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Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud [Paperback]

Robert L. Park
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 15, 2001 0195147103 978-0195147100 Reprint
In a time of dazzling scientific progress, how can we separate genuine breakthroughs from the noisy gaggle of false claims? From Deepak Chopra's "quantum alternative to growing old" to unwarranted hype surrounding the International Space Station, Robert Park leads us down the back alleys of fringe science, through the gleaming corridors of Washington power and even into our evolutionary past to search out the origins of voodoo science. Along the way, he offers simple and engaging science lessons, proving that you don't have to be a scientist to spot the fraudulent science that swirls around us.
While remaining highly humorous, this hard-hitting account also tallies the cost: the billions spent on worthless therapies, the tax dollars squandered on government projects that are doomed to fail, the investors bilked by schemes that violate the most fundamental laws of nature. But the greatest cost is human: fear of imaginary dangers, reliance on magical cures, and above all, a mistaken view of how the world works.
To expose the forces that sustain voodoo science, Park examines the role of the media, the courts, bureaucrats and politicians, as well as the scientific community. Scientists argue that the cure is to raise general scientific literacy. But what exactly should a scientifically literate society know? Park argues that the public does not need a specific knowledge of science so much as a scientific world view--an understanding that we live in an orderly universe governed by natural laws that cannot be circumvented.

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Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud + Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time + The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Scientific error, says Robert Park, "has a way of evolving ... from self-delusion to fraud. I use the term voodoo science to cover them all: pathological science, junk science, pseudoscience, and fraudulent science." In pathological science, scientists fool themselves. Junk science refers to scientists who use their expertise to befuddle and mislead others (usually juries or lawmakers). Pseudoscience has the trappings of science without any evidence. Fraudulent science is, well, fraud--old-fashioned lying.

Park is well-acquainted with voodoo science in all its forms. Since 1982, he has headed the Washington, D.C., office of the American Physical Society, and he has carried the flag for scientific rationality through cold fusion, homeopathy, "Star Wars," quantum healing, and sundry attempts to repeal the laws of thermodynamics. Park shows why a "disproportionate share of the science seen by the public is flawed" (because shaky science is more likely to skip past peer review and head straight for the media), and he gives a good tour of recent highlights in Voodoo. He has a rare ability to poke holes compassionately, without excoriating those taken in by their fondest wishes. Park is less forgiving of scientists (especially Edward Teller) when he thinks they've fallen down on the job, a job that should include helping the public separate the scientific wheat from the voodoo chaff. --Mary Ellen Curtin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Robert Park, in these 10 well-written essays for a lay audience, uses pathological science as a starting point for far-reaching discussions of science and society. Park is an articulate and skeptical voice of reason about science." -- Kenneth R. Foster, Science

"Few books have had the impact on my thinking of Charles Mackay's Extrordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, published more than 150 years ago. It taught me that massive numbers of individuals have fallen victim to bizarre manias. Professor Park's Voodoo Science teaches us that, even in this age of science, it is still happening. My enthusiasm for this book leads me to recommend it, without reservation, to the intellectual community and The Rest of Us. Long life to Robert Park and his fellow thinkers who, sometimes with little profit to themselves, are so willing and able to lead us out of what I call 'dumbth.'"--Steve Allen, author and TV personality

"I would like to make this book compulsory reading for medical students in their first year ... With brilliant insight and clarity of prose, [Park] describes the inevitable consequences of a debate between the true believer and sceptics ... This book was a joy and an entertainment."--Healthwatch Newsletter

Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (November 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195147103
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195147100
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 6.5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #326,313 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
136 of 145 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Paradox May 27, 2000
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 a few pertinent questions that caused the committee to finally 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.
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68 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's Physics versus Fantasies May 12, 2000
For years, Robert Park, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland, has written "What's New," a short weekly update on science issues for the American Physical Society. Park's quirky, pithy bulletins end with the phrase, "Opinions are the author's and are not necessarily shared by the APS, but they should be." Now he has written at length on some of the topics his column has touched on. His opinions may not be yours, but once you read _Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud_, they should be.
For Park has taken what ought to be the uncontroversial step of simply insisting that basic science is true, and that those who profit because they can supposedly violate scientific laws are fools or frauds, and the rest of us ought not to be fooled or defrauded. He keeps things basic; he never enters, say, the controversy of creation "science" versus evolution. His realm is physics. For instance, Park spends many pages describing perpetual motion machines. A machine that makes more energy than it takes in (or runs on the same amount of energy it makes) would violate basic thermodynamic laws, which Park carefully and lucidly explains. We may wish for the waterwheel that pumps enough water up to fall over the wheel again and thus keep going forever, but it will never happen.
Park covers plenty of other areas: homeopathy, magnet therapy, cold fusion, Star Wars / SDI, human versus robot exploration of space, therapeutic touch, extrasensory perception, alien abductions, Roswell, and so on. In each case, he simply aims cold, hard facts and physical laws at targets that fall under his good sense. "Most people who are drawn to voodoo science simply long for a world in which things are some other way than the way they are." With good humor and clear writing, Park has done us the favor of reminding us that the world is the way it is, that science shows the way it is, and that wishful thinking just won't do.
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82 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshingly covers new ground May 28, 2000
Bob Park's excellent book takes up company with recent works in the same vein by Dawkins, Gould, Sagan, Kaminer, and others. It is good reading and entertaining though you may find your blood pressure soaring at times. It seems idiocy knows no bounds.
Parks takes a slightly different approach from most of the recent books challenging fringe science and discusses at length how our elected representatives and the U.S. government has been seduced into being advocates of voodoo science. Parks played a role as the information officer for the American Physical Society which has given him an inside view of how this has come about.
The book also takes a look at our space program and Parks slices and dices manned missions versus robotic ones. The robotic ones come out on top without much of a struggle. Though I was aware that there was differences of opinion on this matter, I was not aware of the magnitude of the problem and I found this information rather startling and something not covered in any of the other similar books in the field. I don't think Parks is trying to equate manned flight with voodoo science but the discussion of the topic was something I found valuable nonetheless.
If you have read the other recent books in this field you may have had a deja vu all over again feeling as they each tended to cover pretty much the same ground. Parks refreshingly expands the playing field and really does provide some new approaches and new information.
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48 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't do that Voodoo that you do so Well May 11, 2000
By A Customer
Bob Park, a distinguished physicist, has done the general public as well as the science, media, and investor communities a great service by his in-depth analysis of the growing boom in pseudoscience, crank science, and activities which could go as far as fraud. Park's impeccable scientific credentials and detailed examinations of the worst cases of what he calls voodoo science should help the media spot fringe science and refuse to give it ink or air-time; a thorough read of the book might save investors from losing their shirts in hare-brained schemes.
And even the casual reader will learn the difference between real science and science on the fringe. The book and the science within are extremely accessible, even to the non-scientist.
Besides, the book is an amusing read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Vendor
Product was as described. Excellent service. Would recommend.
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Published 4 days ago by M. Lavett
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read-
A frustrating review of how easily people are fooled by charlatans posing as scientists, and the money and time it costs society especially when those people are in powerful... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Theodore Chu
5.0 out of 5 stars Perpetration of stupidity
Book is well written and lays bare the lack of understanding of the scientific process and how so many people can be mislead by the hucksters who make many statements with... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Joyce Harris
5.0 out of 5 stars When Resulta Are Too Good To Be True
Fascinating shadow history of original science, with explanations and examples of how bad science can evolve into good: and vice versa.
Published 8 months ago by Kathleen Bartholomew
5.0 out of 5 stars an excellent book
Clearly written. Well researched. An enjoyable and thought provoking read. At the very end, Robert Park discusses a movie. I gotta go find that movie.

Published 8 months ago by Nelsonfamily
2.0 out of 5 stars How Could the Professor Miss These?
Okay. A good read, but missing some important examples. What happened to Dr. Brinkley's goat gonad treatment for male sexual dysfunction? Read more
Published 10 months ago by Will Harvey
4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening!
Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud by Robert L. Park

"Voodoo Science" is a very entertaining and informative book that will help people judge which... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Book Shark
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Read
Obvious evidence of what happens when you have folks who don't understand a subject expound at length on it. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Albert E. Ulak
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book and a wonderful read--with benefits
This is not only a great book and an insightful look at the world of voodoo science--it's also wonderfuling entertaining. Read more
Published on April 19, 2012 by P. Vogel
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting
I was referred to this book by a trade journal concerning fire investigation. I found the book very interesting and informative. Read more
Published on March 25, 2012 by Jason W. Hoffman
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