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Philosophy of Pseudoscience

Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem

What sets the practice of rigorously tested, sound science apart from pseudoscience? In this volume, the contributors seek to answer this question, known to philosophers of science as “the demarcation problem.” This issue has a long history in philosophy, stretching as far back as the early twentieth century and the work of Karl Popper. But by the late 1980s, scholars in the field began to treat the demarcation problem as impossible to solve and futile to ponder. However, the essays that Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry have assembled in this volume make a rousing case for the unequivocal importance of reflecting on the separation between pseudoscience and sound science.
            Moreover, the demarcation problem is not a purely theoretical dilemma of mere academic interest: it affects parents’ decisions to vaccinate children and governments’ willingness to adopt policies that prevent climate change. Pseudoscience often mimics science, using the superficial language and trappings of actual scientific research to seem more respectable. Even a well-informed public can be taken in by such questionable theories dressed up as science. Pseudoscientific beliefs compete with sound science on the health pages of newspapers for media coverage and in laboratories for research funding. Now more than ever the ability to separate genuine scientific findings from spurious ones is vital, and The Philosophy of Pseudoscience provides ground for philosophers, sociologists, historians, and laypeople to make decisions about what science is or isn’t.  

480 pages | 1 halftone, 2 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Biological Sciences: Behavioral Biology, Biology--Systematics, Evolutionary Biology

History of Science


“The problem of demarcation—distinguishing credible science from pseudoscience—is a crucial one, but one that has generally been neglected in recent philosophy of science. It is the issue that underlies such topical debates as that between evolutionists and creationists or intelligent design theorists, for example. This volume does a great service by bringing an impressive range of leading philosophers of science from a wide variety of perspectives to reconsider the issue. It is much to be hoped that its publication will spark a revival of interest in this vital issue.” 

John Dupre | University of Exeter

Philosophy of Pseudoscience is a remarkable contribution to one of the most vexing problems in science: the ‘demarcation’ problem, or how to distinguish science from nonscience. The well-designed diversity of topics and the collective breadth of knowledge of the authors make this book the most comprehensive and authoritative treatise on a majority of the traditional and current demarcation issues. . . . You have a jewel in your hands.” 

Francisco J. Ayala | University of California, Irvine

"A manual to overcome our natural cognitive biases."

Corriere della Sera (Italy)

“If the philosophical problem of demarcating science from pseudoscience has a stale reputation, this book is a revitalizing gust of fresh air. Philosophers Pigliucci and Boudry assemble 23 essays that challenge Larry Laudan’s famous 1983 proclamation of the demarcation problem’s demise. Renewed attention to the philosophical questions that pseudoscience raises mirrors an uptick in interest in pseudoscience among historians, as exemplified by Michael Gordin’s The Pseudoscience Wars. Complementing such work, these essays bring focused attention to the practice and historical development of science. . . . A superb introduction to foundational questions that every philosophy student should confront. . . . Accessibly written . . . intellectually adventurous. . . . Essential.”

J. D. Martin, University of Minnesota | Choice

“In Gary Larson’s cartoon ‘Scientist Hell,’ a smirking devil ushers an apprehensive man (beard, spectacles, white lab coat) into a room of nattering enthusiasts. The sign on the door reads, ‘Psychics, Astrologists & Mediums Eternal Discussion Group.’ If a similar room awaits philosophers, the present volume might come in handy.”

Martin Curd, Purdue University | Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

Table of Contents

Introduction Why the Demarcation Problem Matters
Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry

Part I What’s the Problem with the Demarcation Problem?

1. The Demarcation Problem: A (Belated) Response to Laudan
Massimo Pigliucci

2. Science and Pseudoscience: How to Demarcate after the (Alleged) Demise of the Demarcation Problem?
Martin Mahner

3. Toward a Demarcation of Science from Pseudoscience
James Ladyman

4. Defining Pseudoscience and Science
Sven Ove Hansson

5. Loki’s Wager and Laudan’s Error: On Genuine and Territorial Demarcation
Maarten Boudry

Part II History and Sociology of Pseudoscience

6. The Problem of Demarcation: History and Future
Thomas Nickles

7. Science, Pseudoscience, and Science Falsely So-Called
Daniel P. Thurs and Ronald L. Numbers

8. Paranormalism and Pseudoscience as Deviance
Erich Goode

9. Belief Buddies versus Critical Communities: The Social Organization of Pseudoscience
Noretta Koertge

Part III The Borderlands between Science and Pseudoscience

10. Science and the Messy, Uncontrollable World of Nature
Carol E. Cleland and Sheralee Brindell

11. Science and Pseudoscience: The Difference in Practice and the Difference It Makes
Michael Shermer

12. Evolution: From Pseudoscience to Popular Science, from Popular Science to Professional Science
Michael Ruse

Part IV Science and the Supernatural

13. Is a Science of the Supernatural Possible?
Evan Fales

14. Navigating the Landscape between Science and Religious Pseudoscience: Can Hume Help?
Barbara Forrest

Part V True Believers and Their Tactics

15. Argumentation and Pseudoscience: The Case for an Ethics of Argumentation
Jean Paul Van Bendegem

16. Why Alternative Medicine Can Be Scientifically Evaluated: Countering the Evasions of Pseudoscience
Jesper Jerkert

17. Pseudoscience: The Case of Freud’s Sexual Etiology of the Neuroses
Frank Cioffi

18. The Holocaust Denier’s Playbook and the Tobacco Smokescreen: Common Threads in the Thinking and Tactics of Denialists and Pseudoscientists
Donald Prothero

Part VI The Cognitive Roots of Pseudoscience

19. Evolved to Be Irrational? Evolutionary and Cognitive Foundations of Pseudosciences
Stefaan Blancke and Johan De Smedt

20. Werewolves in Scientists’ Clothing: Understanding Pseudoscientific Cognition
Konrad Talmont-Kaminski

21. The Salem Region: Two Mindsets about Science
John S. Wilkins

22. Pseudoscience and Idiosyncratic Theories of Rational Belief
Nicholas Shackel

23. Agentive Thinking and Illusions of Understanding
Filip Buekens


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