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Once again on scientific method – this time comparing it to pseudoscientific method. Used by those who wish to promote their scams relying on the deserved reputation of science – but not its methodology. Guy Chapman calls this the Scamtific method in a post at his blog Guy Chapman’s Blahg (see The Scamtific Method(s)).

As he points out:

Most people are aware of the scientific method, thought by many to be the crowning achievement of the human race. Respect for scientists is not what it was, something the world of SCAM both reinforces and abuses (’scientists don’t know everything, this might not be nonsense, therefore they have no right to criticise it’ and variants thereof), but the scientific method is held in high regard even by those who distrust the white labcoat, because it so obviously works.  . . .”

” . . . We live today in the age of Endarkenment, when fraudsters, hucksters, delusional quacks and charlatans of every kind seek to undermine science and medicine — ironically capitalising on the success of the very field they attack. But they still want the trappings of the scientific method. So they use what I would term the Scamtific method.”

The scamtific method

“The scamtific method says, I have an idea, I conduct a test to confirm that idea. I can ignore results that do not confirm it. I do not have to prove the merit of my idea, anyone who wants to challenge it must prove it wrong. My idea is considered equal to scientific ideas because to do otherwise would be disrespectful. You may not demand that I prove my case. Ideas are strengthened by the credentials (bogus or otherwise) of those who support them. Any idea must be given the benefit of the doubt, even if the doubt is manufactured; it remains true until proven false to the satisfaction of the proponent.

The scamtific method is, of course, guaranteed to result in confirmation bias. Indeed, cognitive dissonance will make any other result highly improbable. It’s also perfect for policy based evidence making.”

He contrast this with the scientific method as he describes it:

“The scientific method says, I have an idea, let me think of an honest test that would disprove my idea if it were wrong. If the idea passes the honest test then the idea is strengthened. Other people can also test my idea. If even one test convincingly refutes the idea then it is wrong. Where there is ambiguity or doubt, the idea is not proven. If it is not possible to devise a test that would prove the idea wrong, then the idea is a theory not a fact. A theory is strengthened by the number of tests and other work that support it. Gravity is a theory, as is evolutionary biology. Phlogiston was a theory but was refuted. The corpuscle theory of light, believed by Newton, was also wrong albeit with some interesting side-orders of partially right. Nobody’s idea is taken on trust. Einstein said that the universe was deterministic and not probabilistic (’God does not play dice’). He was wrong.”

Guy mentions areas like homoeopathy as ones that practice scamtific methods. But it’s obviously much wider than that – I am sure you can think of your own examples.