Wikipedia has a list of topics considered pseudoscience that includes Psychoanalysis, Hypnotism, Myers-Briggs, and NLP (I would very much like to see Jung added to this list). Accordingly, I'd like to see such topics closed on cogsci.SE as pseudoscientific and outdated.

This might be a bit controversial, but figured I'd make the suggestion and see how the community responds. :-) A less controversial version of this question might be: How outdated must a cognitive science topic be to be migrated to history.SE?

Note that asking about the validity of these topics may still be on-topic (eg, Removing NLP tag).

Some examples of questions to consider:


This question Is all anxiety experienced because the ego cannnot use the reality principle? was just closed as outdated and/or pseudoscience, suggesting that a sufficient number of users agree with my proposal, though not everyone.

  • 3
    I would always err on the side of being more inclusive. If somebody phrases a pseudoscience question backed by (outdated) literature, then it is still possible to answer it by referring to later studies/theories contradicting these findings. In case there are mostly contradicting findings, or it is a matter of what terminology one relies on to describe phenomena, then I would rather welcome such questions so the competing answers 'as a whole' depict the current sentiment to this line of research. This is much better than just stating something to be pseudoscience. – Steven Jeuris Jul 11 '17 at 8:51
  • In case there is no foundation to the question whatsoever, as usual I would vote to close (hopefully soon with a more suitable close reason). – Steven Jeuris Jul 11 '17 at 8:53
  • You reckon Freud is pseudoscience? – AliceD Jul 11 '17 at 8:57
  • 3
    @AliceD Not sure if that's sarcasm ... just in case it's not: cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/8364/…, cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/12451/… – Arnon Weinberg Jul 11 '17 at 14:35
  • 1
    @StevenJeuris I whole-heartedly agree in principle, but in practice, questions about pseudoscience often do not invite such answers, and we get highly rated questions, with highly rated answers that give readers no clue that the information provided is pseudoscience and/or outdated. – Arnon Weinberg Jul 11 '17 at 14:37
  • The question is about Freud or psychoanalysis or about what? Not only did Freud do and will do psychoanalysis, I mean that there are numerous psychoanalytic schools, veiled psychoanalytic schools, the psychodynamic, for the last many terms and concepts evolved from there. Do not you put together Freud Lacan and Jung, right?... And by the way, what happens with Erich Fromm? – hexadecimal Jul 12 '17 at 16:40
  • 4
    Couldn't we make a community-based question and a community-answer and mark the questions as duplicates? If this community unanimously refutes the Freudian approach, a community based post pointing that out could be of help for past and future questions. – AliceD Jul 12 '17 at 19:13
  • @AliceD I'd be happy to write a meta question like "Why did my question get closed as outdated or pseudoscientific?" that we can refer to when closing such questions. – Arnon Weinberg Jul 14 '17 at 3:23
  • @ArnonWeinberg, I was thinking more like a question on the main site, posted as a community question, that is, if the community agrees about Freud being pseudoscience. I wasn't bring sarcastic above, I'm afraid, it's not my cuppa tea, obviously. However, Chris seems to question dismissing Freudianism, that is, in relation to one specific question. – AliceD Jul 14 '17 at 5:55
  • @AliceD Got it, I had to look up what a "community post" was, as I'd never seen one before, but yes, that makes sense. – Arnon Weinberg Jul 14 '17 at 6:54
  • @ArnonWeinberg sorry I was being curt. Only issue is that you will be putting effort in something that won't give you reputation changes (a meta post wouldn't really have done so either, for that matter). The good thing is that future Freud questions can be dealt with appropriately. Also, community posts can be edited by the community to keep on improving it. – AliceD Jul 14 '17 at 7:11
  • Over at Bio we have a similar post on evolution. There we get a lot of questions on why didn't we evolve X, X being wheels, guns, diamond fingernails, bigger brains, a spare head etcetera. All pob questions, but they do make sense, in a way. A community post now deals with it nicely. I'll try to dig it up. I'm mobile – AliceD Jul 14 '17 at 7:14
  • 1
    A nice but very very long article on why Freud is still popular: newyorker.com/magazine/2017/08/28/why-freud-survives @Chris perhaps interesting for you too :) – Robin Kramer Aug 27 '17 at 11:35

*******Major edit********

I have edited my answer to reflect on some more research I have just carried out on this area. The new information has highlighted that it is not necessarily as clear cut as initially thought. Because of this, as done previously, but clearly defined now, I feel I need to separate my answer into its relevant parts, and maybe this whole discussion will need to be also, in order to form a full discussion and consensus on whether a subject area is to be considered pseudoscientific or not and full consideration needs to be made on all the relevant areas to decide whether any subject area is on-topic within PsychologySE.

