Smug dismissal of "pseudoscience" -- what makes an attractive target, like handwriting analysis?
While looking through pictures of celebrity autographs over the years, I found this article about how people aren't willing to pay much for them these days because Millennial handwriting is so ugly. Miley Cyrus' looks on the masculine side of the female spectrum, and Justin Bieber's looks too feminine and immature. That does seem new, and a quick check of some sex symbols from about 20 years ago does indeed show livelier and girlier autographs. Here is Paula Abdul's, and here is Kelly Kapowski's.
Would there be some way to develop that hunch, looking at what the stylistic changes over the past generation reveal about the changing social-cultural mood? Not according to the editors of the Wikipedia article on handwriting analysis ("graphology"), who immediately dismiss the whole field as "the pseudoscientific  study and analysis of handwriting, especially in relation to human psychology." Welp, guess that settles that!
Unlike the incurious spergs at Wikipedia, I actually poked around the data in the literature that they cite, primarily the meta-analysis by Dean ("The Bottom Line: Effect Size") in an edited volume by Beyerstein & Beyerstein (1992), The Write Stuff: Evaluations of Graphology -- The Study of Handwriting Analysis. He finds correlations of between 0.1 and 0.2 when people try to predict job performance or personality from a person's handwriting. That may not be impressive, and is certainly well lower than what the graphologist gurus would have you believe, but it still contradicts the denialist claims in the article that the approach is "essentially worthless," has "zero validity," etc. Nothing to see here, folks, just move on...
If people couldn't discern anything about a person's personality and behavior from their handwriting, those correlations ought to be 0. In fact, it looks like the handwriting experts were poorer at guessing than psychologists with no training in handwriting analysis. That suggests that the field was like surgery and medicine before Harvey, Lister, et al -- that the self-designated experts were blinded by a bogus theory, while naive folks were better at detecting patterns. Not that the patterns weren't there to be seen.
As far as I can tell, the handwriting experts did not take an empirical approach to positing what links there were between handwriting and personality. Some influential gurus formulated what they found the most plausible links, and their disciples ran with it (a leftward slant means X, a rightward slant means Y). An empirical approach would simply give people a personality test, get a handwriting sample, and use their own brains or perhaps computers to try to notice what features distinguish the extraverts' handwriting styles from the introverts'. Then test that first guess with a brand new sample to see if the link holds up.
The goal of science is not to see who wins in a contest of foresight, but who is the best at noticing patterns and explaining them.
This case study is not terribly interesting in itself, but it shows the general contours of the broader War on Pseudoscience by non-practicing scientists. I don't care if you don't have a degree or credential -- if you've never collected, coded, analyzed, and attempted to explain a bunch of data (not even necessarily your own), and then passed your ideas along to others who gave feedback, then you have no clue what is and is not science, what does or does not follow the scientific method, etc. Notice how so many of the warmongers are writers, professional atheists, and magicians like The Amazing Randi and Penn & Teller.
Look over Wikipedia's list of topics characterized as pseudoscience, and see what they have in common. Not what their merits are as hypotheses, research programs, etc. I'm sure that like handwriting analysis, a good deal of these approaches are marked by over-inflated claims by their guru/disciple supporters. And that others have been more or less vindicated despite the spastic backlash by skeptics, such as phrenology, which can only be considered a pseudoscience if we're willing to dismiss all pre-heliocentric astronomy as pseudoscience. Modern psychology and neuroscience take it for granted that certain parts of the brain deal with different things, including both cognitive and emotional traits.
Likewise, I remain agnostic about the claims of palmistry until I look into the literature (given what I saw with graphology), but they were correct that certain seemingly arbitrary physical features of the hand can tell us much about someone's personality and behavior. Namely, the explosion of work on digit ratio, or how the length of your ring finger compares to your pointer finger. How could it possibly? I mean, that sounds, like, way more made-up than whether one crease crosses another on your palm. But thankfully, there have been enough curious people to look into it, rather than assume that their kneejerk doubt renders the relationship impossible. Or rather, INCONCEIVABLE!
