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I don't accept that Homeopathy is the precursor to Pharmacology. The roots of modern pharmacology lie in herbalism. Jollyfish.gifGenghisGum disease 07:36, 20 June 2008 (EDT)

Homeopathy is to Pharmacology what Astrology is to Astronomy. Homeopathy started the whole movement of distilling active ingredients in a solute and even the "provings" are proto-clinical trials. Of course, just like Alchemy, they made a number of really stupid errors, like thinking that the less of something there is in the solute, the more potent it gets (denying the dose response relationship), much like Alchemists thought that they could turn Lead into Gold. The difference was that unlike Alchemy that did not have a competing protoscience for Chemistry, Homeopathy was set opposed to the "modern" practical medicine of the day, which involved things far more dangerous than the actual disease the individual suffered from. Homeopathy seemed to work well when compared to practical medicine contemporaneous to its founding. Unfortunately, much like Astrology, and not like Alchemy, the ideas never burned themselves out, and even when Pharmacology was introduced which explained why dilutions work (when they're not entirely water, and still contain some of the active ingredient) Homeopathy refused to listen, and forged their own path, digging in their heals, and starting "turtling" as is said in Video Game parlance. Either way, "herbalism" is yes part of what grew into Pharmacology, and still even has some merits, it's not really even a "pseudoscience" let alone a science. It's built from anecdote, and personal experience, while Homeopathy is a learnable trade, with established sources and procedures. In many ways, "herbalism" led to Homeopathy, which then lead to proper Pharmacology. --Eira omtg! The Goat be praised. 14:38, 20 June 2008 (EDT)

Could we have some examples of these new "protosciences"?[edit]

I see we have a new edit which says:

  • "In a broader sense, however, modern theories can also fall under the term protoscience. If a field of study is consistent with existing science, but has not yet been tested rigorously by the scientific method, because it is still in its formative years, then that protoscience is to be distinguished from pseudoscience."

Could we have some examples of these new "protosciences" which are distinct from pseudoscience?--BobSpring is sprung! 21:20, 28 July 2010 (UTC)

Linguistics is a field between protoscience and "euscience" (I just coined that, so trademark). The reason why is that they use a lot of proper analysis, but it's still super infant. For instance, for a long time, they were willing to just completely ignore exceptions to Grimm's Law, but later, once they started actually doing more rigorous study, they discovered Vern's Law. So, while there is a lot of good science poured into it, there are still greatly adversarial groups of thoughts that each disclaim the other as even being possible. --Eira OMTG! The Goat be Praised. 21:51, 28 July 2010 (UTC)
I think it's a little too difficult to define a "protoscience" like that, especially before the fact. The point is that astrology and alchemy made observations that were useful to science and eventually "evolved" into entire branches. String theory is part of normal theoretical physics; just because it's not 100% accepted doesn't make it "protoscience". Quantum computing is quantum theory applied to cutting edge materials science. Ball lighting is just a phenomena that hasn't been explained yet, it's not going to create a new branch of science. AI is computer science. These aren't protoscience, they still operate under the scientific method and work like modern science. If, in the future, it turns out that ghosts are real, and suddenly we can do science experiments on ghosts, then mediumship will be a protoscience. If it is proven that there are gods out there, then classical theology will be a protoscience. Currently, these modern examples are just the applied cutting edges and fringes of perfectly real science. Scarlet A.pngnarchist 23:19, 28 July 2010 (UTC) has it as "a new science working to establish itself as legitimate science". If it follows the method and is based on the principles of science, even if it isn't widely accepted (yet), it's still legitimate. However, I'm a little weary of the rest of that definition because it completely ignores the more conventional definition with its historical context. However, it does cite memetics as an example, which I think is considerably more on the money than quantum computing as an example. But still, I'm not convinced you can call a protoscience a protoscience before it crosses a boundary into science - specifically because many of these more modern examples are much closer to science than any of the historical examples. Scarlet A.pngnarchist 23:27, 28 July 2010 (UTC)
My cognitive science lecturer always went on comparing cognitive science to alchemy, saying that it was still a developing and 'exciting' science. Should we add it? --Danfly (talk) 23:44, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

