Demarcation: The Fine Line Between Science and Pseudoscience — Critical Thinking | Intelligent speculation (2023)

line of demarcation

Many scientists and members of the public view pseudoscience, such as astrology and alternative therapies, as an area that clearly falls on the "unscientific" side of the demarcation line that divides science from pseudoscience. A brilliant line pointed out years ago by Karl Popper.

In your book,The logic of scientific discoveryand, Karl Popper (1959) explains the principle of falsifiability in science as "statements or systems of statements, to be classified as scientific, must be able to conflict with possible or conceivable observations" (p.39) [3]. Popper claims that a valid hypothesis can potentially be falsified by empirical evidence and that scientific experiments should be designed in an attempt to falsify it, rather than verify or confirm it. The lack of false evidence means that the hypothesis can be tentatively accepted as true, unless new evidence suggests otherwise. In other words, there is always the possibility that there is more evidence that could falsify the hypothesis. Several hypotheses have accumulated strong enough evidence that they cannot be falsified, but the possibility, however small, is never ruled out.

Popper rejected verifiability as a criterion of science. One reason is that verifiability legitimizes existential claims as scientific, even if such claims cannot be falsified [4]. For example, someone could claim that unicorns exist. For this claim to be false, the alternative would be that unicorns do not exist. Science, by its very nature, does not provide evidence to prove that nothing exists.

bule de russellit is the philosophical argument that illustrates that the burden of proof rests with those who claim, in this case, to prove that unicorns exist. Believing that unicorns exist, even if there is no evidence, is supported by the simple fact that we have yet to see a unicorn. On the other hand, the falsifiability criterion makes such statements unscientific because they cannot be falsified. How can science prove unicorns don't exist?

Falsifiability in pseudoscience

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In the philosophy of science, the problem of demarcation differentiates science from parascientific domains, non-scientific domains that are not pseudoscientific such as history, philosophy, art or religion. More importantly, it examines the boundaries between science and pseudoscience. Unfalsifiable claims, common in pseudoscience, fall into the realm of irrational discourse and lack supporting evidence and reasons. Whereas pseudoscience looks for evidence to support a predefined claim, science constantly questions claims and looks for evidence that might falsify it. In other words, pseudoscience seeks confirmation and science seeks falsification. Scientists can perform tests that can falsify a scientific claim, but no conceivable test could prove a pseudoscientific claim false.

Falsification as a scientific practice is particularly significant because we like certainty. We are inclined to look for evidence that supports, rather than challenges, our existing views, a phenomenon known asconfirmation bias🇧🇷 For example, an astrologer would explain that Geminis are indecisive and outgoing and would further support their beliefs by giving examples of celebrities or politicians with such traits. Proponents of astrology, through confirmation bias, tend to see validations for this theory everywhere.

Falsifiability, and therefore testability, is a crucial starting point for designing experiments that explain the phenomenon under study. If significant results are obtained, then the falsifiable theory would be accepted. Popper explains that scientists make claims and collect evidence to falsify them. If they fail, then the claim still stands, as long as scientists are ever vigilant about falsifying evidence. According to Popper, experiments can provide evidence that establishes with certainty that a statement is false. However, we can never establish with certainty that a statement is true. Hypotheses and theories remain at the experimental stage. This is not to say that science has never resulted in false claims. Instead, science tries to dismiss false claims, an approach that pseudoscience does not.

Disinformation and Counterfeiting

Science is our most trusted source of knowledge in a wide range of areas. Their high status often leads to exaggerated claims, which leads to misinformation surrounding pseudoscience that heightens their baseless credibility. This results in ineffective and sometimes dangerous interventions that make the issue of demarcation pressing in many areas. As a result, most countries have at least one professional organization dedicated to identifying, debunking, and combating pseudoscience. Examples include parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, people who pay large sums of money to charlatans who sell pseudoscience, climate denialism that impedes political action, and myths associated with genetically modified foods, to name a few.

