling this as pseudoscience… because it basically is — despite what some media might claim. Despite a scientific consensus on the issue, some people continue to cling to the belief that our climate isn’t changing. The most extensive use of this pseudoscience is often related to commercial and ideological purposes. Fossil fuels lobby, the Koch brothers or free market think tanks are some of the most popular claimers of this pseudoscience along with industry advocates.
Brainwashing refers to the involuntary reeducation of basic beliefs and values, up to the point where the individual (or society) doesn’t believe in his own set of values, but in the one imposed. The suggestion that NRMs use mind control techniques has resulted in scientific and legal debate along the years, but now, scientists agree in rejecting the validity of the concept.
Some psychologists believe hypnosis is a mental state of supreme relaxation and inner focus, and the subject is fully responsive to the suggestions given by the hypnotist. Animal magnetism (mesmerism) is the concept in which this idea stems its roots in.
While some forms of suggestion and hypnosis have been clinically useful and are accepted by the scientific community, the idea of almost fictional concepts such as hypnotic regression to the point of past life regression is beyond any scientific proof. Using hypnosis for mood control or relaxation is part of the standard treatment procedure, but not pushed to the point of False Memory Syndrom.
A combination between communication, personal development, and psychotherapy, this pseudoscience was created during the 1970s. NLP states that because of the inner cognitive connection between the neurological processes, language and behavior, learning patterns through experience can increase the chance of achieving goals in life. Scientific evidence, on the other hand, shows that the gross of what NLP claims is simply not true.
It is believed to be an encrypted piece of information in the visual or auditory ad which is not consciously processed by the subject, yet it manages to subconsciously influence his perception and even generate repeated buying behavior. Scientifically speaking, even if there were a subliminal (very, very subtle) message incorporated in the advertising block, the stimulus would never have an effect on the information, attitude or behavior of the consumer because of the weakness of the stimulus which wouldn’t be able to generate a cognitive response.
It is often defined as ‘all treatments which have not been proved using the scientific method’ in terms of effectiveness or lack thereof – so by definition, it’s not scientific. Among these practices, the most popular are homeopathy, neuropathy, naturopathy, chiropractic, energy medicine, acupuncture, Chinese medicine or Christian faith healing. Complementary medicine is a type of pseudoscience that is used along with the conventional medical treatment. Although there are no scientific reasons to believe it is efficient, some of the patients opt for it.
It is, in history, the belief that there is scientific evidence supporting the inferiority and superiority of certain races; classifying individuals by race. Aryanism, which stood at the core of Nazism because of which the Holocaust happened is one of the most popular examples of scientific racism. Related to the Holocaust, a rather odd pseudoscience initiated by the Leuchter report is Holocaust Denial, which is an attempt of showing with forensic evidence that mass homicidal gassings did not, in fact, take place.
It represents a psychological pseudoscientific test which is meant to show that there are significant correspondences between a person’s handwriting and the personality traits which influence the handwriting morphology. Its link with forensic examinations concerning handwriting is only superficial, and there are some theories according to which the correlations were linked to sympathetic magic.
These are just some of the many heads of this ugly hydra called fake science. There are many other branches we haven’t touched upon here, and if you feel there’s something that must be added to this list — don’t hesitate to let us know.