Reaction on objections to new definition[edit]

This definition of modern protoscience indeed is not without discussion (as any part of science philosophy). But even if you restrict your definition of science by the scientific method alone, I think the word "protoscience" still can have some meaning. The scientific method states that a theory or predicate which is not falsifiable, can not be scientific. But what about a theory or predicate that is falsifiable, but does not have empirical evidence supporting it? You can not call it scientific, for it has not been tested yet, but neither can you call it pseudoscientific, for it is falsifiable. Let's make it more concrete: put the case it's a theory which has it's origin in accepted science and does not contradict accepted science. But still, it's purely theoretic, for no (or not enough to be convincing) evidence is found for it yet. In this case I would not call it pseudoscientific for sure. In fact, I think the term protoscience was invented for this reason: that it is not black and white; that a theory that is not fully scientific, does not automatically have to be pseudoscientific.

If you would call such a theory "protoscientific", because you expect evidence for it in the future which will transform it in a new branch of science, one can protest that you do not know this for sure. However, you can include this into the definition: a protoscience does not have to become a legitimate science. It can run into a dead end and if it obviously does, it will become a pseudoscience if people stubbornly keep working on it.

About the examples of Artificial Intelligence, Ball lightning, Quantum computer and String theory. I think the objection you want to point out is that those are 1) parts of legitimate science and/or 2) are unlikely to become new branches in science, which makes them no good examples of protoscience (correct me if I am wrong). With objection 1) you sin against your own beliefs, for stating that string theory is scientific without having it checked by the scientific method is rather the same as saying that every theory which originates from a scientific area is scientific itself and therefore does not need to be checked anymore by the scientific method. In that way you can make of science an ancient authority no discussion must be made about. It might sound a bit caricatural, so I will get a bit more concrete. With the same sort of reasoning I would be justified to say that ball lightning is scientific, for there actually IS a scientific explanation for it, based on insights of plasma science. However, this explanation is tentative and has not been confirmed by experimental observation yet. But, for as far as I know, the same counts for string theory. On this moment it is purely theoretic and has no scientific proof. A typical feature of a protoscience is illustrated here: it is mostly theoretically developed and not enough empirically. I think this counts for the four examples I gave.

The second objection is a matter of how you define a "new branch of science". Is a new specialization already a new branch? Or does a new branch have to be independent in some way from it's "mother theory"? In my opinion, a new specialization is already enough to be called a new branch. Anyway the second definition is problematic, for what would does this "independent" mean? Is biochemistry independent from chemistry for example? I don't think so. Is it independent from biology? Neither. So is it part of both chemistry AND biology? Does not sound right. So, is artificial intelligence going to become an apart branch of science? From my point of view it already is. Is ball lightning likely to become an apart branch of science? It is possible, as it might be completely different in nature from normal plasma's in air. However, we can not know this and it is premature to claim so. According to me, this does not make a problem in calling it a protoscience already.Plasmageek (talk) 01:53, 29 July 2010 (UTC)

