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In this entertaining expose of science gone awry, the author of 200% of Nothing tells the stories of eight notorious cases of "bad science"--research projects that turned out to be bogus, either because of faulty methodology or faulty interpretations of results. 208 pp. 15,000 print.
Dewdney (The Planiverse, 1984) notes that scientific advance consists of two parts: getting an idea and testing it. The public image of scientists tends to focus on the flash of inspiration—Archimedes in his bathtub or Newton with the falling apple—but without the unspectacular process of designing and carrying out experiments and measurements, even the most brilliant idea cannot aspire to the name of science. Spectacular scientific blunders—such as cold fusion or the "N-rays" announced early in this century by the French scientist René Blondlot—usually arise from flawed or inadequate experiments. Often the source of such error is plain old wishful thinking; Fleishmann and Pons, the "discoverers" of cold fusion, afraid of being beaten to one of the greatest possible discoveries of all time, rushed to announce their results without adequately checking them. Blondlot wanted to see French science match the recent triumphs of the Germans and persuaded himself that he had found a new kind of energy. When cooler heads investigated the alleged phenomenon, it evaporated. Dewdney saves a large measure of scorn for psychology, singling out Freud's career as a prime example of pseudoscience. For this author, Freud's half-dozen published case studies appear too weak and inconclusive to support the elaborate theoretical structure he erected upon them. Likewise, the measurement of intelligence has long been suspect; what IQ tests measure is often the product of the cultural bias of those administering the tests. Dewdney goes to particular pains to discredit attempts to tie IQ scores to racial background, pointing out that differences within a given group far surpass alleged differences between groups.
Dewdney manages to make this catalog of error entertaining as well as instructive; good medicine for both skeptics and true believers.
|Introduction: Of Neutrons, Sorcerers, and Apprentices||1|
|1||The Century Begins: The Rays That Never Were||19|
|2||Mind Numbers: The Curious Theory of the Intelligence Quotient||29|
|3||Dreaming Up Theories: The Unconscious Con on Sigmund Freud||47|
|4||Surfing the Cosmos: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence||63|
|5||The Apprentice Builds a Brain: Misled by Metaphors||79|
|6||Genie in a Jar: The "Discovery" of Cold Fusion||99|
|7||Biosphere 2 springs a Leak||121|
|8||For Whom the Bell Curves: The Racial Theories of J. Phillipe Rushton||145|
Posted November 30, 2003
The book was a largely entertaining and quite informative book on bad science. I was previously familiar with some of the material, such as N-rays and the limitations on neural nets. His material on Sigmund Freud and the biosphere was new and eye opening. However, the reader should beware: One of Dewdney¿s chapters is an open attack on another professor from his university. In fact, it is likely this is the real reason for the book, which is rather like one of the actresses on 'Friends' writing a book on the worlds ugliest and most deformed humans and then including a chapter on her costars. The theories of the person he attacks are indeed likely to be bad science. (The theories involve racial differences in intelligence). However, Dewdney loses all impartiality and what he has to say regarding intelligence is almost entirely wrong and often even silly. With that caveat, the book is still quite worthwhile and a good read besides.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.