Tag Archives: pseudoscience

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


Many times, throughout the history of science, pseudosciences have been found to have some underlying correlation. Further directed study turns what was one pseudoscience into real science. An example of this is aspirin.

The basic form of aspirin, salicin, “was used for centuries earlier [than 460 B.C.] in European folk medicine” (Gibson, n.d., para. 2) in the form of willow leaves and bark to treat pain and swelling. This practice continued over the centuries until:

“According to “From A Miracle Drug” written by Sophie Jourdier for the Royal Society of Chemistry: ‘It was not long before the active ingredient in willow bark was isolated; in 1828, Johann Buchner, professor of pharmacy at the University of Munich, isolated a tiny amount of bitter tasting yellow, needle-like crystals, which he called salicin.'” (“History of Aspirin”, n.d., para. 4)

For the next 75 years, proto-aspirin was developed into what is now commonly referred to as aspirin (acetylsalicilic acid), and though aspirin is commonly prescribed for all sorts of pain, there is no medical research done at this time to show that aspirin has any more impact other than reducing pain. Not until 1988 was there much research showing the benefits of aspirin to treat heart attack victims (Fuster, Dyken, Vokonas, & Hennekens, 1993; Mosca, 2008), though it was commonly prescribed for reducing the associated pain. It is now generally understood in the medical community that aspirin serves a vital purpose in limiting prostiglandin production, thereby limiting the effect of clotting in the coronary arteries (Fuster et al., 1993). Essentially, aspirin helps to stop a heart attack from getting worse.

Aspirin has undergone a transformation from the pseudoscience of folk medicine to a valued addition in the general pharmacopeia for the treatment of heart attacks. Consider the difference between aspirin for heart health and the claims of acai berry for weight loss. There has been recent discussion about the health effects of acai berry which has prompted researchers to analyze the nutritional composition of the berry (Schauss et al., 2006). Though the discussion has nothing related to weight loss, some have made the claim that acai is useful for this purpose and cite research that does not further this claim. This is detrimental to the furtherance of acai as a significant source of nutrition and possible medicinal role for improving age-related cognition deficits (Willis, Shukitt-Hale, Joseph, 2009).


Fuster, V., Dyken, M. L., Vokonas, P. S., & Hennekens, C. (1993). Aspirin as a therapeutic agent in cardiovascular disease. Special Writing Group. Circulation, 87, 659-675.

Gibson, A. C. (n.d.). Oh willow, don’t weep. Economic Botany. Retrieved from http://www.botgard.ucla.edu/html/botanytextbooks/economicbotany/index.html

Mosca, L. (2008). Aspirin chemoprevention: One size does not fit all. Circulation, 117, 2844-2846.

History of Aspirin. (n.d.). About.Com: Inventors. Retrieved from http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blaspirin.htm

Schauss, A. G., Wu, X., Prior, R. L., Ou, B., Patel, D., Huang, D., & Kababick, J. P. (2006). Phytochemical and nutrient composition of the freeze-dried Amazonian palm berry, Euterpe oleraceae Mart. (acai). J. Agric. Food Chem., 54, 8598−8603

Willis, L. M., Shukitt-Hale, B., Joseph, J. A. (2009). Recent advances in berry supplementation and age-related cognitive decline. [Special commentary][Abstract]. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 12(1), 91-94. Abstract retrieved from http://www.currentopinion.com/pt/re/co/abstract.00075197-200901000-00016.htm

Weird Science:

The Study of Unconventional Topics

Unconventional science, or fringe science, is the study of science which goes against accepted theory and, arguably, should be viewed with skepticism to ensure the lack of pseudo-science (de Jager, 1990, pp. 35-36). Research in fringe science has undoubtedly provided the greatest technological jumps that society has benefited from. Human flight, magnetic levitation, the microprocessor, and electricity were all considered fringe science, even pseudo-science, at one time. Now, they are commonly accepted. Some of today’s fringe science topics involve teleportation, time travel, free energy, cold fusion, artificial intelligence, and cloaking.

For a scientist, a whole career can be jeopardized by choosing a field of study that is looked upon with disdain by the contemporary scientific community. A scientist must truly be passionate about their work in order to survive through this. Only the lucky few will ever see their work produce meaningful results. It is for this reason that it is important to distinguish fringe science from pseudo-science. Is it possible? Only after the emergence and acceptance of the theory, can it move from fringe science to contemporary science. Failing this, it will be forever regarded as pseudo-science by its detractors. So, why would any scientist want to spend an entire career in this realm, possibly alienating themselves from their peers? Passion. With that answer, I must ask myself if there is anything in the realm of fringe science that I would be so passionate about as a scientist that I would risk a career over it.

The medical uses of nanotechnology could have a considerable impact on the whole of the human race. To imagine, as Merkle (1996) describes, microscopic robots that could enter the bloodstream and travel throughout a body in search of injury or illness, then literally fix the problem is certainly Orwellian in my eyes. Notwithstanding, a breakthrough of this magnitude would certainly be worthwhile to any scientist, the application of which would be endless and only contingent on the robot’s ability to be programmed. There would be other uses, also: automatic repairs on buildings, bridges, and vehicles, the literal programmatic building of structures, instant recycling of waste materials, etc. Though, anything that could be helpful could also be a hindrance. A group of microscopic robots that could make repairs on human tissue could also destroy it. This would be a significant military advantage in the area of remote warfare, as well as more diabolical applications. As the size of the microprocessor inversely relates to the computing power, I can imagine that the intelligence capability required of these little machines is not too far in the future.

Science fiction! Even the airplane was science fiction at one time. The helicopter, too, though I still consider the helicopter to be an abomination of physics. Almost every contemporary scientific notion was once held to skepticism. I do not think that it is wise to dismiss an idea solely on the grounds of popularity or a lack thereof. If someone has a belief, let them prove it. Once proven, let the data be duplicated by others and turned into conventional wisdom or into the trash bin, wherever it belongs.


de Jager, C. (1990). Science, fringe science, and pseudo-science. R.A.S. Quarterly Journal, 31(1), 31-45.

Merkle, R. C. (1996). Nanotechnology and medicine. Advances in Anti-aging Medicine, 1, 277-286.