Pathological science

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Not to be confused with the medical field of pathologyWikipedia.

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.

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 and some forms of woo such as homeopathy (though this is usually closer to tooth fairy science or cargo cult science).

A key difference between pathological science and other forms of pseudoscience is that in pathological the belief system did not pre-date initial experiments. Blondlot did not go looking for N-rays because be 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. 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, neither is there any science in the normal meaning. For these examples, the term "pseudoscience" is descriptive.

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

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Park, Robert (2000). Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860443-2.