Collegium Helveticum
Ludwik Fleck Lecture

The Problem with Pseudoscience
Ludwik Fleck Lecture by Michael D. Gordin


Venue & accessibility info: Meridian Hall, Collegium Helveticum

This is a public event. Participation is free of charge and registration is not required.

The lecture is followed by a small reception.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing onrush of anti-vaccination movements, heterodox treatments, and conspiracy theories have brought new urgency to an old problem: how does one determine the boundary between scientific claims and theories of knowledge that merely resemble science, but do not in fact represent reliable knowledge of the natural world? A common term to designate these latter doctrines is “pseudoscience,” and it is a problem. That is, the very term is problematic, since it has proven impossible to define precisely. 

A central difficulty, despite a number of consensus examples, e.g. astrology, alchemy or phrenology, is that people never believe that they themselves are pseudoscientists. Those labeled this way simply consider themselves working on the correct path to knowledge, and regard the mainstream to be pseudoscientific. Yet there are paths out of this standoff. 

After reviewing the philosophical approaches to this question, this lecture offers an alternative historical analysis, arguing that fringe doctrines proliferate as an intrinsic by-product of how our scientific process is organized. We likely cannot eradicate the fringe, but we can understand it.

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