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Jack Holbrook University of Tartu

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1 Jack Holbrook University of Tartu
Pseudoscience, Hard Science and Soft Science: where is educational research? Jack Holbrook University of Tartu

2 Some Assumptions about Scientific Knowledge
THE WORLD IS REAL. In other words, the physical universe really does exists, apart from our sensory perception of it. B. HUMANS CAN PERCEIVE AND UNDERSTAND the physical universe. In other words, we can learn correctly how the natural world works and operates. C. NATURAL PROCESSES are SUFFICIENT to explain, or account for natural phenomena or events. In other words, scientists must explain the natural in terms of the natural. D. SCIENTISTS ASSUME THAT NATURE "OPERATES" UNIFORMLY in both space and time (unless we have evidence to the contrary).

3 Can Pseudoscience be considered Scientific ?
Pseudoscience is any body of alleged knowledge, methodology, belief, or practice that claims to be scientific, but does not fit with the nature of science. Dr. Coker, Professor of Physics, University of Texas at Austin, has this to say on the web :

4 Distinguishing Science and Pseudoscience; (or separating Education Research from stories)
The word "pseudo" means fake. The surest way to spot a fake is to know as much as possible about the real thing. Knowing science does not mean simply knowing scientific facts - it means understanding the nature of science. Pseudoscience "research" is invariably sloppy. Pseudoscientists clip newspaper reports, collect hearsay, cite other pseudoscience books, and pore over ancient religious or mythological works. They rarely or never make an independent investigation to check their sources.

5 Distinguishing Science and Pseudoscience
Pseudoscience begins with a hypothesis — usually appealing emotionally, and implausible — and then looks only for items which appear to support it. Conflicting evidence is ignored. Generally speaking, the aim of pseudoscience is to rationalize strongly held beliefs, rather than to investigate, or to test alternative possibilities.

6 Pseudoscience is indifferent to criteria of valid evidence
Pseudoscience is indifferent to criteria of valid evidence. The emphasis is not on meaningful, controlled, repeatable scientific experiments. It is on unverifiable eyewitness testimony, stories and tall tales, hearsay, rumor, and dubious anecdotes. Genuine scientific literature is either ignored or misinterpreted. Pseudoscience relies heavily on subjective validation. Joe Blow puts jello on his head and his headache goes away. To pseudoscience, this means jello cures headaches. To science this means nothing, since no experiment was done.

7 Pseudoscience always avoids putting its claims to a meaningful test
Pseudoscience always avoids putting its claims to a meaningful test. Pseudoscientists never carry out careful, methodical experiments themselves—and they also generally ignore results of those carried out by scientists. Also Pseudoscientists never follow up. Pseudoscience deliberately creates mystery where none exists, by omitting crucial information and important details. Anything can be made "mysterious" by omitting what is known about it or presenting completely imaginary details. The "Bermuda Triangle" books are classic examples of this tactic.

8 Pseudoscience argues from ignorance, an elementary fallacy
Pseudoscience argues from ignorance, an elementary fallacy. Many pseudoscientists base their claims on incompleteness of information about nature, rather than on what is known at present. But no claim can possibly be supported by lack of information. [The fact that people don't recognize what they see in the sky means only that they don't recognize what they saw. This fact is not evidence that flying saucers are from outer space !!!] Pseudoscience makes extraordinary claims and has fantastic theories that contradict that known about nature. They do not provide evidence that their claims are true. They also ignore all findings that contradict their conclusions. ("Flying saucers have to come from somewhere — so the Earth is hollow, and they come from inside.")

9 Pseudoscientists invent their own vocabulary
Listeners are often forced to interpret the statements according to their own preconceptions. What, for example, is "biocosmic energy?" Or a "psychotronic amplification system?" Pseudoscientists often attempt to imitate the jargon of scientific by spouting gibberish that sounds scientific. Pseudoscience argues from alleged errors, anomalies, strange events, and suspect claims — rather than from well-established regularities of nature. The experience of scientists over the past 400 years is that claims and reports that describe well-understood objects behaving in strange ways tend to reduce, upon investigation, to deliberate frauds, honest mistakes, misinterpretations, outright fabrications. Pseudoscientists always take such reports as literally true, without independent verification.

