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Pathological science

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Not to be confused with the medical field of pathology.Wikipedia

Pathological science is "the science of things that aren't so", a form of intellectual black hole where the holder of an idea cleaves to that idea despite mounting evidence to the contrary. They will conduct experiments using pseudoscientific methods, seeking to confirm rather than test their hypothesis.[1]

Probably the most commonly cited example of pathological science is the cold fusion advocacy movement, a walled garden of researchers with their own journals which they peer review and circulate among themselves, their own conferences, and apparently their own physics. Other examples include n-rays, polywater,Wikipedia and some forms of woo such as homeopathy (though this is usually closer to tooth fairy science or cargo cult science).[2][3]

A key difference between pathological science and other forms of pseudoscience is that in pathological science, the belief system did not pre-date initial experiments. Blondlot did not go looking for N-rays because he believed such things existed, he saw some odd results and tried to explain them. The pathology set in when his explanation was increasingly devoid of evidence to support it, yet Blondlot refused to accept this.[1] The pathology required him to make ever-more bizarre explanations of how it worked, eventually violating well-known laws of physics to do so.

In contrast, homoeopathy existed before anyone attempted to do experiments to prove it. Those experiments started with the assumption it existed and demonstrated to their satisfaction that it did. In these cases, there is no developing pathology, nor is there any science in the normal meaning. For these examples, the term "pseudoscience" is descriptive.

The term was coined by Irving LangmuirWikipedia[1] and is notably discussed by Robert L. Park in his book Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud.[4]

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Langmuir's talk on Pathological Science (December 18, 1953). cs.princeton,edu, June 2002.
  2. Bart Simon, Undead Science: Science Studies and the Afterlife of Cold Fusion. Rutgers University Press, 2002. ISBN 0813531543
  3. Thomas F. Gieryn, Cultural Boundaries of Science: Credibility on the Line. University of Chicago Press, 1999. ISBN 0226292622
  4. Robert Park, Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud. Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0198604432