Falsified hypotheses give one of the following three results:

  1. The results reject the hypothesis

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  2. The results support the hypothesis / do not refute the hypothesis

  3. The results are not conclusive.

Unfalsifiable hypotheses give one of the following two results:

  1. The results support the hypothesis

  2. The results are not conclusive.

Therefore, an unfalsifiable hypothesis cannot be disproved, and this is not because it is a sound scientific hypothesis, but because, whatever test you perform, the hypothesis cannot be rejected or falsified. The results provide only inconclusive evidence.

Example: Vaccines contain microchips.

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Ideally, the claim is falsifiable, as scientists could run tests and not find any microchips. One could then argue that microchips are so small that no scientific test can detect them. In this case, the results did not reject the hypothesis, but were considered inconclusive. For those who believe that vaccines contain microchips, the hypothesis is unfalsifiable and the negative results only fit the narrative. For those who engage in conspiracy thinking, the lack of evidence is evidence that your claim is the "truth".

Conjectures and experimental theories

Popper's notion of falsification is neither the only nor the main sign of science, but it can be used to evaluate new ideas and decide how much weight to give them. Provocative conjectures regularly circulate in the media and experts are tasked withcarefully evaluatingyour credibility. ThePandemic of covid-1he offered several examples of assumptions that have received unreasonable credence from the public despite being unsupported by rigorous evaluations, often resulting in patient harm.

Such conjectures about medicine were the result ofanecdotal evidence, uncontrolled clinical trials or animal models, all unreliable and at high risk of bias. One example is hydroxychloroquine, which has been touted as a breakthrough treatment for COVID-19 based on in vitro studies showing antiviral activity. Prescriptions of hydroxychloroquine have increased, despite the hypothesis being falsified by several clinical trials that have shown no benefit and possibly increased harm [5].

An experiment may fail to support a hypothesis. This does not mean that the hypothesis is incorrect because the experiment "falsified" it. In fact anything in the assembly could be the cause. To test a hypothesis, scientists make several supporting hypotheses, assuming the experimental setup is perfect, the math is correct, and all variables are considered in the experimental design. In this case, when the result falsifies the original hypothesis, one can investigate whether the error is in the original hypothesis or in the supporting hypotheses.

Unlike conjectures, experimental theories arise from volumes of data collected over years of scientific study. Theories, however, are complex and the binary concept of falsifiability is not strictly applied. Theories can be supported under certain conditions, rejected under other conditions, or partially supported depending on the variables considered. Such nuances should be seen as resistance to the tendency to oversimplify the concept of falsifiability. Theories supported by a large body of evidence, over a long period of time, and repeatedly tested using high-quality studies, have withstood Popper's falsifiability and serve as a basis for evaluating new evidence. For theories that have been falsified or corroborated, it is important to identify which tests were performed and whether the results falsified certain aspects of the theory or the whole theory.


Many of our decisions depend on our understanding of science; therefore, drawing the line between what is science and what is not is important to avoid being misled by pseudoscientific claims that offer the same level of authority as science. It can be attractive to look for a single principle that we can use to understand and apply the essence of science. Unfortunately, the science is more complicated than that. It is not a linear, structured process of conjecture and refutation. It is the ability to question observations, assumptions and hypotheses and, in doing so, unlock new possibilities that were previously hidden.


[1]GERAINT, Lewis. “Where is the proof in science? There is none."The conversation, September 23, 2014.

[2]Kageyama, Yasuyuki. "Openness to the unknown: the role of falsifiability in the pursuit of better knowledge".Philosophy of Social Sciences, vol. 33, no. 1, 2003, p. 100–21.

(Video) "Science and Testability" - Lecture by Dr. Joel Velasco

[3]Poppers, Carlos.The logic of scientific discovery🇧🇷 Basic Books, 1959.

[4]Olszewski, Wojciech e Alvaro Sandroni. "Falsebilidade".The American Economic Review, vol. 101, no. 2, 2011, p. 788–818.

[5]KUPFERSCHMIDT, Kai. "Three large studies reduce hope that hydroxychloroquine can treat or prevent COVID-19."Science, June 9, 2020.

(Video) #157 Science Denial and the Scientific Attitude feat. Lee McIntyre


What is the demarcation criterion in science? ›

Last updated on Jul 13, 2021. Definition: A criterion for distinguishing science from non-science which aims to indicate an optimal way for knowledge of the world to grow. In a Popperian approach, the demarcation criterion was falsifiability and the application of a falsificationist attitude.

