Quiz about Pseudoscience Basics
Quiz about Pseudoscience Basics

Pseudoscience Basics Trivia Quiz


"Science" isn't so much a thing as a way of thinking. "Pseudoscience" is when people, through ignorance or malice, use a thought process that looks like science, but doesn't have the same rigor. This quiz tells the story of how you make that mistake.

A multiple-choice quiz by Correspondguy. Estimated time: 7 mins.
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Time
7 mins
Type
Multiple Choice
Quiz #
316,995
Updated
Dec 03 21
# Qns
10
Difficulty
Average
Avg Score
8 / 10
Plays
6832
Awards
Editor's Choice
Last 3 plays: Guest 5 (8/10), Guest 89 (9/10), Guest 38 (9/10).
This quiz has 2 formats: you can play it as a or as shown below.
Scroll down to the bottom for the answer key.
1. This is a story about Bob Johnson, a well-meaning turnip farmer. Bob's career choice is fortunate, because he loves the taste of turnips. Even more fortunately for him, so does his family, so his desire for a turnip-focused diet meets with their approval. They have turnips at every meal: they have them fried, mashed, boiled, roasted and raw. They start each day with a fresh-squeezed glass of turnip juice. One day, Bob notices that he gets fewer colds and his family tells him that they get fewer colds. He concludes that turnips have anti-viral properties and protect his family from infection. Assuming that his observation is accurate (his family does get fewer colds), what pseudoscientific error has he made? Hint

Over-reliance on anecdotal evidence.
Everyone knows that turnips taste horrible.
Only a scientist may make that conclusion.
He forgot to check his results with his doctor.

2. Having reached his conclusion, our hero decides to create a website extolling the virtues of a turnip-heavy diet and offering turnip and turnip-related nutritional supplements. What's the negative term used for this method of announcing pseudoscientific results? Hint

"Publish or perish"
"Seller's bias"
"Science by press conference"
"Getting yours first"

3. Farmer Bob's website is a great success. He sells lots of turnips and turnip-related nutritional supplements. More importantly to his pseudoscience, however, he accumulates a lot of anecdotes from people who claim that his turnips, or his supplements, have either prevented disease or cured their disease. He also gets a few stories where people claim that his products have had no effect. Figuring he should focus on the positive, he posts the positive results on the website and deletes the negative ones. This mistake is common in pseudoscience and is described by what kind of cognitive bias? Hint

"Selection Bias"
"The Red Queen Bias"
"Yellow Journalism Bias"
"Bible Code Bias"

4. Bob's popularity brings him to the attention of some local scientists. They gently point out that Bob hasn't really researched the effect of turnips. Bob decides to run an experiment; he goes down to the local nursing home and interviews many senior citizens about their consumption of turnips (and turnip-based supplements). His data shows that older senior citizens have eaten more turnips in their lifetime. He gleefully reports this data in support of his claim that turnips make you healthier and thus you live longer. Assuming his data is accurate, what's the pseudoscientific problem with using this data? Hint

Old people are senile.
Correlation does not mean causation.
He's just wrong.
Old people are still sick.

5. Bob writes a short book extolling the wonderful benefits of turnips and turnip-based supplements. He makes the rounds of talk shows promoting his book, and agrees to appear on a panel with a doctor. The doctor points out the pseudoscientific nature of Bob's work. Bob answers these criticisms by claiming that the doctor hates turnips and won't eat them. What's the term for Bob's counter-argument? Hint

An "ad hominem" argument.
A "dead horse" argument.
A "strawman" argument.
A "your momma" argument.

6. Bob, like many of us, tends to become defensive when criticized. As more scientists argue that he's engaged in pseudoscience, he makes up his mind to show them who's boss. He offers a $50,000.00 prize for anyone who can show that turnips DON'T prevent disease. Why is this a tip that Bob's engaged in pseudoscience? Hint

Because he doesn't have $50,000.00.
Because he won't be able to verify the submissions.
Because the prize will bias the results.
Because you can't prove a negative.