It's a very shoddy thing to use a phrase that has a particularly well defined historical concept and then not only reuse the word but conflate it wholly with what science does. This isn't particularly helpful from both the point of view of a working definition or an article on the subject. Protoscience in its normal sense works with the historical context because we can match up these massive, wholesale changes with the benefit of hindsight, we only see more gradual and blurred shifts in the present day, so we can't call any modern theory a "protoscience" in this sense because we can't see its evolutionary future. Indeed, evolution is a decent enough metaphor, ancestral species are only a separate species with this benefit of hindsight, seeing the entire history, because we can't see the future, we can't call humans "proto[insert some hypothetical future organism]" with enough conviction to make it meaningful.
Well, was not my idea. Just I saw protoscience to be defined in this way on every site and dictionary but this page. I guess it is better to be seen as a word with two meanings.Plasmageek (talk) 02:25, 29 July 2010 (UTC)
Also falsifiability is not the be-all and end-all of science, unless you happen to be on your knees in front of Karl Popper when he has a sadistic glint in his eye. There are plenty of psuedosciences that are falsifiable, alternative medicines for instance are easily falsified through controlled trials for instance. On the other hand, string theory currently isn't falsifiable because no experiment can prove or disprove it. It does have some convincing maths and it may indeed go somewhere one day but alternatively more evidence will fall on other quantum gravity theories. These are perhaps "prototheories" rather than protoscience, because protoscience is specificaly prior to science and its methodology - again something we can only tell with the hindsight to match. These examples are just science in action and gradually forming new areas for experts to develop. Scarlet A.pngnarchist 01:53, 29 July 2010 (UTC)
No I'm not a kneeling guy, just I had the idea as a newcomer that this whole rationalwiki site is sort of a devotion the all-we-have-left scientific method of Popper. My mistake :) But again, the way I understand protoscience is both "pre"-science, "in-between"-science and "after-without-going-to-be-"-science. Rather a solution philosophers wanted to make to solve the intuitively incorrect problem that a theory that wants to be part of science is automatically pseudoscience or science. It is hard to accept of some theories (or parts of theories) that they are pseudoscientific, while they definitely aren't scientific (yet) or vice versa. Maybe a better definition of protoscience would be: "any belief system or methodology which tries to gain legitimacy by wearing the trappings of science, but is not scientific or pseudoscientific." However, this is not the way it is defined in most literature, although I guess there is strongly the tendency. And ok, "proto" means "first" and would be incorrectly used in this latter definition, but I think that is more like a linguistic detail.Plasmageek (talk) 02:25, 29 July 2010 (UTC)
Alternative medicines are not falsifiable in practice. A scientific theory must be falsifiable both in theory and in practice. I don't see homeopaths accepting empirical studies rufuting their discipline. Rather, they make ad hoc excuses to justify the results. James343e (talk) 03:46, 2 March 2018 (UTC)

First examples, more are welcome[edit]

Hi there. Was searching some examples of those modern protosciences and best I could find were those:

I will add them, for they are the most obvious non-pseudoscience examples of very recent protoscience. Anyway, those are all examples of protoscience which are in the shifting process towards science as we speak. I believe there must be examples of protoscience which were created after the "invention" of the scientific method and which are since already transformed into new fields of proper science. I was not able to find any examples yet, so any help there is welcome.

Greetzzz — Unsigned, by: Plasmageek / talk / contribs 22:53, 28 July 2010 (UTC)

