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  • 'Pseudo-science' hijacks science popularisation

[BEIJING] Researchers and science communication professionals in China have warned that the circulation of publications containing 'pseudo-scientific' articles is growing in the country disguised as efforts to increase the public understanding and appreciation of science.

These publications, which scientists argue are based on myth or superstition rather than scientific fact, are being passed off as legitimate scientific resources, they say.

In a meeting on the communication of science held earlier this week in Shanghai, leading professionals in the field called on the government to set intellectual standards for science popularisation books, and to monitor the publication market to remove what they described as pseudo-science material.

The science communicators warned that efforts by the Chinese government to improve the public understanding of science — ironically motivated, it had been argued, largely by a desire to eliminate such pseudo-science — have allowed a large amount of unscientific materials to published and circulated.

Guo Zhengyi from Peking University, one of China’s leading researchers in the public understanding of science, said that astrology, physiognomy (studying the shape and configuration of a person's face to determine their character and intelligence), and theories that blood and other physical features determine human fate, are among the pseudo-scientific fields that are gaining popularity among young Chinese readers of such publications.

Indeed, some publishers have even included books on such topics in their science popularisation series. As a result, students are often unable to distinguish 'real science' from pseudo-science, said Guo.

Since 1999, when the Chinese government banned the Buddhist spiritual movement Falun Gong Movement on the grounds of "advocating superstition and spreading fallacies", it has launched series of science popularisation campaigns. As a result, the topic has become a major area of activity for many Chinese publishers.

Sima Nan, a science writer, says that many publications in Hong Kong and Taiwan attribute the good fortunes of popular singers and film stars to their horoscopes. This, he claims, has encouraged young Chinese fans to take astrology and physiognomy as 'real sciences'.

Unofficial statistics revealed by Guo show that more than 50 pseudo-science books are translated and published in China every year, 10 times the number of books that criticise the pseudo-sciences.

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