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Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2001

    Blasting Balderdash, Baloney, and Bunkum!

    The book clearly deserves more than five stars for its effective, level-headed exposure of unscientific ideas that don't hold water (like cold fusion, the Roswell incident as a UFO invasion, homeopathy, and perpetual motion machines). Science is now evolving more rapidly than ever before. Some estimate that the total level of scientific knowledge doubles every few years. If you are like me, you cannot hope to keep up. And politicians, television, friends, and news stories are always touting new and intriguing ideas. What really is going on? What should we pay attention to? Professor Park has a distinguished background in physics. He directs the Washington office of the American Physical Society, and is a former chairman of the Physics department at the University of Maryland. In his work with the society, he is often called upon by the press to comment about claims made by others. This experience allowed him to develop the information in this book. If you are like me, you also have heard of or read about many of the claims discussed in the book. But, like me, you probably never heard how it all ended up. Whatever happened to cold fusion, for example? The book looks at all kinds of badly done science, beginning with amateurs who don't know enough to understand what they are doing. Such amateurs often run the risk of becoming fraudulent if they fail to respond candidly to questions from scientists about their work. The good news is that society seems to be getting better at challenging the ideas that are wrong. For example, the Supreme Court decided a case, Daubert, that now requires federal judges to get independent scientists to look at claims before allowing a jury to consider a point of view espoused by some 'paid' experts. Congress seems to be getting better about asking relevant questions, rather than just supporting any crackpot who shows up with a wild story about perpetual motion machines. In other cases of voodoo science, the people doing the work just haven't been cautious enough. For example, much of the ESP research done was flawed by a design that permitted those doing the research to throw out the results of any people they suspected of deliberately guessing wrong. As you can imagine, these probably included people who got mostly wrong answers! That certainly skewed the results. The worst offenders in perpetuating incorrect beliefs about science seem to be television (especially CBS and ABC) and top secret status for information about the government. Apparently, some people in the networks believe that crackpot ideas should be covered as 'entertainment' rather than as 'knowledge' or 'science.' So even if they know the story is probably wrong, the reporter often leaves the impression that there may be something to the claim. Shame on them! Government keeps things as top secret that would become top embarrassments if known. As a result, our confidence in the government is eroded. Some of the other areas uncovered in the book include Joe Newman's Energy Machine, Star Wars (SDI) technology advanced by Edward Teller, the International Space Station, a manned mission to Mars, silicon gel breast implants, vitamin O, medi

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2000

    A Slack Look at Pseudoscience

    Don't expect a survey of pseudoscience along the lines of Martin Garder's FADS AND FALLACIES. This is a highly personal and very disorganized account of one physicist's experiences with congressmen, TV newspeople, crackpots, cultists, con-men and scientists who have been seduced by the Dark Side of pathological science. The author's occasional efforts to explain basic physics are pretty pathetic, which is something of a surprise in that he (like me) is a physicist. But he really doesn't seem to want to allow himself space to explain or discuss anything at any length. I sense the core of this book is a large set of very short blurbs, each no more than one or two paragraphys, perhaps intended for newspapers, newsletters or web pages. And the author has not taken the time to expand most of these blurbs significantly. The result is that a number of scandalously evil or mindless individuals get off with a fairly mild chiding, rather than the crushing, destroying force that a coherent analysis could have provided.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2000

    The Great Paradox

    We live in the most technologically advanced country in the world, yet our citizens seem to be extremely scientifically illiterate. Does it seem possible that congress would hold a hearing on why a gentleman was refused a patent on a machine that seemingly has a higher energy output than input, which violates the first law of thermodynamics? I have often laughed at the Indiana legislature that many, many years ago passed a law fixing pi at 3.14. But here is Trent Lott and his pompous brethren now holding a hearing on a machine that the physicists of the nation have said is a fraud. As is typical at a congressional hearing the egocentric politicians made speeches instead of asking questions. Then Senator Glenn asked the machine's inventor if he would submit the device to a laboratory test. When the response was that such a test would be a personal affront, the senators finally began to sniff disaster. The matter was dropped. Later there was another hearing on the cold fusion matter in which congress was again embarrassed by its total scientific ignorance. How did our fine representatives react to being publicly humiliated by these science debacles? Well, in 1995 they abolished the Office of Technology Assessment whose purpose was to advise congress on scientific and technical issues. Why seek advice when you are already infallible? This book provides the reader with a variety of scientific frauds that have hoodwinked not only congress, but also the nation. Sadly the media often further the cause of misinformation by presenting untruths as truths. They find it much more entertaining to present pseudo-science in a manner that suggests it might all be for real. Mr. Park also discusses how the media helped create the flurry over Electromagnetic Force (EMF) which proved to be total ado over nothing (a good book to read on how the media creates phony epidemics and trends is Culture of Fear by Barry Glassner). The author also decries the efforts of New Agers to misappropriate the terms of physics to espouse their theories (read also an interesting chapter on junk science in Wendy Kaminer's book Sleeping With Extraterrestrials.) This is an excellent read for those interested in real science, even though the scientific stupidities presented will have you pulling your hair and rending your garments. The problem with the book is that it is much to short. Park just gets going, and whoops its page 213 and time to stop. This topic could easily fill a volume twice as thick. Let's hope there is a sequel.

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