At Friday’s Carl Sagan Fest, philosopher Massimo Pigliucci addressed the age old question of what distinguishes science from pseudoscience. Instinctively, most of us tend to recognize many practices such as astrology, numerology and intelligent design as pseudoscience, but other practices are more difficult to diagnose.
In their day, phrenology, Marxist theories of history and Freudian psychoanalysis were considered rigorous science, but not anymore. Today, the controversy continues over fields such as string theory, evolutionary psychology and others. Philosophers have long struggled over this “demarcation problem” and offered many answers. This question has important practical consequences as well since we need to build public policy around the funding and teaching of science.
What criteria, if any, distinguish science from pseudoscience?
When should we abandon particular scientific theories, or entire scientific disciplines as pseudoscience?
What are the social and political consequences of where we draw the line between science and pseudoscience?