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. Congress seems to be getting better about asking relevant questions, rather than just supporting any crackpot who shows up with a wild story about perpetual motion machines.
In other cases of voodoo science, the people doing the work just haven't been cautious enough. For example, much of the ESP research done was flawed by a design that permitted those doing the research to throw out the results of any people they suspected of deliberately guessing wrong. As you can imagine, these probably included people who got mostly wrong answers! That certainly skewed the results.
The worst offenders in perpetuating incorrect beliefs about science seem to be television (especially CBS and ABC) and top secret status for information about the government. Apparently, some people in the networks believe that crackpot ideas should be covered as "entertainment" rather than as "knowledge" or "science." So even if they know the story is probably wrong, the reporter often leaves the impression that there may be something to the claim. Shame on them!
Government keeps things as top secret that would become top embarrassments if known. As a result, our confidence in the government is eroded.
Some of the other areas uncovered in the book include Joe Newman's Energy Machine, Star Wars (SDI) technology advanced by Edward Teller, the International Space Station, a manned mission to Mars, silicon gel breast implants, vitamin O, meditation as a solution for violent crime, Dr. Deepak Chopra's invocation of quantum effects from the mind on matter, power lines as a source of disease, healing auras, and James Patterson's metal beads to generate energy.
While I agreed with all of the comments the book made, there are places where other perspectives could change your mind on the issue. For example, manned space exploration is very expensive and dangerous. Essentially, everything can be done by robots faster, safer, and cheaper. Dr. Park concludes that it makes no sense to do such exploration. I disagree. I do agree that the objectives of the manned programs need to be much more intelligently formulated. I suspect that the main advantages from manned space flight will turn out to be in developing improved leadership, innovation, and management practices. If those rewards are great enough, and I think they could be, the expense may well be worth it. But our decision should be more informed and purposeful than it has been in the past about these areas.
I hope that this wonderful book will also become available as an on-going television program, newsletter, or Web site. We need more information like this in order to be thoughtful citizens, consumers, and family members.
After you have read this book, I suggest you think about some likely off-the-wall scientific claim you have heard. Then do some research to see whether that claim is likely to be valid or not, by reading what others already know about the subject. See if you can overcome some of these misconceptions on your own. I suspect that a good place to start would be with ideas for how to add to the energy supply of the United States.
Have fun eliminating false beliefs, wherever you find them!