Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Book Report - 23 Minutes in Hell

The book 23 Minutes in Hell, authored by Bill Wiese, is an accounting of the 23 minutes in Hell purportedly spent by the author Bill Wiese on November 22, 1998. Mr. Wiese describes the time he spent in Hell in this book. According to the author, he fell asleep after midnight; and, at 3 AM, he "landed in what appeared to be a prison cell." The book goes on to describe the various demons and tortures that he experienced. After 23 minutes, the author remembered the saving powers of Jesus Christ, asked for God's forgiveness and was trasported out of Hell.

I found this book to be very interesting. Also, I found it quite scary because I do believe in Hell. However, after reading this textbook, I believe that the author may have been having some form of lucid dream or out-of-body experience.

I believe that the author is sincere in his belief that he was in Hell. Like all good paranormal beliefs, I certainly can't disprove the author's story of his experience in Hell. However, that's what makes this book interesting to read. I certainly hope to never be in the Hell described in the author's book; or, any other Hell for that matter.
The author's descriptions were very vivid; and, additonally, his descriptions were fairly scary. Although it's no Dante's Inferno, for these reason alone, I would recommend reading the book.

The Demon-Haunted World

When we passed around the books during the orientation, and this book got to me I immediately knew I would enjoy it. Science has always been my thing, by means of what truly interests me. This books shows how there can be flaws in science, and the thing you must do is always question. You can't just accept what is presented to you, you should test and questions all things. He shows that there is a thin line between science and pseudoscience, to a degree.
It relates questioning to psuedoscience in that if you dont question science that is presented to you, you are no different that a person who, without the blink of an eye, accepts every UFO sighting without question. In my personal opinion, I would find religion to be almost identical. Believing without any factual evidence whatsoever. The books explains, however, nothing is for naught, and even studying people who genuinely believe these things could give a ton of information of how the human brain actually works.
He provides his "baloney detection kit" to help the reader understand how to reject false data and information. Some of the main uses for this determining of questioning and skeptical thinking is to question authority, where we in our society tend to just listen and not question. This is actually a major flaw in society which Sagan points out.
My one possible flaw with the book is that it is a bit outdated, because it was published in 1995. But as a scientist (or soon to be) i understand there are many, and constantly changing, factors and rules to continue science being as accurate as possible. Testing and retesting is the basis of all good science, and nothing is ever truly accepted as fact, but you can use the data to create your own opinions.
Overall this was a great book. Showing you how do dispute things that seem unfathomable, not only because they seem unfathomable, but because you question and think for yourself. Some people may truly believe the things they do, but the truly intelligent get that way from asking the questions they want answers to.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Voodoo science by Robert Park was a short but entertaining read. Park a distinguished physicist at the University of Maryland covers a wide variety of sciences that in his eyes are based on no fact at all and are believed by people who are uneducated and or are mislead; he groups all of this into Voodoo Science.

Park specifically goes into great detail about cold fusion and how on more than one occasion the public has been mislead about "discoveries" and ground breaking new science that just isn't true. He concentrates on the University of Utah and the two chemists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons who "discovered" cold fusion. Park describes that the two went to the media about their discovery without having any proof and when other scientists tried to emulate the discovery no one could do it because one it was impossible and two Park describes that you cannot get energy for free. He explains when a ball is dropped from a height it will never bounce higher that the point it was dropped because everything looses energy and you cannot get it for free and cold fusion was going against that theory and trying to get something for nothing.

One of the best parts of the book is right in the beginning and is what draws you in Park talks about Joe Newman and his Energy Machine. Park explains that Newman cannot get a patten on his machine because the US Patten office will only give a patten to a perpetual motion machine if it runs for an entire year without stopping. Park explains that the Patten office had to make this rule because they have had so many people try to achieve the impossible and once again get something for nothing and create a machine that runs on nothing but itself. Park questions if Newman's machine works why doesn't he just let it run for a year to get his patten.

The book overall was a great read and if your looking for some scientific entertainment it is highly recommended. It gets a little confusing a some spots if your not a big science person, but it isn't difficult to read.

Superstition by Robert L. Park

Has the belief in superstition become commonplace in today's world? Do we as human beings trust superstitious convictions so much that actual science is becoming all too hazy? In the novel Superstition, Robert L. Park goes in depth to find answers to these questions and why our cultures go on to accept superstitions beliefs all too well. His brutal honesty and awareness pulls you in as a reader and has you questioning yourself. His scientific perspectives give you a harsh reality check and have you wondering how any intelligent person in today's world would believe anything other than pure science since there's been immense research and evidence to back it all up.

In each chapter, we are tested and shown how often people mistake pseudoscience for science. Park discusses the integration of physicists and their religious sides while comparing peoples' conviction of the Bible as either literal or metaphorical. He talks about the foundation of intelligent design versus evolution and its impact on our education systems. He questions the existence of souls and heaven while taking on supernatural beliefs such as New Age spiritualism and OBEs. He statistically combats the effectiveness of prayer and discusses the ever popular stem cell research debate as to when a zygote actually becomes a human life. These issues and more set the stage for a controversial, yet insightful read.

My favorite part of this book was Park's discussion on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and the discovery of a 160,000 year old human skull in 2003 providing evidence that Homo sapiens came from Africa. Here, he discusses the lactose tolerance of East Africans and Northern Europeans and how this was not part of the original design of Homo sapiens. He then raises the common question of those who deny evolution: if evolution is real, why aren't we evolving? Park explains that we are, in fact, evolving. He says that evolution tends to happen rapidly among isolated populations that adapt to specified local environments, but there really aren't any isolated populations left. Evolution is greatly waned by gene mixing among populations living in separate environments, and this is exactly how humans reproduce today.

Superstition relates to our course book in a number of ways. In chapter 2, bogus therapies are discussed and we look into why people think certain medications work when in reality they are ineffective. Park talks about the homeopathic flu medication oscillococcinum and how naive people are by not knowing that these medications are proven effective or not. He believes homeopathy is a crock and people should be smarter than to believe something not proven to be safe or effective.

