By. Dr. G.A.Sprauve
The pursuit of healthy living often uncovers vast bodies of alternative knowledge. Many of these culturally based systems lend themselves to deep exploration. The process can be a sinuous, highly informative journey. When a system of knowledge fails to possess a “scientific foundation”, it classifies as Pseudo Scientific. A Pseudoscience has a deficiency of demarcation; and therefore cannot prove itself as falsifiable. What really is a pseudo science though, and why do systems categorized as such often suffer disregard?
By definition, a pseudoscience is a body of knowledge not scientifically provable. It does not yield reproducible, measurable results validated by an unknown third party. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the problem of Demarcation is distinguishing between science and non-science. There have been attempts to delineate exactly what makes a science a science. In the 1950’s, famous scholars such as Dr. Karl Popper sought to establish this criterion for demarcation.
Dr. Popper’s recommendations were: 1) the topic cannot be based on faith. Faith Based concepts carried the potential of being constructed on beliefs without personal experience or proof. 2) The claim should be able to be disproved via testing using logical, predictive consequences. Psychoanalysis and the Adlerian holistic approach of individual psychology were examples of pseudo sciences using these criteria.
The Greek word Pseudo means false. The term Pseudoscience often engenders a negative connotation. To qualify something as a science, scientific parameters are used. Many disciplines however have a spiritually based, sometimes unknown component; and do not meet these standards for evaluation. How does one compare an apple to orange using only apple criteria? As simplistic as this sounds, this is a fundamental debate concerning the use of the term pseudoscience. Some concepts previously classified as “pseudo” now have status as being scientific. These changes are possible due to updated classification systems in various fields of science. Arguments against falsifiability find support in these instances. The inherent merit of something and the inability to scientifically disprove it are not mutually exclusive concepts.
Certain bodies of knowledge are extensive and existed before modern classification systems. They are however, regarded by today’s standards as pseudoscientific. Their modern prevalence and purported efficacy does not lend default credence to these disciplines. Some specific examples are Acupuncture, Reflexology, Homeopathy, Kinesiology, Ayurveda, Naturopathy, and Reiki.
This leaves the question, have we become too evidence based as a society? Are we eagerly dismissing many ancient forms of wisdom passed on by oral traditions? Some of these arts pre-dated our modern scientific era yet are stored on the shelves of mainstream use in parts of the Western world. On the contrary, some of these disciplines are mainstream in other parts of the world.
In the healthcare industry, one example is the use of energy medicine in the Eastern and Western worlds. Energy Medicine using theories such as those defined in traditional Chinese Medicine is taught and well-regarded in Eastern cultures to this day. In the Western world, energy medicine outside of techniques such as magnetic imaging, music therapies, and light therapies have not quite found a place of great stature in the healthcare process.
The requirement to preserve public welfare is what creates the need to distinguish proven methods from unproven methods. This avenue of thinking is unarguably quite noble, but still leaves room for error. Our natural existence and the explanation of life itself are not verifiable per se. Is life (whatever it is) a pseudoscientific concept? Our modern day perception has led us to dismiss anecdotal evidence and centuries worth of unexplained beneficial claims of healing. Some consumers may argue that dismissing the knowledge these disciplines preserve may seem safer; but may also be preventing alternative forms of healing from being widely accessible.
Terminology can potentially be expansive or prohibitive. Words may not present a solution to these discrepancies of thought, but they may help create an environment of receptivity. A more frequent use of the term “Protoscience” versus pseudo science might help to honor the past, while leaving the doors of the future wide open. This term at least leaves room for expansion of thought, without wholly negating things we may not fully understand – and maybe never will.
Dr. Sprauve’s career spans 30 years in the private and public sectors of the healthcare industry. She is a board certified, surgically trained specialist; currently residing in British Columbia, Canada.