How do you explain to someone the difference between science and pseudoscience?

It's pretty much all in the question. How do you explain these things to people? It's almost like to these people whatever they believe or makes them feel good is true regardless of the facts. The confirmation biases that they display are palpable but I don't know of a way to convey that to them without them getting angry or instantly shutting down. Can you guys suggest a peaceful and cogent explanation for them?

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It's like defining pornography. There's plainly pseudoscience, and there's plainly science, and there's this huge no-man's land between. That's where it gets tricky (quite a few writers, including Dawkins have discussed this).

Sometimes the difference between science and pseudo science lies in the observer. One person could look at a speculative theory as an area for tentative investigation, or even tentative belief (while keeping the tentative nature plainly in mind) while others may blindly accept the same idea without adequate proof or evidence. (Health and nutrition theories often fall into this area.)

One person could look at a speculative theory as an area for tentative investigation, or even tentative belief (while keeping the tentative nature plainly in mind) while others may blindly accept the same idea without adequate proof or evidence.

And others blindly reject the same idea without adequate proof or evidence - this is called pseudoskepticism, and it's a cognitive bias that skeptics often fall into.
I wrote a blog post about skeptics' cognitive biases.  Skeptics are people too, and the motivation for being active as a skeptic may be mostly, the wish to feel superior to a group, and "true believers" as a good target to verbally beat up on (troll as skeptic). 

One example is non-celiac gluten sensitivity.  For a long time, people have said they have food allergies with negative skin and blood allergy tests, and wheat is a common culprit.  Pseudooskeptical bloggers and even some doctors have told them "if you don't have a wheat allergy or celiac disease, there's no need for you to adopt a gluten-free diet".  When people find their doctors to be out of touch and unhelpful, it is very alienating.  And when pseudoskeptical bloggers make those statements, it alienates the people that supposedly they are trying to reach. 

There is nothing implausible about poorly-understood food reactions - the small intestine isn't as easily accessible to investigations as the nose, so much less is known about immune reactions to foods than immune reactions to inhalants.  But bloggers who want to sound strongly debunking, or doctors who feel they should be knowledgeable, are liable to pretend to know more than they do.

Avoiding pseudoskepticism, the urge to beat up on something, is crucial.  Pseudoskepticism causes harm.  But pseudoskepticism partly results from group bonding by conformity among skeptics, so it's difficult to counteract.  You have people who aren't scientists, who don't have the habit of honest questioning, assuming the mantle of Science the quick and easy way, by taking on a set of opinions. 

Here's a good place to start, with Michael Shermer.

My answer:

How demonstrable is your science?  How reliable is it?  How accepted is it within the scientific community?  Are the principles you espouse applicable, do they have some practical purpose ?  Granted, not all science is practical, but much of it is, even the science of evolution.

Also, can your science stand up to scrutiny?  Does it depend on belief or is it independent of belief, attitude or point of view?  Keep in mind that there isn't American science and British science and Russian science and Indian science ... there's just SCIENCE ... and it may not be intuitively obvious or self-evident or even seem logical on the surface.

But, in the final analysis, it applies wherever you go, it operates whether you believe in it or not.  Put shortly, It WORKS ... PERIOD.

I'm going to approach this without the big words and textbook style, OK. Let's take gravity which I believe to be demonstrated by true science. For the demonstration I will hold a ball outwards from my body and release it, watching it drop to the floor. It drops to the floor every time. (At least on earth) The ball never goes upwards or to any side or the other. The ball doesn't drop to the floor sometimes, or most of the time, it drops every time.

The above is a demonstration of true science on our earth showing one of the many ways gravity works. You can prove this by the demonstration itself and it never changes.

Pseudoscience is when others try to take this same demonstration and inject god or some other unseen circumstance into this scenario. I. E. God moved the ball, none of it would have happened without god, a spirit did it, anything else unseen did it, well the experiment doesn't happen that way every time, etc. etc.

Some people want to inject anything possible into this as a "what if" theory. This is good for writers of movies and speculative science, (very good for religionists) but not good for anything in reality. Can your belief be demonstrated in any way? Does the demonstration work the same way every time? If it does, then it is true science. If not, it is speculation and pseudoscience.

Many years ago when I was a theist, a man challenged me. He said "if there really is a god, have him turn a page in that bible of yours, or have him pick the bible up." It made me very angry and I thought he was stupid, but of course, nothing happened here. Today I realize he was right.

Karl Popper's book Conjecture and Refutation helps me understand how the character of Science might differ from that of pseudoscience. Science doesn't regard its theories as absolute truths. Scientists consider theories as their best conjectures. They are trying to discover theories with greater verisimilitude ( an evaluate term defining a statements degree of truth ) by doing their best to refute their theories. Scientists believe we can only improve our theories by refuting them and exposing weak links.

 Pseudoscience, as religion, try to evade refutation. It is possible to take any theory and believe in it as an absolute truth. These theories may be based on Science but be presented as truths. If scientists had regarded the theories they were taught as absolute truths they would have seen no reason to develop theories with greater verisimilitude. The characteristic of believing your understanding to be improvable is, I believe a necessary characteristic of Science and Atheism. I recognize pseudoscience by its posture of being in possession of the truth. A scientist or Atheist would only claim to be in possession of  a hopefully better conjecture of what the truth might be. An example of pseudoscience would be claims made in advertisements for the anti aging properties of an extract from certain cantaloupes. A Scientist would be asking how we could test these claims. If they were Philosophers they might even debate why we feel the need to hide how old we are.

Pseudoscientists do not test, and even refuse to test, their conclusions or hypotheses.

For instance, in cosmology, string theorists do not test their conclusion. They have faith.


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