I absolutely loved reading this book and would recommend it to people like me who agree with Park’s point of view. I always felt the same way Park feels in his novel and his book really helped give me a better insight on many aspects of superstitious phenomena. I would also suggest this book to jaded religious people so they can see the other, scientifically proven, side of superstition.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vss1VKN2rf8 <----Evolution described

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Catching Your Dreams

Dream catchers are an old way of funneling your dreams that started with the Native American people. The history of the dream catcher is that an old Lakota spiritual leader had a vision on a mountain that he spoke to a spirit that was in the form of a spider and as he talked to this spider he spun a web in the indians willow hoop that had feathers and other things on it. When the spider spoke he said that if you believe in the great spirit your dreams and visions will be filtered by this web, where the good dreams will go thru the hole in the middle and the bad ones will be stuck in the surrounding web and will vanish in the morning sun.
It is very common now a days to see a dream catcher over someone's bed made out of a willow vine, string, feathers, and beads. But it is impossible to believe that this decoration will help to weed out your good dreams from your bad dreams. Dreams aren't a substance that can get stuck and I don't think they just fall from the sky into your head. But I do think that the story of dream catchers is pretty cool and I wouldn't mind having one over my bed but more for the story.

Ritalin Nation Book Report

The book I chose to do my report on was Ritalin Nation, by Richard DeGrandpre. The reason I chose this book was because I have two young children and I am very curious about the diagnosing and treatment of the popular ADHD. After reading this book I realized that it was more about the creation of what he calls a "rapid fire culture". DeGrandpre starts the book off explaining what he means by " rapid fire culture", its about us growing as a society and the demands for more and better increasing, which therefore restricts our down time. He explains how are advancements in technology are in most cases unnecessary and tend to be changed quickly. DeGrandpre uses the example of the television, when it first came out people were happy with what they had, they didn't miss the color or the remote control, now we couldn't image a t.v. without a remote it would be to much of inconvenience and it would slow us down. That is the major point of DeGrandpre's argument that as a society we are constantly creating new ways to make things go faster, even if they were fine before.
Now what we are seeing is the product of this fast paced life. Children are being entertained all the time, wether it be video games, computer activities, t.v., or the music playing in the background. The constant stimulation of just our surroundings is overwhelming and people are surprised that when their kid is bored that they act out. Its our own way of life that has created ADHD we live to multitask and when something gets boring get rid of it and do one of the million other options. DeGrandpre doesn't really argue the disorder but more the treatment. As he continuously states throughout the book it is the lack of rest and relaxation that create this disorder. So it's not a drug that might suppress some of the symptoms that is the solution instead it is slowing down. DeGrandpre sates that it is important to, "Redefine the bottom line. Spend less time at work; parent more and parent better. Learn more effective life skills and pass them on to your children. Do these things by being less worn out, stressed out, and distracted by the perceivednecessity of material wealth."
I enjoyed this book and found most of it to be very interesting, even though it was a basic and simple ending solution. I think that the beginning chapter was my favorite, I liked how he changed my thought on the growth of our society. Before we thought we would be developing new technology to create more time of leisure, now its new innovations are being created t give us more time to do more things at a faster pace. He really stresses that we are constantly moving and doing, for example he asks if you are still when brushing your teeth or are you brushing your teeth and moving around at the same time? That simple question really hit home to me, I am never standing still when brushing my teeth, I am either putting something away under the sink or walking into my room to get something ready. Then I thought about it a little more, when my daughter is brushing her teeth I am getting her shoes on, brushing her hair, or walking her down the stairs to hurry her up. It is these actions that are are teaching her to constantly be on the go. Though there is no evidence to support his way of treatment, I will be slowing things down a little and making sure there is some time of quietness for my children so that they can learn to enjoy boredom.

How We Know What Isn’t So

Thomas Gilovich believes that most things that intuition can lead us astray can be proven with statistics. He explains how our minds try to find order in randomness even when everything is irregular, and we always look for evidence to confirm our idea. He also shows how people tend to overlook data if something has made a bad impression in the beginning we do not give it a chance again. The author uses many examples to show how common misconceptions can be proven with statistics.

My favorite part of the book was when he talked about hot hands in basketball. I have experienced this streakiness first hand when I played basketball or even baseball. I definitely believed in hot hands, or even a player being hot at a certain time. Gilovich says that this really doesn’t happens and backs it up with statistics.

I enjoyed reading this book especially because it used a lot of examples that happen in real life. I also like things to do with statistics and this book used statistics to dispose of misconceptions. If you do not like statistics than you probably won’t like this book as much as I did.

Does Classical Music Increase a Childs IQ?

The Mozart affect says that a child’s IQ increases if they listen to Mozart’s music. It was born after, two professors at the University of California played two 10 minutes of the Mozart Sonata. They found that the college students had an increase in spatial-temporal reasoning for about 10 minutes after it. Parents have leapt at the chance to increase their child’s intelligence.

These people that jumped at the chance to make their children smarter thought they should do it to babies too, but according to Dr. Alexandra Lamont,” There's no evidence that just listening to music, not learning to play an instrument, has any effect at all with children or with babies." parent's music room. Even though there are some skeptics companies still make cds that parents still buy to play to their unborn babies.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dont light 3 cigarettes with a single matchstick!!

Anyone who has ever smoked knows it is bad luck to light three cigarettes with the same match. Most people do follow this rule because they are afraid something bad may happen to them. We make sure the third person doesn’t light the cigarette. But the question is.. What’s so bad about it? Most people don’t even know why they follow such rules. Nine out of ten times it is about following others.
This started in the Army during WW1. The theory behind this is that when the first solider lit his cigarette the enemy is able to see the light. The second cigarette lit allowed the enemy to aim, and the third cigarette lit will allow the enemy to shoot. To prevent this from happening, they decided to blow out the match after the second cigarette was lit so the enemy didn’t have enough time to shoot. But, why do we still follow this theory?


One person might sneeze and ten will say “God Bless You”. Some even take it offensively if you don’t say that after a sneeze. Think about it.. What does God have to do with a blessing? There really isn’t any need for anyone to be asking for God’s blessings after a sneeze. In this case we should say “God Bless You” after a cough or hiccups also.. But we don’t? Hmm strange isn’t it..
The blessing started from the time when plague took over Europe. People who suffered from this begin to sneeze violently. The sneeze was so brutal that it could even lead to death. The pope then decided to pass a law which required people to bless the sneezer. Medically, the sneezers were supposed to cover their mouth while coughing to prevent the spreading of the disease. Instead, people believed that it was to keep the soul intact because if they were to sneeze in the air then they would allow the soul to escape and death would be imminent. So “God Bless You” is just a myth which has been carried on from centuries.

