Tag Archives: fallacies

 Examining Gravitational Claims Through Shermer

Michael Shermer (2002) outlines 25 fallacies of thought that can influence how investigators approach their research and interpret the outcomes. These fallacies can be used to help us to understand where the data ends and the human factor begins. With new claims challenging the scope and breadth of Einstein’s general and special theories of relativity, it would be appropriate to examine these claims with a couple of Shermer’s fallacies.

The furtherance of cosmology and astrophysics is heavily reliant on our understanding of gravity, as it plays an integral role in the movements of and relationships between celestial bodies. As of this writing, it is the revolutionary theories of Newton and Einstein that guide the sciences. Though these theories do well to explain gravity within our solar system, as technological growth enables us to study more of the cosmos, we find that the matter distribution throughout the universe becomes problematic to the accepted theory. This has been referred to as the “missing mass problem” (Skordis, 2009, p. 2). To answer this problem, researchers have adopted and tested gravitational theories which build on Newton’s and Einstein’s theories. Unfortunately for these researchers, the scientific community is skeptical about any claims aimed at possibly discrediting the long-held conventions of gravitational theory, especially in light of the scientific growth that has resulted over the years. This creates a scientific controversy which will eventually be settled by continuing to form and adapt theories and testing their mettle against the scrutiny of scientists (Herstein, 2009).

Claims need to be accepted as valid or significant before the scientific community will consider them as competitive with current science. Certainly, there is no time to argue against every claim made, so only those claims that have the characteristics of good science should be entertained. This is where Shermer’s fallacies can be of value. Shermer attempts to provide a tool with which to measure the inadequacies of research and researcher. With his fallacies of thought, he attempts to reveal the pseudo-science among the good science. Two of his fallacies are useful to measure the claims against Einstein.

“Theory influences observations” (Shermer, 2002, p. 46). This truism certainly impacts astronomical and cosmological research. The study of universal gravity is difficult because we observe the effects from Earth. It is impossible to directly study the gravity of planets and stars from here. We must form theories and use calculations to approximate and legitimize our observations. These calculations must, then, have predictive value. If not, the theory is not valid (or, has limitations). With the distance from our subjects, we are forced to speculate about the observations, limited by our understanding of the physics involved.

“Equipment constructs results” (Shermer, 2002, p. 47). This statement has probably never been more true. We are truly limited by our location, as mentioned previously, and rely on remote data collection when studying the universe. To add, we are studying effects throughout time. Given two separate sets of data collected at the same time, the actual events observed could have a difference in age of millions of years. The distances of the various bodies are directly proportional to the age of the observation. This creates unique issues that we have never had to face studying our own solar system, as the differences, locally, are only hours at most.

It is important for scientists to consider all of the viable options when reaching a consensus, but it is just as important that the scientific community does not become overburdened by a multitude of spurious claims resulting from flawed, misguided, and unfounded research. Shermer (2002) provides an apparatus to immediately identify suspect logic.


Herstein, G. (2009, July 23). What does a real scientific controversy look like? [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.scientificblogging.com/inquiry_inquiry/ what_does_real_scientific_controversy_look

Shermer, M. (2002). Why people believe weird things. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Skordis, C. (2009, March 21). The Tensor-Vector-Scalar theory and its cosmology. Manuscript submitted for publication. Retrieved from http://arxiv.org/abs/0903.3602

Examples of Pseudoscientific Claims on the Internet

The advent of the internet gives rise to the proliferation of information. At first glance, this is a great medium of our time. The unfortunate truth is that there is a less-than-desirable side to the internet. One of the main achievements of the internet is the ability of everyone to publish their own ideas or collections of others ideas on websites. Sometimes, these websites do not portray the truth of the matter. Using standards set forth by Shermer (2002), I will examine two websites, which make extraordinary claims, for clues to the validity of their claims, or lack thereof. Though, the websites mentioned herein were specifically chosen as pseudoscientific, I will search for the modicum of truth that is sure to be inherent in all claims of this nature.

Paul Ingraham, a registered massage therapist in Vancouver, Canada, claims that stretching prior to exercise is all but useless (n.d.). For $14.95, he will show you why. In his web-based article, formatted to appear as a peer-reviewed and published manuscript, Ingraham starts by citing an article in the same commercial magazine that pays him for submissions. Below this are two quotes from reader feedback. This is hardly scientific reference. The article moves on to cover the subject material in the authors words while continuing to cite “plentiful research” (para. 6), of which many conclude limited findings, and “evidence” (para. 7), which he immediately qualifies as “at least a really convincing physiological rationale” (para. 7).

Shermer’s (2002) fallacies can be used to identify this website as less credible than the author intends. Shermer’s first fallacy, “theory influences observation” (p. 46) is an obvious consideration. Ingraham is a massage therapist and his view is certainly biased by his occupation. A quick glance at the provided reference list will show a collection of literature selected to support Ingraham’s (n.d.) claim. Shermer’s fourth fallacy, “anecdotes do not make a science” (p. 48), can be applied as Ingraham uses anecdotes throughout his article to support his claim. Finally, the whole format of Ingraham’s self-published article, suggesting that his work was peer-reviewed and published in an academic journal, brings to light Shermer’s fifth fallacy, “scientific language does not make a science” (p. 49). With three of Shermer’s 25 fallacies shown to be pertinent considerations, Ingraham must be viewed with skepticism at the very least.

A website published by the Discovery Institute, Center for Science and Culture (n.d.), makes the claim that the year 2012 marks the end of the world, at least as we know it. This website uses strong language and bold statements throughout. This would certainly be an application of Shermer’s (2002) sixth fallacy, “bold statements do not make claims true” (p. 49). Additionally, this website uses references to religions and philosophies, tying them with coincidental occurrences throughout time as a means of justification for the claim. This alone creates skepticism using almost all of Shermer’s fallacies of thought.

Can stretching be detrimental to the athlete? Might there be better ways to prepare for strenuous activities? Certainly. It is unfortunate that this author does not take the time to do appropriate research. Further, it could be stated that his representation of the facts is fraudulent. Although he may have some standing in his claim, he does a disservice to himself by the methods he employs to make a convincing argument (Ingraham, n.d.).

The same cannot be said for the 2012 prophecies (Discovery Institute, Center for Science and Culture, n.d.). These prophecies lack proof until the prophecies are fulfilled. There are just no scientific means available to observe and study this prophecy as it has yet to occur, and though science may be able to explain whatever catastrophe might happen that day, the prophecy itself is beyond the realm of science.


Discovery Institute, Center for Science and Culture. (n.d.). Explaining the science of Intelligent Design. Retrieved from http://www.intelligentdesign.org/

Kehne, J. (2006). December 21 2012, The official Website for 122112 Information. Retrieved October 10, 2009, from http://www.december212012.com/

Shermer, M. (2002). Why people believe weird things. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Ingraham, P. (n.d.). Stretching for trigger points. Retrieved from http://saveyourself.ca/articles/stretching-for-tps.php