- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press (May 25, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195135156
- ISBN-13: 978-0195135152
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 110 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,703,526 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud
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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
"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
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A personal apology : I did not read deeply enough through Mr. Park's other topics to (at this time) be able to provide an honest review of them. But I want to close with the observation that the author's space presentation(even by itself) would make his book 'well worth the read'.
"Voodoo Science" is a very entertaining and informative book that will help people judge which claims are science and which are voodoo. Emeritus professor of physics at the University of Maryland, Robert L. Park take the readers on a ride on forces that seem to conspire to keep alive voodoo science: pathological science, junk science, pseudoscience, and fraudulent science. This enlightening 240-page book is composed of the following ten chapters: 1. It's Not News, It's Entertainment, 2. The Belief Gene, 3. Placebos Have Side Effects, 4. The Virtual Astronaut, 5. There Ought to Be a Law, 6. Perpetual Mobile, 7. Currents of Fear, 8. Judgment Day, 9. Only Mushrooms Grow in the Dark, and 10. How Strange Is the Universe?
1. Well written and accessible prose for the layperson.
2. Interesting topic of voodoo science. Its characteristics.
3. Fascinating essays that cover a wide gamut of "voodoo" science.
4. Does a wonderful job of explaining the basic science behind each essay. Thermodynamics, quantum mechanics...
5. Scientific claims embellished by the news media and why that is so.
6. The fascinating story of cold fusion (Pons and Fleischmann). "The scientific process transcends the human failings of individual scientists--but with cold fusion, the process was in for a jolt."
7. Pseudoscience. "This was pseudoscience: all the talk of "string theory" and "consciousness fields" and "time-series analysis," was meant to give the appearance of science."
8. Defining science.
9. The author explains various logical fallacies committed by people. Gambler's fallacy, Pascal's wager, sharpshooter fallacy, confirmation bias...
10. The fallacy of homeopathy. Explanation of the mechanism.
11. Debunking the magnet fad as a healing tool. Biomagnetic therapy.
12. The International Space Station in perspective. Surprising but compelling take.
13. Former Senator John Glenn shines in an eye-opening Congressional hearing.
14. Perpetual energy machines are a popular pursuit among inventors...Joe Newman's Energy Machine is highlighted.
15. Cancer scares "caused" by electromagnetic fields, microwaves.
16. How courts confront "junk" science.
17. UFO incidents, abductions. Project Mogul. Great stuff here.
18. Deepak Chopra's pseudoscience exposed...always a good thing.
19. Great quotes, "The message the public should take away is that it is NOT the psychics and fortune-tellers who can see into the future, it is the scientists."
20. Debunking premonitions and the like.
1. The book is a little dated; it was originally published in 2000...
2. Is a little repetitive.
3. Going back and forth on some of the stories can be confusing.
4. No source material, no links.
5. No formal bibliography.
In summary, I enjoyed this book. Professor Park does a wonderful job of explaining what he means by voodoo science and proceeds to offer a number of fascinating stories. The book is accessible and fun to read. It is a bit repetitive and going back and forth on the stories can be a little confusing but ultimately succeeds in enlightening the reader on what constitutes bad science. A recommended read.
Further recommendations: "Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks" and "Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients" by Ben Goldacre, "Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming 1st (first) Edition by Oreskes, Naomi, Conway, Erik M. (2010)" by Erik M. Conway, "Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy" by Robert M. Hazen "Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America" by Shawn Lawrence, "Lies, Damned Lies, and Science: How to Sort Through the Noise Around Global Warming, the Latest Health Claims, and Other Scientific Controversies (FT Press Science)" by Sherry Seethaler, and "Science Under Siege: Defending Science, Exposing Pseudoscience" by Kendrick Frazier.
"Voodoo Science" proves to be one of the better examples of this genre. Although it doesn't quite match Carl Sagan's brilliant "The Demon Haunted World", Park's book is noteworthy for three main reasons: The creative structure and fine prose, the choice of the targets, and the underlying theme of this book - how Voodoo Science is a journey from sincere errors through self delusion to outright fraud.
Park's writing is elegant and easy to read. I've finished 'Voodoo Science' within two days, a tribute both to the shortness of the book and to Park's ability as a storyteller. Furthermore, Park explains science well; I particularly liked his explanation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics ("You can't win" and "You can't break even, either"). Unlike most of these kinds of book, Park chooses to tell stories throughout the book, and as a consequence gives the feeling of a plot unravelling. Park also manages to tell similar stories together, proving that while fools change, the foolishness remains the same.
Park's choice of targets is also an advantage. Part of it is that Park's book is recent, and that many of the scandals are relatively new (the 80s and 90s, rather then the 60s and 70s as in many other such books). But it is more then that - Park picks on phenomena which reached bodies - US Congress, Prime Time US TV, and NASA - who should have known better.
The best chapters in the book are the fourth and eight. "The Virtual Astronaut" attacks manned flights to space, and argues that they are huge vanity projects of little practical value. It is a forceful suggestion, and one that is actually quite bold - unlike UFOs, Astrology and Creationism, Space travel is dear to the hearts of many sceptics, myself included. Nonetheless, Park's case is convincing. As presently carried out, Manned Space Exploration is a waste of time and money, and as the recent disaster of the Columbia space shuttle has demonstrated, dangerous as well.
I do wish that Park would discuss some ideas which might make manned space travel a more practical possibility, particularly the proposal for a space elevator - a satellite connected with a cable to earth, on which it would be possible to 'climb' to space.
Chapter 8, "Judgement Day" discusses attempts by the US Jurisprudence to fight Junk Science - the use of science to bewilder and bedazzle laypersons, and especially juries. The US Supreme Court ruled that it is the Judge's role to be a gatekeeper, to distinguish for the Jury between real and fake science, using outside experts if necessary. I wish Park had elaborated on this issue more, presenting some of the obstacles to this (such as who is qualified to decide, in concrete cases and on a tight schedule, what is or isn't voodoo science), and the dissenting opinions of the Supreme Court. If Judges have to decide for the jury what science is or isn't, aren't we approaching the point where the judiciary dictates the trial's results? Does the Judge replace the "Jury of one's peers" as the agent who finds the defendant guilty or innocent? And if so, is it a good or bad thing?
The main current of the book, its thesis, is an examination of the subtitle's "Road from Foolishness to Fraud". The how and when of inventors getting lost in their own hype, beginning to lie rather then admit they were wrong. This is an interesting theme which Park could have followed more closely with an inside look at people on that road. Alas, no such a description is given. I would have been particularly interested in an interview with Michael Guillen, the book's anti-hero, a physicist who "documents" all forms of paranormal folly for prime time TV. An anthropologist's inside view on the scandal would have greatly added to Park's book.
Such minor flaws not withstanding, Robert L. Park wrote an interesting and fun to read debunking book. If you like the genre, you'll love it. If you're a believer, try reading it with an open mind - it may do you some good.