- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (Oct. 15 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195147103
- ISBN-13: 978-0195147100
- Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 1.5 x 13 cm
- Shipping Weight: 181 g
- Average Customer Review: 60 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #83,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud Paperback – Oct 15 2001
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"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
"In Voodoo Science, Park leads us on a sharp-tongued, meandering trip through fringe science's back alleys."--Savannah News
"[A] superb book."--The Washington Times
"A brilliant bit of Debunkery!'Debunkery' may be a new coinage, but...its meaning is clear and it surely describes Voodoo Science, this admirable new scientific polemic by a University of Maryland physics professor, Robert L. Park."--The Star-Democrat
"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
"Comparable to the muckracking efforts of James Randi and Carl Sagan in the magazine The Skeptical Inquirer, Park's book should be required reading for all science writers, journalists, and politicians."--Library Journal
"Bob Park, part urbane physicist, part scrappy Texan, is a national resource. He's been observing scientists and their wannabes and their hustlers for decades, with the unblinking eye of his trade, and now he tells us what he's seen, with the narrative cadence of Will Rogers and the blunt-lucid prose of Hemingway. As he crafts his fascinating tales of pride and sham and delusion, he invites us as well to contemplate human nature in its struggle to make sense of, and find a context in, this astonishing universe. I couldn't put it down."--Ursula Goodenough, Professor of Biology, Washington University, and author of The Sacred Depths of Nature
"New discoveries in science and technology have not only fueled an explosive economy but also have provided unheard-of opportunities to those who would mislead the public whether through their own naivete or downright guile. The snake oil business is alive and well. Fortunately, we have a superb scientist to strip away the mumbo jumbo of these fraudulent schemers and reveal them for what they are. It is frightening to read how successful some of these purveyors of nonsense have been, even in the highest reaches of our government. All of us can thank Park for saving us from ourselves."--Val L. Fitch, Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor and Chairman, Department of Physics, Princeton University, Ex-President of the American Physical Society, Nobel Laureate in Physics
"Science, as Richard Feynmann suggested, is what we have learned about how not to fool ourselves. There are few--far too few--accomplished scientists, skilled writers, who care greatly about the ways in which people DO fool themselves. Pseudoscience, anti-science, and simple fraud are frighteningly popular and dangerous ways, today, of fooling ourselves about reality. Professor Park is one of those who understand the scams and take the trouble to expose them. Voodoo Science is a powerful but readable assemblage of his findings and ideas."--Paul Gross, University Professor of Life Sciences, University of Virginia, and co-author of Higher Superstition
"In Voodoo Science, Robert Park demonstrates how even science itself sometimes gets put in the service of delusion and self-delusion. From Star Wars to cold fusion, EMFs to UFOs, these dipatches from the front lines of scientific foolishness reveal how the things we want to believe often keep us from learning the things we need to know."--K.C. Cole, author of the bestseller The Universe and the Teacup: The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty
About the Author
Robert L. Park is Professor of Physics and former chairman of the Department of Physics at the University of Maryland. He also directs the Washington Office of the American Physical Society. He is a prolific writer of op-eds for The New York Times and other papers, and a regular contributor of science features for The Washington Post. He also posts a provocative and popular weekly electronic column on science issues at http://www.opa.org/WN/. He lives in Adelphi, Maryland.
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A special feature of the book is that the author has played an active rôle in the events so can speak with first hand knowledge. It is interesting to see how easily the press can be duped, and at times even elected representatives can be sucked in and ante up large sums of money.
Particularly interesting are the accounts of the Star Wars program, and how a 9-year old girl conducted her own double-blind test and debunked a popular idea, thus getting a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
I really enjoy this book. It's based on understandable facts and it covers a number of specific cases. It's well written, without a lot of intimidating terms. Best, it gives the reader some specific signs that often indicate the phonies: barely-there statistics that never seem to get better, a peculiar mix of grandstanding and secrecy, and a tendency to ignore results that don't give the "right" answer. Most of all, the frauds seem uniform in demanding that they be judged as people, not that their science be judged in independent labs.
Parks does an especially good job of describing the fools and frauds who attract attention in Congress. Somehow, we seem to have gone downhill at separating verifiable fact from wishes and pseudoscience. He mentions the man-to-Mars mission proposed by President Bush (the other mission proposed by the other Bush) - space opera, not science. He mentions only briefly confusion of personal values with verifiable fact - I can think of too many current cases that show the confusion is still there. Junk science in the service is junk morality is not new. I'm sure the reader will come away better able to recognize it in every day's headlines.
This book shows that real scientific reasoning is accessible to everyone, using the delightful example of Emily Rosa. She clearly demonstrated absurd claims of "aura alignment", published 'solid gold' statistical analysis in the Journal of the AMA, and was awarded a research grant many times the cost of her original study. Not bad for a fourth grader. I wish more adults had that clarity of mind.
I can't give this five stars, since it one good book among many other good books on the topic. That does not detract from this book in any way, but it has so much good company that it can't really stand out. It's a quick read, and very worthwhile.
But don't for a moment think that this is an attack on science itself--far from it. Park is a professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, and he is impassioned about the sciences and scientific discovery. Voodoo Science is an attempt to make science better, by calling on all concerned to exercise critical thinking over blind acceptance and to recognize the difference between entertainment, belief and truth.
He takes on fellow scientists, backyard inventors, new age gurus and healers, and especially (and deservedly) the media. I was incensed reading his accounts of the irresponsible reporting from the national media of many of these claims. But herein lies the problem--for those with a fairly strong general scientific background, Park's writing is easy to follow and his arguments compelling. But the media doesn't report for those people, primarily, and they apparently don't see their responsibility as education. I can't help feeling that most people reading this book will already agree with Park's point of view, although they may not have applied his reasoning to each of the cases he examines. I doubt that those of a less skeptical mind will be convinced, and certainly some of the other reviews bear out my expectations.
Park doesn't swing wildly, either; he restricts his aim to only a few targets. Most of his time is spent on perpetual motion machines and cold fusion; homeopathy also earns his scorn. Unfortunately, if you believe in the memory of water, and use liquid crystal displays as an example, you're not going to be convinced by the director of the Washington office of the American Physical Society, even if he knows what he's talking about and you don't. Park cites the X-File's Fox Mulder's office sign "I want to believe" and so obviously he is aware of the problem.
Less thoroughly covered is the category of pseudoscience, and I'm lead to wonder whether Park steered clear of this category out of fear of alienating his readers through confronting their religious beliefs. For example, creationism is totally ignored in favor of discussing the scare of high-power lines. But the examples of voodoo science are innumerable, and criticizing Park for leaving certain ones out is to miss the point. Park shows us a way to think, but as a true educator he leaves the thinking to us. We will all be better if we are less gullible.
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