Ritalin Nation: Rapid-Fire Culture and the Transformation of Human Consciousness by Richard DeGrandpre

One of the author's main focus is to encourage Americans to slow down in our fast forward society. He feels that the big hype over attention deficit disorder is a way for children to be medicated, usually with Ritalin, to help relieve the guilt of parents for feelings of falling short in the child rearing department. This is also a scapegoat for children to lack responsibility.

I have to say that I totally agree with the author on this subject matter. I always believed that ADD was promoted, especially in school districts, because these ADD children were outside the norm of what they knew how to handle. Teachers I don't feel have the training to really single out a child as ADD. Society, as DeGrandpre puts it, is so busy trying to move forward as such a fast pace, they don't see the need to slow down to help these "ADD" children. Their solution is prescribe drugs to these kids.
My cousin is a prime example of this. He is a very smart child, but tends to lose focus. Instead of trying to help him focus and learn subjects he very capable to learn, they did tests and says he needs Ritalin.

I have to say that I really enjoyed this book and the author's view on the treatment plan for attention deficit disorder. Ritalin is too easily prescribed to teens, and even adults. It so easy to get your hands on that its often abused and taken for recreational reasons.

Don't Believe Everything You Think

Don’t Believe Everything You Think, written by Thomas Kida, examines the six basic mistakes we make in thinking. This was a very well written book which combines the wit of a storyteller and the critical thinking of a skeptic. Kida uses a great mixture of personal stories, experimentations, and hypothetical situations to help explain to the reader why we think the way we do and how we can become better thinkers. The book is able to help the reader become a more informed decision maker by covering a multitude of different topics that range from ghosts, to the stock market, to whether or not it’s going to rain on Sunday. The main point the Kida tries to make throughout the book is that we the readers need to be more skeptical and think more like scientists. We can not fall into the trap of anecdotal evidence and believing things with out any hard evidence.

There were many interesting topics and chapters in this book; however my favorite would have to be the third chapter, thinking like a scientist. Being a biochemistry major I have always thought of myself as someone who thinks like a scientist. After reading this chapter and thinking more about what Kida was saving, I was amazed by how many people including myself give into ideas without having any scientific evidence. I am sure that we have all done it, our friends tell us a story about this great remedy or this great new idea, and the first thing that comes to mind is wow that’s great. Because we are hearing it from someone we trust like a friend or family member we are more likely to believe them, than to go out and look at the evidence. Although after reading I have to admit that I do fall into these traps eventually, I think this was my favorite part because I am proud of the fact that more times than not I think exactly like a scientist. I can be a very skeptical person who wants some prove before I believe something, so I related really well to this chapter and what it was talking about.

When I think about this book, I think all Americans, especially people who make decisions like politicians, should read this book. In the book there were numerous occasions which the government was given money to one of the ideas which had no real statistical or scientific backing, only anecdotal evidence. I think this is a serious problem that needs to be looked into. With the state of the current economy and the government always looking for budget cuts, these are the types of programs that should be getting cut. People giving government money should be even more skeptical, and require even more sound evidence any common person deciding whether or not to believe something. Things like the CIA spending $20 million dollars on a stargate program seems ill-advised and wasteful. This book can help to teach people how to make sound judgments. I think this book and its ideas can help solve some of this countries problems, and if nothing else save it from wasting money on useless programs. There are far better things our government could be doing with that money.

In our class we’ve covered a lot about pseudoscience. Kida refers to pseudoscience as, “claims presented so that they appear scientific even though they lack sufficient supporting evidence and plausibility.” Personally I like the term junk science. As we learned in class, we all hold many pseudoscientific beliefs. However, I found it very interesting taking what I learned about pseudoscience in class and looking at it from another perspective through the book. Kida allows the readers to understand why. You get a feeling for why people have these pseudoscientific beliefs. Also, he is able to give people the knowledge to recognize these pseudoscientific beliefs so they don’t fall victim to believing in them. The class was able to teach me what pseudoscience is, but this book was able to teach me how not to think like a pseudoscientist but a scientist.

I decided to make a video asking people if and why they believed some different myths. I found it interesting to hear everyone's responses, obviously not all my friends think like a scientist!

Don't Believe Everything You Think by Thomas E. Kida

Carl Sagan, "The Demon-Haunted World, Science As A Candle In The Dark"

Carl Sagan book, "The Demon-Haunted World," is a book that argues Science vs. Superstitions. Sagan goes on to talk about how without science and the appreciation for it the world will soon rather than later go into the "Dark Ages" again. He believes that knowledge is the greatest power anyone can have. The main question that he brings up is "Can the proper use of skepticism and critical thinking keeps us away from the brink and ensures that the promises of reason and science are actually fulfilled?" In other words if we teach only the finding and product of science, no matter how useful or inspiring it might be, without communicating its critical method, how can the average person possibly distinguish the difference between science and pseudoscience. Carl Sagan believes that there is no dumb question that with every question there is an answer. This book is a personal statement of his lifelong love affair with science.

Sagan take many discussions that people might talk about, specific irrational beliefs and ideas, he explains the concept than refutes it. The primary difference between science and superstition, according to Sagan, is that science relies on rigorous process of observation, proposed answer and an open mind to decide whether statement and facts are true or false. He takes stories and experience from average people, and even experiences from his childhood, and either agrees with the story or refutes it. He believes that everything is usually assumed to be correct until proven otherwise. He also draws strong lines between the oldest of demon stories in human history and modern paranormal claims such as alien abduction and ghost.

The part of the story that I found most interesting was chapter six, "Spoofing and secrecy." Sagan talks about alien abduction or UFO's in almost every chapter. I think that the topic comes up most frequently because he works mainly with plants and has a huge interest in extraterrestrial life, which we know as "Aliens." In the chapter he goes on to explore the idea about auroras and crop circles. He lays out the question to see if it a hoaxes or it these claim are really from the "Little Man with Big Eyes." Also in the chapter he begins to talk about hallucinations. He wants the reader to keep an open mind about the idea and to not just judge at face value. He doesn't draw the line between reality and imagination. He wants the reader to make up their mind using the facts that he wrote.

Sagan was a member of the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board committee that investigated the Air Forces’ UFO studies. So I guess that’s where the fascination started. He goes on to say that there is a part in our front temporal lobe which is where your forehead is, thats where our hallucinations might occur. People can't tell the difference between the dream world and real life. The symptoms that might occur are lost of time, sexual abuse, and experimentation. People can't remember these events on their own so they seek help with professional therapist that specializes in UFO sightings and alien abductions. Sagan believes that in most cases the therapist usually puts the idea in the patients head about most of the "experience."

