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What is Woo?

To find out why we care about woo, click here. For an explanation of what woo is, read on.

The term “woo” seems to have originated from “woo-woo” and, according to the Skeptic’s Dictionary

…refers to ideas considered irrational or based on extremely flimsy evidence or that appeal to mysterious occult forces or powers.


Skeptico
defines woo as

a word skeptics use as shorthand to describe pseudo-scientific and often anti-scientific ideas – ideas that are irrational and not based on evidence commensurate with the extraordinary nature of the claim.

SkepticWiki’s definition includes those who hold unsubstantiated beliefs, as does Skeptico.

We do not.

In recent years, the term has been used to describe just about everything in the skeptical community’s cross hairs and our definition is fairly broad. In general, woo includes ideas and practices, regardless of popularity or age, which are based on a claim which meets one or more of the following criteria:

  • requires unreasonable assumptions
  • is not testable (so it requires unreasonable assumptions)
  • is not supported by evidence despite testing
  • refutes current knowledge without sufficient evidence

We call such claims “extraordinary” and, as such, they require extraordinary evidence if we are to accept them as true.

What qualifies as woo, then?

Orac, author of the popular blog Respectful Insolence, says

My first temptation was to respond, as Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward famously did about defining pornography, by quipping that “I know it when I see it.”

He goes on to describe it in more substantial detail and I think we can do a better job, too. So, here is a short list of things which we consider to be woo.

  • Phrenology
  • The Secret
  • Astrology
  • Curses
  • Magnet Therapy
  • Dianetics
  • Nostradamus
  • Voodoo
  • Free Energy
  • Feng Shui
  • White Magic
  • 2012
  • Guided Imagery
  • Big Foot
  • Spontaneous Combustion
  • Satanic Worship
  • Intelligent Design
  • Bermuda Triangle
  • Speed Reading
  • Witchcraft
  • Psychic Surgery
  • Tai Chi
  • Hauntings
  • Crystal Power
  • Channeling
  • Nibiru
  • Ghosts
  • Auras
  • Dowsing
  • The Shroud of Turin
  • Acupuncture
  • Vaccines Cause Autism
  • Clairvoyance
  • Perpetual Motion
  • Conspiracies
  • Color Therapy
  • Telepathy
  • Full Moon Fever
  • Subliminal Messages
  • Chupacabra
  • Numerology
  • Homeopathy
  • Ufology
  • Black Magic
  • Alien Abduction
  • Communicating with the Dead
  • Armaggedon
  • Facilitated Communication
  • Qi
  • Telekinesis
  • the Loch Ness Monster

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