How big a sucker are you?

Abstract: Think you can spot pseudoscience? Then take the test…

Craniosacral therapy is at the very frontier of a branch of neurology that hopes to find cures for many of the debilitating neuromuscular diseases that still challenge medicine; including Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

Except it’s not. It’s actually a non-scientific, so-called ‘alternative’ form of ‘healing’ that believes that gently massaging the skull and the sacrum – the large triangular bone at the base of the spine – will align harmony within the body. It’ll make you feel good – as any good massage would – but it can’t cure you of any neuromuscular disease. The proof is in its own claims: “[it] works with the whole person and changes may (my italics) occur in body, mind and spirit during and after sessions”.

And there’s that key phrase: ‘mind, body and spirit’ – the ringing bells that warn that scepticism need to be employed.

But don’t feel embarrassed if you did believe – even if only for a minute – that craniosacral therapy was a development within neuromuscular medicine. It’s an easy trap to fall into. That way only a trained – or sceptical – eye would dig deeper and find the cracks in the claims.

For example, declaring that a person’s character can be determined by examining the contours of their head is preposterous. But if you were to hear that ‘phrenology’ could do the same, you might be more open to the idea. You’d assume that it was scientific, perhaps even a development within psychology.

Perhaps you wouldn’t, because your sceptic radar would have picked it up. Or would it? If there were a quiz in which you were presented with, say, 20 scientific-sounding terms – a mix of real science and pseudoscience – would you be able to spot which were pseudoscience? Good, because that’s just what we’ve put together. And because we know that everyone loves a quick quiz (except those who don’t!), we’re confident you’re going to have a lot of fun testing yourself. We’re also pretty confident that we can fool you.

All you need to do is examine the 20 terms we’ve listed below. Write down the numbers 1 through to 20 on a piece of paper (or on a smartphone, you tech-heads), and put ‘S’ if you think the term is science, or ‘P’ if it’s pseudoscience. Once you’ve done that, look at the answers and score yourself out of 20. Then check out where your score puts you on our sceptic-o-meter, and find out what your sceptic title is.

The Sceptic Quiz
So…science (S) or pseudoscience (P)? Answers below

  1. Rhinology
  2. Rumpology
  3. Alphabiotics
  4. Craniometry
  5. Metoposcopy
  6. The Quadro Tracker
  7. Neuro-Linguistic Programming
  8. Dermo-optical perception
  9. Iridology
  10. Precognition
  11. Morphic resonance
  12. Reiki
  13. Psychometry
  14. Bioharmonics
  15. Ectoplasm
  16. Psychokinesis
  17. Nosode
  18. Graphology
  19. Anomalous cognition
  20. Intelligent Design

Sceptic Quiz scoring:

1 – 5 ‘Pseudoscience Sucker’ – You assume the best in everyone. That’s very nice of you, but it does mean you’re easily fooled. We suggest you examine all the past editions of Guru and start questioning more.
6 – 10 ‘Wobbly Sceptic’ – Oh dear, you need to seriously sharpen the sceptic in you. You’re still quite easily fooled, and there are forces of deception that will find the chink in your armour.
11 – 15 ‘Serious Sceptic’ – To paraphrase Yoda, “The science in you, strong it is… aahmmm.” You are committed, and have the makings of a Jedi Knight Sceptic, but you sometimes rush to judgement. You still need to be wary of pseudoscience.
16 – 20 ‘Jedi Knight Sceptic’ – The dark forces of pseudoscience better beware, for you have the power to seek them out and defeat them with your light sabre of science.

The Sceptic Quiz – Answers:

  1. Rhinology (S) – the branch of medicine that examines diseases associated with sinus and the anterior skull base.
  2. Rumpology (P) – simply put: the art of reading someone’s butt to determine his or her personality. Appealing, but completely unscientific.
  3. Alphabiotics (P) – the realigning of ‘Life Energy’ by neck manipulation…all in approximately 15 seconds.
  4. Craniometry (P) – the measurement of cranial features on the belief that it can be used to classify people according to characteristics such as criminal intent, intelligence, etc.
  5. Metoposcopy (P) – interpretation of wrinkles, especially on the forehead to determine a person’s character.
  6. The Quadro Tracker (P) – a box that, according to the manufacturer’s blurb, contained “tuned frequency chips” that could help locate just about anything that was lost. Thousands were sold, including those to various US enforcement agencies. None of them worked, apparently.
  7. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (P) – a scientifically unproven, supposed personal improvement/training programme that claims to link thinking, communication and behaviour to do everything from curing personal phobias to transforming multinational corporations. For a fee, naturally.
  8. Dermo-optical perception (P) – the alleged ability to see without using the eyes; assumedly, given its name, through the skin instead. Illusionists with dubious blindfolding techniques use it.
  9. Iridology (P) – a form of “alternative therapy” that claims patterns and colours in the eyes of a subject can be used to get a clearer picture of his or her systemic health. There is no scientific evidence to support it.
  10. Precognition (P) – the apparent psychic knowledge of future events, obviously before they happen. Science has another term for it: coincidence.
  11. Morphic resonance (P) – the apparent telepathy-like connection between all living things on the planet, and the collective memory of entire species. Basically, when you cut a flower, the flower knew beforehand that you were going to do it.
  12. Reiki (sorry, but it’s a P) – a quintessential New Age ‘therapy’ that claims that practitioners exude universal ‘energy’ – called reiki – through their palms and into a subject, from whence it can be correctly channelled. Think Star Trek’s Spock. It has, however, been claimed to treat everything from cancer to brain damage and diabetes.
  13. Psychometry (P) – The supposed ability to make associations simply by holding an object. TV programmes about psychic detectives will have you believe that it’s real. This is not to be confused with psychometrics – a field of psychology that examines the measurement of factors such as personality traits, abilities and attitudes.
  14. Bioharmonics (P) – yet another New Age concept that juggles ‘energy’, ‘energy fields’, ‘harmonics’, etc. within a vague wash of other such terms, then sells the ‘methods’ or equipment necessary to correct it; because, remember, it always seems to be broken.
  15. Ectoplasm (P) – the oozy, sticky stuff that ghosts are supposed to be made of. Possibly now available in a can at your local novelty store.
  16. Psychokinesis (P) – the movement of objects using, supposedly, thought alone – or the ‘power of the mind’. The bread and butter for many illusionists; but without any verification by science.
  17. Nosode (P) – a type of homeopathic solution with as its base a pathological sample – such as pus, blood or tissue – taken from a diseased person. Nice one.
  18. Graphology (P) – the use of handwriting to determine a person’s personality or character; not to be confused with forensic document examination that looks for evidence of forgery in handwriting.
  19. Anomalous cognition (P) – A term used by SAIC – an American defence company that toys with integrating science, engineering and technology to provide ‘solutions’ to the military – for ESP (extra sensory perception). You see, the company also dabbles in the paranormal, and this sounds more scientific and therefore more suitable for attracting funding. If you’ve seen the film The Men Who Stare at Goats, this will all sound wonderfully familiar.
  20. Intelligent Design (P) – the claim that all life was made purposefully – by design and by a supernatural being – as opposed by random mutations (evolving) over long periods of time. It is an attempt by creationists to invoke some semblance of science in order to derail the theory of evolution.

That’s right! With the exception of the first term – the rather quaint-sounding Rhinology – all the others are forms of pseudoscience!

Now check how you score on the sceptic-o-meter…and then test your friends.

Originally published in issue 13 of Guru magazine.