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science v pseudo

The following is unashamedly and with gratitude taken from a presentation by Steven D. Schafersman, President of Texas Citizens for Science.

In that presentation he used rigorous science to dismantle the pseudoscience that claims the Turin Shroud is a genuine relic; but pseudoscience is a widely applicable term and a creeping menace, and even meteorology stumbles across it now and then.

Read on…


Pseudoscientists must believe in a false methodology to obtain knowledge and therefore must actively pervert the integrity and methods of science to promote their beliefs. This effort is harmful to all because it undermines the accepted procedures humans use to discover reliable knowledge.

Pseudoscientists are also credulous and self-deceived, but because good evidence always exists to refute their beliefs, they must actively resist acknowledging the veracity of the evidence, instead engage in distorting and misrepresenting the nature of the conflicting evidence when promoting their own fallacious evidence. This is credulity-mongering and nonsense-peddling – a greater epistemic and ethical lapse than the simple credulous, unskeptical beliefs of paranormalists. Pseudoscientists try to convince others of their claims and publicize them.

Pseudoscience means “False Science,” an activity that doesn’t play by the same rules as legitimate science. It promotes extraordinary claims about nature without possessing the corresponding and necessary extraordinary evidence that supports those claims. Indeed, pseudoscience usually ignores or rejects the reliable and convincing existing evidence that contradicts its claims.


Pseudoscientists exploit the integrity and public trust of scientists by pretending to be scientists, thus undeservedly sharing the legitimacy and prestige real scientists possess. This is especially bad because pseudoscientists thereby confuse the public about the nature of true science.


  • Start with belief in the desired conclusion and create evidence to support it, even when the conclusion requires supernormal or supernatural action.
  • Do not test the conclusion or, if tested, do not test it competently or thoroughly, even when the simplest tests are completely adequate to reveal the truth.
  • Ignore evidence that refutes their conclusions or attempt to explain the evidence away using bizarre and specious arguments.
  • Misrepresent or wilfully misinterpret facts that are not consistent with the desired conclusion, and engage in “over-reaching” and credulity-mongering to promote the conclusion.
  • Disparage those scientists who discover and publish the solid evidence that reveals that their desired pseudoscientific conclusions are false.
  • Publish their “scientific” results and conclusions in unedited or poorly edited journals, usually with no or incompetent peer review. In this fashion, some legitimate popular technology and science journals have published pseudoscientific papers.
  • Present frequent public lectures and symposia, and writing popular books and articles, to try to convince the public directly, rather than building one’s case through proper scientific channels.
  • Fraudulently manufacture evidence to support their beliefs and publish such “evidence” in poorly edited journals, thus making it available for other honest but credulous scientists to use in subsequent studies.


It will have escaped the attention of few people that the UK is on the verge of a remarkably cold spell of weather.

Temperatures are going to drop steadily this week by at least one degree per day, until through the weekend and into the start of next week the temperature will be as much as seven degrees below average.

Some places will by then be struggling to rise above freezing while falling 4 to 9 degrees below in some places overnight.

And it is not just the temperature that will make it feel wintry.

There will be showers breaking out, initially over northern Scotland down the eastern side of Britain, and they will turn increasingly to sleet or snow, especially from Thursday onwards. Showers will also develop down the western side of Wales and across southwest England.

There could be several centimetres of snow accumulating over high ground in north and east Scotland from Thursday onwards, perhaps 15 cm or more in the Cairngorms, and showers will start to fall as snow even at low levels in the south of the country towards the weekend. More regions may become susceptible as showers threaten to become widespread but it is impossible to pinpoint precise locations until nearer the time.

While this depth of cold is highly unusual for November it is not without precedent.

In 1919 the cold began even earlier, with significant snowfalls on 19-20th September, especially over Dartmoor in Devon where 5cm accumulated. Even low ground in the north had snow, and this came after a hot first half of the month: on 11th September the temperature rose over 32 degrees Celsius in Northamptonshire.

When November came around the temperature plummeted again as north-easterly winds set in. The severe cold set in around 11th November 1919, and snow soon followed. At Braemar, Aberdeenshire, snow lay to a depth of 42cm, and over 30cm accumulated on Dartmoor.

Most extraordinary, though, was the frigid temperature recorded at Braemar on 14th November, when the mercury plunged to -23.3 degrees Celsius in the early morning as lying snow chilled the air. The maximum temperature that day was 10 degrees below freezing. This would be extraordinary even in the depths of winter.

The bus from Ballater to Braemar

The Ballater-Braemar bus, not needing any grit evidently.

Snow remained on the ground at Braemar and Balmoral until the end of the month, when it became much less cold, and the rest of the winter was unremarkable, with frequent milder south and south-westerly winds.

This serves to illustrate that a cold blow at the beginning of winter does not necessarily serve as a reliable indicator for the rest of the season. One swallow does not make a summer, nor one snowman a winter.

Today, Monday 16 March, was the UK’s warmest day of the year so far — as long as you count observations made at the London Weather Centre, where the temperature reached 17.2 Celsius today. If you are one of those who doubt the integrity of the exposure of this site, then the warmest is still the 16.9 C recorded in Canterbury on February 27.

One might call this warm-ish and sunny weather ‘spring-like’ but as it is already spring, meteorologically, then so it should be. It is one thing to talk about ‘spring-like’ when it is still winter but another, almost tautological, matter to do so when spring has sprung. Unless one holds on to the notion that spring begins around March 21.

Semantics aside, though, we have high pressure near or over the UK to thank for what meteorologists are pleased to call this ‘settled’ spell. The centre of this anticyclone looks like shifting northeastwards into Scandinavia towards the weekend; its influence should ensure a continuation of the dry weather in many areas but it will encourage winds from a colder northeast or easterly direction.

High pressure then, if the models are correct, regresses into the Atlantic by the start of next week, Monday 23 March. This will give us a north to north-westerly flow that will be neither warm nor particularly cold. It will keep many parts of the country dry, though, and it seems likely that some areas will enter an ‘absolute drought’, the definition of which is a period of 15 days or more when no measurable rainfall is recorded (less than 0.2 mm per 24 hour period).

droughtIt’s a slightly archaic expression, adopted by G J Symons in 1887 in his work British Rainfall. It dropped out of official favour around 1960 as more sophisticated hydrological and statistical measures were introduced. A ‘dry spell’, added to weather glossaries in 1919, is a period of 15 consecutive days when no more than 1.0 mm of rain falls in a single day.

Confusingly, perhaps, there is – or was – also a ‘partial drought’: a period of at least 29 consecutive days, whose mean daily precipitation does not exceed 0.2 mm.

Are these definitions useful? Possibly not; but perhaps they should be borne in mind when casual bandying phrases such as ‘dry spell’, lest these be confused — unlikely though that may be — with these withered turns of phrase.