Assignment 2 Demarcation of Science and Pseudo-science

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Assignment 2 - Demarcation of Science and Pseudo-science

Jesper Melin

Master program in Computer System Engineering
Daniel Boström

Master program in Computer System Engineering

Please give a short summary of all three articles [1-3] taken together as a discussion of the difference between science and pseudo-science in general, and particularly astrology as example pseudo-science.

The three articles are written in different ways, the first article [1] is a paper written in a typical scientific style and looks at science and pseudoscience on a high abstract level. He describes different demarcation properties that have been proposed by different groups or persons during the years, Vienna Circle, Popper and Kuhn just to mention a few.

The second article from Wikipedia narrows the demarcation problem even more and gives instead some examples of indicators, which have been proposed to indicate “poor scientific reasoning” (pseudoscience), e.g. lack of openness to testing by other experts, absence of progress etc.

The Astrotest is the last article and is less scientific than the first article, but is instead more hands on. It contains test results from different astrologers who tried to match different persons with their birthdays.

One property of real science is that it is repeatable, the outcome of two different tests should always be the same if the input and conditions are equal to the first experiment. In the Wikipedia article, one indicator of “poor scientific reasoning” is lack of openness and means that it is impossible to recreate the experiment with the same result due to lack of information.

Why is it important to distinguish science from non-science? Describe the problem of demarcation and its significance for science according to Sven Ove Hansson’s article [1]

Hansson mentions four different areas where it is important to distinguish science from pseudoscience: healthcare, expert testimony, environmental policies and science education.

When dealing with people’s life, like in healthcare, there must be some kind of proof that a treatment actually works. If a doctor is using pseudoscience for identifying what is wrong with a person, he could endanger that person’s health, since there is no scientific proof that the treatment actually works.

In school it is important that the students learn the truth about things, being protected from unreliable and disproved teachings. According to Hansson, notably promoters for creationism try to inject their “science” into the schools curricula.

We rely heavily on science as a source of knowledge; therefore we need to be able to tell the difference between scientific knowledge and its wannabes.

The core of the demarcation problem is that a lot of scientists have put together their own set of criteria in order to distinguish the border, but they fail to merge them into one that everyone agrees upon. For science it has been significant, without this discussion, many sciences would have been under the same roof, making it hard for people to separate what knowledge is trustworthy. Even if there is still a problem to make a precise line between science and pseudoscience, the discussion has helped to separate sciences, good from bad, real from pseudo.

What are the characteristics of pseudoscience according to [2]

One characteristic of pseudoscience is use of vague, exaggerated or untested claims. For example, definitions of variables and objects are done in a way so that only himself/herself understands and can make use of them.

Over-reliance on confirmation rather than refutation is another characteristic; for example, only presenting data that supports their studies, while not mentioning anything about data that does not. Also, if it is not proven false, it must be true is another example.

Lack of openness to testing by other experts is another way of characterizing pseudoscience. Pretty self-explaining, some authors don't submit their work to be evaluated independently by other experts in the specific field (peer review). Withholding information in order to prevent others from reproducing the same result is an example of lack of openness.

Absence of progress is when no additional evidence is presented of its original claim; an example of this is astrology which has barely changed over the years. As all humans, scientific researchers make mistakes, but they tend to be corrected over time. Work may be accused of being pseudoscience if it stays uncorrected even though later studies show evidence of mistakes.

Give a short account of astrotest [3] and its results.

Rob Nanninga is the author of the text “The Astrotest” and it tries to handle the question, how accurate can astrology really be? It turns out, that you really should not ask for help from the stars. Nanninga created a test for 50 different astrologers, the test included seven different persons’ birth information: place, birth date and birth time, but also information about their job, education, health, etc.

With this information, the mission for the astrologers was to try to match each birthday with a personality, by using their astrology skill. After 10 weeks, 44 astrologers had submitted their answers, and the result? Well, if they had used some kind of lottery machine or some random number generator, their results might have been better. Half of the participants managed to score 0 and the best one scored only 3 correct matches. The average number of hits was only 0.75 which is far away from hitting the score of seven (only correct matches). Many astrologers believed that they actually would score seven matches, but none did it.

Nanninga then sent the result from the test to all participants, 22 responded, some of them were surprised that they scored so low on the test and 16 responded that they “still believed that science can prove astrology right”.

Will it be even possible to test if astrology works? According to Nanninga, without a test that is designed in such a way, that both scientist and astrologers are satisfied, we will never know for sure.

What are your conclusions on science contra pseudo-science discussion?

Will we ever find a way to separate science and pseudoscience with words? Many people have tried to do this with words; some think you can separate them just by asking one question, that there is a thick line between them, right or wrong, yes or no. Others believe more requirements need to be fulfilled to classify a science as science or pseudoscience.

Today there is no defined line between these two, they both are interleaved. We both believe it is important to at least try to separate these two from each other.


Some fields are easy to place on the pseudoscience side, e.g. astrology since it fails time after time to prove that it is actually capably of predicting things.

Finally, it is an interesting subject and who knows, in the future we might regard some of the pseudosciences known today as real science and science as pseudoscience (the second one is more doubtful than the first one).


  1. Hansson, Sven Ove, "Science and Pseudo-Science", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),


  3. The Astrotest A tough match for astrologers (Rob Nanninga),

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