Sham Inquiry

As part of a research project, I looked at the phenomenon of sham inquiry. It’s when pseudoscience or a marketing scheme dresses up to look like science in order to add credibility. The public can be easily fooled – they think if you look like this:


…you must be a scientist.

Well, that’s obviously not true. No one I know looks like that. In public.

In this paper, I looked at three examples of my favorite (to poke) pseudosciences and I was astonished to find one example they ALL used to show how science doesn’t work. (They failed to show this, actually. It’s a bogus argument.)

I hope you enjoy this series beginning with “Sour Grapes”.


5 thoughts on “Sham Inquiry

  1. Hi,

    I just wanted to say how glad I am to have found your site! I read your bio at, one of my favorite skeptic sites (along with, The Reason Project, Sam Harris, and others). Your explanation of the difference between science and pseudoscience is clear and easy to understand, and will be the reference to which I will point those who try to convince me that their belief in whatever hackery they subscribe to is true and correct.

    My own skeptical journey started about 17 years ago, as a response to the christian right’s attacks on the gay and lesbian community (I’m lesbian) based on the bible. I wasn’t raised in a particularly religious family. When I asked about god as a kid, my mom told me god was love, and was in everything. Needless to say, I had NO idea what the bible actually said about anything, and wanted to educate myself in order to have a basis for refuting what religious extremists were ranting about.

    Researching the history of the bible and christianity, then the history of all religion, back to mythology, led me to the history of human consciousness. While learning about the cutting edge science of how the brain works and how we come to believe what we believe, and how even really smart people can believe the most incredible garbage, I began to see how my own irrational and uncritical thinking was not only affecting my descision making in really destructive ways, but also my emotional well being. I tend to lead with my heart, and have a rich imagination and life long love of all things creative (I’m an enthusiastic amateur singer/songwriter, guitar player, and photographer). Needless to say, believing crazy things can eventually make someone crazy, as I know from direct, often painful, experience.

    The more I let go of the even the liberal ideas about god that I used to believe, the happier I became. While I still struggle to let go of irrational beliefs about myself that tend get in the way of my ability to be content and productive in my life, I have no doubt that as I continue to practice the mental discipline of rational, critical thinking, I will continue to experience more satisfaction, contentment, and even joy in my life.

    Thank you so much for adding your skeptical, reasoned voice so publicly to the ongoing clash between reason and irrationality. You and others like you are a continuing inspiration to me.

    All My Best,


  2. “Sham Inquiry” is so good, so organized and clear and pithy, that I’m going to steal it. I intend to turn it into a presentation to encourage critical thinking.
    I will, of course, provide citation.

  3. As one who has had to wade through (and sometimes confront) annoying examples of pseudo science being utilized for dubious purposes, I appreciate what are trying to do.

    Aside from “Sham Inquiry”, I might offer a thought for consideration at this juncture.

    I find the Boyd Bushman testimony interesting . . . but not because I believe what he was presenting, but rather the more intriguing question of why? Why would he do this?

    This not say that I completely disbelieve the concept of ETs having possibly visited Earth. But the “story” as presented by Boyd just seems silly, and sad

    An entirely different twist here could be that this was intentional disinformation. For whatever compelling collection of reasons that Boyd may have been motivated by, his presentation would be the perfect method for discrediting any other references to Lockheed (or others) having had interaction with ETs.

    As a contrived disinformation piece, to deflect any further interest or investigation into such activities, this is a perfect rendition of such an effort.

    But whatever the case may be, be it a perfectly contrived disinformation piece, or simply some sort of strange, elaborate prank, the case as presented by Boyd is interesting.


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