What is Kuhn's theory of demarcation? ›

Kuhn's own demarcation criterion is the capability of puzzle-solving, which he sees as an essential characteristic of normal science. Kuhn's view of demarcation is most clearly expressed in his comparison of astronomy with astrology. Since antiquity, astronomy has been a puzzle-solving activity and therefore a science.

What is the difference between science and pseudoscience quizlet? ›

Differentiate between science and pseudoscience. A science is a body of hypothesis based upon observation and experiment. A pseudoscience is a body of hypotheses treated at true, but without a consistent body of supporting experimental evidence.

Why is it important to know the difference between science and pseudoscience quizlet? ›

Pseudoscience uses experimentation to objectively reach conclusions. Measurements can prove a concept to be correct and scientific. In science, we just know that things are the way they are. Science deals with the mainstream ideas, pseudoscience does not.

What is a line of demarcation? ›

line of demarcation in British English

(laɪn əv ˌdiːmɑːˈkeɪʃən ) noun. a separation between things deemed to be distinct.

What is the line of demarcation and why is it significant? ›

The Line of Demarcation was one specific line drawn along a meridian in the Atlantic Ocean as part of the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 to divide new lands claimed by Portugal from those of Spain. This line was drawn in 1493 after Christopher Columbus returned from his maiden voyage to the Americas.

What is an example of the demarcation problem? ›

For example, we need to be able to distinguish effective medical treatments from quack remedies; we have limited public funding for scientific research and would like to allocate funds appropriately; we need to make political decisions on scientific issues such as climate change.

Who came up with the demarcation problem? ›

This image lies at the root of a debate in the philosophy of science that came to be known after Karl Popper as “the demarcation problem.” The central objective of demarcation was the establishment of criteria for a special epistemic warrant for scientific knowledge and for distinguishing absolutely between scientific ...

Why is demarcation important? ›

The demarcation problem is in the necessity to provide the clear criteria for distinguishing between science and non-science, pseudoscience in particular, and this problem is important because the society should not be manipulated in relation to principles of pseudoscience (Pigliucci & Boudry 2013, p.

What is pseudoscience in your own words? ›

Pseudoscience is a proposition, a finding or a system of explanation that is presented as science but that lacks the rigor essential to the scientific method. Pseudoscience can also be the result of research that is based on faulty premises, a flawed experimental design or bad data.

What differentiates science from pseudoscience in the most general sense quizlet? ›

Science - can be empirically tested with a goal to disprove. Pseudoscience - cannot be empirically tested to disprove.

What is the difference between science and pseudoscience According to Karl Popper? ›

The big difference Popper identifies between science and pseudo-science is a difference in attitude. While a pseudo-science is set up to look for evidence that supports its claims, Popper says, a science is set up to challenge its claims and look for evidence that might prove it false.

What distinguishes scientific psychology from pseudoscience and popular? ›

What distinguishes scientific psychology from pseudoscience and popular opinion? a. Popular ideas always take time to filter into the scientific literature, whereas scientific findings are immediately embraced by the scientific community.

Why is pseudoscience not considered real science quizlet? ›

Why is pseudoscience not considered real science? It relies on evidence based on personal experiences or beliefs. The intervention of extraterrestrials has been used to explain the Bermuda Triangle, a region of the Atlantic Ocean where ships and planes are frequently lost, leaving no evidence behind.

What are the major differences between psychology and pseudoscience? ›

Psychology is a science because it takes the scientific approach to understanding human behaviour. Pseudoscience refers to beliefs and activities that are claimed to be scientific but lack one or more of the three features of science.

What is the rule of line of demarcation? ›

1 Demarcation lines are provisional borderlines separating territories under different jurisdictions (Jurisdiction of States). They separate territories between States or within territories governed by one or more occupying powers or in the context of secession.

What was the purpose of the line of demarcation quizlet? ›

What was the line of demarcation? The line of demarcation was a line,drawn by the pope, that divided the world in half to settle differences between Portugal and Spain.