10 Pseudoscientific "explanations" tend to be by scenario
Pseudoscientific "explanations" tend to be by scenario. That is, we are told a story, but nothing else; we have no description of any possible physical process. For instance, Immanuel Velikovsky ( ) claimed that another planet passing near the earth caused the earth's spin axis to flip upside down. This is all he said. He gave no mechanisms. But the mechanism is all-important, because the laws of physics rule out the process as impossible. That is, the approach of another planet cannot cause a planet's spin axis to flip.

11 Crossover Sadly, a distressing amount of pseudoscience is generated by scientists who are well trained in one field, but plunge into another field of which they are ignorant. A physicist who claims to have found a new principle of biology—or a biologist who claims to have found a new principle of physics—is almost invariably doing pseudoscience. And so are those who forge data, or suppresses data that clash with their preconceptions, or refuse to let others see their data for independent evaluation. Some pseudoscience is generated by individuals with a small amount of specialized scientific or technical training who are not professional scientists and do not comprehend the nature of the scientific enterprise—yet think of themselves as "scientists."

12 Reverse crossover One might wonder if there are examples of "crossovers" in the other direction; that is people who have been thought by scientists to be doing pseudoscience, who eventually were accepted as doing valid science, and whose ideas were ultimately accepted by scientists. The nature of the scientific process as described would suggest this happen extremely rarely, if ever. No known case is documented where this has happened. There are many cases in which a scientist has been thought wrong by colleagues, but later—when new information comes in—shown to be correct. Like anyone else, scientists can get hunches that something is possible without having enough evidence to convince their associates that they are correct. Such people do not become pseudoscientists, unless they continue to maintain that their ideas are correct when contradictory evidence piles up.

13 ASTROLOGY – Is this science, pseudoscience, or protoscience ?
The most popular form of traditional Western astrology is sun sign astrology, the kind found in the horoscopes of many daily newspapers. A horoscope is an astrological forecast. “Do personality traits really correspond reliably with birthdates?” According to a 2005 Gallup poll, 25% believe in astrology, a statistic that has remained steady for the past 15 years.

14 AN INVESTIGATION PROCEDURE: search the following list of traits and interests until you find the particular combination of traits and interests which come closest to how you see yourself. Then write, on a piece of paper, write 1. the NUMBER of that combination (1-12), and your birthday (e.g. “July 25”). YES or NO - if you think astrology can give accurate predictions (YES) or not (NO). Idea taken from

15 generous, dreamy, imaginative helping, arts no self-confidence
# Key Positive Traits Main Interests Possible Negative Traits loyal, possessive, determined, possessions, comfort, beauty, arts, stubborn, jealous, slow, lazy, practical, enduring family greedy gentle, compassionate, sensitive, hospitals, pets, thinking, peace, easily influenced, not ambitious, generous, dreamy, imaginative helping, arts no self-confidence honest, hopeful, intuitive, friendly, freedom, travel, philosophy, not particular, blunt (tactless), idealist, easy-going religion, books argue neat, ambitious, organized, hard work, business, being in worry, slave-driver, stubborn, conservative, frugal, practical charge, caution social climber competitive, action, initiative, self challenges, leading starting arrogant, quarrelsome, enthusiasm, leader starting easily bored, selfish, stubborn popular, intelligent, versatile, variety, travel, talking, superficial, fickle, impatient, witty, curious reading break rules 7 helpful, independent, broadminded, helping others, friends, politics, dogmatic, rebel, impersonal, tireless, generous being leader stubborn, blunt, argue 8 cooperative, harmony, fair, companionship, social life, justice indecisive, extravagant, fickle romantic, gracious, work hard beauty/arts 9 generous, power, authority, sports, being in charge, teaching, egotistical, domineering, blunt, romantic, idealistic, self-confident protective temperamental 10 methodical, service, high standards routine, details, perfection, travel, fault-finding, worry, hurtful practical, neat, reliable work alone 11 protective, tenacious, domestic security, home, family, country combative, moody, vain sensitive, emotional, shy, neat solitude 12 emotional, resourceful, secretive sex, solving mysteries, working vengeful, cynical, argue, jealous, forceful, loyal, determined hard, success sarcastic