Yet some topics clearly get the skeptics' panties twisted in a wad more than others. It looks to me like it's any idea that posits a link between an outward, physical substance and a hidden, inner quality. Such ideas fly in the face of the proverb "Never judge a book by its cover." Thus, handwriting reveals nothing about personality, and certain substances cannot improve (or even affect) overall health and well-being.
Physical is allowed to affect physical -- just look at how few targets there are in the field of physics and engineering, even though cranks and wackos put forth no shortage of ideas about non-mainstream physical science. The alternative medicine targets do not belong here, as those claims are not about how one substance affects another substance, say how crystals affect liver enzyme levels. Rather, they are about how a physical thing affects the hidden inner quality called "health," "well-being," or whatever.
Also, immaterial or informational stuff is allowed to influence other kinds of immaterial/informational stuff. Just look at the shameful absence of theories like stereotype threat, i.e. the theory that blacks (or whoever) under-perform because they feel the urge to confirm negative stereotypes about their group that are circulating in the surrounding dominant culture. Or that women feel like nurturing babies only because Society Told Them To. Nope, nothing pseudoscientific about that. (However, googling "sexist pseudoscience" brings up over 2 million results, whining about how, say, ovary function might affect voting preferences.)
Why not include the entire field of macroeconomics?
Then there are pop theories that ascribe all sorts of evil beliefs and attitudes to people with one or another political orientation or religious view. Sure, we all know that one set of beliefs could influence another set of beliefs, and one set of attitudes could influence another set of attitudes. But for skeptics, none of those theories could possibly be pseudoscientific, and others really-scientific. If it's informational affecting informational, it could still be an inaccurate theory -- but not pseuuuudoscientiiiific...
What is it about the autistic mind that gets irritated at the very suggestion that material and immaterial things might be related? Here's a representative answer from the entry on biorhythms in the list above: "No biophysical mechanism of action has been discovered..." This objection will sound painfully familiar to anyone who's ever hung around academics. If I can't articulate the mechanism underlying some link between A and B, then there can be no such link between A and B. Welp, guess that settles that!
Sufferers of Autism Spectrum Disorders tend to be obsessed with mechanisms, so an inability to point that out when describing a pattern will trigger their DOES NOT COMPUTE alarm. In their minds, a mechanism must be easier to understand or accept if it links two things of the same type of stuff -- physical and physical, or immaterial and immaterial. "That just makes better sense." I don't know, I don't find it hard to believe that people with certain personality differences have distinguishing facial features, that homosexuals speak with an impossible-to-miss "gay voice," and so on.
And the autistic mind is obsessed with compartmentalizing things, which would seem to be necessary in accounting for why only some kinds of mechanistic links annoy them. All material things are boxed off in the material realm, and all immaterial things are boxed off in their separate realm, and the rigid boundaries make it impossible for one to affect the other. Hence pseudoscience is the scientific study of how the corporeal affects or reveals the influence of the ethereal.
Autistic individuals also have quite limited social experiences, and their social perception is blunted even if they did interact with other people. Both deficits give them little in the way of observations ("data") to intuitively test any mind-body relationships they read about. I see this as a less important factor, though, since they don't have experience with physics experiments or stereotype threat either, yet they don't hold same-realm links up to such intense scrutiny as they do with physical-mental links.
You'll notice that "pseudoscience!" sperg-outs reinforce the politically correct hegemony of the times, although it would be a mistake to attribute much power to the incurious skeptics themselves. They're only given access to such a loud megaphone because those with real political and economic influence see them as useful foot soldiers in the propaganda war. The nerds at Wikipedia are more of a tip-of-the-iceberg group, whereas academics and journalists who publish in the War on Pseudoscience earn a living thanks to large corporations and government funding.
You're far more likely to get picked up by the New York Times if your article "debunks" the pseudoscience of craniometry than if it took on crystal therapy instead. You're being paid to create a hostile thought environment for anyone who notices that in many contexts you can judge a book by its cover.