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Pseudoscience and Scam: use fakery, discourage science, bend facts, disguise beliefs as scientific theories

Updated on August 24, 2013


What does Scam and Pseudoscience have in common? Both takes advantage of "human nature", by using various techniques to convince you something is true when it is not.

Pseudo-science is basically bending science, for ideological gains, by selectively accepting and discrediting data.

In real science, scientific method is used.

Scam is basically bending facts, for financial gains, by selectively accepting and discrediting data.

However, let us first compare and contrast scientific method vs. pseudo-science method.


Science vs. Pseudoscience

You have some events that needs to be explained. What do you do?

Scientific Method:

  • create a theory that seem to explain the events
  • devise an experiment that can verify the theory or deny it
  • perform the experiment, perhaps multiple times, and gather data
  • analyze the data. Either it proves or denies the theory
  • refine the theory and try again

Pseudo-science Method:

  • create a theory that seem to explain the events
  • ignore any new data that doesn't prove your side
  • cite any data that DO prove your side
  • your theory is proven! Hurray! THE END

Or in other words: scientific method offers a STARTING point to learning. Pseudo-science method is the END to learning.

So what happens when new data surface that doesn't fit the theory?

Scientific Method

  • contradictory data found
  • verify data is valid (perhaps by repeating the experiment)
  • revised theory is formed to account for new data
  • start from beginning (new experiment and all that)

Pseudo-Scientific Method

  • Ignore the contradictory data. They must be flawed
  • The data's fine? It can be repeated? The experimenter must be flawed.
  • The experimenter are prestigious and beyond reproach? It must be a conspiracy
  • It's not a conspiracy? You can't convince me of that! I saw it on the Internet!

Yes, I was being a bit snarky with that last comment, but you may be surprised about how much craziness are out there in the Internet.

Plato and Royal Library of Alexandria

Royal Library of Alexandria was believe to have opened in the reign of Soter, whose reign was 323 BC to 283 BC. It may have been during Soter's successor. So the earliest it can be was 323 BC.

Plato died in 347 BC, over 20 years before Royal Library of Alexander was built.

Opinion vs. Data

Some may ask... But isn't "pseudo-science" just a "label" used to slander the opposition?

Not at all, because FACT and LOGIC, all fact and logic, are more valid than opinion, and pseudo-science ignore fact and logic in favor of opinion.

Here's an example using history instead of science, but the principle is the same. (It's Pseudo-history)

Let's say, someone is spreading the view that Plato actually stole most of his material from Library of Alexandria. That would be an opinion / theory. Is there any proof?

If that someone then can prove Plato had traveled to Alexandria (Plato's own writing that claimed so, perhaps?), that would be a direct proof. Otherwise, perhaps copies of manuscripts from the Library of Alexandria could be found in Greece and dated to the right period? That'd be circumstantial evidence. Or perhaps similarities between the writings can prove some sort of circumstantial link. So on and so on.

However, archaeology and history shows that Plato died before Royal Library of Alexandria was built. So the view above is not only merely an opinion, but it is physically impossible. It'd be about as valid as the opinion that "Sun rises from the west".

And lest you think I made that up, that nobody can be stupid enough to claim Plato stole material from a library that wasn't built after his death, think again. Some Afro-centrists, i.e. some scholars who believe that African Culture is the best, and all the other cultures are actually derived from African culture, certainly believe so. And many of these folks actually get professorships and even tenure, by spreading such disproved theories, and write books about them. And universities employ them, for the sake of "diversity", but that is for some other article.

Opinions have no value in science or history, except to serve as starting point to further learning. Or in other words, science requires proof, by turning opinions into questions, and find answers to that question. Pseudo-science, on the other hand, got it backwards. They got the answer already (the opinion), and go looking for the data to prove their opinion. And pseudo-science will blame conspiracy and/or side-step to avoid being pinned.

First, let us illustrate the how pseudo-science tries to discredit real science.

Autism Science vs. Pseudo-Autism Science

Everybody knows the autism "epidemic", right? Center for Disease Control (US) claims 1 child in 110 will be autistic, whereas a hundred years ago the chance is 1 child in 10000! What can explain this epidemic?