16 KEY TO SUN-SIGN DATES # DATES SUN SIGN Apr 20 - May Taurus Feb 19 - Mar Pisces Nov 22 - Dec Sagittarius Dec 22 - Jan Capricorn Mar 21 - Apr Aries May 21 - Jun Gemini Jan 19 - Feb Aquarius Sep 23 - Oct Libra Jul 23 - Aug Leo Aug 23 - Sep Virgo Jun 22 - Jul Cancer Oct 23 - Nov Scorpio

17 Are the Social Subjectsc ‘Scientific’?
The social subjects are groups of academic disciplines that study the human aspects of the world. They are sometimes called the humanities, or social studies, But can they be called social science to emphasize the use of scientific methods and rigorous standards of evidence in the study of humanity. Can social scientists engage in research and theorize about both aggregate and individual behaviors using both quantitative and qualitative methods.

18 Hard Science – soft science
‘Hard’ science is a term which is often used to describe certain fields of the natural sciences, usually physics, chemistry, and many fields of biology. The ‘hard’ sciences are said to rely on experimental, quantifiable data or scientific methods and focus on accuracy and objectivity. The ‘hard’ sciences are often contrasted with the term 'soft‘ sciences, which are by contrast implied to have less rigour. Different approaches to the use of scientific methods can be distinguished by research for ‘hard’ science and an alternative called ‘soft’ science.

19 Soft science ‘Soft’ science is a term used for research which is purportedly "scientific" while its adherence to the rigour of scientific methods is considered to be ‘soft‘ (meaning not based on reproducible experimental data and/or a mathematical explanation of that data). Laypeople and academicians tend to judge fields such as sociology, psychology, and political science as ’soft’, because they are presumed to be easily understandable, devoid of mathematical rigour, and concerned with everyday concepts such as interpersonal relationships. On the other hand, physics, chemistry and biology are more ‘scientific’, because they are deemed difficult, demand exactitude, and concern discoveries far removed from routine human experience, such as atomic forces, or DNA.

20 Controversial The 'hard' v. 'soft' distinction is controversial.
Although associated with notions of realism, this distinction is drawn more from commonsense than a deep immersion in the philosophy of science. Thomas Kuhn, has focused on the ways in which the ‘hard’ sciences have functioned in ways which were less "hard" than previously assumed, emphasizing that decisions over the veracity of a given theory owed much more to "subjective" influences than the "hard" label would emphasize (and began to question whether there are any real distinctions between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ science).

21 The term ‘soft’ science is often employed by social scientists.
In its broadest sense, even largely non-quantitative, non-experimental fields of the humanities like literary criticism or gender studies are described as ‘soft’ science when the said topic make reference to empirical (scientific) matter in a sweeping generalised manner which is akin to scientific theory. Some researchers view their work as empirical (history, anthropology or archeology), artistic (literature, dramatic art), interpretative (law), descriptive (language, accounting), logical (philosophy, mathematics) or even practical (language, law, accounting), but not experimental. Can this be said to be scientific?

22 Considering Quantitative versus Qualitative Research methods
Quantitative methods are research methods dealing with numbers and anything that is measurable. Counting and measuring are common forms of quantitative methods. The result of the research is a number, or a series of numbers. These are often presented in tables, graphs or other forms of statistics. Important for ‘hard’ science research. Qualitative research involves an in-depth understanding of human behaviour and the reasons that govern human behaviour. Important for ‘soft’ science research. Unlike quantitative research, qualitative research relies on reasons behind various aspects of behaviour. Simply put, it investigates the why and how of decision making, as compared to what, where, and when of quantitative research.

23 1 2 3 8 Qualitative Research Quantitative Research 4 5
Describes meaning or discovery Establishes relationship or causation. 2 Develops theory Develops and tests theory. 3 Researcher is part of the data gathering Researcher is formally an independent entity 4 Uses communication and observation Uses instruments 5 Uses unstructured data collection Uses structured data collection. 6 Uses multiple realities which can only be understood by the intersecting of socio-psychological constructions. Has one reality created from dividing and studying parts of an entity. 7 Approach has interdependency between the knower and the known. Belief in true objectivity existing because the knower can be studied outside of the known. 8 Uses non-numerical values that mediate and shape what is understood. Belief that non-numerical values can be ignored or otherwise rendered unimportant. 9 Involves multidirectional relationships where events shape each other. Claims that a preceding event can be said to cause a following event. 10 Produces only tentative explanations for one time and one place. Belief that explanations can be generalized to other times and places. 11 Seeks to discover or uncover hypotheses. Usually seeks verification or proof of hypotheses.

