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Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (Popular Science) Paperback – June 1, 1957
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About the Author
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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
"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?
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great read. All persons who choose to study science should read this or a similar book early in their life.Published 2 months ago by charleshlapo
The real value of this book is that it's old, from the 1950s, and taught me a lot about what was known then. Read morePublished 8 months ago by B. Dunning
This book is a classic. First published in the 1950s, it surveys all major pseudoscience branches in the USA at the time - from quack medicine (by far the most lucrative and... Read morePublished 16 months ago by Classics Lover
Exceeded my expectations. The book seems to include many arguments that state that some fields of supernatural fictional believes claim to be a science but are truly hoaxes that... Read morePublished 23 months ago by gabriel zaldivar
An interesting book about numerous fads, ideas, and other odd assumptions that can arise out of the (mis)use of science. Read morePublished on May 19, 2014 by michael tuttle
Though the book is a bit out of date it remains - to me - one of the greatest popular science books I have come across. Read morePublished on February 11, 2014 by Ezra Newman
This book examines many alternative ideas that are not accepted in the mainstream scientific community in 26 chapters. Read morePublished on December 30, 2013 by MacheteJason
We need help distinguishing the faddish from the scientific and logical. Based on our history as humans, we are not that skilled at doing this. Read morePublished on March 26, 2013 by Penny
After reading Martin Gardner's "Colossal Book of Mathematics" and enjoying it, I was expecting to enjoy this book too. Read morePublished on March 9, 2013 by Brian Mathason