Are these potential actual sciences like chemistry or biology? I mean I doubt there is ever going to be a "ball lightningology". If the ideas turn out to be correct/useful/testable then won't they be subsumed into some existing science? They may be somewhat speculative - but are they protosciences?--BobSpring is sprung! 14:45, 29 July 2010 (UTC)
Plate Tectonics could have met the "current protoscience" definition prior to being validated. (It was fringe science, making extraordinary claims. It has since provided extraordinary evidence.) It has since been subsumed by Geology. --Eira OMTG! The Goat be Praised. 18:54, 29 July 2010 (UTC)
I think it's really extending the meaning of the term. There are obviously items which would come under the heading "presently unvalidated hypothesis". But that is not the same as calling them "protosciences". By the definition creep which I see here any hypothesis would be a "protoscience" until the scientific method has got round to accepting it. But we have quite a good word for "hypothesis" and that word is "hypothesis". --BobSpring is sprung! 19:32, 29 July 2010 (UTC)
I have to agree with Bob on the definition creep. Scarlet A.pngnarchist 19:37, 29 July 2010 (UTC)
I simply presented a reasonable argument. I'm fair with saying that it's definition creep. But then same-sex marriage is definition creep. The question is, is ok to use "protoscience" to describe "fringe hypotheses" that are not readily indicated by science? --Eira OMTG! The Goat be Praised. 19:58, 29 July 2010 (UTC)
I don't think it is, and here's another reason. A protoscience can only really be identified after is has become science. It can only be identified with hindsight. Calling it a protoscience presupposes that it will become science - something which we don't know at the time.--BobSpring is sprung! 20:20, 29 July 2010 (UTC)
We can confidently presuppose that a human child will develop into a human adult. So long as it is clear that they are actively testing the falsification of their theories, and discarding falsified theories, then it is clear that they are attempting to practice real science. I can easily admit that hindsight is the only deterministic way to levy the term "protoscience". --Eira OMTG! The Goat be Praised. 23:28, 29 July 2010 (UTC)
Well, you can't confidently say that, because they might die. And you can't tell what sort of adult they'll be - you could make an educated guess, of course. The analogy is fairly good, though. Can we not just keep the idiot proof historical definition? It's much easier, and doesn't lend itself to everything being called protoscience. Scarlet A.pngnarchist 00:06, 30 July 2010 (UTC)
Equally something might turn our to be pseudoscience. Presumably we'd then need to retroactively rename it a "protopseudoscience".
Anyway, which of these would be covered by the new definition: telepathy, cold fusion, dark matter, the higgs boson, aromatherapy, intelligent design, ESP, telekinesis? Some of these are obviously science in that they are being actively investigated - but the supporters of many of the others would certainly argue that their field: is consistent with existing science, but has not yet been tested rigorously by the scientific method. I think we should revert to the original.--BobSpring is sprung! 06:13, 30 July 2010 (UTC)
Anyway, from the viewpoint of actual, practical research (and I'm very big on relating to how things actually go down in a lab) that definition is meaningless. What does "rigorously tested" mean, anyway? Does this mean something that isn't one of those "fact-theories" like evolution, gravity, atomic theory and so on? Any field of research that isn't taught as a major branch at a simple, first school level would then be protoscience. Scarlet A.pngnarchist 13:47, 2 August 2010 (UTC)
I attempted to describe an area of study where there is still contentious and wildly hostile competing theories for the phenomena. As neither has falsified the other, and falsification of theories is early, and thus limited to all but the most absurd of theories, the area of study is then considered "protoscience". --Eira OMTG! The Goat be Praised. 21:22, 2 August 2010 (UTC)
First, I'd like to deemphasize testing, as some scientific theories can't be tested in a traditional sense. Example: ||Meteor killed the dinosaurs. Test, drop a giant meteor and see what dies and how. Response from ethics comity, "No! What? No!" ||And instead must rely on plausibility and whatever evidence there is.|| We should expect to find a giant crater indicating a meteor big enough to change world conditions in a way that would kill lots. We have found said crater.||| Similarly, dark matter is evidenced by light bending where it shouldn't as if something were asserting gravitational pull on it. Again, plausibility and evidence.
String theory, ball lightning, and AI are given as much scientific approach as possible and they rely on plausibility and whatever evidence is available. So, they do not qualify as protoscience, but perhaps as speculative science, as they cannot yet be verified through testing.
Protoscience can, however, be broken into two distinctions: Classical Protoscience: Prior to the existence of the scientific method.||| Contemporary Protoscience. Prior to that fields use of the scientific method.
Thus, alchemy is a classic example because it came prior to modern method. And psychology, though I love the field, had its early days steeped in protoscience because many psychologists didn't have models for examining human behavior. Freudian dream theory is a Contemporary Protoscience which was quite certain that dreams were a healthy channel for unhealthy desire and that people denied dreams would go bat shit crazy. However, dreams are our minds' interpretations of random electric surges and people denied dream sleep just fall into dream sleep quicker the next time they sleep. There wasn't current technology to falsify or verify Freud's dream theory, but this isn't what makes it protoscience. Instead, it is Freud's reliance on social constructs and current interpretations rather than plausibility and evidence that makes this protoscience. Now, we actually apply scientific methods to studying dreams. Thus, dream studies have graduated into science.
In short, we cannot label a current science field as (strictly) protoscience if it follows scientific method and skepticism as close as technology and evidence allows. We can, however, identify protoscientific aspects within fields, like Freud's dream theory, so long as it seems that the field of origin is geared towards and generally achieving scientific reasoning.
As for contemporary protoscienctific fields: You can speculate that some new age movements or metaphysical B.S. is protoscience if it's trying to take up scientific methods as its methods. This, unfortunately, is speculation. These studies may well lead to pseudoscience or a dead field. — Unsigned, by: / talk / contribs 15 January 2014 (UTC)

