Pseudoscience is a term applied to any belief system that claims to have scientific validity despite lacking the rigorous scientific research required for it to be recognized by the scientific community.
Often, pseudoscience offer solutions (both physical and spiritual) to problems that science cannot solve. Many pseudosciences have long and storied histories and their origins cannot even be identified.
However, proponents of pseudosciences often argue that they have positive effects that may not be accessible through traditional scientific methods.
Note that I’m not applying judgment on any of the below examples of pseudoscience (I do some of them myself!). Rather, I’m presenting a range of concepts that lack scientific support due to lack of clear evidence based on the traditional scientific method.
Acupuncture is an ancient healing practice from China that is believed by most scientists to be pseudoscientific. As a result, many countries do not cover in their national health insurance plans.
Acupuncture is said to promote physical balance and harmony by resolving imbalances in the flow of Qi (what might be considered life energy).
Qi is believed by practitioners to flow through the body along energy pathways called meridians. There are 14 major meridians. Each meridian is associated with a different organ or bodily system.
When Qi becomes blocked or imbalanced, it is believed to lead to pain or disease.
Acupuncture supposedly unblocks and re-balances Qi by stimulating various points along the meridians using thin needles.
However, there is debate over whether acupuncture works and science has found no evidence of Qi or meridians.
Astrology is the pseudoscience of predicting the future based on the alignment of the stars.
Astrology is believed to be a false pseudoscience because it is based on the unproven premise that the positions of celestial bodies such as the planets, moon, sun, and constellations at the time of a person’s birth can influence their personality and future.
This claim has not been supported by scientific evidence. Nevertheless, proponents of Astrology believe that it can help you to reflect on your personality and life circumstances more effectively.
Chiropractic is a field of alternative medicine that is based on the non-verified belief that misalignments of the spine, called “subluxations,” can be resolved through realignment and that this realignment has a wide range of flow-on effects for your health.
Chiropractors claim to be able to treat a wide variety of health problems by adjusting these subluxations; however, others (including many physiotherapists and western medical doctors) say that there is no evidence that this is effective.
Nevertheless, many people continue to report excellent benefits from chiropractic therapy and it is a very large industry. Furthermore, many extended health plans cover it.
4. Conversion Therapy
Conversion Therapy is a pseudoscientific practice that attempts to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual.
It was widespread among conservative religious groups in the the 1990s and early 2000s before being banned in many Western nations due to its harmful psychological effects and changing attitudes toward LGBT rights.
Conversion therapy has been condemned by major medical organizations as ineffective and potentially harmful.
5. Ear Candling
Ear candling, also known as ear coning or thermal auricular therapy, is an alternative medicine practice claimed to improve general health and well-being by lighting one end of a candle and inserting it into the ear canal.
Theoretically, the heat from the burning candle creates a vacuum that sucks out wax and other impurities from your ear.
However, there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that ear coning really works, and many professionals warn that ear candling can cause more harm than good.
In addition to causing burns and perforating the eardrum, ear candling can also push wax and debris further into the ear canal. As a result, many experts consider ear candling to be a pseudoscientific practice that should not be engaged with.
6. Faith Healing
This one is controversial because so many billions of people rely on prayer every day of their lives. While spiritually, there are many who say it works, there is no scientific way to prove it, and respected impartial studies that have attempted to prove it have not turned up clear correlations.
Faith healing often relies on anecdotal evidence, which is not considered to be reliable evidence in a scientific setting.
Another reason why faith healing is considered pseudoscience is that it often relies on confirmation bias. In other words, many religious people really want faith healing to be proven to work because they have a lot of their identity and belief system invested in the idea.
Don’t get me wrong – prayer has many meaningful spiritual benefits – but the scientific community warns that relying on prayer alone and ignoring western medicine can be harmful.
7. Feng Shui
Feng shui involves organizing space to create positive energy. It relies on the belief that the arrangement of objects in a space can have an impact on the flow of energy.
