Fake Science

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-Randomly generated English-like text

If you didn’t understand English, the paragraph above would look just like real English.

In reality, the paragraph above was written completely at random by a computer program, but in a way that imitates the statistical properties of English. To choose each letter the program looks at the previous letters and then calculates what the probability of coming next would be for each letter of the alphabet in actual English. The next character is then randomly selected using those probabilities[1].

We can just as easily use the same program to generate gibberish text in other languages as well. Can you tell which of the following paragraphs is randomly generated gibberish Swahili and which is real Swahili from an article in the Swahili Wikipedia?

Duniani yapatikana katika angahewa kama gesi adimu na bwete isiyo na rangi wala ladha. Kwa sababu ya tabia yake ya ubwete kampaundi hazijulikani. Idara ya nguvuta hivyo, kulikuwa tu potofu kufanya hivikaribu sababu kabisa. Kilati kupiga moja karatasi na vita, mwanzisha uamuzi wa Kiswahi kunauli hili katika mapenda.


If you don’t understand Swahili, fake Swahili looks just like real Swahili. (If you do speak Swahili, pick a language you don’t understand from this page of randomly generated gibberish text in other languages.) Notice that even someone who doesn’t speak the language can often still identify which language it is.

In 1972 Italian Adriano Celetano wrote the song Prisencolinensinainciusol, with fake English lyrics as a parody of Italian pop singers who sang English songs which they didn’t understand. The words were gibberish, but they were intended to sound like English to an Italian audience.

To people who don’t understand English, fake English sounds just like real English.

And just like fake languages, to people who don’t understand science, fake science sounds just like real science.

Unscrupulous marketers have known this for some time, and they exploit this fact regularly by stealing words from science and inserting them into their advertisements and sales pitches. Abusing the language of science in this way gives marketing claims the appearance of scienceyness to the lay-person.

“The Ab Circle Pro’s unique friction-free track uses the momentum of gravity…” says the TV commercial. If you don’t know much about physics, you might not realize that a “friction-free track” is a physical impossibility, or that “the momentum of gravity” doesn’t actually mean anything. These words are there to make the ad sound like science, and the advertiser seems to be counting on their customers not to understand what they’re saying. Clearly this strategy works very well; after all, if it didn’t help generate sales, marketers wouldn’t continue to use these meaningless nonsense phrases to promote products that often aren’t even remotely plausible anyway[2].

On this page, which is selling a bead that you are supposed to put in your gas tank to reduce your CO2 emmissions, it is claimed:

“The “Go Green” Bead for cleaner combustion engine emissions works with quantum bio-energies to improve the structure and properties inherent in fuel.”

Or perhaps you’d like a 5 inch wood box for only $500. After all:

“It maintains a levorotatory energy field, restores the balance of the bioenergetic force field in the living cell which is adversely affect” [sic]

Or maybe you’re interested in some “energetic balancing“:

“We use information from you and unique to you to create an “energy signature” which establishes communication with you. The QRPS sends corrective frequencies that attempt to eliminate stress potentials that can be present with certain imbalances.”

[Note: Unfortunately, this service is no longer available since the founder, Mony Vital, died in January of 2013. His workshops on achieving immortality are, presumably, also no longer available.]

There’s an important difference between gibberish English and gibberish science. When someone reads something they don’t understand written in fake English, they don’t end up feeling like they’ve received reliable information. But when laypeople read something they don’t understand written in scientific-sounding language they feel like it has credibility, regardless of whether it’s real science or fake science[3].

“the law of lift literally leverages the pressure of gravity to fulfill its assignment”

-Julian Young[4]

“[The elite class'] DNAs actually vibrated at different frequencies than, lets say, the working class which vibrated at a lower frequency, and throughout history the ruling classes always wanted to make sure that those workers kept their vibration at a much lower frequency.”

-Kevin Trudeau[5]

A layperson exposed to fake science may even feel that they’ve actually learned something. Or, even worse, they may get the impression that real science is just about coming up with confusing technical-sounding jargon to give yourself the appearance of authority.

It’s natural for words to confuse you before you understand their meaning; they should. It’s normal for concepts to confuse you until you’re shown the logic and reasoning behind them. So when someone uses science words you don’t understand, it may be best to treat this just like any other language you don’t understand. If you haven’t actually been informed, it might be wise to try not to feel like you’ve been informed.

It feels better to pretend you understand something than to admit to yourself that you don’t, and it feels uncomfortable to be uncertain. But to pretend you understand something you don’t is self-deception, and self-deception is something intolerable to any person who values their rationality. And if you don’t value your rationality, well, there are plenty of marketers who are happy to hear that.

The real Swahili is the paragraph on the left. It’s taken from the Swahili Wikipedia article for Neon.