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Protoscience is a field of study that conforms to the initial phase of the scientific method, with information gathering and formulation of a hypothesis that strives to remain coherent with all relevant fields of scientific research. But it involves speculation that is either not experimentally falsifiable or not verified or accepted by a consensus of scientists.
The term is sometimes used to classify historically philosophical disciplines such as alchemy, which later became chemistry, or astrology, part of which later became astronomy, but it is not in common use.
History of the term
Thomas Kuhn, a philosopher of science, first used the word in an essay published in 1970:
In any case, there are many fields — I shall call them proto-sciences — in which practice does generate testable conclusions but which nevertheless resemble philosophy and the arts rather than the established sciences in their developmental patterns. I think, for example, of fields like chemistry and electricity before the mid-eighteenth century, of the study of heredity and phylogeny before the mid-nineteenth, or of many of the social sciences today. In these fields, too, though they satisfy Sir Karl's [ Popper's] demarcation criterion, incessant criticism and continual striving for a fresh start are primary forces, and need to be. No more than in philosophy and the arts, however, do they result in clear-cut progress.
— Thomas Kuhn, Criticism and the growth of knowledge
I conclude, in short, that the proto-sciences, like the arts and philosophy, lack some element which, in the mature sciences, permits the more obvious forms of progress. It is not, however, anything that a methodological prescription can provide. Unlike my present critics, Lakatos at this point included, I claim no therapy to assist the transformation of a proto-science to a science, nor do I suppose anything of this sort is to be had.
- Speekenbrink, Maarten (2003-10-28). De Ongegronde Eis tot Consensus in de Psychologische (PDF). Retrieved on 2006-08-02.