I thought that this book was a very interesting story. I stayed very interested in the story even though it was over 400 pages. Sagan really makes his readers think about a problem or question in so many different ways. Instead of jumping to conclusions he shows how to sort through the information and come out with a understanding of the topic. He urges people to take into account how important science and technology is to the world and planet. He believes that this world we're living in is heading towards the dark ages again if people don't stay educated and interesting in learning more. Sagan take on the science as candle in the dark is very inspirational. I look forward to reading more about Sagan and maybe even another book.

Common Eye Myths

We've all been told as children at one point or another, "Don't cross your eyes or they'll stay that way," or that sitting too close to the TV is bad for our eyes. But are these childhood no-no's truths or fallacies? Are these just fictitious facts that started due to parents being annoyed by their kids or did some pediatrician back in the day use the urban legends as a means to diagnose adolescent problems?

According to Dr. Eugene R. Folk, former co-director of the Pediatric Ophthalmology Clinic at the University of Illinois, crossing one's eyes is not damaging at all. Strabismus, the scientific name for this condition, is usually something that happens at birth or as the result of an eye or head injury. If the small muscles that control eye movement are affected, this can cause eyes to become misaligned. So next time your mother tells you to stop crossing your eyes, she's probably just annoyed or creeped out.

As far as sitting too close to the TV is concerned, this myth can be put to rest as well. There has been no real evidence concluding that when you sit too close to the television it's bad for your eyes. The American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that children have an easier time being able to see up close without eyestrain than do adults which is why you can often find kids with their books to their noses, and older folks with their reading material being held in a different room to see it. You can now remember these tall tales as you have children and it's up to you whether or not you want to continue the false rumors!



A Compilation of Studies On Superstition, Sort of

Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, by Stuart A Vyse, is a book written by a man who is fascinated by the demographic makeup of superstitious people. He has taken every study he could get his hands on and thrown them all together to create his “monster” personality archetype of a superstitious person. He also includes studies to show the likelihood of superstitious development given various genetic and environmental factors-nature and nurture. It is most certainly a well researched and comprehensive book for anyone who has an interest in seeing all the possible relevant research done on superstitious and paranormal belief, though I found it to contain little writing beyond the introductions and explanations of the studies. The other point to note is that there is no apparent effort, on the part of the studiers, to replicate information. The studies were all done by different groups looking for different things, and using different methods, from questionnaires to video cameras. Some of them were not even done to study the paranormal, but were added to the book as they related to the topic laterally. My favorite of these being the concepts of still picture movement; the study found that the interval between the flashing of two pictures determined whether the viewer perceived them to plash simultaneously, in succession, or whether they were perceived as a moving unit, like in a projector.
Timothy J Lawson, in his book, Scientific Perspectives on Pseudoscience and the Paranormal: Readings for General Psychology, strongly emphasizes the importance of study replication in order to establish reliability of the results. He also speaks of the important scientific practice of random sampling. A very large issue with the studies that Mr. Vyse has compiled, which he does point out, is that they are taken from a very narrow demographic, usually college students, and as such, results about the population as a whole cannot be reliably gleaned. One thing of interest that is not mentioned by Mr. Vyse is the importance of weighing results. Most of the studies, whether done on chickens, college students, of random pedestrians, gave up some sort of result. However, what that result means and whether it tells anything useful is another matter. Since most of the studies were done singularly, it could be mere happenstance that the result gotten was any given characteristic. It may have been mere chance that the particular group of subjects was made up of more superstitious females and less superstitious males, for instance. The studies were done on small groups, usually volunteers, and alternate options for results were not thoroughly looked into. Since few of the studies have been replicated, and since some of them don’t relate directly to superstition anyway, like whether or not people will continue to engage in a behavior that is apparently torturing another human, which they will incidentally, Believing in Magic should be viewed as a good starting point for further inquiry. So if you are planning on putting together a study of superstition, read this book.

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.

Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science

Superstition, a truly exhilarating and engaging piece of literature by Robert L. Park, explores the scientific side of superstition by applying logical reasoning to the resilient (and somewhat foolish) beliefs that many people share. He boldly points out that many people confuse pseudoscience with science; and emphasizes that science is supported with empirical evidence, while pseudoscience is mainly sustained through anecdotal evidence. He also argues that science is always eagerly advancing and rewriting itself, while religion and superstition strongly resist change. What is remarkable about pseudoscientific issues like superstition, and what Park baffles over, is that they somehow persevere even past their unsuccessful attempts at being proven by science. His viewpoint and novel can be summed up in one powerful sentence, “Science is the only way of knowing- everything else is just superstition.” This is, in fact, the ending line of his book; and is the underlying principle in his examination of long-lived superstitious beliefs that have clearly been proven faulty by modern science. It is a very provoking investigation that is strong and assertive; and Park is not bashful in expressing his true feelings about the seemingly dubious (at least to scientists) superstitious issues that he covers.
In his novel, Park reviews many superstitious questions, like the effectiveness of alternative medicine like homeopathy and acupuncture (that are still practiced today); the power of intercessory prayer; the theory of intelligent design; the possibility of reincarnation and the existence of heaven; and other phenomena like astral projection and out-of-body experiences. The truth of the matter for many of these superstitious questions, is that since they have not and cannot be scientifically proven, there is not much validity to them. Park emphasizes that many “studies” which claim to show evidence of such phenomena are barely statistically significant, and much of the information has been “cherry picked;” in other words, the information that supports the theory is given central focus, while unsupportive evidence is overlooked, or simply pushed to the side. Despite all this, superstitious beliefs somehow stand strong through the test of time and even failed scientific confirmation. However, Park holds his ground that science trumps many of the superstitious beliefs that are instilled in us as children; and it would be to our advantage as a society of people to embrace that. He insists, “What science is learning about the laws that govern the universe gives us the power to transform the world into the closest thing to paradise that any of us will ever see. This knowledge did not come from sacred texts, or the revelations of prophets.” Science is where the answers come from.
I really enjoyed a brief section in Park’s novel which discussed the success of our species, Homo sapiens, and our subsequent rapidly growing population on Planet Earth. He asks, “What do we do now?” He deems the obvious answer to be the use of birth control; but reasons that many strict religions around the world would consider such a practice as unacceptable. He makes what I believe to be a very daring, but nonetheless, notably true statement that, “The end result is inevitable unless we overcome our religious objections to birth control. This is the point at which superstition goes from being a harmless indulgence to a threat to the human race.” I was in awe when I read those lines; not only because of their utter truthfulness, but because they made me realize how strong the power of superstition really is. People tend to tightly adhere to what is “safe and comfortable,” but perhaps do not realize the larger repercussions attached to some of their beliefs. Why are we all so afraid of change in this aspect? Especially when it can lead to the advancement of our species, just as modern science has shown. This novel was a unique and enlightening experience that has truly made me view pseudoscientific issues in a new light.

