Friday, June 11, 2010

Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud

Voodoo Science, written by Robert Park, discusses and exposes a plethora of pseudoscientific claims throughout the past and throughout his own personal encounters. His explanations are clear, concise, with an entertaining aspect for the average everyday reader. Robert Park is a retired physics professor from the University of Maryland which, in my opinion, provides him with the credentials to dismiss many of the claims he discusses. He explains scientifically why some concepts just cannot physically work due to particular laws such as the Laws of Thermodynamics and quantum mechanics. According to Park, “voodoo science” is a pathological, junk, pseudoscience. These scientists expect what they want to see, fool lawmakers and jurists, and have no scientific evidence to back up their claims.

In his first chapter, Park begins with a discussion on a group of different scientists and inventors who were featured on various news channels, each claiming to have formulated their own devices that created unlimited, nonpolluting clean energy – Joe Newman invented an unlimited energy generator, James Patterson had his energy beads, and Fleishmann and Pons’ had their cold fusion reactors. Park discusses these stories first because he believes that “the first exposure of most people to new scientific claims is through the news media, usually television.” None of the men could scientifically explain why their machines worked, and no one could completely replicate their results – clear representations of pseudoscientific studies .

Park furthers his concept of voodoo science by discussing other controversial topics such as evidence against the theory of global warming. He also discusses placebos affects and alternative medicine. Park provides evidence that debunks cases which have created fear amongst the public such as the dangers of microwave radiation, power lines, EMF, and PCB correlations with leukemia and cancer rates in children – Parks explanation would be especially helpful for worried parents across the country. In his last chapter, he details other strange phenomenon such as UFOs, Roswell New Mexico, abductions, and nuclear “Star Wars” lasers.

The chapter that I found the most interesting was “Chapter 3: Placebos Have Side Effects In Which People Turn to ‘Natural’ Medicine.” Honestly, I do believe in some holistic approaches to medicine (although they are not pseudoscientific). Some of the natural medicines Park discusses were ridiculous, though. Within the first few pages, he discusses a product called “Vitamin O” which is naturally infused with oxygen. People claim to have more energy and immunity while taking this – but it is merely water, oxygen, and sodium chloride. Naturally, water picks up oxygen through the air so it is really no different from regular water. It also claims to be safe – well, duh, because it is just salt water. Park also discusses placebo effects concerning sugar pills and seeing doctors. In the first half of the twentieth century, most medicine was based on placebos and sugar pills. Today, the doctors act as actual placebos – they provide reassurance, a noteworthy diploma, and a wide range of knowledge on illnesses. People feel better just from sitting in a doctor’s office. Hahnemann’s law of “like cures like” is completely absurd, too. Why does quinine relieve malaria symptoms? Because it provides the same symptoms as malaria? It just does not add up nor make any sense. Park also mentions “magnetism deficiency” which can be cured by wearing magnets. I believe this section on placebos can be tied in with our reading in “Scientific Perspectives on Pseudoscience and the Paranormal” on the Q-Ray. The Q-Ray is a stylish bracelet that, as we all know, provides a supposed regulation in the human bodies’ ions and, in turn, improves pain as well as other symptoms. Does it really do this? For some, yes – but it’s only a placebo affect. Imitation bracelets provide the same effect as these.

The concepts that Park has discussed throughout his book can A) provide lawmakers with the knowledge to know the difference between voodoo-scientific inventions and those that are genuine, B) confirm the need for pier reviewing, C) promote studies which have confirmed evidence, and D) educate the public on issues that they are not aware of. A lot of people believe half of these voodoo scientific concepts because they do not understand the background information regarding the science.

Source: Park, Robert "Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud" Oxford University Press: 2000

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