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Scientific progress thrives on logical scientific debate.  It is just as important to try to identify logical reasons a scientific theory can't be correct as reasons it is true.  So perhaps it is disappointing that some pseudo-sceptics believe irrational debunking is a logical scientific debate and seem to almost make a career of it, particularly on the Internet.

The most common form of this pseudo-sceptical irrational debunking uses personal insults and ridicule to discredit theories they don't like. Often a new theory is labelled by these irrational debunkers as pseudoscience or fringe science without providing any clear explanation what makes it so. With a clear example of circular reasoning they argue that because they don't believe something is true then it is pseudoscience and since it is pseudoscience it isn't true.  It is clear we can ignore these flawed arguments since they are illogical and don't belong in any rational scientific debate.

Often irrational debunkers argue that new theories don't follow the scientific method and only when we understand the difference between a hypothesis, theory, law, model, rule, postulate, axiom or theorem will we be able to understand any science. Fortunately this is just an attempt to complicate a simple concept. Thomas Huxley seems to have said it best when he stated that, ‘Science is nothing but trained and organized common sense’.

A scientific theory is a simple description of a “model” of what we think might be going on in the real world. This theory can then be tested to see how closely it fits our observation of the real world around us. The essential point of science is that anyone can follow the logic of the argument and test it for themselves, so we can check if any theory predicts correctly what we actually see in the real world. A key difference between a belief and a scientific theory is that a scientific theory makes predictions about the world which can be tested, while a belief makes no testable claims and so isn't science. Science relies on evidence - not faith.

An often emotional argument of irrational debunking is that we can’t propose new scientific theories because all the existing theories would be wrong and everything we currently believe would change. But our theories have changed many times before.  Only reality never changes despite our many different attempts to explain it. Evolution, Continental Drift, Ice Ages, the Sun Centred Solar System and many other theories were all once new concepts that replaced old outdated ideas of how the world works. They also received their share of irrational debunking.

Some forms of irrational debunking appear to present logical arguments mixed amongst emotional arguments but further reflection illustrates critical failures in the logic. One of the commonest arguments used takes the simple form that; I am going to completely ignore your observations because (insert your reason here) and then uses this flawed logic to claim complete victory. In practice most irrational debunking follows the structure of ignoring an observation without even attempting to explain the observation.

It is an advantage to separate irrational debunking from logical scientific reasoning. Here are some simple suggestions to help to quickly identify irrational debunking.

Attempting to connect a scientific theory with well known discredited ideas
Using arguments that could be directed against any new theory
Labelling a new theory as unscientific, fringe science instead of providing clear logical reasoning why a theory fails
Choosing to ignore evidence that supports a new theory whilst giving undue weight to other evidence
Using personal attacks, sometimes mixed with foul or abusive language, instead of considering the scientific merits of the theory

Perhaps we should all remember whilst observing this irrational debunking that the general reaction to a new scientific theory normally progresses in four distinct stages:

(1) this is worthless nonsense
(2) this is an interesting, but incorrect point of view
(3) this is true, but irrelevant
(4) I've always said this was true.

Further Reading

Pseudoskepticism appears to be scientific skepticism but in reality fails here
Extraordinary Science; Incommensurability of Scientific Paradigms here
The Debunker: A Pseudo-Skeptic By Any Other Name here
Doing science outside the mainstream - YouTube video here
Ridiculed discoverers, vindicated Mavericks here
Numerous examples of Irrational Debunking of the Expanding Earth theory

Updated 19Oct14