Thursday, July 14, 2011

Voodoo Science The Road From Foolishness To Fraud

I read the book Voodoo Science The Road form Foolishness to Fraud by Robert Park.. The book had many interesting parts in it, but my favorite part would have to be the part about the the youngest scientist, Emily Rosa. This section of the book was in chapter 10 which was titled “How Strange is the Universe.” This section talked about touch therapy and how this nine year old girl disproved its claim by doing a fourth grade science project on it. It discussed how many people believe in touch therapy, and believe that is works very well to help balance the “energy field” on the patient. Touch therapists themselves claimed that they could sense this energy field that is said to transmits outward from the human body. Through out the last few years touch therapy has become very popular, and it can be requested in some hospitals. There was no evidence that touch therapy had any real benefits, and touch therapists believed that there was no way to perform a double blind test to see if there were in fact any benefits. This is where we get to young Emily Rosa. She in fact did believe that a double blind test could be performed to test the touch therapists, and she did so as a project for her fourth grade science fair. Emily got together a group of 21 local touch therapists that were willing to help her out because they believed that they would be able to prove their skills. Emily's test was set up to have the touch therapists across the table from her. A screen would be placed in the middle of the table to the touch therapists would not be able to see her. They touch therapists would then extend their hands outward, with their palms facing down through the screen. Emily would then flip a coin, and the side that came up would determine which one of the therapists hands she put one of her hands under. The therapist was then supposed to tell Emily what one of their hands her hand was under by being able to feel the “energy field.” All of the touch therapists thought that they would be able to sense her hand with almost 100% accuracy, but after the tests were done the touch therapists were only able to guess right 44% of the time. These surprising findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which made Emily Rosa become the youngest scientist ever to have a paper published in a major medical journal.

The rest of this book is about other claims of pseudoscience, and the reaction that these claims gets by the public, along with other major scientists. It includes many different claims of discoveries made by people without any scientific background at all in their life. A few examples of things that Robert Park talks about in this book is Joe Newman and his claim of inventing an Energy Machine that would provide the world with an unlimited source of free energy. Throughout the book we continuously come back to Joe Newman and his idea. Newman really believed that his machine was right, and that he discovered something incredible. This book also talks about another person who also believed that he had made a perpetual motion machine. His name was Denis Lee. Lee would hold large conventions where he would speak for hours about this discovery along with many others like the car that runs on water, the medical laser camera, and other inventions that seemed to violate fundamental laws of nature. Other things that the book discussed, was the Roswell, New Mexico incident about the supposed crash alien landings, the power-line scandal which talked about how power-lines were said to be linked to childhood leukemia, the apparent discovery and workings of cold fusion, space exploration, and the Patterson cell and the magic beads just to name a few. Some of the people like Joe Newman, really believed in his discovery and did not want people to believe him so he could make money off of this discovery. However, Park also demonstrates throughout his book how easily someone can persuade a population of both people and scientists that what they discovered is true just to make money off of it.

I really enjoyed reading this book and understand how it relates to the subject of this class. Throughout the past few weeks we have been learning about and reading things that we all believed at some time in our lives to actually be true, however when you really look into it you discover that it is not. This book talks about major examples of this that has happened in the past. It was interesting to me, partly because I am a science major and I like to read about science. Also, this book taught me a lot that I did not know was going on in the world with people because of this subject. By reading this book I now have a better understanding about the difference between actual science and “voodoo science,” and I am sure who ever else has read it feels the same way. People and scientists alike all need to learn how to differentiate between real science and “voodoo science” because if they do not then we might one day have the whole world believing in claims that are actually untrue.

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