Scientific Cannons and Pseudo Science Activity

Scientific Cannons and Pseudo Science Activity
Experimental Psychology (PSYC/CHLD 3404)

Objectives: Following this activity, students will be able to identify and describe the four cannons of the scientific method, and distinguish

between pseudoscientific and scientific claims.

Part 1: Cannons of Science
Review the four cannons of science by defining the terms using your textbook.

Parsimony

Determinism

Testability

Empiricism

Part 2: Distinguishing Science from Pseudoscience
Pseudoscience is sometimes passed off as real science in the news media. People want consumers to buy their products and they may use “science” to

entice you to buy their products. Oftentimes, the “science” they claim backs their product isn’t science at all. It may include components that are

scientific in nature (e.g., testability) but the product or service may still lack scientific support. This kind of “science” is called

pseudoscience or junk science.

An example of a pseudoscientific claim is “healing” rocks. At many new age stores there are rocks that are purported to help heal illness or

alleviate pain. The idea of healing rocks is scientific in nature because the cannons of science can be applied to the claim. That is, one could

test the hypothesis that rocks heal (testability) by systematically observing (empiricism) people.

Empiricism: One could randomly assign ill participants to a healing rock versus control/placebo condition whereby healing rocks are used or not used

by sick people. Then one could systematically observe symptoms in those with or without the healing rocks.

The claim about healing rocks is deterministic because it suggests that the rocks cause people to feel better. Finally, one could argue that healing

rocks are a parsimonious explanation for the alleviation of symptoms over time in sick people (although a better explanation could be advanced, such

as placebo effects or the natural progression of most colds and flu symptoms).

Thus, using the cannons of science one could argue that healing rocks are scientific. However, because there is no evidence that healing rocks work

(there are no tests or systematically observed outcomes) this is probably junk science/pseudoscience.

Instructions: Below there a number of claims that are scientific or not so scientific (pseudo-science). Read each claim and decide whether or not

the claim describes science or pseudo-science (junk science), and provide a rationale for your decision using at least one of the four cannons of

science. Then, decide what evidence or information would help you decide whether or not the claim is scientific or based on pseudoscience. That is,

if evidence could be provided about the claim, what type of evidence would help you determine its scientific merit? In the example above, the

evidence that would help us determine the scientific merit of healing rocks is a study comparing the symptoms reported by sick people who used

healing rocks compared to sick people who didn’t use healing rocks.

A. Parents who are afraid that their children are developing slowly are happy to hear about brain gym—a new program based on kinesiology

(movement therapy) that can bring about dramatic improvements in areas such as: concentration and focus, memory, academics, physical coordination,

relationships, self-responsibility, organizational skills and attitude. The basic idea is that movement can massage brain regions to improve

circulation and thinking skills. The studies that support brain gym show that students who join the program seem to do better over time. In other

words, researchers observed children and found that they had improved. .

1. Is this science or pseudoscience/junk science?

2. Use at least one of the four cannons of science to justify or support your decision in #1.

3. What additional evidence or information would help you make an affirmative decision about whether the claim is science or pseudoscience/junk

science?

B. Climate change refers to any significant change in measures of climate lasting for an extended period. As through much of its history, the

Earth’s climate is changing. Right now it is getting warmer. Most of the warming in recent decades is very likely the result of human activities

(IPCC, 2007). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) State of the Climate Reportand the National Aeronautics and Space

Administration’s (NASA) Surface Temperature Analysis indicate the average temperature of the Earth’s surface has increased by about 1.2 to 1.4ºF

since 1900. Other aspects of the climate are also changing such as precipitation patterns and storminess. The Earth does go through natural cycles

of warming and cooling, caused by factors such as changes in the sun or volcanic activity. This has been closely examined, and the warming we have

seen in the past 50 years cannot be explained by natural factors alone.The warming we are observing is consistent with the warming properties of

carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases that we are adding to the atmosphere.

1. Is this science or pseudoscience/junk science?

2. Use at least one of the four cannons of science to justify or support your decision in #1

3. What additional evidence or information would help you make an affirmative decision about whether the claim is science or pseudoscience/junk

science?

C. Juicing is a natural way to stay healthy, look young, say trim and feel great. Juice has natural healing power and active enzymes that allow

the vital energy in the body to be shifted from digestion to other body functions such as repair or rejuvenation. Juicing flushes the body of toxins

and it works because of the high concentration of vitamins and minerals in fresh fruit. The enzymes in fruit are the critical agent that help your

body and mind feel great!

1. Is this science or pseudoscience/junk science?

2. Use at least one of the four cannons of science to justify or support your decision in #1

3. What additional evidence or information would help you make an affirmative decision about whether the claim is science or pseudoscience/junk

science?

Part 3. How to distinguish between science and pseudoscience
What are a few things (choose 3 at least), in general, that can be said about pseudo scientific claims versus scientific ones?

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