Many blogs about medicine mention and promote “alternative medicine.” It’s a hot phrase commonly used in political speeches and opinion editorials and is repeatedly plastered on newspaper headlines and blogs to catch attention. Everyone seems to have an opinion on alternative medicine, but what is alternative medicine? In short, alternative medicine is any proposed medical practice that isn’t considered orthodox by the greater medical community. The conflict around alternative medicine is essentially between those who believe in it and those who don’t.

Each side of the debate features strong claims. Opponents to alternative medicine refer to the lack of complete and professionally produced medical studies; proponents of alternative medicine often cite personal experiences and reactions they’ve witnessed in people rather than thorough studies. Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, one topic that is commonly questioned and mentioned is the legitimacy of the scientific experiments completed, whether the large medical studies from esteemed universities or the small case studies from alternative medicine practitioners.

Many people just don’t know that they should be on the lookout for distinguishing fake, exaggerated, or purposefully misinterpreted scientific reports (pseudoscience) from legitimately performed and properly analyzed science. Regardless of your position on a debate, the public misinterpretation of scientific reports and lack of knowledge on pseudoscience often reduces professional and respectful debates on the subject into emotion-evoking shouting matches. Here are some easy ways you can identify pseudoscience:

  • Is the tone of the language unbiased and non-emotive, or is it specifically designed to evoke anger, awe, hopelessness, or any other raw and powerful feelings?
  • A tell-tale sign of pseudoscience is “psychobabble”, or the improper use and overuse of scientific terms to suggest credibility. Is the scientific jargon used legitimate, or does it border on ridiculous?
  • Does the article make wild claims with little to no evidence? If so, it’s probably illegitimate.
  • Pseudoscience often places extreme trust and dependence on anecdotal evidence rather than on large studies completed on many people.
  • It can be helpful to assume that every article is pseudoscience and force the author to prove their point and earn your trust in their competence.

Pseudoscience runs rampant throughout the alternative medicine debate and many, many others. Being able to spot the pseudoscience amongst the legitimate science in every debate can lead to a more wholesome and real understanding of any given topic so you can create better claims and formulate more well-informed opinions.