by Gregory L. Lof, PhD Boston, MA, used with permission.
Originally presented at the 2012 ASHA Convention, Atlanta Georgia

Science Versus Pseudoscience: A Checklist for Critical Thinking

There are many questionable alternative treatment approaches that are heavily marketed and promoted but have no evidence to support their use.

Even experienced clinicians frequently resort to these fad or alternative treatments…in other words, they “get quacked” into using them. Quackery is a type of pseudoscience because it is a practice or remedy that has no compelling scientific basis; it includes questionable ideas, products and services. Clinicians may get quacked because they are not being appropriately skeptical or they do not have the tools to help distinguish between science and pseudoscience. Below is a checklist to help you evaluate claims made by promoters of products or services to help determine if they are based on scientific principles or on pseudoscience.

Healthy Debate About the Therapy

The debates and discussions are about efficacy findings/data

The debates usually are not about data, but instead about beliefs and opinions

Information is Peer-Reviewed

Anonymous (blinded), impartial refereeing of data/findings

No peer review or only quasi/pseudo peer review of the findings

Quantifiable Data are Used

Data are quantitative, gathered following the scientific method

Data are qualitative, based on expert opinion

Higher level studies tested the procedure

Data are testimonials and case studies

Independent Confirmation of Findings

Independent because the researchers are not connected to the therapy

No independent confirmation by impartial reviewers

Valid Data are Disseminated

Information is presented at conferences that use peer-review and scientific standards

Information is presented at CEU events and other non peer-reviewed conferences

Information and data are presented in reputable journals

Information appears in self-published books or in the popular press

Information is found on trustworthy, professional websites

Information is on proprietary, self- developed websites

Valid and reliable data are presented in prominent spots on the webpage

Websites reporting findings have a testimonial section for hearsay but no research section

Scientific Method is Followed

Data obtained follow the scientific method to determine effectiveness

Use only clinician experience and judgments as the "best way" to determine effectiveness

Data are gathered by professionals who are qualified to study clinical questions

Implicit disdain for researchers because of the belief that "only clinicians really understand clinical work"

Results Have Theoretical Explanations

Theoretical models explain why therapy works

Poorly defined theoretical models for explanation of why a procedure is effective

Every link in the chain of explanation is connected

Gaps and missing information break the chain of plausibility

Use of Historical Data

Appropriate reporting of prior data relevant to the therapy

Claims of effectiveness because it has been done a long time in the field (e.g., "Van Riper said…")

Correct referencing of historical researchers and their findings

Claims of effectiveness only because of extensive clinical experience of clinician

Unbiased and honest reporting of the pros and cons of a procedure

Claims of effectiveness because of promoter's authority or charismatic nature

Appropriate use of data and theories from multiple perspectives

Only use information from outside the field because "other fields know better"

Both Misses and Hits are Counted

Candid about when a procedure is and is not effective

Data ignored when a procedure does not work but referred to when it does work

Disproving evidence is not ignored

Practice remains unchanged even with disproving evidence

Terms and Concepts are Standard and Conventional

Use of terms that are agreed upon by the scholarly community

New terms are created that are neither scientific nor conventional ("pseudoscientific jargon")

Results are "Too Good to be True"

Findings are specific for when and with whom a procedure may work

Claims of effectiveness for a wide range of clients with unrelated problems

Objective terms about effectiveness for specific populations are stated

Claims appeal to fears or wishful thinking about effectiveness or cure

Well-defined target population

Treatment often focused on desperate clients (e.g., highly involved, severely impaired, difficult to teach, etc.)

Non-subjective terms describe effectiveness

Use hyperbole such as: "results in minutes," "miracle cure," "problem solved"

  • Barrett, S. (2008). Quackery: How should it be defined? Available on line at: http://www.quack
  • Finn, P., Bothe, A., & Bramlett, R. (2005). Science and pseudoscience in communication disorders: Criteria and applications. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 14, 172–186.
  • Lof, G.L. (2011). Science-based practice and the speech-language pathologist. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 13 (3), 189-193.
  • Lum, C. (2002). Scientific thinking in speech and language therapy. London: Lawrence-Erlbaum Associates.
  • Sagan. C. (1996). The demon haunted world: Science as a candle in the dark. New York: Random House.
  • Shermer, M. (2002). Why people believe weird things: Pseudoscience, superstition, and other confusions of our time. New York: W.H. Freeman.
Disclosure Statement

The author has no relevant financial or nonfinancial relationships in the products or services described, reviewed, evaluated or compared in the presentation.

Original PDF: Science vs. Pseudoscience in CSD: A Checklist for Skeptical Thinking by Gregory L. Lof, PhD135.18 KB