Check out this link to watch a 7-part dialogue by Robert Park, speaking at a National Capital Area Skeptics event about his novel, Superstition.

Believing in Magic:The Psychology of Superstition

Believing in Magic is a good read on superstitions and why people believe in them. This book has an introduction to some Psychology content. Stuart A Vyse describes baseball players and their superstitions to start off the first chapter. Also described are what types of superstitions different people believe across cultures, how they learned these beliefs, the maintenance of superstition, mental disorders that can justify superstitions, and what all people can do to teach critical and irrational thinking to change such beliefs. Personal superstitions are lucky clothes, hats, numbers, colors, objects, and routines.

This book goes on to describe superstitions in sports, college students, gamblers, politics, and so many other highly intelligent people who think quite irrationally. ESP and ghosts, which are prevalent in our class discussions, are also found in this book. Vyse lets his reader know that coincidence is psychologically powerful. Coincidence can be seen by many as magical but he assures you that occurrences in life are merely random.

My favorite part of the book is when Vyse told a story when Senator Pell, the creator of the Pell Grants program, invited Uri Geller to Washington to promote human potential research. Senator Pell had Uri demonstrate his "powers" for the congressional representatives. We learned in class Uri Geller is a fraud in chapter three. Senator Pell's superstitions went on when he wrote a letter to the Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney with concerns that the word "Simone" was heard when speeches were played backwards. Apparently this word could be a code word that could possibly be not good for national interest. We learned about subliminal tapes in chapter five. Senator Pell is a intelligent man but with irrational thoughts.

According to Believing in Magic, things that we can do about superstition is to promote science education, teach children rational decisions before they become irrational thinking adults, improve the public image of scientists, and above all spread critical thinking. If it can not be proved or disproved then there is no science to it. In other words it is Pseudoscience.

Here are just a few examples of superstitions that baseball players have.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Flim-Flam! was Fabulous!

Flim-Flam! by James Randi (“The Amazing Randi”) was a fantastic read! The text is very well-written, with an incredible sense of style (and humor.) I found myself chuckling aloud at references and remarks Randi makes throughout the text, whilst he discusses everything from fairies, the Bermuda Triangle myth, Mayan prophecies and alien interactions, pseudo-surgery, levitation, table tilting, and Randi’s own Put Up or Shut Up challenge. Randi’s knowledge and sarcasm combine to make for an educational and entertaining read.

There were so many parts I could consider my “favorite,” but I will save my absolute favorite part for last. For starters, I loved several of the opening quotes to the chapters. Chapter three opens with Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” from Alice in Wonderland, which is interesting because the chapter is about the Bermuda Triangle (a Wonderland, eh?) Chapter four opens with a quote from Chicken Little about the sky falling. I giggled. Silly Randi, relating the falling sky to astrology. Chapter five was another chapter with an interesting opening, this time containing a quote from the Muppet Show with Kermit talking to another Muppet about the power of believing.

One of the first funny lines in the book is in the introduction when Randi criticizes the New York judicial system for accepting supernatural powers as a way to determine guilt or innocence. In chapter three, Randi makes a crack saying that the Bermuda Triangle belongs in an exhibit between mermaids and the tooth fairy. In chapter four, Randi begs the hilarious questions, “Does he know? .. Does anyone care?” Chapter five has Randi make the suggestion the TM is our way of paying to be put to sleep. In chapter six, Randi wants to know, “What the hell von Daniken is talking about?”

Funny part aside, my favorite part of this book was chapter two, Fairies at the Foot of the Garden. Randi discusses the case of Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, two girls who apparently took pictures with fairies. These photos impressed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the author of Sherlock Holmes and a celebrity amongst spiritualists) who denied any and all falsities about the photographs. I did a research paper last semester on spiritualism, so I was very familiar with Doyle, his writings, and his popularity, as well as the ability of two little girls to trick an entire nation. I identified Griffiths and Wright with the Fox Sisters, who started the spiritualist movement in America by cracking their toes and convincing hundreds of people they were able to communicate with spirits.

Randi provides lot of factual information in this chapter, as well as the entire book. He delicately weaves the information in his prose and comedic phrases, easily allowing the reader to become enveloped in the information. In chapter two, Randi dispels the fairy photographs, showing how they are cutouts from a gift book, and “accidental” over-exposures. Many people have analyzed the photos, questioning everything from the girls’ bodily positions, to mysterious “strings”, and evident clips at the bottom of the photograph. The girls were asked if they could take more pictures, but there were a lot of circumstances to the photos being taken (including specially marked film, a specific camera, and the fact that Wright had experience in a camera shop.) These photos were the tip of the iceberg, showing a lack of skill and a desire to be left alone by the girls.

We all want something to believe in. Randi brings up a good point that it’s possible Doyle was so interested in the supernatural because he wanted to believe he could contact his dead son. Many people wanted to show that fairies were real, because they seem fun to believe in, and we are all searching for the unknown. In the end, what started as a small practical joke got blown into larger proportions than originally though possible.

I recommend Randi’s book to anyone who has had an interest in any of the paranormal events discussed in this book. Randi does a great job explaining the event, the back story, the tests conducted on the event, the people involved, news stories, and the possible outcomes, all with a sense of humor and wit. Oh, and if you like cracks at Uri Geller fairly often, you’ll definitely enjoy this book.

Please enjoy this video I found on YouTube of Randi discussing the Fairies further.


DARE to rethink drug prevention

The DARE Program has been around since 1983. For once, I dare the politicians to look at the efficacy of a program rather than the feel-good political vibe it produces. I liken the DARE program to Nancy Regan's "Just Say No" program. Back then, we were told to believe that if you confronted an inner city drug dealer, just saying no would end the drug problems. As a country, we are spending millions of dollars and wasting millions of federal police and local police man hours on feel-good programs. Police are so expensive, their time should not be wasted on programs that have little or no effect. I do not blame individual police officers whose hearts are in the right place. If I was a police officer, I would rather drive around in a tricked-out, DARE police car than a normal police car. Maybe the money spent on DARE programs would be better spent on treatment programs that have a proven success rate.


