In the philosophy of science, a protoscience is any new area of scientific endeavor in the process of becoming established. Sometimes scientific skeptics refer to these endeavors as pathological sciences. Protoscience is a term sometimes used to describe a hypothesis which has not yet been tested adequately by the scientific method, but which is otherwise consistent with existing science or which, where inconsistent, offers reasonable account of the inconsistency.
While protoscience is often speculative, it is to be distinguished from pseudoscience by its adherence to the scientific method and standard practices of good science, most notably a willingness to be disproven by new evidence (if and when it appears), or supplanted by a more-predictive theory.
Fields such as astrology and alchemy prior to the invention of the scientific method can also be regarded as protosciences. With the advent of the scientific method, they rapidly produced the scientific fields of astronomy and chemistry respectively, leaving those who refused to adopt the scientific method to practice pseudoscience. Several sciences started as branches of philosophy: mathematics, natural philosophy, economics, psychology, sociology.
Most typically a protoscientific field is one where the hypothesis presented is in accordance with the known evidence at that time, and a body of associated predictions have been made, but the predictions have not yet been tested (or cannot be tested, due to current technological limitations).
Some protosciences go on to become an accepted part of mainstream science. Others fail to become established, or become pseudoscientific, as their followers persist in the face of lack of scientific evidence for their views.
Examples of protosciences
Main article: List of protosciences
The most famous modern example of protosciences might be the theory of continental drift as originally proposed by Alfred Wegener (which eventually became an accepted scientific model when the mechanisms of plate tectonics became understood). Other examples include:
- the various string theories of physics, or the cognitive science of mathematics.
- Astrobiology, the protoscientific study of extraterrestrial life forms, including speculation on the properties of life forms based on things other than carbon.
- Memetics, the study of hypothetical self-reproducing ideas called memes
Such fields as acupuncture and lucid dreaming can also be categorized as protosciences, pending more evidence and theoretical underpinning.
Other fields, like parapsychology are nearer the boundary between protoscience and pseudoscience.
- Philosophy of science
- Pathological science
- Fringe science
- Obsolete scientific theories