We think of ourselves as savvy, informed individuals who approach the world with discerning eyes. But the truth is that we’re often remarkably gullible when it comes to pseudoscience and quackery. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it is surprisingly easy to tell quackery apart from real science.
This post was adapted from an article originally appearing on lifehacker.
Pseudoscience and quack claims are typically decorated with red flags, if you know what to look for. What follows is a list of six red flags—watch out for these types of claims, and you’ll be better suited to spot pseudoscience quackery from a mile away. In this post, we’re going to illustrate six red flags using some pseudoscience claims of yoga meditation, religion, and New Age movements.
Six Red Flags Of Pseudoscience Claims
1. Claims of Secret Knowledge – The so-called esoteric “sciences” like yoga, pranayama, or energy healing are almost always claims of secret knowledge available to the specially initiated. Typically, this secret knowledge is given to you through spiritual rites, mystical experience, or religious indoctrination. Real science is not secret.
2. “It’s All A Big Conspiracy” – The claim is that the scientific community, Big Pharma, Big Government, Big Corporations, and Big Religions are hiding the real truth from us. Vast conspiracies, encompassing doctors, scientists, and public health officials exist only in the minds of quacks. The people who make these conspiracy claims apparently have access to some “secret knowledge” kept from the rest of us.
3. False Flattery – Being “special”, chosen, or initiated into secret knowledge makes us feel, well…special, chosen, and “above” anyone else who is not. The exclusivity of many religious beliefs, gurus, and spiritual teachings apparently give us access to esoteric knowledge. To the initiated, to the graduates of esoterica, it’s flattering to think you may know more than others or are specially chosen.
4. Toxins Are The New Evil – Juice cleanses, detox diets, and colonics are purges. The pseudoscientific belief is we are surrounded by poisons that get into our systems. Trouble is toxins are invisible and all around us, like demons. Nevertheless, pseudoscience claims that toxins are released into our environment and our body by “evil” corporations, drug companies, or inorganic foods. But the real science says the chemicals responsible for most diseases are nicotine, alcohol, and opiates.
5. “Brilliant Heretic” as the Source of Information – Believers argue that science is transformed by brilliant heretics whose fabulous theories are initially rejected, but ultimately accepted as the new orthodoxy. Mystical revelations or pseudoscientific ideas dreamt up by mavericks are not “science” nor are they reliable sources of information. Revolutionary scientific ideas are not dreamed up; they are the inevitable result of massive, collaborative data collection, that gets tested over and over in labs to be either proven false and then discarded, or to be replicated and found true as a practical theory.
6. Using Esoteric Scientific Theories – Quacks love to dazzle followers with sciency language. They invoke esoteric scientific theories, like Quantum mechanics or atomic particles, for example. But these are incredibly difficult scientific disciplines, heavy on advanced math. If you don’t have a degree in either one, you aren’t qualified to pontificate on them.
When we don’t know to look for these six flags we easily fall prey to pseudoscience and sciency-sounding esoteric products or claims. Quack claims come at us daily, from many people and from many sources. For example, there’s 8,000+ Religion & Spirituality books on Amazon using “science” in the title.
There is a saying in science that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Quack claims are typically extraordinary, but quacks don’t offer evidence; they raise some or all of the six red flags, often in an attempt to trick you into buying what they are selling. When you see one of these red flags, you can be virtually certain that you are in the presence of bad science. – Amy Tuteur, MD
For the original article Six red flags you need to recognize to quack-proof yourself