What was the effect of the line of demarcation? ›

Most of Asia was not so easily colonized, and the lasting effect of the Line of Demarcation was to establish Brazil and Formosa as Portuguese colonies for a few centuries, and a swath of the Americas from Texas, California and the Caribbean to Patagonia--as well as the Philippines--as Spanish colonies.

What are four examples of pseudoscience? ›

After considering a set of demarcation criteria, four pseudosciences are examined: psychoanalysis, speculative evolutionary psychology, universal grammar, and string theory.

What are three differences between a science and a pseudoscience in a paragraph? ›

Three differences between a science and a pseudoscience are that scientific theories must be falsifiable, and pseudoscientific theories aren't falsifiable, you must be able to reproduce results, and pseudoscientific results can't be reproduced, and theories must be grounded in scientific research, while ...

What is an example of demarcate? ›

a plot of land demarcated by a low stone wall. : to set apart : distinguish.

What is the solution to problem of demarcation? ›

To solve the demarcation problem, Popper replaced the verification principle with the criterion of falsifiability, and inductive with deductive logic. Data can either provisionally confirm or conclusively falsify theories.

Can the demarcation problem be solved? ›

While there is no shortage of approaches to the demarcation problem, it is not at all clear that philosophers of science have 'solved' it.

What is the history of pseudoscience? ›

Some pseudosciences originated in the pre-scientific era, such as astrology and acupuncture. Others developed as part of an ideology, such as Lysenkoism, or as a response to perceived threats to an ideology. An example of this is creationism, which was developed as a response to the scientific theory of evolution.

What are the demarcation factors? ›

Factors to be taken into account during demarcation

relevant national development policies and plans, which might impact on the nature of local government and its boundaries; relevant national and provincial policies and legislation relating to the institutional or functional reorganisation of local government; and.

Which statement is best example of pseudoscience? ›

The best example of pseudoscience is a. A girl joined a group that studies phrenology. Phrenology is the prediction of one's mental traits based on how their skull is shaped. There is no scientific basis to back this claim up, so this is pseudoscience.

What is the root of pseudoscience? ›

The word pseudoscience is derived from the Greek root pseudo meaning false and the English word science, from the Latin word scientia, meaning "knowledge".

Which of the following is most clearly an example of pseudoscience? ›

Neuropsychoanalysis relies on false analogies to try to revitalize discredited psychoanalytic concepts and it is almost entirely isolated from the scientific community. In sum, psychoanalysis is a clear example of pseudoscience.

What is the difference between science and pseudoscience brainly? ›

Science is based on fact but pseudoscience is the claims of false. In science, based on research the ideas are discovered.

What are some of the main differences between scientific and non scientific ways of knowing? ›

The scientific method is a logically stepped process used for investigating and acquiring or expanding our understanding. Nonscientific methods rely on tradition, personal experience, intuition, logic and authority to arrive at conclusions.

Why is psychology a science and not a pseudoscience? ›

A Scientific Discipline

Psychology's status as a science is grounded in the use of the scientific method, said Dominello. Psychologists base their professional practice in knowledge that is obtained through verifiable evidence of human behavior and mental processes.

What is demarcation problem Karl Popper? ›

Popper articulates the problem of demarcation as: The problem of finding a criterion which would enable us to distinguish between the empirical sciences on the one hand, and mathematics and logic as well as 'metaphysical' systems on the other, I call the problem of demarcation."

What did Karl Popper say about science? ›

Popper allows that there are often legitimate purposes for positing non-scientific theories, and he argues that theories which start out as non-scientific can later become scientific, as we determine methods for generating and testing specific predictions based on these theories.

What did Popper believe about science? ›

Science, in Popper's view, starts with problems rather than with observations—it is, indeed, precisely in the context of grappling with a problem that the scientist makes observations in the first instance: his observations are selectively designed to test the extent to which a given theory functions as a satisfactory ...

What separates science from non science? ›

Thus expanded, scientific knowledge involves any ideas about the world which are based on inductive reasoning and which are open to testing and change. Nonscience is the other sphere of human knowledge. It involves religions, ethical beliefs, moral precepts, and philosophical ideals.

