Cargo cult science

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Cargo cult science is a term coined by Richard Feynman to describe a certain common attitude adopted by pseudo-scientists.

Cargo cults

Of the original cargo cults, Feynman wrote:

"I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land."

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!


To engage in cargo cult science means to follow the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but engage in practices which lack some essential component of genuine science. Cargo cult scientists generally disregard the need for rigorous or double-blind studies, and do not devise tests that could potentially prove them wrong. They commonly throw around what sounds (to them and their audience) like real scientific jargon. Quantum mechanics is a popular hook on which to hang fake science, since it is generally a strange and counter-intuitive concept.

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