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Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (Popular Science) Paperback – June 1, 1957

3.9 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A very able and even-tempered presentation."

About the Author

Martin Gardner was a renowned author who published over 70 books on subjects from science and math to poetry and religion. He also had a lifelong passion for magic tricks and puzzles. Well known for his mathematical games column in Scientific American and his "Trick of the Month" in Physics Teacher magazine, Gardner attracted a loyal following with his intelligence, wit, and imagination.

Martin Gardner: A Remembrance
The worldwide mathematical community was saddened by the death of Martin Gardner on May 22, 2010. Martin was 95 years old when he died, and had written 70 or 80 books during his long lifetime as an author. Martin's first Dover books were published in 1956 and 1957: Mathematics, Magic and Mystery, one of the first popular books on the intellectual excitement of mathematics to reach a wide audience, and Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, certainly one of the first popular books to cast a devastatingly skeptical eye on the claims of pseudoscience and the many guises in which the modern world has given rise to it. Both of these pioneering books are still in print with Dover today along with more than a dozen other titles of Martin's books. They run the gamut from his elementary Codes, Ciphers and Secret Writing, which has been enjoyed by generations of younger readers since the 1980s, to the more demanding The New Ambidextrous Universe: Symmetry and Asymmetry from Mirror Reflections to Superstrings, which Dover published in its final revised form in 2005.

To those of us who have been associated with Dover for a long time, however, Martin was more than an author, albeit a remarkably popular and successful one. As a member of the small group of long-time advisors and consultants, which included NYU's Morris Kline in mathematics, Harvard's I. Bernard Cohen in the history of science, and MIT's J. P. Den Hartog in engineering, Martin's advice and editorial suggestions in the formative 1950s helped to define the Dover publishing program and give it the point of view which — despite many changes, new directions, and the consequences of evolution — continues to be operative today.

In the Author's Own Words:
"Politicians, real-estate agents, used-car salesmen, and advertising copy-writers are expected to stretch facts in self-serving directions, but scientists who falsify their results are regarded by their peers as committing an inexcusable crime. Yet the sad fact is that the history of science swarms with cases of outright fakery and instances of scientists who unconsciously distorted their work by seeing it through lenses of passionately held beliefs."

"A surprising proportion of mathematicians are accomplished musicians. Is it because music and mathematics share patterns that are beautiful?" — Martin Gardner


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Product Details

  • Series: Popular Science
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications; 2nd Revised ed. edition (June 1, 1957)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486203948
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486203942
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #106,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By magellan HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
Gardner's work debunking pseudo-science of all kinds is even more relevant today than it was when it was written nearly 50 years ago. Although it has been 30 years since I read it, I can still remember many of the funnier highlights of the book.

For example, some of his revelations on crackpot scientists are truly hilarious. In his chapter on health and health food faddists he discusses Gaylord Hauser, who was a famous name in the area long before people like Adele Davis, Ewel Gibbons, and so on.

Gardner mentions Hauser's famous theory that acidosis of the blood is responsible for just about all health ills, and recommended fasting to counteract it. Unfortunately, anyone even slightly familiar with human physiology will tell you that fasting actually causes acidosis, a little fact apparently Hauser overlooked. Another great theory killed by a nasty little fact, I guess.

Then there is the chapter, "Down with Einstein," where crackpots par excellence try to prove they are smarter than Einstein. One guy by the name of Gillette (no relation to the razor concern) says of Einstein, "As a physicist, Einstein is not a bad violinist," and insists his "Back-screwing Theory of Gravitation" is far superior to Einstein's. According to Gillette, "...gravity is naught but the kicked-back nut of the back-screwing bolt of gravitation." As you can see, Einstein is not the only genius physicist out there with a good theory or two.

The one person Gardner actually seems to like in this book is Charles Fort, the journalist who himself reported on much of the pseudo-science of his day.
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Format: Paperback
This book is, even in its second edition, half a century old, and sometimes that shows. Lysenko is long dead, and in fact the Soviet Union in which he did his crackpot biology doesn't exist anymore. Several other kooks that Gardner writes about have long been forgotten. On the other hand, Dianetics is still around, and crackpot science in general is alive and well -- do I have to remind the reader of the Alien Autopsy on tv?

In a general sense, then, this book is still very much relevant in that it shows how pseudo science and pseudo scientists work by blithely ignoring facts, expounding theories with more support in rethoric than in actual facts.

My favourite chapter is the one about Alfred Lawson. Who? It doesn't matter. The man is so hilarious that he would have to be invented, if he hadn't invented himself first. "When I look into the vastness of space and see the marvelous workings of its contents, I sometimes think that I was born ten or twenty thousand years ahead of time" according the great man's autobiography. And Gardner quotes this with a straight face, even where possible defending his silly theories.

That is in fact what I like most about this book. Gardner does a good job of debunking, but he is never malicious towards his subjects, regarding them almost lovingly as wayward children. Thus this book stands as a classic of science writing, and is worth reading regardless the importance of its immediate subjects.
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Format: Paperback
Although written in the 1950s, Martin Gardner's Fads and Fallacies is one of the masterpieces of science. Gardner tackles both seriously and humorously the pseudoscience of his day, including flying saucers, flat-earthers, dianetics, medical cults, dowsers, orogonomy, Atlantis historians, and many more. From Trofim Lysenko's efforts to overthrow Darwin's theory of evolution for Lamarck's theory of acquired characteristics in Russia, to the hilarious chapter on Charles Fort's philosophy of "accept everything but believe nothing" in our own country, Gardner paints a marvelous portrait that will make the reader roll their eyes and smile at some people's credulity as well as be shocked at how far some will go to search for and believe in what isn't there. What strikes me as the most prominent thing about this book is that he almost seems to be addresing the pseudoscience/antiscience of our day instead of decades past. In summary, his essays will bring the reader's mind to a more a skeptical level of thinking when faced with current claims that resemble those of yester-year. Gardner's book is a fitting prequel to Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World as it not only debunks the false claims of pseudoscience, but also educates the reader's mind about what real science is while maintaining an apt for wonder.
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Format: Paperback
This book (written in 1952!) remains a classic of skepticism. It is very much the mid-20th century's answer to Charles MacKay's "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds". Gardner amusingly debunks many forgotten pseudo-philosophies, like the flat- and hollow-earth theories. He highlights the sadly lost Iowan science of "Lawsonomy," whose founder produced a host of ludicrously egotistical books, along with perhaps the most wretched quatrain in all of English verse:
"So come on folks, the past is dead,
The future is alrighty,
And by the will, we'll win the till,
With strength from the ALMIGHTY."
But what gives the book surprising and continuing relevance is its treatment of many still-popular belief systems. These include Scientology, Creationism, Velikovsky, UFO's, chiropractic, Nostradamus, and the ancestors of today's holistic medicine faddists. If you are a believer in any (or God forbid, all) of these, you will be challenged, and probably offended. Good, I say.
It's true that a few of the ideas Gardner poked at have, over the last 50 years, moved from the fringes to a reasonable respectability. The Big Bang and continental drift are by now mainstream. I am sure that Gardner would treat these subjects differently if he were writing the book today.
But in a way, that only adds to the value of this book. It prompts us to ask ourselves: Why do we believe what we believe? What role does evidence play? How much of our beliefs are due to family upbringing, and how much to what William James called (not disparagingly) the Will to Believe?
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