Ritalin Nation By Richard DeGrandpre

Ritalin By DeGrandpre is a very interesting book. Its discussions of the affects of Ritalin on our society really inspired me to look at society through an entirely different light. DeGrandpre goes on to discuss how our society has evolved from a slow pace calm environment to a fast pace " Rapid Fire Culture." The book goes on to describe the development of our country as a whole in comparison with the twentieth century and with other countries. Countries like Europe, Japan, and France do not even consider Attention Deficit Hyperactivity as a diagnosis for the behavior of their children. DeGrandpre message for the book is simple America is covering all of their "Rapid Fire Culture" problems through medication and sensory addiction. De Grandpre gathers his own personal observations of the Media, TV, and Newspapers and goes on to discuss how our nations behavior is affecting our children as a whole. He makes a claim that their is no scientific evidence that Ritalin is not a cure for Attention Deficit Disorder, in fact their is no scientific evidence that Attention Deficit Disorder is a real mental Disorder.
My favorite part of the book was how DeGrandpre goes about to discuss how doctors, psychiatrist and pharmaceutical companies are a part of a conspiracy of people coming together to fool the American society that their children are a victim of the Attention Deficit Disorder. Americans are at fault for their children behaving in t6his manner, most parents are more concerned with spending quality time with their children opposed to Quantity time. Being that we live in a fast pace nation our children en root overactive uncontrollable behavior, however if we slow down our lives and parents focus more on their children and their surrounding environment they will find another solution to their child's behavior opposed to Ritalin.
Our Nation as a whole has become dependent for Ritalin as a solution for their child's behavior. What Americans fail to realize that Attention Deficit Disorder is a syndrome that has not been proven to be biologically inherited however developed throughout time.

The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan

The Demon Haunted World By Carl Sagan is truly a wonderful piece of literature. This book gives its reader the opportunity to investigate all of the fascinating tales of paranormal activity, extraterrestrial visitors, witchcraft, demons, and numerous other unusual phenomenon that have been pestering mankind throughout the ages. Carl Sagan carefully presents each individual phenomenon to the reader and explains them away by simple science. Carl Sagan attempts to relay the importance of science and its method as an invaluable tool in the growth and advancement of mankind. He warns that the institution of science in America is in sharp decline. He fears that science is what separates us from the people of the dark ages. Upon the conclusion of this book, I realized that science is critical to our society. Science provides the answers to life’s deepest mysteries. This is the message that Mr. Sagan is trying so desperately to relay to his readers. Science has provided mankind with a wealth of knowledge and technology throughout the ages. Phenomena of past generations that were once considered acts of demons or alien invaders, are now easily explained by scientist. It is absolutely critical to our society to continue to advance our scientific exploration and implore our younger generations to take up the reigns of the science and push our boundaries of knowledge and understanding to even greater heights.

I particularly enjoyed chapter 7; this chapter explores “The Demon Haunted World”. Sagan takes you on a journey back in time to the dark ages. He explores the catalyst that fueled the witch hunts in Europe. He outlines the thinking and logic of the people during these turbulent times. He shows how a select few used the power of fear and persecution to advance their own personal lot at the expense of countless innocents lives. The most fascinating and educating part of chapter 7, in my opinion, was the section that referred to Pope Innocent VIII proclamation pertaining to public obsession with demons. In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII declared, “It has come to Our ears that members of both sexes do not avoid to have intercourse with evil angels, incubi, and succubi, and that by their sorceries, and by their incantations, charms, and conjurations, they suffocate, extinguish, and cause to perish the births of women”. “With this bull, Innocent initiated the systematic accusation, torture, and execution of countless “witches” all over Europe. They were guilty of what Augustine had described as “a criminal tampering with the unseen world.” Despite the evenhanded “members of both sexes” in the language of the Bull, unsurprisingly it was mainly girls and women who were so persecuted. I found this particular passage to be very interesting. How could the Pope, a person that is suppose to inspire peace and stability to the land and its people bring such chaos and panic to his people? I found this fascinating, it wouldn’t be usual to me if a person of low class and education was responsible for such rhetoric but a person of the Pope’s caliber should be leading his followers out of darkness not creating a pandemic of fear. Carl Sagan’s book is a warning to mankind, continue to embrace science and all its wonderful discoveries or revert back to more animalistic times.

Sagan, Carl. The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.

A Horseshoe for Good Luck??

A Horseshoe is one of the original symbols for good luck and protection whether its jewelry, pictures, or an actual horseshoe. For protection, a horseshoe is suppose to be nailed above the doorway. There are two theories as to whether the horseshoe is to be facing up or down.

In terms of the horseshoe representing good luck, in most of Europe, Mid-East, and Latin America it is known that the horseshoe is to be facing upward. This is so that the "luck doesn't run out." On the other hand, other nationalities believe it is to be hung upside down so that the "luck can pour down on you." For protective purposes, a horse shoe is to be pointing up, and that's to prevent witches from passing under the magical protective horseshoe.

Where did the story of the horseshoe originate from? One story is quoted below from Dr. Doug Butler's, The Principle of Horseshoeing.

Once upon a time, a wise old blacksmith was hard at work making horseshoes. The sound of the anvil attracted the attention of the devil. He saw that the smith was making horseshoes, and he thought it would be a good idea to get his own hoofs shod. So the devil made a deal with the smith and stood to be shod.

The wise blacksmith saw with whom he was dealing, and so he nailed on a red-hot shoe, driving the nails square into the center of the devil's hoof. The devil then paid him and left; but the honest blacksmith threw the money into the forge fire, knowing it would bring him bad luck.

Meanwhile, the devil walked some distance and began to suffer the greatest torture from the new shoes. The more he danced and pranced and kicked and swore, the more they hurt him. finally, after he had gone through the most fearful agony, he tore them off and threw them away.

From that time to this, whenever the devil sees a horseshoe he turns and runs--anxious to keep out of the way of those torturous devices.

I guess my luck won't run out and no witches will be paying me visits due to the fact of that my horseshoe point up!

