(Pseudo-)Science Blog

Web log for PH 170: Philosophy of Science and Pseudoscience – – – – – – – – – – – Professor Peter Bokulich



We’re Moving!

By Peter Bokulich

moving-truckWe’re in the process of moving to a new website, and no new content will be added here.

But there’s still some furniture at this old site (mostly images) that hasn’t made it into the moving van yet, so you still might want to see what’s below.

You can find the new and exciting (Pseudo-)Science Blog at the following web address: https://denialism.wordpress.com/.

See you there!



Would you offer your coat to a shivering child?

By Peter Bokulich

An experiment/consciousness-raising stunt in Norway had a child sit at a bus stop without a jacket, to see how many people would offer him the coat off their own back to keep him warm.

It’s reassuring that many people did indeed offer him a coat or a sweater.

The point of the stunt is to draw attention to the fact that there are children who are Syrian refugees who are similarly in need of protection from winter weather. If we should help a child we see sitting at a bus stop, shouldn’t we also help children we don’t don’t see in a foreign country?

This, of course, is the point that Peter Singer makes regarding the drowning child. Clearly I have an obligation to save a drowning toddler, even if it means ruining my fancy shoes. But where the child is would seem to make no moral difference. So I have just as much of a responsibility to save a child who is dying in a famine in a distant part of the world.



Skepticism gives you super powers!

By Peter Bokulich

It seems that Ryuken isn’t the only one training people to use magic martial arts powers. There’s also a Finnish fellow named Jukka Lampila who offers classes on how to use “empty force” or EFO as a method of self defense.

Fortunately, a group of skeptics showed up to a demonstration of EFO, and tried to point out to Lampila that “empty force” isn’t going to be very effective as a means of self defense.

One can apparently develop a super power that overcomes EFO — simply by not believing in it:



Humans are Aliens

By Peter Bokulich

It turns out that science (or at least one “scientist”) has determined that human beings are actually aliens from another planet.

Evidence for this includes the fact that we get sunburned and have bad backs (a fact I can attest to). It seems that our native planet had lower gravity, which was easier on our spines.

You can read more scientific details here.



Gish Gallop (fallacy of the day)

By Peter Bokulich

The term “Gish Gallop” was coined by Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education. The phrase refers to a debate tactic that was a favorite of Duane Gish, a young-Earth creationist who was also a highly skilled debater.

The Gish Gallop is the tactic of snowing your opponent under a mountain of supposed “pieces of evidence” or “problem cases” and claiming that the opponent’s inability to respond to this pile of evidence shows that your side is right. This tactic counts as a fallacy because its effectiveness doesn’t depend on presenting arguments that are right or even well-supported. Quantity is offered as a substitute for quality.

The tactic is nevertheless often quite effective, for the following reasons:

  • The audience is left with the impression that there’s a huge amount of evidence on your side. 
  • It’s impossible for your opponent to respond to all the misleading/false claims in the limited amount of time allowed in a debate.
  • A falsehood can be quickly and appealingly stated. It takes much more time to offer an accurate account of the science.
  • Even if your opponent shoots down one or two arguments, you’re still left with a dozen untouched arguments.
  • The audience is left with the impression that your opponent can’t respond to the other problems.
  • Because of specialization in science, no one will have knowledge of all the “problem cases” you can dredge up.\
  • Your opponent will often seem defensive: offering rebuttals that may seem arcane to non-scientists.
  • The audience won’t remember details, but will remember “there were a whole lot of problems for evolution/climate change, and the scientist didn’t really have answers.”

Here a version of a Gish Gallop in print.

And below the fold is an example of a scientist picking apart a Gish Gallop by Monckton. Notice how much time it takes Abraham to debunk each of Monckton’s false (but brief) claims.

Read more »



The Tasmanian Tiger: more cryptozoology?

By Peter Bokulich

The last thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, died in 1936. These were large carnivorous marsupials that lived down under — until they didn’t anymore.

Now there are some “scientists” who are claiming that Tasmanian tigers aren’t really extinct.

Question: how do these claims compare to claims of bigfoot sightings?

The Guardian article mentions that the investigators are cryptozoologists who have also “attempted to find the yeti.” An important piece of context. The Huffington Post write-up, on the other hand, just describes them as “zoologists.”



The Science of Psychic Powers

By Peter Bokulich

A commenter at Pigliucci’s blog offered a link to a collection of scientific research that supports the claim that humans have psychic abilities. Check out the list here.

I chose one article just to get a sense of the quality of the evidence, and I have to say that I wasn’t impressed. The article recounts an experiment where subjects were asked to decide whether they were looking at a real Chinese ideogram or a false one.

Before starting the experiment, participants
were asked about their familiarity with Chinese ideograms.
They were enrolled only if they declared no or almost no
knowledge apart from the capacity to recognize them as probably
Chinese or Japanese ideograms.

The participants were “psychically helped” in their decision by a distant researcher who knew which ideograms were real, and was sending helpful mental signals.

The study found that the participants did slightly better than would be expected by chance. So there’s evidence for “psi” — telepathic abilities.

It’s helpful that the study depicts the ideograms used at the end of the paper. I have to say, even though I’d tell a researcher I have “almost no” knowledge of Chinese ideograms, the fake ones look fake to me. I don’t read Chinese, but I’ve apparently seen enough to have a sense of what’s a real ideogram and what isn’t.

If all the evidence is this quality, they’re going to have a hard time convincing me. But maybe I’m just closed-minded?



Is Pseudoscience a Black Hole?

By Peter Bokulich

Massimo Pigliucci (the author of Nonsense on Stilts) is wondering whether the path to pseudoscience is a one-way street.

There are plenty of examples of theories starting as legitimate scientific hypotheses but then degenerating into pseudoscience as its advocates refuse to give up on the idea. Pigliucci offers cold fusion as one example.

But are there any examples of a pseudoscientific theory transforming into legitimate science? Pigliucci offers the example of herbal remedies. Commentors on the post offer continental drift and the endosymbiotic origins of eukaryotes as other possible examples.



Polywater: More H2O Funny Business

By Peter Bokulich

There’s a nice article in Slate about the polywater controversy of the 1960s and 70s.

Polywater is supposed to be a novel state of water. In this state, H20 is denser, has a lower freezing point and higher boiling point, is oily, and has several other features that are quite different from the everyday water we drink and bathe in.

So there are parallels here to claims about homeopathy; in both cases ordinary water is supposed to have extraordinary abilities.

In the case of polywater, science took a few years to self-correct, but it was eventually decided that the samples of “polywater” weren’t pure H20 after all. So, should the scientists discussing polywater have been more careful? Were politicians too eager to “close the polywater gap” with the Soviets?



Lysenko and Global Warming

By Peter Bokulich



Peter Ferrara at Forbes thinks that Global Warming Alarmism is like Lysenkoism. Is he right?