7. Bob notices that a lot of the people criticizing him have Ph.Ds from Ivy League schools. He becomes convinced that Ivy League universities have engaged in systematic anti-turnip brainwashing. This reasoning is common in pseudoscience. However, it violates a common principle of logic: that the less complicated hypothesis should be investigated first. What's the sharp-edged name for this principle? Hint

Kant's scissors
Newton's cradle
Occam's razor
Plato's stiletto

8. Bob has acquired a reputation in some circles as a visionary. A whole group of people is convinced that their ingestion of turnips (or Bob's supplements) has saved them from any number of diseases. Some members of this group hold degrees in scientific fields, mostly in Engineering and Physics. Bob points to the fact that a lot of "scientists" agree with him as support for his claims. This error, invoking the prestige of a person making a statement as evidence that the statement is correct, is known as what? (Note: "Because I'm your Dad and I said so," is an invocation of the same error.) Hint

"Six degrees of separation"
"You're not the boss of me"
"Argument from authority"
"Argument from bossiness"

9. Bob's tendency toward pseudoscience is exacerbated by his lack of formal education in the sciences. A prankster takes advantage of that by complimenting him on the absence of "Dihydrogen monoxide" in his turnip-derived supplements, noting that Bob could not fit the turnipy goodness in the capsules if he did not remove most of this "dangerous chemical." Bob posts this praise on the website, quickly removing it a week later when people inform him of the more common name for "Dihydrogen monoxide." What is the more common name for this chemical? Hint

Water
Aqua vitae
Salt
Aspirin

10. After a long time in the business, Bob has now sold millions of turnip supplements, marketed as "Turnipvita." He creates a commercial explicitly referencing that fact. In the commercial, he offers a month's free supply of "Turnipvita" if you agree to sign up for a monthly shipment. He states, "If Turnipvita didn't do something pretty amazing, could I afford to make this offer?" What is a reason this is a pseudoscientific position? Hint

Because my mom said so.
Because no scientist has endorsed this position.
Because the claim cannot be proven false.
Because only impoverished researchers do science.


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Quiz Answer Key and Fun Facts
1. This is a story about Bob Johnson, a well-meaning turnip farmer. Bob's career choice is fortunate, because he loves the taste of turnips. Even more fortunately for him, so does his family, so his desire for a turnip-focused diet meets with their approval. They have turnips at every meal: they have them fried, mashed, boiled, roasted and raw. They start each day with a fresh-squeezed glass of turnip juice. One day, Bob notices that he gets fewer colds and his family tells him that they get fewer colds. He concludes that turnips have anti-viral properties and protect his family from infection. Assuming that his observation is accurate (his family does get fewer colds), what pseudoscientific error has he made?

Answer: Over-reliance on anecdotal evidence.

Bob has based his conclusion on his family's self-reporting. There's no way of determining if there's another cause, since his family is a very specific population and there may be other variables at work. By the way, the assumptions that only a scientist may make such a conclusion or that he must check his results with a physician are examples of an "appeal to authority," which is also a logical error often found among pseudoscientists.
2. Having reached his conclusion, our hero decides to create a website extolling the virtues of a turnip-heavy diet and offering turnip and turnip-related nutritional supplements. What's the negative term used for this method of announcing pseudoscientific results?

Answer: "Science by press conference"

"Science by press conference" is when you announce your results in a forum you control, such as a website or, well, a press conference, rather than having it reviewed by scientific peers. If you want your results to have credibility, it's best to have them published in a peer-reviewed scientific publication. "Publish or perish," by the way, is a cynical description of the need for university professors to produce scholarly work if they want to keep their (non-tenured) jobs.
3. Farmer Bob's website is a great success. He sells lots of turnips and turnip-related nutritional supplements. More importantly to his pseudoscience, however, he accumulates a lot of anecdotes from people who claim that his turnips, or his supplements, have either prevented disease or cured their disease. He also gets a few stories where people claim that his products have had no effect. Figuring he should focus on the positive, he posts the positive results on the website and deletes the negative ones. This mistake is common in pseudoscience and is described by what kind of cognitive bias?

