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Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud Paperback – 15 Nov 2001


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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc; Reprint edition (15 Nov. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195147103
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195147100
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 1.5 x 13 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 637,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon 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 is when scientists use their expertise to befuddle and mislead others (usually juries or lawmakers). Pseudoscience has the trappings of science without any evidence. Fraud is, well, fraud--old-fashioned lying.

Park is well-acquainted with voodoo science in all its incarnations. Since 1982 he has headed the Washington, DC 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 gives a good tour of recent highlights in Voodoo. He has a rare ability to poke holes compassionately, without heaping vitriol on those taken in by their fondest wishes. He is less forgiving of scientists when he thinks they've fallen down on the job, which 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.

Review

"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."--HealthwatchNewsletter

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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I CALLED JOE NEWMAN at his home in Lucedale, Mississippi. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 10 Aug. 2004
Format: Hardcover
The book clearly deserves more than five stars for its effective, level-headed exposure of unscientific ideas that don't hold water (like cold fusion, the Roswell incident as a UFO invasion, homeopathy, and perpetual motion machines).
Science is now evolving more rapidly than ever before. Some estimate that the total level of scientific knowledge doubles every few years. If you are like me, you cannot hope to keep up. And politicians, television, friends, and news stories are always touting new and intriguing ideas. What really is going on? What should we pay attention to?
Professor Park has a distinguished background in physics. He directs the Washington office of the American Physical Society, and is a former chairman of the Physics department at the University of Maryland. In his work with the society, he is often called upon by the press to comment about claims made by others. This experience allowed him to develop the information in this book.
If you are like me, you also have heard of or read about many of the claims discussed in the book. But, like me, you probably never heard how it all ended up. Whatever happened to cold fusion, for example?
The book looks at all kinds of badly done science, beginning with amateurs who don't know enough to understand what they are doing. Such amateurs often run the risk of becoming fraudulent if they fail to respond candidly to questions from scientists about their work.
The good news is that society seems to be getting better at challenging the ideas that are wrong. For example, the Supreme Court decided a case, Daubert, that now requires federal judges to get independent scientists to look at claims before allowing a jury to consider a point of view espoused by some "paid" experts.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Tom Anderson on 4 Sept. 2003
Format: Paperback
In principle scientific method is all about objectively and critically testing theories and updating them in the light of new evidence. Park shows how scientists’ prejudices, being inclined to see only what they expect or want to see, can lead them down the road to pathological science (where they fool themselves) or worse junk science (where they deliberately try to fool others). He repeatedly shows examples of failures to abandon theories even in the face of apparently powerful refuting evidence, as well as how easy it is for people with insufficient scientific knowledge to be taken in by those theories. The book is an entertaining read, with stories about cold fusion, UFOs, ESP and many more. My only criticism is that I find Park’s style somewhat overly opinionated, perhaps not being objective enough himself. One obvious example, which is very much an open issue, is where he has: “The great global warming debate, then, is more an argument about values than it is about science.” I don’t find his arguments strong enough to make such a forward statement. Nevertheless the book is a very enjoyable journey through many types of unorthodox science, as well as providing a thought-provoking read for those interested in scientific method.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By fox@hfn.co.il on 27 Dec. 2000
Format: Hardcover
I am a non-scientist but an avid reader of the best popular science - Dawkins, Gould, Thomas, Sagan, Gardner, Haldane et al. This book is quite the wittiest and most entertaining of its kind that I have read. I virtually finished it at a sitting. Park's hatchet job on the great and the gullible is an object lesson in scientific hubris. Cold fusion, congressional efforts to repeal the laws of thermodynamics, the colossal snafu called Star Wars, alien invasions, ESP - they all fall victim to his pen. Read it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sphex on 8 Dec. 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Error is a normal part of science, and uncovering flaws in scientific observations or reasoning is the everyday work of scientists." Robert Park crams into one sentence of this brilliant book perhaps the most remarkable and yet uncelebrated feature of science, its ability to transcend "the human failings of individual scientists" and arrive at a true description of the world. The human race has long dreamed of such knowledge, but we have too often elevated error into "truth" to satisfy our thirst. The huge codification of ignorance and superstition that goes by the name of religion is not Park's main concern, although in passing he notes how we honour "faith" and how belief "in that which reason denies is associated with steadfastness and courage, while skepticism is often identified with cynicism and weak character." His beef is with secular "voodoo science", a term comprising "pathological science, junk science, pseudoscience, and fraudulent science" - everything Ben Goldacre has more recently called "bad science".

Park's first chapter looks at how the media covers science as entertainment. Joe Newman, with his "revolutionary discovery" of an "unlimited source of energy", is a "backwoods wizard" up against the "pompous scientific establishment". It's not only Americans who love this kind of story, but it works especially well in a country with its own patented dream - where anything's possible and naysayers are frowned upon. When news and entertainment are mixed up and pumped out by all shades of media, asking whether what Joe says is true comes a distant second to whether he makes good television.

While normal science goes on mainly "out of the public view", voodoo science "is usually pitched directly to the media".
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