Irving Langmuir1 has identified several recurring
patterns in cases of pathological science:
To these we may add the following:
- The maximum effect that is observed is produced by a causative agent
of barely detectable intensity, and the magnitude of the effect is
substantially independent of the intensity of the cause.
- The effect is of a magnitude that remains close to the limit of
detectability, or many measurements are necessary because of the very low
statistical significance of the results.
- Theories outside the field's paradigm are suggested.
- Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses thought up on the spur of
- The ratio of supporters to critics rises and then falls gradually to
- The remarkable result is specific for a "special" system.
- Some special technique or equipment is involved.
- The result requires a stunning departure from the paradigms that
fully determine results in all other comparable systems, including those
studied by the authors. -- N.J.T.
1. Langmuir, Irving (transcribed
and ed., Robert N. Hall). Pathological science. Physics Today 42
(Oct. 1989): 44.