What is the difference between psychology and pseudo psychology? ›

Pseudo-psychology is unlike psychology because pseudo-psychology is based on anecdotal information. The information backing pseudo-psychology is not based on research, and it has not been retested by others. In addition, the information has not been critically reviewed by scientific peers.

What distinguishes science from other human practices? ›

Unlike art, philosophy, religion and other ways of knowing, science is based on empirical research. A scientist conducts this research to answer a question that she or he has about the natural world. Empirical research relies on systematic observation and experimentation, not on opinions and feelings.

Which of the following is true about pseudoscience quizlet? ›

The recognition that conclusions are tentative. Which of the following is true about pseudoscience? Pseudoscientific theories are flexible enough to account for any outcome and are therefore untestable as theories.

What pseudoscience is the science of chemistry rooted in? ›

Today we recognize alchemy as a pseudoscience, and give chemistry its rightful place as a serious scientific field, but the two terms initially overlapped in meaning before separating by the 17th century, just as astrology and astronomy did during the same period.

Can science be falsified? ›

The legendary philosopher of science Karl Popper argued that good science is falsifiable, in that it makes precise claims which can be tested and then discarded (falsified) if they don't hold up under testing.

Which of the following is true of the differences between science and pseudoscience quizlet? ›

Which of the following is true of the differences between science and pseudoscience? -Science encourages open skepticism of its findings, whereas pseudoscience does not.

What is demarcation in biology? ›

The word "demarcation" is used in medicine mainly in the sense of determining and marking off boundaries. For example, the surface demarcation in respect to damaged tissue can refer to the boundary between the living tissue and the necrotic (dead) tissue.

What are examples of demarcation? ›

a border or a rule that shows the limits of something or how things are divided: The river serves as the line of demarcation (= the line showing the separation) between the two counties. In some schools there is little demarcation between subjects (= subjects are not taught separately).

What is demarcation process? ›

Demarcation is the act of creating a boundary around a place or thing. Demarcation may also refer to: Demarcation line, a temporary border between the countries. Demarcation problem, the question of which practices of doing science permit the resulting theories to lie within the boundaries of knowledge.

Why is the demarcation problem important? ›

The demarcation problem is in the necessity to provide the clear criteria for distinguishing between science and non-science, pseudoscience in particular, and this problem is important because the society should not be manipulated in relation to principles of pseudoscience (Pigliucci & Boudry 2013, p.

What is the line of demarcation quizlet? ›

What was the line of demarcation? The line of demarcation was a line,drawn by the pope, that divided the world in half to settle differences between Portugal and Spain.

Which is the best definition of a demarcation point? ›

A demarcation point (sometimes referred to as demarc, dmarc, point of demarcation, or network boundary point) is the physical point where the public switched telephone network ends and a customer's personal network or the private network of an organization or business begins.

What is another word for demarcation line? ›

What is another word for line of demarcation?
marginboundary line
30 more rows

What is demarcation in psychology? ›

1. a psychological demarcation that protects the integrity of an individual or group or that helps the person or group set realistic limits on participation in a relationship or activity. 2. in psychotherapy, an important limit that is usually set by the therapist as part of the ground rules in treatment.

What is pseudoscience in simple words? ›

Pseudoscience is a proposition, a finding or a system of explanation that is presented as science but that lacks the rigor essential to the scientific method. Pseudoscience can also be the result of research that is based on faulty premises, a flawed experimental design or bad data.

What are the rule of line of demarcation? ›

1 Demarcation lines are provisional borderlines separating territories under different jurisdictions (Jurisdiction of States). They separate territories between States or within territories governed by one or more occupying powers or in the context of secession.


1. Science, Pseudo-science, and Statistics in the Criminal Courts: Jeremy Horder
(Cambridge Law Faculty)
2. What is Philosophy of Science? | Episode 1611 | Closer To Truth
(Closer To Truth)
3. #37: How to Talk to a Science Denier
(Intelligent Speculation)
4. Susan Haack: Six Signs of Scientism (updated audio)
(Rotman Institute of Philosophy)
5. Science vs Scientism
(Massimo Pigliucci)
6. Darwinian Evolution: A Pseudo-Science based on Unrestrained Imagination and Bad Liberal Theology
(Philip C)


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