Answer: "Selection Bias"

There are several selection biases at work here. First, Bob's only looking at people who cared enough to write in - generally, people with a positive experience are more motivated to write in. Second, Bob doesn't know if these people are accurate in their assessments. If they were imagining their symptoms in the first place, then turnips could receive the credit without doing anything at all. I would also suspect that people who believe that turnips could prevent disease would be more likely to be imagining their symptoms. Bob himself has biased his site by including positive results and ignoring negative ones.
4. Bob's popularity brings him to the attention of some local scientists. They gently point out that Bob hasn't really researched the effect of turnips. Bob decides to run an experiment; he goes down to the local nursing home and interviews many senior citizens about their consumption of turnips (and turnip-based supplements). His data shows that older senior citizens have eaten more turnips in their lifetime. He gleefully reports this data in support of his claim that turnips make you healthier and thus you live longer. Assuming his data is accurate, what's the pseudoscientific problem with using this data?

Answer: Correlation does not mean causation.

This is a common mistake of pseudoscientists. If you think about it logically, older people have likely consumed more of every food you can name in their lifetime than younger people in the same population. They're older, therefore they've eaten more meals. Concluding that the turnip eating and attaining an advanced age are functions of the same thing (living longer) is far more reasonable than the idea that one caused the other. Note, however, that Bob's data could represent the first step in a valid scientific test of his claims.

He now has a baseline, and he could compare the continued consumption of turnips with how healthy the people are over time.
5. Bob writes a short book extolling the wonderful benefits of turnips and turnip-based supplements. He makes the rounds of talk shows promoting his book, and agrees to appear on a panel with a doctor. The doctor points out the pseudoscientific nature of Bob's work. Bob answers these criticisms by claiming that the doctor hates turnips and won't eat them. What's the term for Bob's counter-argument?

Answer: An "ad hominem" argument.

"Ad hominem" means "against the person." An "ad hominem" argument relies on discrediting the person with whom you disagree, rather than answering their argument. A "strawman" argument is similar, but relies on disproving or discrediting something easy. An example is saying "evolution can't explain the origin of life, therefore evolution is wrong." Evolution doesn't try to explain the origin of life.

A "dead horse" argument, so far as I know, isn't a formal term, but I'd use it to mean an argument that's been disproved so often that no one cares anymore.

A "your momma" argument, I think, would be one in which I answered criticism of this quiz by saying "Well, your mama's so stupid she called Dan Quayle for a spell check." (Joke obtained from Aha! Jokes' Yo Mama Page.)
6. Bob, like many of us, tends to become defensive when criticized. As more scientists argue that he's engaged in pseudoscience, he makes up his mind to show them who's boss. He offers a $50,000.00 prize for anyone who can show that turnips DON'T prevent disease. Why is this a tip that Bob's engaged in pseudoscience?

Answer: Because you can't prove a negative.

Science generally works like this: I have an idea. I test the idea. If my results support my idea, I publish them. It's not up to the scientific community to prove me wrong, it's up to me to prove I'm right. The reason for this is simple logic. It's impossible to prove that something is NEVER true (a "universal negative," according to Wikipedia), because one cannot test every circumstance. Furthermore, random chance will produce positive results in some cases. If we examine people who eat turnips, it's certain that some of the people who eat turnips will remain well.

The test is whether MORE of them remain well than people who do not eat turnips.
7. Bob notices that a lot of the people criticizing him have Ph.Ds from Ivy League schools. He becomes convinced that Ivy League universities have engaged in systematic anti-turnip brainwashing. This reasoning is common in pseudoscience. However, it violates a common principle of logic: that the less complicated hypothesis should be investigated first. What's the sharp-edged name for this principle?

Answer: Occam's razor

According to Wikipedia, Occam's razor "...is the principle that can be popularly stated as 'when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better.'" Here, the simple explanation (and the correct one) is that Bob's engaging in pseudoscience.

