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We don’t have time for pseudoscience


First of all, that’s a stupid name, or to be polite – an oxymoron. Like fake news. If it’s pseudo, then it’s not science. But that doesn’t stop a lot of stuff from being peddled as proven scientific fact all around the world, with multitudes of gullible people lapping up whatever satisfies their biases or panders to their fears. The range of pseudoscience is so vast that it is difficult to pick one particular thing to rip apart, but something did catch my eye in January.

On 31st January 2018, there was a very rare lunar event that was heavily covered across the media – the super blue blood moon. For those unaware, it was a trifecta of a lunar eclipse, the second full moon during a month, and the moon being closer to the Earth than it usually is. Among the excessive coverage, a couple of news articles were seen trying to understand the truth behind the age-old superstition which states that one should not eat anything during the eclipse. Said articles went on to quote a blog by an Indian mystic that explained in detail how food eaten during a lunar eclipse turns into poison. Except for the fact that the ‘explanation’ was anything but true, containing everything from downright wrong assumptions to strange philosophical reasonings as arguments. The thing is, the said mystic is followed by a lot of people, and people without a sound scientific understanding of how the human body works can easily be swayed with a well-written, confidently presented piece of writing. And that, my friends, is just one of the ways in which pseudoscience spreads among the masses.

The definition of science or even its basic understanding entails that it is absolute – it doesn’t fail any tests at all. When it does, science corrects itself to be accurate. You know what hasn’t done that for over 2000 years now? Astrology. There’s a reason astrology is often cited as the perfect example of a pseudoscience – not only does it fail scientific analysis, it satisfies every popular definition of pseudoscience there is. Almost any test that showed positive results in affirming astrology as a scientific discipline was later shown to have a flawed methodology or curated test subjects. Over the years, astrology has been shown to be selective in its proofs, holding on to what satisfies its rules and blaming anything that doesn’t on things like hereditary or environmental factors. Yet, why do people hold on to it? Apart from confirmation bias, read up on the Barnum effect to understand that better here.

Some estimates put the industry’s size in India at Rs. 40,000 crores while some even go as high as Rs. 65,000 crores! Although it is comparatively less, it is still way closer to the Government of India’s 1 lakh crore R&D expenditure than it should be. This is a baseless belief driving actual, sizeable investment and garnering the time and attention of a young, millennial base of believers. Don’t believe me? Check out this study.

It is not just limited to broad predictions. Systems like Feng Shui and Vaastu Shastra were probably conceptualised and created during a time when people and their houses were influenced far more than today by the elements of nature and their surroundings. Yet, over the years, the sheer power that these beliefs acquired over the gullible has given them devotional, almost religious overtones. Even today, quite a few housing projects in India are built to be ‘vastu-compliant’ rather than energy efficient.

In today’s day and age, when every bit of our efforts should be going towards building a better world with the natural environment, healthcare, availability of food, water and other, real problems in mind – every minute and rupee that is dedicated to furthering these pseudo-scientific systems is nothing but an outright mockery of what human civilisation has achieved in the entire duration of its existence on this planet.

Arnab Mukherjee

Arnab Mukherjee

A former tech-support desk jockey, you can find this individual delving deep into all things tech, fiction and food. Calling his sense of humour merely terrible would be a much better joke than what he usually makes.