Theory: The childhood vaccine for various epidemics, like MPR tri-vaccine, and others, that may trigger/cause autism.

Scientific Method: let's gather some data and see if there's any correlation between vaccine and autism,

Pseudo-Scientific Method: My autistic child is proof! It happened right after he got the vaccine!

Scientific Method: but data doesn't support that hypothesis. Just because one followed the other does not prove co-relation....

Pseudo-Scientific Method: Famous doctor said so! The Lancet published his research so it must be reputable!

Scientific Method: The "famous doctor", Andrew Wakefield was censured by British Medical Panel, and Lancet retracted the paper, citing ethical violations and utter falsehood in the paper itself.

Pseudo-Scientific Method: It's a conspiracy! The pharmaceutical companies are behind the whole thing! It's a smear campaign!

Scientific Method: Pharmaceutical companies makes much more money from drugs, which is taken weekly or daily. Vaccine you need like a few times in a lifetime. If they rig anything they'd rig the drugs, not vaccines.

Pseudo-Scientific Method: then explain why they'd put POISON in the vaccines, such as thimerasol, which is made of MERCURY, a poison!

Scientific Method: thimerasol only have a TRACE amount of mercury. You get more mercury from eating a can of tuna than from all vaccines in your life combined. Also, thimerasol was banned from vaccines in 1999. There was no drop in autism after 1999. So there is no proven link between thimerasol and autism.

Pseudo-Scientific Method: Then it's the combination of vaccines that causes the problem!

Scientific method: we've gathered data in countries that administer them separately. No difference in autism rates. No correlation.

Pseudo-scientific Method: You are a part of conspiracy! I don't have to listen to you!

Scientific Method: Arrgh! *throws hands up in exasperated manner and walks away*

Scam and Pseudo-Science

Scam is an economic crime. Economy, like history and science, deal with facts, logic, and math, not opinions, and thus, have no place for scam, which can be described as pseudo-economy, in a certain sense.

Scam operates by disguising one or more of the three variables you evaluate to determine whether the action is beneficial to you or not: cost, risk, and value (reward). When challenged by skeptics that the variable values are not what they are supposed to be, the scam defenders employ the same tactics as used by the pseudo-science folks: use logical fallacies, false celebrity endorsements, and if all else fails, blame it all on a conspiracy.

Skeptics vs. Scam Defenders

When a scam is challenged by skeptics and critics, the defenders of the scam often use the same tactics as the pseudo-science folks. Following is a theoretical exchange, based on actual comments posted by members, though name of company is changed. For actual comments, see my other hub.

Theory: XYZ is a legitimate business around the world, with opportunity to make $10000 a week!

Skeptic: But the XYZ compensation plan says you get $10000 for just recruiting people. That's a pyramid scheme.

XYZ Defender: XYZ is not a pyramid scheme! It paid my friend and my brother!

Skeptic: But paying your friend and your brother is irrelevant. A pyramid will pay people on top and pay until no more people join up.

XYZ Defender: <gives partial / bogus definition of pyramid> and XYZ is not that!

Skeptic: The definition you cited is bogus and partial! Use a real definition used by the government!

XYZ Defender: Famous celebrities endorsed the company! Those quotes say so! "Best investment I've made!"

Skeptic: All those quotes were referring to the entire industry, not this particular company!

XYZ Defender: You just don't understand us. Why can't you accept a new marketing methodology do come along every once in a while?

Skeptic: Pyramid scheme is new? It's been around for well over a hundred years! XYZ claims to be network marketing, and not even network marketing is new! Besides, its own FAQ says "you don't need to sell any products". How can it be network marketing if you don't sell anything? What are you marketing?

XYZ Defender: we do sell something! We sell a travel club membership with real benefits: a 7-day 6-night trip for 2 and access to travel deals! $250 is a fair price to pay for lifetime access to that!

Skeptic: The 7-day 6-night trip is impossible to redeem and now costs extra $150 in "processing fees and taxes", and all participating hotels announced are in a single country somewhere in Asia! And the trip expires in 1 year even if you don't use it! The travel deals are available for free on the Internet via a famous travel portal! Thus, the travel club membership you paid $250 for is worthless! Yet the company promises that you can make money by selling membership by becoming a member and hand over $250! That is a pyramid scheme!

