7 Warning Signs of Bogus Science

Slashdot has a link to an article listing 7 warning signs of bogus science.


How effective do you think this article and/or these warning signs are for debunking some of the garbage spewed around here as well as in the media and general public.

Are people with a blind faith (in anything) ever likely to be swayed?

I believe people with an open mind can eventually, when presented with evidence, be convinced that some things are simply not true no matter how much you want them to be.

Other people however I’m afraid have such a blind and unbending faith in superstition that they can never be convinced otherwise.


DISCLAIMER: I would like to point out that I am not talking about Religion. Religion is IMHO a matter of belief in that most people make NO CLAIM that there Religion can suspend the fundemental laws of physics (at least not on a regular basis save the odd miracle or two. :smiley: )

I would say the author has come up with seven pretty valid tests for pseudoscience, which we might call the Park List. All are pretty common traits of pseudoscientific claims.

Just to make it easier on everyone, and I assume I’m not violating fair use rules by just citing the basic list, the Park List for testing pseudoscientific claims is:

  1. Is the discoverer pitching the claim directly to the public/media, rather than through peer review or formal thesis?

  2. Is the discoverer making the claim that powerful industries/governments/lobby groups, or “Western” or “mainstream” science, are trying to suppress the discovery?

  3. Is the evidence of the discovery at the very limits of detection or statistical analysis?

  4. Is the evidence of the discovery anecdotal?

  5. Is the discoverer appealing to popularity by claiming the discovery is valid because it’s a belief that has endured for centuries? (e.g. folk wisdom)

  6. Has the discoverer worked in isolation?

  7. Does the discoverer need to propose new laws of nature to explain his discovery?

The more Yes answers you get, the likelier it is that it’s junk science.

I think it would be wholly ineffective, it isn’t an essay entitled “Seven Ways To Debunk Bogus Science” but “The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science”. It’s a very readable essay, but isn’t going to help you persuade anyone of anything.

I can’t agree AT ALL with your reasoning behind this “disclaimer”: “most people make NO CLAIM that their Religion can suspend the fundamental laws of physics,” er, like life after death, for instance?

I’m certain I’ve seen something like this list before, maybe in connection with Randi…

I’m having the same thought.

Carl Sagan includes a “Baloney Detection Kit” in his book The Demon-Haunted World which is much along the same lines. Perhaps that’s what Mangetout and 2trew are thinking of.

That’s the one!

Read the last part of my post in parenthesis.

This is the second Robert Park thread, but the other only has the OP, so I’m posting here.


I get it tossed into my inbox every week, and it’s always good. His other book, Voodoo Science, is also good.

Thank you RickJay for the synopsis cut-and-paste, but I have a problem with this one:

Doesnt this apply to discoveries made by Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein and that guy working on String Theory?

Yes, but those are laws that are derived from observation, not made up to support a pre-meditated conclusion. In all cases, the laws discovered by Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, etc can be derived by another person making similar observations.

There’s a difference between DISCOVERING new laws of nature within the bounds of legitimate science and simply assuming ad hoc that new laws must exist in order for the Fabulous Laundry Ball to work.

If you were a contemporary of Newton, it would have been wise to be skeptical of his claims when he first published them. Other scientists were. The claims were verified by other researchers as time went on, though, which is the acid test. It’s no insult to a scientist to say, “I’m skeptical of your work.” You should be skeptical; that’s what a good scientist expects. 6, 7, & 3 could all be characteristics of legitmate research, but they’re also warning flags.

I don’t think any single one of these is a dead giveaway that the science is bogus, but if you’re dealing with pseudoscience, you’ll find that they usually appear in clusters.

If a ratio or number of victims is a neat round number, it was likely plucked from thin air. Raise one eyebrow and back away.

Long before either Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit or, the other recentish parallel, John Baez’s Crackpot Index was the list Irving Langmuir proposed as part of his 1953 talk on pathological science.



If you look at it from the time when these great geniuses were alive, Their theories were considered bogus science.

Copernicus was ostracized and laughed at for suggesting the Earth revolved around the Sun not the other way around because he had to make up new laws to explain it.

Galileo was excommunicated and forbidden to publish his works because it violated the current thinking.

Newton was such a mean but brilliant person that everyone just took his work for it because no one knew exactly what he was talking about. He practically re-invented the natural laws.

and Einstein proved Newton’s laws did not control or predict quantum dynamics. Relativuty was another re-invention of the laws of reality.

I agree with Podkayne that these new discoveries need to be verified and reverified but we cant just say that because the current laws of physics doesnt apply or explain a new discovery, it automatically means its bogus. The current laws of physics doesnt explain anything past the event horizon of a black hole. A reinvention of quantum mechanics is definitely in order once we explore one.

  1. This list is a guideline of warning flags, not a declaration.
  2. Good science that discovers new laws will be presented as “here’s this new law I think is true, and here’s some consequences of it, and look, they’re true!”. Junk science will assume the new law, gloss over it, and move onto their incredible discovery.

No one ever said that those people’s discoveries were not recieved with skepticism. I was merely pointing out that all of their theories can be confirmed through observation by independant parties. Obviously this process takes some time. (Especially if you’re going up against stupid powerful institutions like the RCC of Galileo’s time.) Kooks, frauds and loonies can not provide this type of proof.

Life after death is not a violation of the “laws” of physics. Physics has nothing to say on the subject. There are no experiments to do that will verify or deny its existance, so LAD remains an open question.

Spirituality is not something that science has “disproved”.

On the one hand, I don’t reckon that these “warning signs” are really appropriate to use in confronting pseudoscientific claims, since they fail to directly address the claims themselves. As Mr. Park himself points out, whether a claim meets these criteria has nothing to do with its validity. As a result, I’m disturbed that the list was apparently designed to help federal judges evaluate scientific testimony. As I see it, this is encouraging reliance on fallacious arguments, really no different than suggesting that someone is untrustworthy because they “dress funny.”

And yet…I have to admit that I use these sorts of rules myself on occasion to determine whether it’s worth my time to read up on the latest “breakthrough.” I would even propose an additional rule in the same vein:

Is the discoverer making grandiose, all-encompassing claims about the significance of the discovery?

I call this one the Rule of the Final Chapter, since I often observe it at work in various books that purport to document some new “paradigm shift” (a red flag phrase in itself). To get a rough estimate of the kook level of the claim in question, I simply flip to the last chapter and check out how far afield of the original subject matter it is. The authors of these sorts of books generally want to present themselves as having arrived at a reasonable, objective conclusion via the classic scientific method. As a result, the first few chapters of the book are rather staid. However, the certainty that their discovery will surely overthrow the oppressive scientific establishment tends to get the better of them after a while, and the claims become increasingly hyperbolic. By the final chapter, the discovery is unveiled as the herald of a new age, the gateway to a more holistic future where hunger and strife are abolished, etc, etc. The most extreme cases will inevitably get around to mentioning either Psychic Powers, the Aliens, or both.