The Science Corner: Debunking Pseudoscience

The Science Corner: Debunking Pseudoscience - Mental Health @ Home

With bachelor’s degrees in pharmacy and nursing, as well as a master’s in psychiatric nursing, I’ve spent a lot of time in school.  I have a strong science background and I know how to read and understand a research paper.

All of that combined means I have a finely tuned bullshit-detector.  Debunking pseudoscience makes my mind do a happy dance, and I invite you along for the ride!  I also like to tackle misinformation around public health issues.

Hallmarks of Pseudoscience

Hallmarks of pseudoscience
  • Starting with a belief, and then working back from there
  • Broad statements about what something does, but no scientifically sound mechanism is described
  • Explanations based on quantum physics coming from people with no physics background
  • Energies and energy flows are described without any actual evidence of their existence
  • “Natural” is used as synonymous with “good”
  • While science takes an “until you prove it, it doesn’t exist” approach, pseudoscience takes the approach that “it exists until you can prove it doesn’t”

How to Spot Pseudoscience talks more about how to fine-tune your BS radar.

Debunking Pseudoscience

  • Astrology: Is it scientifically accurate – does the positioning of constellations that exist only from the earth’s frame of reference have any bearing on our lives?
  • Chakras: the New Age gets a lot more literal with an ancient spiritual concept
  • Dopamine Fasting: there’s actually no such thing as literally fasting from dopamine
Do thoughts vibrate? What the law of attraction and science have to say
  • Essential Oils: yes, they’re lovely, but do they have medicinal properties, or are they just a placebo??

Health conditions & practices

  • Chiropractic: lying beneath the better-known aspects of management of back pain are some perhaps surprisingly quacky origins
  • Detoxes/Cleanses: do you actually need them, or can the body do the job just finr on its own?
  • Homeopathy: why is the Canadian government funding an international aid group using homeopathy, when the principles of homeopathy go against science?
Is natural always better? Stylized image of bodies and plant stalk
  • “Natural” health products – you hear it all the time, natural, natural, natural… but does it actually mean anything, and is it automatically good for you?
  • Reiki: are there actually energy fields that can be manipulated with the hands?

Public Health

COVID-19

Coronavirus COVID-19

Vaccines and immunity

  • Anti-vaxxers aren’t just harming their own kids; they’re also putting some of the most vulnerable people at risk by depriving them of the Herd immunity they rely on.
  • Vaccines and autism: The link that doesn’t exist talks about how, despite the discrediting of the doctor who first proposed this link and abundant research to the contrary, anti-vaxxers and vaccine-hesitant parents alike persist in the belief that vaccines cause autism.

Media, Research, & Scientific Literacy

There are good sources of information out there, and there is crap.  Literacy comes into play in distinguishing the good from the crap.

  • Can you believe statistics? – We’re presented with statistics all the time, but often more information is needed to actually evaluate what they mean
diagram of the scientific method as an ongoing process
Whatiguana, Wikimedia Commons