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

Ritalin Nation, America's Addiction to Rapid-Fire Culture

In the book, Ritalin Nation: Rapid-Fire Culture and the Transformation of Human Consciousness, author and psychologist Dr. Richard DeGrandpre exposes America's addiction to high-paced life and the rapid rise of ADD and ADHD diagnosis in the United States. The author does not believe that there is some sort of ADD or ADHD "epidemic" simply caused by bad genes. He also argues that Ritalin is being used as a substitution therapy for these children who have been absolutely bombarded with sensory overload. He feels that Ritalin is not the answer to these hyperactive kids struggling to keep attention, for any of us would benefit and show improved overall performance while using a stimulant like Ritalin. DeGrandpre's message is that because of our high-paced way of life in America, we are and our children are becoming "sensory addicts" because of the hectic pace we just call "everyday life".

It is not just an attention deficiency and a sensory addiction that results from such a rapid-fire culture, DeGrandpre argue that our morals have been effected too, "This is a culture in which the demands and expectations of society have given rise to a dramatic overall increase in work and stress, a conflicted sense of life priorities, and a cynical view of what is possible for ourselves, our families, and our society as a whole" (DeGrandpre 44). Working more instead of being home with the family, cosidering work a "refuge" from stresses at home, ending personal relationships instead of fixing them, these are some of the examples he gives that have resulted from our full-steam ahead lifestyles in America. At the end of the book he gives a few rules for Americans to live by to try to slow down their pace and appreciate the important things in life, "Redefine the bottom line. Spend less time at work; parent more and parent better. Learn more effective life skills, and pass them on to your children. Do these things by being less worn out, stressed out and distracted by the perceived nesessity of material wealth" (DeGrandpre 228). He even included a JCPenney ad that he received in the mail that was "relating" to it's hard-working customers, "Traffic jams. Kids to school. Work. Meetings. Deadlines. Rush hour. Soccer practice. Groceries. Cooking. Dishes. Laundry. Homework. Bathtime. Pay bills. Call mom...squeeze in a little bit of time to go shopping!". Just reading that ad makes me feel anxious but sadly enough, most American families could probably relate to that exact schedule, and think it is completely normal!

Reading this book was really interesting and enjoyable, it was more like leisure reading than a reading a book for class. My favorite part of the book was when the author referred to America's sensory addiction and how our fast-paced lives have distracted us from the important things in life, because I could not agree more. Whether it was talking of the ADD / ADHD "epidemic", people calling work a refuge and desiring to spend more time in the office or when he talks about how people are more willing to end a relationship rather than fix it, every time I turned the page I was nodding my head in agreement. Through my work in an emergency room, I have been able to see two of the points given above day in and day out. It seems that every time I am working in pediatrics, there isn't one day I can get through without seeing multiple past medical histories of "ADD" or "ADHD" in kids that seem like fairly normal, spunky children. Unfortunately, you could sometimes tell when kids are being treated with Ritalin because they almost look "stoned" in a way, either in tune or out of tune with what is going on around them. I definitely disagree with immediately going to Ritalin when a child seems too hyper or not focused enough. Also, at my job I work with many people who most would consider "workaholics", working 48 hour days, holding down 2-3 jobs at a time and even traveling out of state to get more money in the bank. All this time, they are trying to help their significant other do the juggling act of maintaining the kids at home with a simple phone call of love and advice. Lastly, most people have seen friends or family members that had a relationship go sour over quick, little, unimportant setbacks that both parties decided was better to end the relationship over than to try and work out the kinks or settle the issue that arised. All in all, I really enjoyed how much I could relate to the points he was making to my everyday life.

Reading this book has certainly opened up my eyes to the unfortunate truth to America's rapid-fire culture society, how I am affected by it every day and it made me think that I too am probably a product of a sensory-overload upbringing. I have recommended this book to many people already because no matter who you are or what kind of household you lived in growing up, if you were born and raised in the United States, than you can read and really, truly relate to this book. Since finishing up the book, I have had a real desire to try to take Dr. DeGrandpre's advice to put the important things back into perspective in my life and try to reduce the stress I feel at work, school and home to better enjoy my life. To anyone who did not read this book, my advice is to slow down and really figure out what means to most to you and more importantly, what makes you happy. If we all try this, hopefully one day we will not live in a rapid-fire culture where big bank accounts, the newest material goods, impatience with loved ones and sensory addiction rule our country and get in the way of what is really important.

Sources: DeGrandpre, Richard J. Ritalin Nation: Rapid-Fire Culture and the Transformation of Human Consciousness. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000.

Robert Park: Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud

In his book Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud, Robert Park examines multiple examples from fairly recent history that demonstrate the ways in which even the most intelligent and well-intentioned scientists can be led astray to believe and support what he deems voodoo science, or pseudoscience. Some of these examples focus on less assuming individuals, but some also focus on scientists who are highly certified, trained, and educated in various branches of their field. By using a variety of types of individuals, Park effectively communicates the idea that anyone can be led astray from foolishness to fraud by the power of belief and desire to prove the value of his or her work and ideas.

One of the most prominent examples was Park’s discussion of the scientists who adamantly support cold fusion. At the University of Utah in 1989, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, both of whom were well respected individuals of the scientific community, claimed to have discovered a new process by which energy could be indefinitely produced. This process, which claimed to use fused deuterium nuclei, became what is now known as cold fusion. However, the two men did not actually discover a new way to create an indefinite energy source, and the way in which they went about presenting their ideas to the world displayed key characteristics of pseudoscience (such as the ones mentioned in Timothy J. Lawson’s book).

For one thing, the men based their arguments on extraordinary claims that were not supported by well-researched, scientifically peer tested evidence. Furthermore, they took their ideas to the media before they offered them to the rest of the world’s scientific community for verification, which is a key component in testing a new idea in the scientific world. With an idea as big as cold fusion, something that could potentially solve humanity’s energy problems and eliminate the use of oil, it would have been logical to have those ideas tested by other scientists before claiming they were proven discoveries. The only access other scientists had to information regarding cold fusion came to them from the media, which was not a significant enough source to run further tests in other laboratories that could have reproduced or disproved the same results. However, because both men were well regarded scientists at the time of their “discovery,” the media and public were happy to run with the idea that cold fusion was, in fact, a possibility. After all, these men’s name held some significant weight, which is another tactic that pseudoscience often uses. Needless to say, the idea eventually came to be considered impossible.

The most astounding thing, however, is that there are people in the scientific community who still feverishly defend cold fusion to this day, even though it is now refuted by a majority of the scientific community. These people are not ignorant or unintelligent, but rather are devoted to the belief that we are on the verge of a huge discovery. They are not, however, steered by science, but by faith. Like anyone who falls for the pseudoscientific claims of today, be it Q-Ray bracelets or aromatherapy, individuals of the scientific community are just as prone to be led astray by a strong belief and desire for something to work, even when all other signs point to the fact that it doesn’t. In short, it is not a lack of intelligence or good will, but a desire to find solutions that leads people to believe in pseudoscience, and so we must all be careful not to believe everything we read.

