The Pseudoscience Concept, Dispensable in Professional Practice, Is Required to Evaluate Research Projects:
A Reply to Richard J. McNally
Mario Bunge, Frothingham Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, Department of Philosophy, McGill University.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Mario Bunge, Department of Philosophy, McGill University, 855 Sherbrooke St. W, Montreal, PQ, Canada H3A 2T3.
All a responsible craftsman needs to know about a theory or a method is whether it “works.” However, meeting this condition is insufficient to do scientific research, whether basic or applied. The reason is that, since the point of much empirical research is to produce data capable of supporting or undermining the item under scrutiny, such data are not available at the time of evaluating the research project. To accomplish this task, and thus make an intelligent decision concerning the worth and viability of an empirical research project, investigators use some more or less explicit notion of science—or its fake impersonator, pseudoscience. Now, given the complexity of science, it is unlikely that such notion can be characterized by a single attribute, such as confirmability, refutability, explanatory power, or formalizability. Any suitable characterization of science will involve a whole battery of criteria—such as the one proposed earlier by the present author. A handful of examples in several fields are briefly examined. The upshot is that a realistic philosophy of science can pay its way in encouraging promising if initially empirically weak research projects, and in discouraging wasting talent and funds in speculations that exhibit only some of the trappings of genuine science.