Scientific and Pseudoscientific

Philosophers always argue about the legitimacy of theories, their meaningfulness, and their demarcation. They do not agree on the methods used for classifying or categorizing theories. Most philosophers propose their theories, some of the latter gain acceptance, while others are refuted. Among the popular ones serious arguments about their validity, scope, and meaningfulness arise. Even the critics do not agree on what the problems of the theories are; rather, each formulates his or her problem and solves it. One widely debated concern is the problem of demarcation, in which every philosopher comes up with a criterion for it, discrediting those offered by others. This essay will discuss the issue of the problem of demarcation, in the light of Karl Popper’s and Paul Thagard’s study and through Mendel’s theory of inheritance.   

The problem of demarcation is the issue of drawing a line between scientific and pseudoscientific theories. There are difficulties determining which theory qualifies to be called scientific and which does not. There have been several classifications, but there are serious disagreements and conflicting arguments on the same. There is a common belief that scientific theories originate from observation, but many philosophers have refuted that argument pointing out that observational statements are at times made just to perform observation itself. Thus, observational statements do not qualify a theory to be scientific because there are some instances in which the word observation is misused. The problem of demarcation arises from the common belief that scientific theories originate from the methods employed. Philosophers, who contend about the importance of setting science aside from pseudoscience, argue that the methods used in the deduction of theories do not qualify them to be scientific. However, these philosophers do not agree on the ways or methods of demarcation.  


According to Karl Popper, the theories of science share the characteristic of testability, verifiability, or falsifiability. Popper argues that any theory must fulfill the tests in order to be qualified for becoming scientific, and that it may be subjected to and be unfalsifiable. One way of determining that a theory is scientific is the claim the theory is based upon. Scientific theories predict or claim things, which are beyond obvious and beyond normal to the eye. A scientific theory will suggest something which will lead to the falsification of the theory if it is proven to be false. Popper gives the example of Einstein’s theory of relativity, which was verified after an eclipse had occurred. According to Popper, Einstein had made a claim which was difficult to come true, and whose falsehood would result to the abandoning of the theory. At the same time, Popper argues that Einstein’s theory was verifiable by measuring the distance between the sun and certain stars and then comparing their positions at night. The method through which Einstein came to the theory’s conclusion does not determine whether it is scientific or not, but its verifiability and passing the test qualifies it for being scientific.   

On the other hand, Paul Thagard gives a different point of view about scientific theories. Thagard refutes Popper’s argument of falsification as a demarcation between scientific and pseudoscientific theories. The researcher gives three characteristics of scientific theories, which are as follows: (a) scientific theories are progressive; (b) the content of the theory, as argued in verifiability, should be scientific; (c) the historical context of the theory should be taken into consideration. Under these three characteristics, Thagard argues that a scientific theory is the one which continuously addresses the anomalies challenging it. The community of the theory (its advocates) should be confirming and disconfirming it, comparing its success with the records of other theories on the same issue. Furthermore, Thagard points that the prediction of the theory is a matter of concern as characteristic but not as single disqualifying factor; rather, it should be considered as a part of a trial. Lastly, the history of the theor, in dealing with anomalies and explaining new facts as well as keeping up with new theories that challenge it is a characteristic of a scientific theory. In a nutshell, Thagard argues that as long as a theory is progressive and there are no new theories to replace it and/or its content is a verifiable prediction, then the theory is scientific.

Concerning Mendel’s research, Popper and Thagard would have differing opinions. Popper, insisting on the invalidity of the induction method and the need for falsification, could refute Mendel’s research with a statement of exclusion. Mendel came to his theory through observing the pea plant; and after making inductions, he formulated the theory. According to Popper, the induction methods is problematic because human beings look for similarities even where there none of them and infer meaning using those similarities. Such method results usually in faulty theories. Also, Mendel’s findings and theory of inheritance do not apply to all living things since Mendel did not clarify all aspects in his theory. As a result, there is the possibility of failing the falsification test. That is, the theory claims that inheritance from parent to first-generation offspring bears two genes, namely dominant and recessive ones. This principle does not apply universally; thus, the theory would fail with the organisms not following such order. However, the fact that it would be testable with most of the living things, Popper would insist on including a statement that clarifies the exceptional cases to which the theory does not apply in order to qualify it as scientific.

On the other hand, Thagard would apply three principles of scientific theories to Mendel’s theory. The latter makes a prediction that is verifiable; thus, it qualifies as a scientific theory with one point. Next, Mendel’s theory has been progressive over the years, answering anomalies and providing explanations to new concerns, thus qualifying it with the second point as scientific. Lastly, there have been many other theories about inheritance, but none of them has overtaken or replace the Mendel’s one. Most of other theories explain the theory of inheritance for those organisms which do not fall under Mendel’s ideas. Furthermore, even those theories address the same issues as Mendel’s theory, they tend to be built upon it rather than to replace it. Therefore, Thagard would argue that Mendel’s theory qualifies as a scientific one with his three-principle criterion.  

Mendel’s work does not deviate from Popper’s and Thagard’s accounts of science. Nevertheless, it deviates from Popper’s account of induction method. First, Mendel decides to name the traits from observation as dominant and recessive. Also, Mendel observes that only one trait is manifested in F1, or the first hybrid generation from pure breeds, even though two parents had different traits. From this observation, Mendel decided to name the trait that manifests as dominant and the one that does not as recessive. Regardless of being inductive, this naming proves to be scientific. Additionally, Mendel comes to the conclusion that F2 generation, or the first generation of hybrids, exhibits the constant ratio of 3:1 of the dominant gene to the recessive one by induction. Through a series of experiments and statistical and mathematical evaluation of the results, Mendel induced that the 3:1 ratio of dominant and recessive gene is applied. This induction did not follow psychological dogmas, prior expectation, or similarity; rather, it was done purely on the basis of the experiment. Therefore, induction, in this case, works well as a means of the scientific method. 

As Popper argues, theories originate from observations which, in their turn, originate from hypotheses. According to Popper’s words, the hypothesis-observation relationship is similar to the hen-egg relationship. It is cyclic and difficult to tell what precedes what. Nonetheless, as Mendel points out, his research resulted from the lack of formulated laws by other botanists being concerned with their observations of the inheritance patterns. Mendel formulated a crude hypothesis by wondering what law to apply. Next, he moved to the observations and then observed the results and findings of the others in order to formulate a hypothesis with which he endeavored to conduct his research so as to make observations. Lastly, he formulated the law or the theory under question. Mendel gives a clear example of Popper’s argument about the origin of theories. They start from the hypothesis even though it was crude. Mendel’s experiment is related to his hypothesis by proving that there is character transfer from parents to offspring, and this clearly confirms his hypothesis.

In conclusion, it is difficult to determine what is scientific and what is not. Philosophers hardly agree on the demarcation criteria that should be used in drawing the line between the two. In most cases, the arguments of the problem of demarcation make the issue even more complicated either by ruling out scientific theories as pseudoscientific or ruling out nothing. Popper presents arguments about demarcation which seem to be sound, but when applying them to Mendel’s work, they become contradictory and faulty. The same happens to Thagard’s arguments. None of the demarcation criteria works in providing a solution without complicating the case. Mendel’s work, which is scientific by all means, falls under the pseudoscientific categories in different ways under the demarcation criteria proposed by Popper and Thagard. Therefore, the problem of demarcation is the impossible one to provide a solution satisfactorily. This does not mean that Popper and Thagard are wrong, it only points out the complexity of the issue and the reality that it is impossible to provide a clear and simple solution.

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