Monday, 14 March 2011
CASE 233 - Fringe science
Fringe science is scientific inquiry in an established field of study that departs significantly from mainstream or orthodox theories, and is classified in the "fringes" of a credible mainstream academic discipline. Mainstream scientists typically regard fringe concepts as highly speculative or even strongly refuted. On the other hand, the history of science contains many instances of the eventual widespread acceptance of fringe sciences. This is because in theory a fringe science will still maintain scientific rigor, plausibility, and integrity, though it is usually highly disputed.
The term fringe science is sometimes loosely used to describe fields that are actually pseudosciences, or fields which are referred to as sciences, but entirely lack scientific rigor or plausibility. Debunkers have coined the terms pathological science, voodoo science, and cargo cult science to suggest inquiry lacking in scientific integrity. Junk science is typically used politically to describe agenda-driven science. The general problem of where to properly draw a boundary between science and non-science, when the objective actually is objectivity, is called the demarcation problem. Unfortunately, the objective of some debunkers is debunking, not encouraging real scientific objectivity. For this purpose, disparaging terms are often useful. They are almost always a clue that objectivity is not the main objective.
It is important to distinguish between a science that has not yet been proven but follows the scientific method and any science which does not follow the scientific method. This is the difference between fringe science and pseudoscience. As above mentioned, some disciplines of fringe science have been or may,in the future, be proven to be actually true. Pseudoscience, however would only be proven true by a coincidence between opinion and fact, as the methods used are not logical proofs.
Fringe science can be distinguished from other controversial fields of study as follows:
A Pseudoscience is notably lacking in rigorous application of the scientific method, and reproducibility is typically a problem. This is not so in fringe science.
The term junk science is used to describe agenda-driven research that ignores certain standard methodologies and practices in an attempt to secure a given result from an experiment. Fringe science, as in standard methodology, proceeds from theory to conclusion with no attempt to direct or coax the result.
Some theories that were eventually refuted include:
Wilhelm Reich's work with orgone, a physical energy he claimed to have discovered, contributed to his alienation from the psychiatric community and eventually to his jailing. However, later questioning of Reich's mental health and scientific rigour at the time might place orgone among the pseudo sciences rather than among fringe sciences.