First of all, we need to determine what is Pseudoscience within PsychologySE

In general, the definition of pseudoscience is [emphasis mine]

[a group of, or set of,] statements, beliefs, or practices that are claimed to be scientific and factual in the absence of evidence gathered and constrained by appropriate scientific methods (Cover & Curd, 1998). Pseudoscience is often characterized by the following: contradictory, exaggerated or unprovable claims; reliance on confirmation bias rather than rigorous attempts at refutation; lack of openness to evaluation by other experts; and absence of systematic practices when developing theories. The term pseudoscience is often considered pejorative (Hansson, 2008) because it suggests something is being presented as science inaccurately or even deceptively. Accordingly, those termed as practicing or advocating pseudoscience often dispute the characterization.


A pretended or spurious science; a collection of related beliefs about the world mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method or as having the status that scientific truths now have, (OED, 1989)


for anything to be considered scientific (not pseudoscience), experimental results should be reproducible and verified by other researchers

Many writers on pseudoscience have emphasised that pseudoscience is non-science posing as science. The foremost book on the subject (Gardner 1957) bears the title Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, listing on the front cover L. Ron Hubbard, Psionics Machines, Flying Saucers, Wilhelm Reich, Dr. W. H. Bates, Alfred Korzybski, Atlantis and Bridey Murphy as examples; and according to Brian Baigrie (1988, p.438),

[w]hat is objectionable about these beliefs is that they masquerade as genuinely scientific ones.

These and many other authors assume that to be pseudoscientific, an activity or a teaching has to satisfy the following two criteria (Hansson 1996):

  1. it is not scientific, and
  2. its major proponents try to create the impression that it is scientific." (Hansson, 2008)

So what about Freudian theory and other theories such as Jung, Erikson, Skinner....? Are they pseudoscientific?

Well according to a PsychologyToday article (2016), psychology, in general, is not a real science, however,

psychology was defined by the application of scientific method(s) and psychologists conduct valuable research and have developed some key insights into animal behavior, cognition, consciousness, and the human condition.

and yet, another PsychologyToday article (2013) states that

  • Psychologists do unscientific things,
  • Psychology doesn't define its terminology well enough to be considered a science,
  • Psychology relies too heavily on subjective experience, and
  • Psychology isn't falsifiable.

As RationalWiki states

It's important to remember that Freud's writings on psychology consisted only of case studies and don't follow a strict application of the scientific method.

The problem here is that as psychology talks about things in a different way to the likes of neuroscience for example, however it doesn't necessarily mean that the research and development of theories to do with the human psyche are not scientific. It is just that they cannot be measured in the same way as conventional science.

Another point raised by RationalWiki is that

Repressed memory is now considered pseudoscientific. There is no special mechanism that "represses" memories and it's likely that many of the "repressed" memories Freudians claim to have discovered were actually just inadvertent inventions of the therapist or patient himself.

There has been a lot of debate on repressed memories over recent years and the debate and scientific studies has led to further studies on False Memory Syndrome (FMS). FMS is subject to debate and has even been successfully used as defence in criminal trials against those accused of rape.

It is for this reason that those practicing in the field of abuse and trauma therapy need specialist training and are warned that they must be particularly careful when examining past events that false memories are not created.

I argue that I have witnessed the fact that repressed true memories do exist, although it cannot be scientifically tested.

Although the scientific method is often touted as the sin qua non [sic] of science, it is not. Indeed, if science were solely a method, then it would not be all that valuable, a point that is sometimes lost on empiricists enamored with the scientific method. Thus, it is crucial to keep in mind that the scientific method is not an end unto itself, but rather is a means to an end. The ultimate desired product of the method is a cumulative body of knowledge that offers an approximate description of how the world works. In concrete terms, this refers to the body of peer reviewed journals, textbooks, and academic courses and domains of inquiry. Ideally, the body of knowledge will have a center that is consensually agreed upon (e.g., the Periodic Table in chemistry) and peripheral domains that represent the edges of scientific inquiry and where one will find much debate, innovation, and differences of the opinion.