24 Three Major Criticisms
The social sciences are criticized as being less scientific than the natural sciences i.e. less rigorous in their methods. But what if they use of a rich variety of scientific processes, mathematical, statistics etc. in their professional literature. The reactions of a chemical substance are always the same when placed in certain situations, - they are scientific. Unfortunately humans and society do not have certain rules (they are much too complext) that always have the same outcome and they cannot guarantee to react the same way to certain situations. How do we make education research scientific? How do we ensure rigour, validity and reliability in methods used?

25 The language used for explanation of ideas.
In natural sciences, scientific terms are often used in order to explain things precisely (have a precise meaning), whereas everyday language can be ambiguous or lengthy. Social scientists have been accused of compensating for relatively feeble and easy subject matter by inventing terms to create an illusion of difficulty and complexity. Examples of this include the term "post-modernism", which is ill-defined and does not appear to aid in an explanation of concepts or ideas. In educational research beware of language: e.g. sampling – is it purposeful, or representative of the population?

26 A third criticism is that social sciences tend to be compromised more frequently by politics, since results from social science may threaten certain centers of power in a society, particularly ones which fund the research institutions. (For example, in the US, corporations and the state are frequently cited as these centers of power). Furthermore, complexity exacerbates the problems, since observed social data may be the result of factors which are hard to evaluate in isolation. In educational research, how do we handle bias, non-normal distributions, non-control of variables?

27 Try the following ACTIVITIES

28 A 3- holed bottle experiment
A simple enough experiment, but …. What hypotheses did this involve ? What observations were relevant ? What explanations were offered ?

29 The 3 holed bottle experiment
This is sometimes called a discrepant event as the reality is not as expected. (if you think about it, the sun ‘moving’ across the sky is a discrepant event). But what scientific question could initiate the experiment? If matter is made of particles, how can matter be stored in containers?


31 Observe what does actually happen.
What explanation do you have for what happened? You should be able to put forward at least one explanation. Explanations from the group may not all be the same. Select one explanation which you like. Now based on that possible explanation, predict what will happen when the second hole is uncovered.

32 Observe what actually did happen.
Did the result match your prediction ? If so, do you feel your prediction is good? If NOT, it seems your prediction is not good. Can you put forward another Prediction? Now we have one more hole. Let us again make a prediction about the outcome if we uncover all 3 holes.

33 Let us look at some ACTIVITIES related to ideas of research question, hypothesis, observation and deduction

34 Examining a cube Create a group of 2 persons
Examine (but do not touch/move) the cube placed on the table. Individually, from your inquisitive observation, frame a question which you would wish to ask about the cube ? Each person records their questions.

35 Exploring one question further – what is written on the bottom, i. e
Exploring one question further – what is written on the bottom, i.e. hidden side ? In your group, discuss this question. Record your group predictions. If you feel it is useful, your group may give more than one justification. If you have more than one prediction, identify the dominant hypothesis. Justify your predictions with appropriate evidence. (ANOTHER IMPORTANT STEP FOR THE TEACHING OF SCIENCE)

36 Examining another cube
In your groups, examine (but do not touch/move) the new cube placed on the table. Put forward your predicted answer as to what is on the hidden, bottom face of the cube. Record your prediction(s).

37 Cube a further stage Carefully raise one corner of the cube so that, with the use of a mirror, you can see the number recorded in the top right corner, OR the bottom left corner (but not both !!) Modify your prediction as to what is written on the bottom of the cube, if appropriate.

38 Teaching and Cube 2 Does cube 2 give us any insight into the teaching of science ? Does it suggest that we do not necessarily need to observe everything and that we can make calculated guesses from other observations ? We can make inferences. If a gas is colourless and lighter than air, can we infer it is probably hydrogen ? Or if a gas is known to be hydrogen, then can we infer a balloon containing hydrogen will …..

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