What about Phrenology?[edit]

I'm a little surprised that none have suggested it. While properly claiming that the mind is controlled by activity in specific areas of the head, it failed by claiming that superficial marks and bumps on your head were responsible/insightful to the current state of mind. It's current form could easily be argued as modern neuroscience. --JabberwockDownTheHole (talk) 23:41, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

For a protoscience it has to lead to something that is real and accepted now. In the case of phrenology, it's all bollocks. Scarlet A.pngnarchist 23:45, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

Not bollocks. Anthropology makes many valid conclusions regarding the mental advances of prehuman ancestors based on skull shape and size. For example, Neanderthals had significant forebrain growth since their predecessor and Cro-Magnons continued with this trend. Forebrains are responsible for long term planning and, I believe, self-censorship. Phineas Gage, for example, became an irresponsible (lack of planning) dick (no self-censorship) after a metal rod blasted through his forebrain. Greater forebrains lead to more complex social structures and better planning, thus the Neanderthals had technology, but it was mostly stagnant, and were capable of some social structures whereas the Cro-Magnons made constant advances in tools and art and had complex tribal structures.

So, no phrenology wasn't right in predicting criminality by skull divots. However, skull shape has gone on to be used to help determine behavior and mentality of species. So, many of its base premisses turned out to be bollocks, but the underlying motivation (understanding and predicting behavior) and its approach (using skull shape) are now parts of real science. -Source 12 awesome hours in Biological Anthropology — Unsigned, by: / talk / contribs 08:18, 15 January 2014 (UTC)

What about applied fields proven as protoscience? (astrology, alchemy, demonology)[edit]

I have friends who believe in alchemy (strangling them is illegal, and teaching takes time) and astrology (see previous parenthetical). What do we call these modern practices of Classical Protoscience? They don't pretend to adhere to scientific method, so they're not pseudoscience. They don't feel like protoscience because they're respective evolution has come and advanced. Yet, their belief structures have developed since their protoscience days, so they're not not even holdovers. What do we call these postprotoscience things? No, B.S. is not an acceptable academic term. — Unsigned, by: / talk / contribs 09:28, 15 January 2014 (UTC)

Religion? Frederick♠♣♥♦ 02:08, 16 January 2014 (UTC)
Would this include economics?--Bob"I think you'll find it's more complicated than that." 07:25, 16 January 2014 (UTC)
The boundaries between 'protoscience, pseudoscience and science' can at times be fluid, and can depend in part upon the intention, method and motivation. Alchemy as a form of chemistry set for adults may be a creative subject, and plate tectonics would, in its earlier years have been regarded as a pseudoscience etc. (talk) 15:39, 24 June 2015 (UTC)
I don't really consider it fluid. Plate tectonics would be protoscience when it was proposed, then when it was confirmed with evidence it was science. Alchemy is pseudoscience because every test to confirm if it's real in the last several centuries has resulted in evidence leading to other conclusions. Protosicence isn't really a belief, it's waiting for evidence, pseudoscience is a belief because it isn't right but people still accept it as true. -EmeraldCityWanderer (talk) 16:35, 24 June 2015 (UTC)

Alchemy is #now pseudoscience# - but was 'the system that was used' ... and what would 'the concept of habitable Venus (before satellites showed the true situation' be? There is a need for a term to cover 'what was considered good science (or equivalent term of the time) at the time but which has been overtaken by the advance of knowledge.' (talk) 17:57, 18 August 2015 (UTC)


There was no clear cut and dried changeover between 'the pre-science descriptions and practices (astrology, herbalism etc) and the modern 'scientific' era, but a long period of overlap.

The history of science is littered with cutting edge new technology and areas of scientific research that was abandoned/considered of no importance etc) - phlogiston, spiritualism cold fusion ...)

Perhaps the distinction should be between proto-science and 'speculative science' (with a separate category for non-science-pursuits using science language.

Is astronomy post-astrology or astrology pre-astronomy? Anna Livia (talk) 16:54, 2 March 2018 (UTC)