In Defense of "Pseudoscience"

If you keep up with my random asides in videos and elsewhere, you might know that I'm extremely disappointed with the current state of institutionalized science. The post-war era was a disaster for scientific epistemology, in fact, epistemology and science commentary mostly became an exercise to exclude one's enemies by technicality. Academia became an enormous state-funded enterprise, and the best way to ensure that your research program got funding before your rivals was to develop advanced reasoning to exclude their methodology altogether from science.

Thus the term "pseudoscience". In former centuries, there was no such division between "science" and "pseudoscience". Researchers wrote tomes on subjects which were amalgams of hard analysis and what we would now consider baseless or unwarranted speculation. Each were understood for what they were, all ideas were on the table for analysis.

The thing is, all academics—at least all remotely intelligent ones—quietly harbor fringe beliefs. If you push any of them in private, or with vindicating evidence, they'll quickly bounce to support their deeper intuition. One example that comes to mind is geologist Robert Schoch, who after a little empirical prodding, became a vocal supporter of the idea of a prehistoric dating of the Sphinx, and then later other Mesolithic civilizations. Nowadays he brushes shoulders even with the ancient aliens crowd, and why shouldn't he? Once you've earned the designation of "pseudoscientist", you might as well go full-bore and have fun.

The other best-kept secret is that by definition, "pseudoscience" drives advancement in "real science". All new ideas start out as baseless speculation—Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift, based on the trivial and child-like realization that South America sort of fits into Africa, was mocked as pseudoscientific by Americans for decades. Now it's science. I wouldn't doubt if Schoch's Sphinx water erosion hypothesis will be similarly vindicated, partially by the many Mesolithic constructions found since then.

In linguistics and archeology, we have a recent "pseudoscientist" in Marija Gimbutas. Gimbutas unearthed many female idols/dolls from pre-Indo-European Europe and jumped to far-reaching, "pseudoscientific" conclusions: Old Europe was a feminist utopia, there was no violence and complete harmony, etc. Because Gimutas's politics were socially unassailable, you don't hear "pseudoscientist" around her much, but that's certainly the word on everyone's lips. If pseudoscience is what Schoch is doing, it's certainly what she was doing. Regardless, this pushed her into making specific claims about the origin of Indo-Europeans, that they originated from the Kurgan (Yamnaya) culture, a claim that has now become consensus due to further archeological, linguistic and nowadays even genetic research.

I've seen first hand that there are really two types of personalities in science. On one had, there's the conventional and petty academic who is "detail-oriented" and "rigorous" in some sense that means religiously adherent to theoretical priors. These people will only truly fight for something when they're on the side of consensus or when the issue is of no social importance. On the other side are the "pseudoscientists", or in other words, the people who actually have something interesting to say.