Friday, July 15, 2011

Voodoo Science - Robert L. Park

In the book Voodoo Science by Robert L. Park he discusses the details of junk science and the differences between it and of actual science using the concept of how easily people are tricked into believing such things are scientifically sound. There is a progression from "honest error" that evolves "from self-delusion to fraud," he says. Further elaborating the definition: "The line between foolishness and fraud is thin. Because it is not always easy to tell when that line is crossed. Park, in the chapter “It’s not news, it’s entertainment” hits on a crucial element of media support stating that the media has no qualms publishing junk science since it increases readership and ratings. He explores how people are attracted to junk science and how the facts don’t always convince a person as to what is real and what is not.
Park tackles a number of scientific hoaxes and examples of just plain bad science. He examines several different types of "voodoo science," with examples. There are scientists that apparently start out well-intentioned, but want so badly to believe in their own results that they ignore flaws in their research, and eventually start falsifying or obscuring evidence; the chapter on cold fusion covers this rather nicely. There are out-and-out hucksters, like the guys who will try to convince you that they've discovered perpetual motion, and will sell you an engine for a few hundred bucks. And there is "science" that has always been bad science, like homeopathy and astrology, that has nonetheless become an intractable part of our culture.
My favorite part of this read was Emily Rosa. I love it when I'm convinced the generation after mine is going to destroy us all or is going to sloth itself into inexistence and then someone surprises me and leaves me feeling like somehow the future may be a little brighter than I thought.For me, his book was eerie and I kept thinking, “Who exactly can we trust?” Unfortunately, voodoo science looks so much like real science until you start picking it apart, but even bad scientists can write very convincing books. I know even to trust the media as far as I can throw it, but even reporters can be the victims of bad science. So, what I've gleaned from his book, and the most important lesson of all, is to be skeptical and ask why, then take that information and compare it to what else has been studied about the same subject by different scientists. Hard work, I know. But I'm sure the pay-off is worth it because we all understand that knowing is half the battle.

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