Carl Sagan The Demon-Haunted World Science as a Candle in the Dark

In the book "The Demon Haunted World Science as a Candle in the Dark" Carl Sagan looks at many forms of superstition such as Ufos, witchcraft and he also discusses religious beliefs. He discusses demons and how they were supposedly sent from some sort of god to control humans.Sagan also discusses therapy and how many therapists lead their clients to believe certain events, such as a alien abduction, as the truth in order to further therapy sessions. Sagan shares his skepticism about topics such as reincarnation, ESP, and psychokinesis. Sagan speaks about scientific ways to figure out phenomenons such as using mathematics to figure out winnings in sports instead of believing in winning streaks. Sagan states that science can be used a form of problem solving in the world because it uses testing to come to a proven conclusion. Carl Sagan goes in to detail about phenomenons such as seeing faces of celebrities in food. Carl Sagan also talks about the imagination and how it can lead people to have hallucinations and believe in the paranormal when there is no empirical evidence. Sagan often discusses aliens and the many claims that people have about being abducted. Carl Sagan used the "Demon-Haunted World" to open the eyes of his readers to and to make them understand that certain theories and treatments must be thoroughly analyzed first before a person should believe in these theories. Carl Sagan states the differences between science and pseudoscience.

My favorite part of the book "The Demon-Haunted World" is Chapter 10 which is entitled "The Dragon in my Garage". Sagan starts chapter 10 by making a hypothetical situation in which he claims that there is a dragon in his garage. When the participant asks to see the dragon Sagan states that the dragon is invisible. The participant continues to press for evidence that the dragon exists because they believe what Sagan has said about the dragon being real. Sagan's claims become more ridiculous about the dragon in his garage. For example, Sagan claims that the dragon floats in the air and that is why it will not have footprints in flour and the dragon breaths heat less fire so it can no be detected by a radar. The participant believes every word and continues to press on with more suggestions of how they can see the dragon. The dragon test relates to the Q-Ray bracelet. There is no empirical evidence that the Q-Ray bracelet works, but millions of people will still purchase it because others on the Q-Ray website claim that it work. An additional example of the Sagan's dragon test relating to the pseudoscience and the paranormal class is alien sightings. Thousands of people have claimed to have seen aliens, but that should not be enough evidence to prove that aliens exist. No matter how unrealistic a topic may be people will still believe in it because others state it as the truth.

A topic that relates to the pseudoscience and the paranormal class is the belief in UFOs and also the fact that therapists do not reject the claim of a UFO abduction from their clients. "I'm surprised that there are psychiatrists and others with at least some scientific training, who know the imperfections of the human mind, but dismiss the idea that these accounts might be some kind of screen memory." (Sagan 173)This relates to the section in the pseudoscience and the paranormal lecture about dreams in which the therapist does not discourage the false memories created by clients in their dreams, but instead encourages them so that the therapist can have control over the therapy session. Also, this section of Sagan's book "The Demon-Haunted World" relates to the pseudoscience and the paranormal course because the lecture contained many videos that showed people who claimed to be abducted by aliens which gives many others the lead way to also claim that they have been abducted by aliens.Sagan discusses a book that he read entitled "The Fifty-Minute Hour" in which a psychoanalyst name Robert Linder was suppose to treat a physicist with the code-name Kirk Allen, who believed that he could travel into the future and see space crafts. The more Linder heard Allen's stories, the more he believed that they were true. This relates to the pseudoscience and the paranormal class because the more claims that people hear about UFO abductions and products that claim to treat depression such as aromatherapy the more they believe in these claims and try false solutions to their problems.

The last chapter of Carl Sagan's book is chapter 25 which is entitled "Real Patriots Ask Questions" made me think about the book "The Demon-Haunted World" outside of class. Sagan states that "The methods of science-with all of its imperfections-can be used to improve social, political, and economic systems, and this is, I think, true no matter what criterion of improvement is adopted." (Sagan 423) Sagan also states that "In almost all cases, adequate control experiments are not performed, or variables are insufficiently separated." (Sagan 423) The world faces many problems that need to be experimented over and over again until a solution is found. By just trusting people who claim to be an authority in a certain subject without question we will never know the answers if we do not completely agree with what this authority figure is claiming. If people start to look things scientifically and if people demand an answer that can be proven than a lot of issues within our society can be cleared up.
By Lauren Raddi
Sources: The Demon Haunted World Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan, Ballantine Books, New York, 1996.

Superstition Reviewed

In Robert Park's follow up book Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science, he dives into topics that some people dare to investigate or want to think differently. Questions that were explored in the book varied from 'Is there an afterlife?' & 'Is there a Main Creator or is it Evolution?'. I really did enjoying discovering these complex ideas and questions and having them answered within the text. It was an easy read and there was at no point where I was bored through out the book. His writing was simple and he had lots of researchers and experts to support his claims in the book.

As a Biology major my favorite part of the book is when they confronted the so called ''controversial'' theme of evolution and religion. I find it almost funny on how strong supporters of Christianity still can't see all the research and discoveries science has made to understand our existence here. Some are still situated with ''their God'' as there creator of all living things. But Park makes a good argument, 'Why the Christian God?' because there are hundreds of other Gods that people follow. 

The book has even some topics that were discussed in our Scientific Perspectives on Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. The topic of bogus therapies is covered in Chapter 10: The Deer. He talks about Western medicine and how people in China value the acupuncture therapy to heal them. In the book its says that a student said 'my mother would stick needles in our ears to feel better." Park replies "my mother would feed us chicken soup and it had the same effect". It also briefly talks about the placebo effect and how aspirin  and even acupuncture if it even really works. 

Below I remember seeing this story on television about a girl had a condition where she would cry in blood. People over in her country although referring it as a rare medical condition but some people have to look at it as a holy sign of God and somewhat worship her. Below is a clip (if queazy of blood I advice not to watch). It reminded me of how Park states that people have strong beliefs in their religion and it is hard for them to see what it really is.


I think that this book is really interesting if you want to expand your mind with the superstitions that religion creates, prayer, souls, and afterlives. I highly recommend this book and am wanting to read Robert Park's other book Voodoo Science.