What do we think is real science but is really junk science?

This threadprompted my question where the scientific validity of using partial fingerprints for postive IDs in criminal cases is being brought into question. I always thought this was accepted as hard science but apparently it’s never been rigorously tested scientifically. Most people (like me) just assumed it was so.

What are some other examples of this where we think something looks like science, smells like science and maybe even tastes like science but it’s not really “science”.

I would like to yell out about half the darn Psychology things out there now days, but doing so would likely get me smacked down awful fast. :slight_smile:

Psychology is just a stand in until Psychiatry tells us all. :slight_smile:

Much of the result of a scientific investigation is conjecture. Most of us remember that and are always prepared for new information to come along and change the picture.

I work in oil and gas exploration, attempting to discern locations for new wildcats. We take what data we can get and produce a picture. The process goes something like: we know this, and we also know about what’s got to be over here, so in between is probably like so, and then over here we also know we’ve got such-and-such, so this part could be like this, and then out here, well, something is obviously wrong with the data.

Gradually you sift through what is known and get comfortable with what data you feel you can rely upon. The most probable picture emerges, but you are always watching for a bust - some critical element that you know you don’t have controlled with hard data. Sometimes you elect to gather more data.

Eventually the final analysis is developed, and most of the time we’re pretty close. But we still drill dry holes.

After a few years of learning the ropes in exploration, I had the opportunity to listen in as my doctor, a specialist and a radiologist discussed my CAT scan. “Argued about” might be a better description of the goings on. They had a powerful tool at their disposal, but a human mind still had to interpret the data the method yielded.

Well, gee, I hope that all helps. If nobody’s mentioned 'em yet, polygraphs are prime examples of junk science in the mainstream.

This is actually the focus of a subject I am studying this semester: Scientific ‘irrationality’ that poses as ‘truth’.

For example, the ‘Placebo Effect’ (first proposed by a guy called Beecher in the 50’s) has been found to have been based on VERY dodgy experimental results (so dodgy as to be almost fraudulent!) Recent studies have cast some serious doubt as to whether it exists AT ALL, but conceding that it might it seems that the ‘effect’ is only of negligible importance and only with certain ailments (i.e. pain).

The point is, medico’s and scientists have always behaved, and CONTINUE TO BEHAVE as if the P.E. ‘threshold’ of 35% is orthodoxy.
Beechers results were never queried or challenged in the first instance despite the glaring inaccuracies in his method and findings. And despite the new evidence, it seems that in this case, science is subject to the same sorts of closed-mindedness that plague us lesser mortals

Actually, psychiatry is what came to mind the moment I saw the thread title.

Hmm… A lot of the public still holds Freuds theories as Real Science ™.

A lot of cosmology is still conjecture. I was quite suprised by Cecil’s recent article saying that we dont quite know what shape the mily way is and we are just making a guess at it.

Cosmology is a field of astronomy that deals with the overall structure and evolution of the universe. Studying individual galaxies isn’t part of it, that’s galactic astronomy. In any case, I don’t think either field is junk science. There may be a lot of unknowns but in my experience, astronomers (even cosmologists) are quite honest about what they do not understand. What’s the use in studying something if you understand it?

Handwriting analysis. Some employers actually use handwriting analysis on job applicants, not even realizing it’s no more accurate in identifying personality types than astrology or tea leaf reading.



I mean, surely they must be kidding.

Polygraph tests.

Isn’t body language and looking for other clues (facial expressions, nervous ticks, where the eyes look) that someone is lying similar?

I guess if you mean real science with rigorous tests and statistical analysis that say’s it’s absolutely true 95% of the time, this area ain’t it.

Many people really do follow typical patterns when lying, but they can all be faked or covered up by someone who knows what he’s doing. Hmmm, does the fact that a person can fake a behavior mean that the behavior means nothing coming from someone else???

Police and investigators will swear they can tell when you’re lying to them or being deceptive, but I’ve read that even the best government-type interogaters only had about a 50% success ratio when they were put through some actual scientific tests (using people who knew how to lie well I imagine).

Then again our systems and practices by no means need to be scientifically valid in order for us to use them and even be fairly succesful with them.

I do of course mean the method of old fashioned interogation as opposed to the polygraphs others have mentioned

The whole “Global Warming is caused by man made green house gas” is the biggest junk science story going these days as far as I am concerned. Regrettably no one questions this theory.

Somehow Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is still a theory while the “Global Warming is Mankind’s Fault” theory is accepted as fact. The Theory of Relativity has accurately predicted things like light bending in gravity well while the Green House gas people cannot predict the weather next week with any precision. Yet the Greens claim to be able to predict what will happen in 100 years.

What is really silly is that the same groups who are backing the “Man made Green House gas is causing Global Warming” theory are the same groups that claimed in the 1970’s that contrails from jets were causing a Global Cooling that would lead to an Ice age.


::Betting I get flamed on this one::

No flames, I’m a nice guy. But could I get a cite on this?


I mean, come on. A hundred years of detailed analysis, computer power up the wazoo, satellites, physics, logic, and observation… and they still don’t get any more reliable than “might rain today, but we could be wrong”.


Which could be considered as some sort of proof for sleestak´s questioning of the Global Warming theory. If we have problems predicting the weather the next few days we should question those who claim to know what will happen the next 100 years.

Hmm… most of my favorite semi-legitimate pseudo-sciences have gotten pretty much exposed – e.g. “recovered memory”.

Not a flame, but you do call attention to a common mistake in how we see science:
“Theory” and “Fact” are NOT progressively higher ranks in the scale of truth. They are separate things. A proven theory does not become promoted to “fact”. Sadly, the general public is under that mistaken impression (and that until there is 100% ironclad proof, even the theory that best explains the data can be dismissed)

That hardly anyone worries about Relativity, Quantum or Number Set theory being “theories”, while many laypeople will stake everything on having Anthropogenic Climate Change or Darwinist Natural Selection nailed down as being (or not being) “facts”, is a reflection of the degree to which the subject matter is perceived as influencing politics or economics. Hey, some pundits will scoff at X, Y, or Z economic “Theory” and say “the fact is the Free Market is what works”, not realizing that it IS an economic “theory” itself.

That doesn’t necessarily follow. For instance, it’d be hard to say if a stock market index will go up or down tomorrow, but looking at historical trends it’s pretty easy to predict it’ll be higher in 100 years. Don’t confuse the unpredictability of small-scale variance with large-scale trends.

And, shrew, what’s up with listing gynecology? How is that junk science? Actually, how is it science at all? I thought it was just a medical specialty.

I think shrew was kidding.