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.
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]. http://doi.org/10.1177/1053451216659466