The Six Symptoms of Pathological Science, by Irving Langmuir

Élan Vital 2012-11-13

This overview of pattern-creation in the guise of science and its mob effect on whole fields must be read and relished.

The Six Symptoms of Pathological Science:

  • The maximum effect observed is produced by an agent of barely detectable intensity.  The magnitude of the effect is largely independent of the intensity of the cause.
  • The effect is of a magnitude close to the limit of detectability, or many measurements are necessary because of low statistical significance of individual results.
  • There are claims of great, even extraordinary, accuracy
  • Fantastic theories contrary to experience are suggested (with enthusiasm)
  • Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses thought up on the spur of the moment  (this may be contagious)
  • The ratio of supporters to critics rises to somewhere near 50%, then falls gradually to zero.

Also, note that the “Allison effect” and mechanism is the most amazing example given, and may show something different than standard pathological science: it was considered good science for over a decade, and by hundreds of practitioners.

From a talk famously given by Langmuir (1932 Chemistry N’Laureate) in 1953, transcribed by Robert Hall, illustrated by Physics Today, republished and promoted by professors and authors.