Dream interpretation was an important "technique" in psychotherapy. However, after over a hundred years of research, there is still no scientific consensus on the meaning of dreams, or even if they mean anything at all! Dream interpretation is currently patent quackery.

To call dream interpretation "quackery" would signify that dream interpretation is seen as a means of therapy. Whilst there is no scientific consensus on the accuracy of dream interpretation, it is not a form of therapy and never was. It is a tool, which whilst possibly inaccurate, can give an indication as to possible areas of concern when exploring with your client where problems lie.

Take for example the Freudian case of "Wolf Man" Sergei Pankejeff.

Pankejeff sought treatment for depression in 1910 after his sister and father committed suicide. Freud fixated on a dream about wolves (hence the "Wolf Man" moniker) Pankejeff reported and spun a strange tale from this.


interpreted [the dream] in minute detail to represent a disguised memory of the patient, at age one and a half, observing his parents engaging in “coitus a tergo [from behind], three times repeated.” (Esterson, 2003).

Without knowing the full details of the dream and the conversation between Sergei and Freud, we cannot determine how he came to this idea, however, this is a possible interpretation according to Freud.

As commented in the question https://psychology.stackexchange.com/questions/17705/is-all-anxiety-experienced-because-the-ego-cannnot-use-the-reality-principle I say that Freud is very on topic, however, the question was put on hold as off-topic with a comment that

Freudian theories are very much outdated and considered to be pseudo science, which is off-topic on Psychology.SE

Whilst there are anti-freudian psychologists out there, Freudian theories are not outdated and very much accepted in psychology, for example, Freud's theories on ego-defence mechanisms (see this answer also) are followed a lot when looking at the mental health of a client; therefore, @RobinKramer's comment

My preference, however, would be to discuss Freud purely from a historical perspective

is not able to be carried out fully because Freud's theories are not just historical, but current too. Therefore, in my opinion, this question on the ego and reality principle is very much on topic.

So where do we go moving forward?

Freud is one of the founders of psychoanalytical (and psychodynamic) therapy, and as covered in a previous answer of mine, Freud's work is derived from empirical evidence and backed up with high profile journal articles, but his work is also seen as non-falisifiable under Karl Popper's criteria of falsifiability to distinguish science from nonscience (Popper, 1959).

In a scientific sense prediction refers to the ability of a hypothesis to accurately forecast what will happen under specific conditions. In order to test a hypothesis a scientist will make a prediction based on the hypothesis.

My argument on the predictability of mental health science is that not all outcomes can be predicted. Take survivors of abuse for example. It is well known that there are some who will go on to have mental health problems, and they last for many years. However some only suffer for a short time and some move on from the abuse without any adverse affects. A group of people can suffer the same "type and amount" of abuse (for want of a better phrase), at the same age and for the same duration, and each one of them can suffer differently. That surely throws scientific predictability out of the window as far as testing psychological theory is concerned. On the subject of predictability testing, with something like abuse it would be unethical to test predictability by subjecting test subjects with abuse and seeing what the result is so you would have to rely on case studies for this which is also a part of the problem with Freud's theories.

Interestingly, Popper argued the case of Freud's theories being unfalsifiable

largely on the basis that psychoanalysts could easily deploy various defense mechanisms themselves and other psychoanalytic concepts to dismiss countervailing evidence.

and Hans Eysenck, an opponent of Freud, argues that

Freud's theories are falsifiable and therefore a science, though an incorrect one.

Whatever your standpoint is on Freud, I have seen plenty of questions on Psychology.SE about Freudian theory which I have provided well received answers to, so there seems to be a bit of contradiction here.

We need to define what pseudoscience is within Psychology.SE. If psychology is considered to be pseudoscientific in general, and pseudoscience is off-topic, does that mean all questions around psychology should be deemed off-topic within Psychology.SE? If not, considering @AaronWeinberg's hopes for agreement, for example,

we don't want to discourage/alienate professional clinicians of any school or discipline

how do we determine what psuedoscience within psychology is on-topic and what is off-topic? This may need to be explored in line with the Cognitive Sciences Reboot 2017: Call for action

My opinion is that the "pseudoscience" within Psychology should not be considered off-topic within Psychology.SE if Psychology is on-topic.

