Pathological science

Pathological science is a term created by the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Irving Langmuir during a colloquium at The Knolls Research Laboratory, December 18, 1953. Some scientists use the term to imply scientific misconduct on part of other researchers. Critics argue that the term lacks justification for describing many scientific studies. ‘Pathological science’ label is given to most revolutionary discoveries, according to critics of the term. Critics also urge others to abandon the phrase.

Pathological science designates a psychological process in which a scientist, originally conforming to scientific method, unconsciously veers from that method, and begins a pathological process of wishful data interpretation. Criteria for pathological science are:

  • The maximum effect that is observed is produced by a causative agent of barely detectable intensity, and the magnitude of the effect is substantially independent of the intensity of the cause.
  • The effect is of a magnitude that remains close to the limit of detectability, or many measurements are necessary because of the very low statistical significance of the results.
  • There are claims of great accuracy.
  • Fantastic theories contrary to experience are suggested.
  • Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses thought up on the spur of the moment.
  • The ratio of supporters to critics rises and then falls gradually to oblivion.

Possible examples of Pathological science are Chemistry's N rays, Electrochemistry's cold fusion, Chemistry's polywater theory, and Medicine's Homeopathy

Mainstream sciences have failed historically to approve of certian sciences till years later and inappropriately label them as "pathological". Examples of sciences that have been misappropriately described as pathological sciences:

  • Linus Pauling's work with vitamins (in particular, vitamin C) [Leading 20th century chemist]
  • C. G. Barkla's J-phenomenon (Barkla's 1917 Nobel Prize in physics was for X-rays; the J-phenomenon is X-ray absorption discontinuities at high frequency)
  • Sir Arthur Eddington's "fundamental theory" (pioneer in theoretical astronomy)
  • Halton Arp astronomical work in the red-shifts phenonomena (rejecting his contempories theories).
  • Hannes Alfvén's plasma cosmology (Alfvén won the 1970 Nobel Prize for space plasma)

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