Practitioners of feng shui claim that by rearranging their furniture and other objects in their rooms, you can improve your “health, wealth, and relationships.”
However, to date, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims.
In fact, many of the principles of feng shui can be traced back to ancient superstitions and highly non-scientific folklore. For example:
- The placement of mirrors is said to be able to reflect negative energy away from a person.
- The practice of hanging wind chimes is said to be able to attract positive energy.
I personally like some aspects of feng shui because it makes me think about my home’s layout and optimal placements of furniture to improve my life, but it’s got no true science behind it. And that’s okay!
8. Healing Crystals
Healing crystals are crystals that you place on your body or in your environment in order to promote physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
The idea is that each type of crystal has its own unique properties. For example:
- Amethyst can supposedly help relieve stress
- Rose quartz can supposedly attract love.
There is no scientific evidence to support the ancient claims that certain crystals have certain powers. Nevertheless, many people find them to be helpful. Likely, this is due to the placebo effect.
Homeopathy is another alternative medicine. It is based on the principle that “like cures like.” In other words, a substance that causes certain symptoms can also be used to treat those same symptoms.
A common example is onions causing crying. As a result, some people use onions to onset crying, which is believed to have the flow-on effect of clearing out allergies like hayfever that often also causes you to cry.
Although homeopathy is widely considered pseudoscientific because of its lack of evidence in clinical trials, it is embraced by millions of people around the world.
Hypnotherapy is therapy that takes place under a state of hypnosis. Supposedly, when under hypnosis, the patient is more relaxed and can enter a state of focused attention.
Once the patient is in this state, the therapist can then work to address any subconscious issues that can only be treated when you’re in that state.
While hypnotherapy is widely used and many people say it has been extremely effective in achieving personal emotional breakthroughs, it is still considered somewhat controversial due to its lack of rigorous scientific basis.
Additional Examples of Pseudoscience
- Magnet Therapy – Magnet therapy is the use of magnets with the idea that they can heal you. They thought to produce an electromagnetic field that can do things like improving blood flow and promoting healing on a molecular level.
- Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a debunked personality assessment instrument that is often used in the workplace and during professional retreats to help people reflect on their strengths and weaknesses in the workplace. It is based on the idea that people can be operationalized into 16 personality types based four categories: Extroversion/Introversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Perceiving. However, it is criticized for lacking content validity.
- Numerology – The idea that numbers have spiritual meanings. If you keep seeing or dreaming of specific numbers, the idea is that they mean something spiritually. Similarly, your birth date may have some deeper meaning. It is not taken seriously by scientists.
- Psychoanalysis – Psychoanalysis aims to help people understand their unconscious thoughts and emotions. It often relies on bizarre and debunked ideas like Freud’s oedipus complex. While it’s still widely used in psychology, the hard sciences tend to critique it as an unscientific idea (for more on this, see my article on pseudo-psychology).
- Qigong – Qigong is an ancient Chinese practice that involves the use of breathing exercises and meditation to improve health and well-being. Some aspects of it, like meditation, are found to be very effective, while other ideas within Qigong like Qi (or life energy – discussed earlier) have no scientific basis.
- Reflexology – Reflexology is a type of massage that focuses on the feet and hands. It relies on an as yet unproven idea that all organs of the body has a ‘touch point’ on the sole of your foot.
- Reiki – Reiki is a natural healing art that uses the hands to help balance the body’s energy system. It believes in a life source or energy system that science cannot identify and does not come out of scientific research.
- Aromatherapy – Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to promote healing and wellness. Supposedly, these oils can help you improve your mood, reduce stress, and boost energy levels. Science tends to be skeptical of such claims.
This article isn’t meant to debunk or even criticize the above pseudosciences. In fact, some of them may end up being true (or at least having some tangible benefits to people’s lives). Nevertheless, they tend to be categorized as pseudosciences because they do not currently have sufficient scientific backing or clear evidence behind them that is based on rigorous scientific research in scholarly settings.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]