I spent several hours trying to formulate a thorough answer to the question before it was put on hold, in order to cover the fact that Freud's theories are not the whole story, and that his theories form part of the story and it is a shame I cannot provide an answer as the question is on hold.


Baigrie, B. S. (1988). Siegel on the rationality of science. Philosophy of Science 55(3): pp. 435-441
DOI: 10.1086/289448

Cover, J. A. & Curd M. (1998). Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues New York: W. W. Norton & Co.: pp. 1—82

Esterson, A. (2003) Freud's Theories of Repression and Memory. Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice 2(2)

Gardner, M. (1957). Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. New York: Dover Publications

Hansson, S. O. (1996). Defining Pseudoscience. Philosophia Naturalis, 33(1): pp. 169—176
Still to find DOI/PMID reference

Hansson, S. O. (2008) Science and Pseudo-Science. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition) [Online]
Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/pseudo-science

OED (1989) Oxford English Dictionary, (Second Edition) Oxford: Oxford University Press

Popper, K. R. (1959) The Logic of Scientific Discovery. New York: Routledge

PsychologyToday (2013) The Psychology of the "Psychology Isn't a Science" Argument
Available at:https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/under-the-influence/201308/the-psychology-the-psychology-isnt-science-argument

PsychologyToday article (2016) The “Is Psychology a Science?” Debate [Online]
Available at:https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/theory-knowledge/201601/the-is-psychology-science-debate

  • 1
    Perhaps I was a bit too quick stating Freud is off-topic, given that the discussion was still going on. Excuse me for that. However, some people did support it which would indicate some consensus. I do agree that we are not being consistent and that we should handle similar question the same way. My preference, however, would be to discuss Freud purely from a historical perspective, similar to what Steven suggested in his comment. – Robin Kramer Jul 14 '17 at 6:51
  • Yes, this post is about getting that consistency - it does mean going back to questions that were previously not closed, and possibly closing them. This includes some well received questions and answers, and it also includes some posts I myself have answered, as well as others. – Arnon Weinberg Jul 14 '17 at 8:25
  • I think @Chris that you are confusing "accepted" with "science-based". Religion is accepted in most of the world, and so is art, but that doesn't make them science-based, nor does it invalidate them as forms of therapy, nor does it make them on-topic here. – Arnon Weinberg Jul 14 '17 at 8:29
  • @ArnonWeinberg - Please see my edited answer for empirical research conducted which supports Freudian theory – Chris Rogers Jul 14 '17 at 9:39
  • I have given you my upvote. Your very very extensive research shows how strong you feel about this and, given you are one of the few experts on therapy here, I believe you know what you are talking about. Also, the comment "we don't want to discourage/alienate professional clinicians of any school or discipline" is very very true. Instant closure is not the scientific way to go. Perhaps we can just prove Freud wrong in an answer (when applicable of course). This is in line with the very first comment of @StevenJeuris. – Robin Kramer Jul 17 '17 at 6:46
  • 1
    Moreover, when a question is based on bad assumptions, we can always close it for lack of initial research. – Robin Kramer Jul 17 '17 at 6:47
  • 1
    I agree with the idea that we try and disprove Freud and any others within the answer although me being an expert? Well you flatter me :-) I did a lot of research with this question because I felt I should double check my beliefs on the subject and I didn't want to bias my answer on any incorrect beliefs of "science" within psychological theories. I did this to start with but I feel I have corrected that. It is difficult to get this right but not impossible. I can understand the basis for pseudoscience being off-topic as we don't want bad information being given but when that is all we ... – Chris Rogers Jul 17 '17 at 7:13
  • 1
    ... have on a particular area of psychology maybe we could cover that by saying that "although not scientifically proved in the conventional sense, .... believes he/she has proved...." – Chris Rogers Jul 17 '17 at 7:14
  • 1
    You've got my vote too @Chris - if everyone gives good quality answers, then the site will be much improved. – Arnon Weinberg Jul 19 '17 at 1:24
  • Thank you for this Chris. Great discussion! – Steven Jeuris Jan 19 '18 at 9:25
  • Whilst trying to find a DOI/PMID ref, for his article referenced in this answer, I found out that Sven Ove Hansson, has revisited this question and updated his definition of pseudoscience to an "improved version". – Chris Rogers Jan 22 '18 at 13:14

Since @Chris posted a "con" answer, I'm just adding a "pro" answer so that we have both points of view.