The fact that graduates of particular universities happen to notice this is irrelevant. If we adopt Bob's theory, we have to posit a reason for the conspiracy, a conspiracy, a reason the conspiracy has not been exposed, and why people would use the tactic of criticizing his research methods rather than another, more brutally efficient one. (Like running him over with a tractor - he is a farmer, after all.) That's way too many complications to suggest Bob's right. Newton's cradle, by the way, is a toy that, according to Wikipedia, "demonstrates conservation of momentum and energy." The other two, I made up.
8. Bob has acquired a reputation in some circles as a visionary. A whole group of people is convinced that their ingestion of turnips (or Bob's supplements) has saved them from any number of diseases. Some members of this group hold degrees in scientific fields, mostly in Engineering and Physics. Bob points to the fact that a lot of "scientists" agree with him as support for his claims. This error, invoking the prestige of a person making a statement as evidence that the statement is correct, is known as what? (Note: "Because I'm your Dad and I said so," is an invocation of the same error.)

Answer: "Argument from authority"

The argument from authority shows up a LOT in pseudoscience. Most commonly, one sees a person with an advanced degree lending the authority of their credential to a position, but neglecting to mention that their academic credentials make them no more an authority on the subject than anyone else.

For example, Creationists love to assemble lists of "scientists who doubt evolution." Many of these people are in fact scientists, but scientists in fields where evolution either never comes up (such as particle physics or engineering). Of course, a lot of believers in pseudosciences answer by saying that lots of things are only accepted as true because "authorities" claim they're true.

The difference is that the "argument from authority" relies on the people making the claim, where science accepts that just because a lot of people believe something, that doesn't make it so. (See Wikipedia's entry on "Project Steve," which mocks the effort of Creationists to argue from authority.)
9. Bob's tendency toward pseudoscience is exacerbated by his lack of formal education in the sciences. A prankster takes advantage of that by complimenting him on the absence of "Dihydrogen monoxide" in his turnip-derived supplements, noting that Bob could not fit the turnipy goodness in the capsules if he did not remove most of this "dangerous chemical." Bob posts this praise on the website, quickly removing it a week later when people inform him of the more common name for "Dihydrogen monoxide." What is the more common name for this chemical?

Answer: Water

"Dihydrogen monoxide," of course, is H2O, or water. We just don't call it that often. According to Wikipedia, various pranksters have cited "DHMO"s presence in acid rain and cancerous tumors; the fact that it causes burns, erosion, and corrosion; and its contribution to the "greenhouse effect" as the basis of a test to see how gullible the general public is when faced with scientific terms they don't recognize. Similarly, I used to see ads for sexual stimulants that stated they were "spurious." I guess people finally caught on to that one.
10. After a long time in the business, Bob has now sold millions of turnip supplements, marketed as "Turnipvita." He creates a commercial explicitly referencing that fact. In the commercial, he offers a month's free supply of "Turnipvita" if you agree to sign up for a monthly shipment. He states, "If Turnipvita didn't do something pretty amazing, could I afford to make this offer?" What is a reason this is a pseudoscientific position?

Answer: Because the claim cannot be proven false.

This is actually a claim in an Enzyte commercial, and it makes me yell at the television with some frequency. Setting aside the obvious flaw: that "pretty amazing" can mean anything at all (it's obvious that Enzyte is supposed to make a man have a larger penis), it's actually more likely that the company could afford to give away a product that doesn't work.

There's no need for quality control, to begin with. But more importantly, the whole connection is meaningless. Business practices have nothing to do with demonstrating the effectiveness of a product. Also, keep in mind that Bob's only giving away a month's supply - he gets to charge the customer for each month after that. Lots of companies do "buy one, get one free" promotions - that doesn't mean their product does what it's supposed to do.
Source: Author Correspondguy

This quiz was reviewed by FunTrivia editor CellarDoor before going online.
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