XYZ Defender: You are part of a conspiracy to keep us poor people poor! You're trying to keep us from better lives! I don't have to listen to you!

Skeptic: Arrgh! *throws hands up in exasperated manner and walks away*

How a Scam is like Pseudo-Science

Both scam defenders and pseudo-science have their mind made up, and is NOT really interested in new data. Any new data that fits their view is automatically accepted without verification. Any new data that does NOT fit their view is automatically discredited, even if they have to invent a conspiracy to explain it.

Both scam defenders and pseudo-science use logical fallacies to "prove" things. As an example:

Autism-pseudo-science folks think

1) My child got vaccinated
2) My child developed autism
3) Vaccination causes autism

however, this is false causation: Just because 2) occurred after 1) does not necessarily mean 2) is CAUSED by 1). It could be coincidence unless you can PROVE a causal relationship.

Similarly, a scam defender think

1) XYZ paid some people
2) A scam would not pay people
3) XYZ is not scam

however, this is false dilemma. They try to prove that a scam would NOT pay people, but pyramid scheme can pay a small group of people, and pyramid scheme is still a scam.
These are known as logical fallacies. The logic presented, A and B therefore C is false. (For other scam tactics, see my other hub)

Both scam defenders and pseudo-science use "celebrity" endorsements that doesn't really mean anything

The autism pseudo-science folks have Jenny McCarthy and her pediatrician as their chief celebrity. One pediatrician that had done little to no research on the subject, and wasn't even an autism specialist. Their mascot, Andrew Wakefield, the doctor whose paper in the Lancet got the whole thing started, was proven to be a fraud.

The scam defenders point to misleading chopped quotes from celebrities that doesn't even refer to the company as "endorsements".

Both scam defenders and pseudo-science use faulty or fake evidence to "prove" their stance

Autism pseudo-science used the thimerasol "based on mercury" bit to do fear-mongering

Scam defender had been documented redefining "pyramid scheme" to 'prove' they are not a pyramid scheme

Both scam defenders and pseudo-science shift their position sideways when evidence is overwhelming.

Autism pseudo-science shifts from one thing to another: it's the thimerasol, it's the triple combination, it's the vaccine itself...

Scam defender shifts from "network marketing" to "travel club" explanation

Both scam defenders and pseudo-science ignore the overwhelming amount of data against their existing "stance". Everything can be explained by the conspiracy, even when it makes no sense at all.

There are various other commonalities as well.


The danger of pseudoscience is more than just 'superstition'. When pseudoscience is allowed to displace real science just due to media attention, there will be real suffering and death.

In South Africa, the a local foundation told AIDS patients to take vitamins and avoid anti-viral drugs (calling them "toxic") and may have contributed to deaths of hundreds of thousands. When challenged, they claim "free speech" rights. South African courts have to issue a formal ban order against this group, which includes a former advisor to President Mbeki. 

Candace Newmaker was suffocated and crushed by "womb therapy" for her alleged psychological problems. Womb therapy was completely unscientific and is generally regarded as pseudo-science.

In US in 2010, there was an epidemic of whooping cough, leading to several deaths. Doctors blamed parents who refused to vaccinate their child for the spread of this disease. Those parents believe that vaccination is dangerous to their child based on things they read on the Internet.

Several African countries refused to accept improved seeds for planting to relieve their famine problems because Greenpeace claimed the improved seeds grow food that are unsafe to eat. God knows how many died from that.

Scams use the same techniques as pseudoscience to convince you to put in money. The various scammers work by concealing information, lie, and attack their critics in order to perpetuate the scam.

Everybody remember Bernard "Bernie" Madoff? He had his programmers generate random trade transaction logs to look as if he is doing something. (falsify evidence) He told his clients that the investment methods were "too complicated to explain". (You don't understand us) The critics of Madoff were ignored. And TENS OF BILLIONS of dollars were lost in his gigantic Ponzi scheme.

Study the evidence, keep an open mind, and reach your own conclusions. Do not let pseudo-science methods influence your thinking.


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