I won't argue here about whether or not Freudian psychoanalysis is pseudoscience, as Wikipedia and many other scientific reviews (and some posts on this forum - eg 1, 2, 3) already do that. I think that is the core of @Chris's objection, and there is not much more I can add.

While I respectfully disagree with @Chris about Freud not being outdated, I do agree with him that Freudian psychoanalysis remains commonplace in clinical practice. Since we are actively trying to attract clinical professionals to this forum, this is an important consideration, as we wouldn't want to discourage/alienate practitioners of psychoanalysis, hypnosis, NLP, or other non-science-based methodologies. In other words, my proposal is not a question of the validity of any particular school of thought in psychotherapy.

I'd like to illustrate my point by referring to yet another non-science-based facet of psychotherapy that we are more likely to agree on as a logical basis for my proposal: Religious psychotherapy is quite common in the industry - though it's rarely classified as a separate discipline, many therapists incorporate religion into their clinical practice. Another example is art therapy.

Hopefully we can all agree on the below:

  • Schools of psychotherapy - including religious psychotherapy, art therapy, and psychoanalysis - can be merited on their efficacy rather than their basis in science.
  • We don't want to discourage/alienate professional clinicians of any school or discipline.
  • Questions about the efficacy of any school of psychotherapy are on-topic.
  • Questions about the scientific basis of any school of psychotherapy can be on-topic.
  • Questions from the point of view of practitioners about how to deal with issues relating to clinical practice are generally on-topic, even if their practice is religious or art-based or pseudoscientific.
  • Nonetheless, questions about religion and art are off-topic, and if we agree on this, then hopefully we can also agree that questions about pseudoscience are also off-topic.

I see the question Is all anxiety experienced because the ego cannnot use the reality principle? as a perfect example of what is clearly off-topic. I whole-heartedly agree with @RobinKramer's comment:

If the question would be phrased as "On what grounds is the ego explanation of Freud not sufficient to explain anxiety" or "why is Freud pseudoscientific" it could be, because it has a more meta-like approach. However, questions based on pseudoscientific assumptions are generally closed for being off topic (e.g. the one about water having memory, implicating we could transfer memories by touch, which is even deleted now)

That is, this question reads as: "Given this [pseudoscientific] assumption, what is the explanation for ...?" and there is no more value in this question on cogsci.SE than a question about astrology on physics.SE.

Edit: I just noticed that there is a History of Science and Mathematics (hsm.SE) stack exchange, so that is a good place to migrate some of these questions.

  • 2
    I could stand corrected here as I don't practice within religious based therapy but from my understanding with this kind of therapy the basis is within psychologically accepted theories backed up by research but with reference to the relevant religious texts when looking at the religious aspects of the therapy. Whilst unscientific, referring to religious texts within context helps those whose faith is very strong. Art therapy, again whilst unscientific to a degree within neuroscience and the like, helps to calm some people whilst also getting their emotions and feelings out onto paper etc. – Chris Rogers Jul 14 '17 at 9:38
  • 3
    Also science is defined as "The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment". With respect, is it not unscientific to denounce Freud's (and other's) evidence as unscientific? – Chris Rogers Jul 14 '17 at 10:02
  • 1
    @Chris This is one of the questions Arnon linked to. I think this is why Arnon believes that Freud's psychoanalysis is not actually scientific. – Robin Kramer Jul 14 '17 at 11:14
  • @Chris I don't see how. If you reread the answer re "Questions about the scientific basis of any school of psychotherapy can be on-topic." it seems perfectly valid to ask questions such as: "Why is this empirical evidence not sufficient to support this [cognitive] theory?" or "Why does this [cognitive] theory not meet the requirements for a scientific theory?" – Arnon Weinberg Jul 15 '17 at 16:15

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .