The Scientific Method and Pseudoscience

The Scientific Method and Pseudoscience

In this first week of your course, you will learn more about the scientific method, how it works, and why it is important to follow when conducting psychological research. Generally, the scientific method involves a series of steps that are closely adhered to when researching a subject. When the scientific method is used, and when the results are readily and frequently replicated, it is a strong sign that the findings are valid or indicative of the truth.

Another way to confirm that the results and conclusions are valid or represent the truth is when these findings are published in scholarly peer-reviewed journals, cited frequently, and are readily accepted and incorporated into the larger scientific community (Shermer, 2011).

In science, there are defining characteristics to be on the lookout for that distinguish science from ‘fake’ news or reports. These key characteristics include deterministic (laws or rules to predict behaviors), empirical (measurable/numeric data), falsifiable (testable and replicable results), provisional (open to revision), and public (beneficial to the larger community) (PsycLearn Research Methods, 2020).

So what is fake news? This is what researchers refer to as pseudoscience or research results that do not adhere to the scientific method and are therefore not readily adopted into the scientific community at large. This occurs because researchers believe there are fundamental flaws in the method that was used to obtain the results. For example, Freud’s work is often heavily criticized because he focused on something called the unconscious.

According to Freud, the unconscious is a force that motivates behavior which an individual is not completely aware of, and as such, they can not readily measure or test the existence of this concept. Given this limitation, Freud’s theory is not testable or falsifiable, and as such, an important component of the scientific method is overlooked. For many, Freud’s ideas are considered questionable, at best, for just this reason.

In today’s world, this might be equivalent to what is referred to as fake news, and it is important to realize that not all research reports that you hear about in the news or read and review in published research are equally valid truthful.

In many cases, somewhere in the research process, or in the logic of the conclusions, steps have been skipped, and therefore, the results are not valid or accurate. As a result, the conclusions derived from studies that do not strictly adhere to the scientific method are considered pseudoscience or ‘almost’ but not quite a science. These types of studies should be viewed as questionable, at best (Shermer, 2011).

It is similar to cooking. When you rush or miss a few of the key ingredients, the end result is not as good. You want to take your time, be methodical and careful with your measurements, and follow the directions, knowing that the end result will be that much better!

This is why it is important to select research studies that have been peer-reviewed whenever possible. These studies have a bit more credibility to them as a board of peer reviewers has scrutinized them for quality.

Some examples of pseudoscience that might fit here include astrology, or using your birthdate to predict your future, phrenology – or how the size and shape of your head determine your personality, ESP – or extra-sensory perception, meaning the ability to sense beyond the five senses, and subliminal advertising or messages that are given to you when you sleep that lead to significant changes in your behavior.

Another clear example is the growing debate about vaccines causing autism and other developmental delays. There is no conclusive evidence that this is a direct cause for any of these concerns. The data is purely correlational.

However, a growing number of anti-vaccines refuse to have their children vaccinated due to this fear (Matute et al., 2011).

So, what are the steps that are involved in the scientific method? Basically, these steps are as follows (PsycLearn Research Methods, 2020):

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With pseudoscience, similar to taking a shortcut when you are cooking or completing a project, the end result does not usually come out as good when you do not take your time, skip some of the steps, or miss some ingredients.

See if you can identify where the steps were skipped and what was missing when you look to identify research reports that are considered to be pseudoscience in your assignment this week.


Matute, H., Yarritu, I., & Vadillo, M. A. (2011). Illusions of causality at the heart of pseudoscience. British Journal of Psychology, 102(3), 392–405.

PsycLearn Research Methods Version 1.4 (2020). CogBooks, American Psychological Association.

Shermer, M. (2011, September 1). What is Pseudoscience? Scientific American.

Looking Ahead: 

For an assignment due in Week 3, you are required to meet with your professor. You may do so by telephone or with electronic communications such as Skype or Zoom. Please plan your time accordingly and download the Skype or Zoom software if you haven’t done so yet, and then contact your professor as soon as possible to set up your meeting during Week 3.

Signature Assignment Preview

The culminating signature assignment due towards the end of the course may require you to complete some work ahead of the due date. To ensure you are prepared and have adequate time to complete this assignment, please review the instructions by looking ahead to the signature assignment. Contact your professor if you have questions.

Weekly Resources and Assignments

Review the resources from the Course Resources link, located in the top navigation bar, to prepare for this week’s assignments. The resources may include textbook reading assignments, journal articles, websites, links to tools or software, videos, handouts, rubrics, etc.


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List of Topics and Sub-Modules for Week 1

· Module 1: Psychology and Science

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PsycLearn Research Methods Version 1.4 (2020). CogBooks, American Psychological