PARASCIENCE VERSUS PSEUDOSCIENCE 1998 William J. Beaty
> And how is parascience different from regular science, you don't have
> abide by the same laws of proof? either something is science or it
> isn't. Science is a method -- empiricism.
By your definition, "parascience" is science. However, science is also a
body of knowledge... and when any subject is thought to lie outside the
boundaries of *accepted* science, then either it's folly/delusion, or it's
real but yet unproven.
When a very new area is being explored, and when that area of study
CONTRADICTS the current thinking in contemporary science, then obviously
there's a big chance that the explorations will not pan out. The
researchers might be fooling themselves. Their findings may eventually
prove to be mistakes or delusions. Delusional science is "pseudoscience,"
correct? It has all the trappings of science, but its core findings are
not real, and those who pursue studies in that field are fooling
However, what do we call a field of study which is far outside the limits
of current theory, a study which APPEARS delusional at the moment, but
which eventually withstands the test of time and eventually is accepted
as valid science? We call it "Parascience!" Not-yet-a-science.
One example: in the early 1800's, the concensus of scientists of the time
held that there were no "rocks" in space. Therefore meteorites were
forbidden by theory, and any discoveries or observations of fallen,
iron-rich stones were dismissed out of hand. Everyone knew that they
were just worthless peasant superstitions. Back then, "Meteorites" were
in the same pseudoscience/parascience realm as the UFO abductions and Yeti
sightings of today. But in the long run we found that the opinion of the
scientific mainstream was terribly wrong: meteorites were not delusions.
Major museums which had pitched out their "pseudoscientific" meteorite
collections in the mid-1800s regretted their hasty actions.
Yet before the mass of scientific opinion shifted, was the study of
meteorites a type of pseudoscience? No, of course not. The rocks were
real, even though the scientific community desparaged their existence and
their study as being superstitous nonsense. Meteorites were kept outside
of the boundaries of scientific accepted facts. Meteorites were "parascience";
they were not-yet-legitimate science.
Another example: at the turn of the century, the creation of man-lifting
flying machines was known to be impossible using current technology. Dr. S.
Newcomb had proved this, and the scientific community regarded "flying
machine" inventors with distain. Therefore Langley and the Wright Brothers
were not practicing "science," since the feats they were attempting were
known to be impossible. Few scientists of the time would have looked upon
their efforts as having anything to do with legitimate science. Yet decades
proved that the concensus was wrong, and Aerodynamics was eventually
welcomed into the fold. So, in 1900, Aerodynamics was outside the
boundaries of sensible science, it was "parascience." Even in 1906, well
after the Wrights' success, flying machines were still being ridiculed by
American scientists, and the Wrights were "known" to be liars. On the other
hand, if the laws of nature had been slightly different, and if the Wrights
were just fooling themselves, then aircraft would still be impossible today,
and their work would currently be classed as folly, as "pseudoscience."
Therefore, if huge bipedal nonhuman primates really do occupy Oregon and
Washington forests, then those who study Sasquatch are "parascientists."
But if such creatures do not exist, then their study is "pseudoscience".
The same goes for various parts of Parapsychology, for Cold Fusion
research, Ball Lightning study, antigravity research (such as the infamous
Tampere experiment,) Graneau's "Amperian Electrodynamics," the pursuit of
"Zero-point energy machines," etc. If any of these prove to be valid
science in the long run, then at present they are "parascience." If they
fail the test of time, then even today they are "pseudoscience."
Obviously there is a problem here: rarely but occasionally the new fields
of study which once were widely regarded as "pseudoscience" will later
prove to be valid. Only in hindsight, only after a field has become
successful, does it APPEAR that the people of the time should have easily
seen this. Scientists who once regarded space travel and continental drift
with contempt will today appear to be narrowminded fools who prevented
progress. Scientists who disparaged Mesmerism and Phrenology appear to
be wise and insightful. Yet both groups made the mistake of leaping to
emotional judgement before examining enough evidence and before allowing
others to gather it. The true status of these new fields of study were
simply unknown early in the game.
It has been my experience that a large portion of contemporary scientists
hope to eliminate the unknown by applying the label "pseudoscience" to
anything which is outside of legitimate science. They also hope to steer
our attention away from serious past mistakes in labeling. While this
might quickly resign all pseudoscience to the waste can, it is also
guaranteed to eliminate all parascience.
If they lived long ago, these people would have sneered at reports of
meteorites and perhaps taken Skeptical action to force all science museums
to discard their "pseudoscientific" rock collections. They would have
attacked the Wright Brothers as being hoaxers or delusional, and would have
insisted that the Wrights be jailed for running an investment scam. They
would have tried to remove any number of wonderful discoveries from serious
consideration or chances for funding. I don't see their position as being
rational. It seems to be based upon an intolerance of new ideas and a fear
of being mistaken about prejudgement of unconventional ideas. History shows
that these actions have repeatedly stood in the way of advancement.
There's no need to belittle the new, untested, and strange-looking fields
of investigation. There is even a danger in doing so. If there is also a
danger that unwary people might mistake such a field as being part of
contemporary modern science, then we should loudly and clearly point out
its pre-scientific status. But until we know better, we can give these
field of study the benefit of the doubt by labeling them "parascience."
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