Evaluating Magical Claims

How do you evaluate magical claims? How can you tell that something totally unsubstantiated is more likely than something else, which is equally unsubstantiated?

Here are 5 ways people evaluate pseudo-science or magical therapies:

  1. Antiquity of the method. It’s the idea that if something has been around for a long time, then it must be valid or at least have some merit, like homeopathy or acupuncture.
  2. Authority of the anecdotal source or celebrity endorsement. The Secret was featured on Oprah, making it credible in the eyes of million of people.
  3. Appeal of the internal logic. The idea here is that as long as the method is consistent with the belief system it lays on, many people will not question the validity of the premise. For example: Angel Therapy is a form of new age healing through guidance from angels. It makes sense that since angels have superpowers and are benevolent, they might help you get better. if you substitute “angel” with other equally fictional characters, like leprechaun, unicorn or the wizard Merlin, the method looses a bit of its charm. Just like angels, those other 3 characters are described at lengths in many books, have been around for along time, might be benevolent and all have some superpowers.
  4. Perceived power of the method. Angels seem to have more power than pink bunnies, so Angel Therapy sounds better than Pink Bunny Therapy.
  5. Appeal of the claims. It really doesn’t matter if most or all claims are totally unfounded. If your glossy brochure claims that your method gets rid of migraines, club foot, leprosy and irritable bowels, some people will try it.

If your friend tried Psychic Chromatic Left-brain Biofeedback and got rid of her cold, are you going to stop buying DayQuil and rush to the psychic next time you have a cold?