Article on Fallacious and Pseudoscientific Thought Worth a Read

Definitely worth a read.

Definitely worth a read.

I subscribe to several saved-search, citation, and table-of-contents alerts, and through these, I learn of 10-20 newly-published scholarly articles each week that match my research interests. Of these, I generally select four or five to print out and read. Every few months or so, one of the articles I read stands out as exemplary and memorable. Here is one such article.

The article is entitled, “Evaluating Claims to Avoid Pseudoscientific and Unproven Practices in Special Education.” The sole author is Dr. Jason C. Travers of the University of Kansas. The article stands out for its description of the problem of pseudoscience in the context of contemporary scholarly publishing, for its clear prose, and for the applicability of the article’s findings beyond the author’s own field of special education.

The fact that the article cites me is pretty nice also.

Predatory publishers have drawn renewed attention to published pseudoscience. Those wanting to publish junk science have found predatory open-access journals happy to take their money and publish their rubbish science as if it were authentic.

A table from the article that compares science and pseudoscience.

A table from the article that compares science and pseudoscience.

Here’s a short selection from the article:

A main feature of pseudoscience is its emphasis on seeking support for an already-held belief, usually through low-grade forms of evidence (e.g., testimonials, anecdotes, coincidences). In other words, pseudoscience tends to focus on confirming what is already believed. Conversely, science requires suspension of belief in a claim until sufficient evidence is available.

Pseudoscience typically is associated with grandiose claims that are not supported by evidence or, in some cases, in direct opposition with evidence. Science is conservative and therefore more likely to result in gradual changes that are informed by the collection of facts. Whereas science values open-mindedness and results in changes in belief based on new evidence, pseudoscience typically is dogmatic in the face of new evidence. Promoters of pseudoscientific interventions typically use convoluted language and borrow jargon to appear more credible (e.g., “brain-based learning”), but scientists use precise terminology with explicit procedures conducive to verification by independent researchers. And while scientists seek out and value criticism from their peers, pseudoscientists view critics as adversaries and often work alone.

Reading the article reminded me of the following:

  • Scientific conclusions may be unpopular, yet science values integrity and truth, even when prevailing opinion disagrees. Science should not be democratized.
  • Attention metrics in scholarly publishing are undermining science. Anyone with internet access can increase the altmetrics of a pseudoscience article, increasing its popularity, a new proxy for impact.
  • Science’s gatekeeping and quality control function, peer review, is more essential than ever. It’s imperfect, but there are no viable alternatives.

Travers’ article provides a useful overview of fallacious and pseudoscientific thought in science and how to recognize and avoid it.

Appendix: The article’s current citation:

Travers, Jason C. (2016). Evaluating claims to avoid pseudoscientific and unproven practices in special education. Intervention in School and Clinic. [In press].

11 Responses to Article on Fallacious and Pseudoscientific Thought Worth a Read

  1. wkdawson says:

    I agree that this is the main problem in OA; that it probably is easier publish pseudoscience in an author-pays business model.

    Nevertheless, I recall many years ago arguing with some crank peddling his “scientific proof of god” nonsense. His paper was eventually published in some obscure subscription journal.

    So, the thing is, you cannot stop crack pots and cranks from publishing things entirely, even if the world was subscription based. Peer review is very important. Most of all though, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) is and always has been the name of the game.

  2. Jaro Franta says:

    Apparently in some places avoiding pseudoscientific practices is far less important than just plain “dissent”.
    Some of this even got out on Wikipedia….

  3. The Philosopher says:

    Dear Beall

    would you please check about this “” Thank You

    • It used to be on my list. Then they switched their publishing model from OA to subscription, and I removed it from the list. I think very few if any libraries subscribe to their journals, so most stuff published there is not accessible to most.

  4. Thank you Dr. Beall for the attention to and kind compliments about my article. The demarcation problem has been a topic of scientific philosophy since the ancient Greeks, and drawing clear lines between science and pseudoscience is difficult. Although the contrasted features I present arguably have practical value, philosophers of science may take issue with this simplistic depiction. That said, there are countless examples of pseudoscientific and unproven methods and strategies beings used in schools across the country. School administrators and teachers need tools to easily sort what works from the barrage of nonsense emanating from self-proclaimed education gurus who, despite the best of intentions, very often do not know what they are talking about (see, for example, the decades-long championing of facilitated communication by faculty at Syracuse University).

    The exploitation of professional educators and schoolchildren is magnate for quacks and charlatans who rake in tens (of not hundreds) of millions of dollars every year. This matter is deserving of our full attention for moral, ethical, and scientific reasons. I look forward to any conversation on pseudoscience generally and/or its various manifestations in schools.

    Dr. Beall, thank you for your work to maintain the integrity of science.

    Jason Travers
    University of Kansas

  5. Researcher says:

    Thank you for highlighting this article. I assist with a graduate research class focusing on EPB (although in a different field) and this article is something we’ll incorporate into the class, as lots of students and professionals in the field seem to think that just because there’s been no research on something, it’s just as valid an intervention as something with lots of research supporting it.

  6. reem says:

    dear dr.
    please could you tell me about this publisher : Libertas Academica is it include in your list?
    best regards

  7. alberfkani says:

    Dear Dr. Beall

    would you please check about this publisher MDPI which have many journals

    the link below:

    • Yes, I have checked this publisher before. Many people ask me about it. They find it fishy.
      This publisher was on my list for a little under two years. It is not on my list now. Still, I would recommend you find a stronger publisher for your work.

  8. Tom Spears, Ottawa Citizen says:

    I enjoy the predatory journal’s claim to “brain-based learning.” I’d never heard that phrase before but it certainly sounds more sensible than the elbow-based kind.

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