Ever on the lookout for scientifical examples, here are two that I thought were interesting.

The first relates to my interest in amateurs being scientifical. UFO researcher Budd Hopkins presented the results of a study he conducted at a conference about UFO abductees. According to Robert Sheaffer (Skeptical Inquirer V. 35 No. 3 May/June 2001 p 25-27), he was roundly taken to task. Hopkins devised an image recognition test supposedly to determine if children were being abducted. He also conducted a Roper poll to find out how many Americans believed they have been abducted. His research lacks the basic protocol of credible research. Why? Hopkins is not a scientist.

He didn’t know how to construct and execute a proper, valid study. Hopkins has no credible standing in the scientific community and the idea that people are being abducted by aliens out of their homes every night in our busy, crowded, surveillance-heavy, alarm-triggering world is ludicrous. Hopkins failed at being scientific.

Another point that has been brought up on the comments on this blog and also in Sheaffer’s column is that independent researchers, unaffliated with universities or hospitals, do not have to pass their research proposals through an Institutional Review Board. These boards (IRBs) examine the ethical and scientific appropriateness of research done under the auspices of that institution and can disapprove research plans if warranted. When this oversight is lacking, there is the potential that poorly designed studies could result in harm to the participant or be scientifically useless or deceptive. Research (with human subjects) done without IRB review are skirting a critical check in scientific protocol. Unchecked, but superficially scientific, work like that by Hopkins can give the public the impression that science can be done this way. Pretty awful.

The second example is given by Dr. Steven Novella. Today’s homeopath, he writes, “…looks to cloak himself in the respectability of science. That is the path to acceptance, official recognition and reimbursement.” (Skeptical Inquirer V. 35 No. 3 May/June 2001 p 28-29) Right! If it sounds sciencey, people are apt to believe that it is valid and true. we, as a modern society, still hold that science does the best job of seeking out and revealing the closest think to truth about the world. Too bad homeopathy is utter silliness. After Hahnemann (the founder of homeopathy) put forth the idea that an essense of a substance formerly in the water was retained, Beneveniste and others tried to be more scientific and show that water molecules created a memory of the substance. Nice try but water doesn’t work that way. And, homeopathy doesn’t work at all. Yet, ask people who use it. I’d bet they assume it is supported by science.

Now, I’m primed to find lots of examples of how people promoting products and subjects use sciencey processes (but not good science) primarily as an attempt to impress an audience. It happens all the time. Watch for it.

7 thoughts on “Today’s edition of being scientifical: UFO research and homeopathy

  1. Hopkins doesn’t need to get IRB approval for human subjects research because he was not affiliated with a university or similar institution.

    There have been alien abduction researchers/therapists who indeed have been employed at universities. Have they gotten IRB approval for their research?

    1. I would imagine so if their methods were deemed not harmful. I don’t know how high they set standards for behavioral research. A lot of crap seems to get through as worthy science even though the only bad thing about it is it wastes money. In the case of the PRACTICE of hypnosis for abductees, they were certainly harmed. Not sure if the research was actually harmful. I can’t even read UFO stuff anymore, it’s too stupid. Sheaffer makes the case in this column that the abductee movement is dead. Maybe on it’s way out but not dead yet.

  2. I just discovered your blog, and I want to start by saying that I love the terms “scientifical” and “sciencey;” they roll off the tongue much more enjoyably than “pseudoscientific” does.

    I also think you make an excellent point that scientifical endeavors do a disservice to science by helping people believe that “science can be done this way.” Real science is plenty gripping on its own – but sadly, I think these snake-oil guys grab more public attention because they’re salesmen; they know how to jazz up their claims. In an ideal world, legitimate facts and methodologies wouldn’t need advertising campaigns – but in our culture, it sure doesn’t hurt.

    1. A large component here definitely is that the public doesn’t know what science is supposed to look like. Therefore, they are fooled by anemic look-alikes. Thanks for visiting Ben!

  3. Mr Hopkins has been taking a beating recently from charges by his ex-partner and ex-wife, and her revelations of the unfortunate lack of scientific methods, and at times ethics, in their work. She eventually broke away from him due to this, and suggests that he enabled, rather than helped or treated, troubled folks and just plain liars in a way that was borderline exploitation.

    The writings of Alfred Steiner, founder of biodynamic farming, contain a peculiar offshoot of homeopathic methods. His somewhat….unorthodox ideals, including those regarding culture, race, and tomatoes (they are poison) were channeled from ‘off world’ sources. Despite never having been a farmer, nor an educator, he is held in very high esteem to this day by followers in the worlds of biodynamic farming and education (he was the founder of the Waldorf schools).

  4. Many UFO researchers are not academic or medically qualified to deal with profound experiences reported by a number of ‘witnesses’. Members of the public have been categorised according to a belief system and not on reliable data. Ethics doesn’t come into it, unlike academically backed researchers.
    I’m appalled that members of the public are treated as guinea pigs for pseudo-scientific experiments that rely on belief systems to work. All that needs to happen now is for ‘witnesses’ to realise that they haven’t been ‘abducted’ in the way they’ve been led to believe, that in fact some of them have been harmed by hypnotic regression, for example, and start suing the researchers involved.
    Legal action could be the starting point for removing some of the dangerous quackery that exists in the UFO movement and its newfound religion.

    1. Re: Legal action. Perhaps this is already underway, at least in the case of Mr Hopkins, with the client/patient that has recently gone public with her allegations?

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