P.S. Pathological Science

From: Randy Isaac <rmisaac@bellatlantic.net>
Date: Fri Jun 17 2005 - 22:20:24 EDT

While cleaning out my office, I came across an article I had acquired in grad school that really impressed me. It was the unpublished transcript of Irving Langmuir's colloquium at the Knolls Research Lab on Dec. 18, 1953. He cites the following characteristics of pathological science:

 Symptoms of Pathological Science:
  1.. 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.

  2.. 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.

  3.. Claims of great accuracy.

  4.. Fantastic theories contrary to experience.

  5.. Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses thought up on the spur of the moment.

  6.. Ratio of supporters to critics rises up to somewhere near 50% and then falls gradually to oblivion.

I was pleased to find that a few years ago the full transcript was put on the web. You can read the full text with some fascinating historical examples at http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~ken/Langmuir/langmuir.htm
No religious group has a monopoly on pathological science.

Received on Fri Jun 17 22:21:24 2005

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