Saturday, June 12, 2010

Voodoo Science

Voodoo Science by Robert Park is a book that exposes the difference between psuedoscience and legitimate science, and the differences between these various departures from accepted science, which he puts into a broad category of voodoo science. Park is an accomplished professor of physics and so is a legitimate authority on many of the subjects adressed in the book. Park also goes well beyond simply explaining why a certain type of voodoo science does not, and could not work, but he delves into the pychology of the voodoo scientists, their supporters and the way the media perpetuates voodoo science and the way that politics affect science.

Park sees many voodoo scientists as being, at least in the beginning, innocent. He says that many, like Joe Newman and Garabed Giragossian, truly believed that they had discovered something amazing, they truly believed that they had created perpetual motion machines. Park feels that they did not deliberately set out to fool or decieve people. Eventually, Park explains, there needs to come a time when the scientist acknowledges their error and moves on in another direction. Joe Newman did not take this course, instead he perpetually boasted about his perpetual motion machine even though he must have known it to be false. This is what Park describes as the transition from foolishness to fraud. Newman must have known that his machine did not work they way he said it did, but he continued to argue for it, fueled by the media, and eventually reached congress to fight for a patent.

Park explains that the reason that these voodoo sciences are perpetuated is, in part, due to the media. Newman was covered by CBS in which his idea was portrayed as having a lot of legitimacy. These news coverages of voodoo science always have "experts," or talking heads as Park calls them, testifying to the validity of the science. As it turns out many times, these "experts" are usually not experts at all. There is usually only one detractor ont these programs who will be given a brief window to argue against the science. As Park explains, it's not about the science, its about the entertainment. People want to believe in these crazy things, and so they do. Their "belief gene" gets going.

Park contends that the only way to halt the advance of voodoo science is to "raise the general scientific literacy" of the public. He notes that voodoo science is not a real danger to science, but it is a real danger to the public. Many people are out to intentionally decieve and manipulate people, doing so behind the curtain of psuedoscience, feeding on people's "belief genes." Lack of understanding of science has cost billions and billions of dollars. Science is supposed to an objective cause to understand the world around us, voodoo science is deception.

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