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There's One Born Every Minute

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  • Ian Pitchford
    NEW YORK TIMES June 4, 2000 There s One Born Every Minute ... A scientist offers a survey of some of the more outrageous examples of bogus science. By ED REGIS
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 3, 2000
      June 4, 2000
      There's One Born Every Minute
      A scientist offers a survey of some of the more outrageous examples of bogus
      By ED REGIS

      The Road From Foolishness to Fraud.
      By Robert L. Park.
      230 pp. New York:
      Oxford University Press. $25.


      Martin Gardner's 1957 book, ''Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science,'' is
      the classic put-down of pseudoscience. Nobody who read it will soon forget its
      stellar roll call of mid-20th-century cranks and crackpots: flat-earthers,
      Einstein-disprovers, antigravity researchers and the like. All of it was
      hilarious precisely because Gardner reported essentially with a straight face:
      in most cases, taking these weird claims seriously was ridicule enough. Gardner
      wrote, for example, that ''Alfred William Lawson, Supreme Head and First
      Knowlegian of the University of Lawsonomy, at Des Moines, Iowa, is in his own
      opinion the greatest scientific genius living today.'' He was, after all, the
      mastermind of Zig-Zag-and-Swirl, a theory whose exact details need not detain
      us here.

      Full text:
      First Chapter:


      Voodoo Science : The Road from Foolishness to Fraud
      by Robert L. Park
      Hardcover (May 2000)
      Oxford Univ Pr (Trade); ISBN: 0195135156
      AMAZON - US
      AMAZON - UK

      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
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