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Science & pseudo-science

There is a key difference between genuine science and pseudo science - theories that lack the substance of science but present themselves as scientific.

A scientific theory makes claims that are testable. The claims it makes prohibit particular events or occurrences from happening. That is to say, these claims are conceivably refutable.

e.g. 'An object's inertia depends upon its mass rather than its speed'. We could construct a physics experiment that looked for evidence against this claim.

A pseudo-scientific theory makes claims that are not testable. Its claims prohibit nothing. There is nothing that could count as disconfirming evidence against such claims.

e.g. 'Everyone is intrinsically selfish, but some do better than others at overcoming this'. Selfish people can be cited as evidence for this claim, but so can anyone else! There is no way to test the claim, since it explains unselfish people as those who do a good job of overcoming their intrinsic selfishness. No-one could count evidence against this claim.

Let's try a practice exercise...

Sort the white boxes into two categories according to whether the claims they contain are testable or untestable:

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After you've finished this exercise drag this thumbnail onto the workspace to see the model answer:

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This material has been developed independently of the International Baccalaureate, which in no way endorses it.

Austhink 2013.  Rationale Exercises version 0.1, Jan-13

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