No, we haven’t been sued by some magnet-hocking web footed “forward thinking practitioner.” However, should we be sued, the judge before us could find himself/herself at a loss when it comes to scientific or medical facts. In Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., the US Supreme Court ruled that federal judges may arbitrate what evidence/testimony a jury sees, and encouraged them to turn to established scientific organizations to find neutral experts, rather than guess at which scientist’s science-speak seems sincerely scientific. Robert Park, PhD, is such a man. He’s got seven warning signs for bogus science…
1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.
The integrity of science rests on the willingness of scientists to expose new ideas and findings to the scrutiny of other scientists. Thus, scientists expect their colleagues to reveal new findings to them initially. An attempt to bypass peer review by taking a new result directly to the media, and thence to the public, suggests that the work is unlikely to stand up to close examination by other scientists….
2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.
The idea is that the establishment will presumably stop at nothing to suppress discoveries that might shift the balance of wealth and power in society. Often, the discoverer describes mainstream science as part of a larger conspiracy that includes industry and government. Claims that the oil companies are frustrating the invention of an automobile that runs on water, for instance, are a sure sign that the idea of such a car is baloney….
Hmmm…the evil establishment holding down your discovery. Is that so, past…
5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.
There is a persistent myth that hundreds or even thousands of years ago, long before anyone knew that blood circulates throughout the body, or that germs cause disease, our ancestors possessed miraculous remedies that modern science cannot understand. Much of what is termed “alternative medicine” is part of that myth.
6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.
The image of a lone genius who struggles in secrecy in an attic laboratory and ends up making a revolutionary breakthrough is a staple of Hollywood’s science-fiction films, but it is hard to find examples in real life. Scientific breakthroughs nowadays are almost always syntheses of the work of many scientists.
7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.
A new law of nature, invoked to explain some extraordinary result, must not conflict with what is already known. If we must change existing laws of nature or propose new laws to account for an observation, it is almost certainly wrong.
The list (with more details filled in) is hosted over at quackwatch.org, where it’s always Pseudoscience Friday. Hopefully, in a courtroom battle, one could at least hold the scientific high ground by citing such a list (and, more importantly, it’s previous use by other judges).