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Yes, We Have No Neutrons: An Eye-Opening Tour through the Twists and Turns of Bad Science / Edition 1

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Overview

In this lively excursion, the acclaimed author of 200% of Nothing takes a fun-filled, in-depth look at eight famous (or rather, infamous) cased of bad science: highly touted discoveries or projects that are astonishing examples of serious scientific slipups. Originally trumpeted as impressive projects full of promise, some of this century's most publicized scientific studies - SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence), Binet's IQ theory, neural nets - have been fatally flawed. From the alleged detection of N rays to the Biosphere 2 debacle, Yes, We Have No Neutrons unveils exactly what went wrong. Mr. Dewdney takes us behind the scenes to reveal why bad science occurs for a variety of reasons, whether due to faulty methodology or flawed interpretations of results. In some instances, researchers - amateur as well as experienced - neglected key ingredients of the scientific method, leading to conclusions that were either not feasible or simply could not be reproduced. That accounts for the unfortunate circumstance of not only Rene Blondlot and his N rays, but also Frank Drake and his failed Project Ozma. In other cases, the pursuit of glory played a major role. When overzealous researchers declare their conclusions without strong proof, the results can lead to such notorious findings as the now infamous cold fusion discovery.

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Arthur C. Clarke
In today's world, 'innumeracy' is an even greater danger than illiteracy, and is perhaps even more common. . . . I hope that this wise and witty book will provide cures where they are possible, and warnings where they are necessary. It's also a lot of fun. I can guarantee that 100 percent.
Martin Gardner
It is rare indeed when advertisers, politicians, pop economists, and drumbeaters for medical programs offer a statistical argument that is not either meaningless or downright deceptive. Professor Dewdney has given us a marvelous, witty account of such flimflams and how to guard against them. It is impossible to read this timely, important book without enjoyment and eye-opening enlightenment..
Lynn Arthur Steen
Dewdney retells with charm and wit magnificent morsels of mathematical mayhem. . . . 200% of Nothing plumbs the depths of innumeracy in daily life and reveals what ordinary people can do about it. A rich, readable, instructive, and persuasive polemic..
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
From sorcerers and apprentices to physicists Fleishmann and Pons, Dewdney (200% of Nothing) takes the reader on a fast-paced romp through some of the most prominent cases of "bad science" to surface this century. These aren't cases of fraudulent attempts to garner fame but instances in which the main players often failed to follow the basic tenets of "good science," namely, experimentation and publication of results for others to verify. In each case, Dewdney takes pains to point out flaws in reasoning or the failure to state a clear hypothesis or to check for reproducibility. An underlying eagerness to be the first to announce some startling discovery is seen time and again. He doesn't overlook the role of the mass media, either. Who can forget the stampede to report the debacle from Utah surrounding cold fusion, the veritable genie in a bottle? This notorious case, as well as seven others (including Freud's development of his theory of the mind and of psychoanalysis) illustrate nicely the need for reality checks every now and then. The all-too-human side of research is seen in the sad case of turn-of-the-century French scientist Ren Blondlot and his so-called N-rays, which, after much ballyhoo, where shown not to exist. Written with wit and a touch of pathosand sure to please science loversthe book is guaranteed to generate a degree of cynicism when the next major scientific breakthrough is announced in the press. A selection of additional reading suggestions is a welcome bonus, particularly for some of the more controversial cases. (Apr.)
School Library Journal
YAEight entertaining vignettes that illustrate how science can go awry when researchers become convinced of the truth before all the results are in and the analysis completed. Examples come from 20th-century research in a variety of areas including biology, physics, astronomy, psychology, and sociology. Case studies include the 1989 announcement by two scientists that they had achieved cold fusion in a simple contraption and the highly touted, but flawed, Biosphere. The book is easy reading even for those with no technical background. The sections can be read at random, and there's enough continuity for readers to place each segment into the context of the larger theme.Greg Matthes, R. E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA
Booknews
A collection of scientific bloopers chronicling eight infamous slipups and speculating on exactly what went wrong and why. Dewdney (mathematics, U. of Western Ontario) manages to keep from outright laughter at such highly publicized (and failed) scientific studies as SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence), Binet's IQ theory, neural nets, and the Biosphere 2 disaster, arguing that these bad science examples are rooted in either faulty methodology, flawed interpretations or big scientific egos run amuck (or an unfortunate combination of all three). Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
Why do good scientists fall into error? Here are eight case studies, analyzed with entertaining irreverence by a former Scientific American columnist.

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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471108061
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/1/1997
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 0.56 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 6.00 (d)

Meet the Author

A. K. DEWDNEY is Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of Western Ontario. Past author of the popular "Mathematical Recreations" column in Scientific American, he has written several other books, including 200% of Nothing (also published by Wiley), The Armchair Universe, and The Planiverse: Computer Contact with a Two-Dimensional World.
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Table of Contents

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
Further Reading 165
Acknowledgments 171
Index 173
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2003

    Enjoy, but with some caution

    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.

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