Saturday, July 26, 2014

VooDoo Science, Laura Caruso

Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud, written by Robert Park, is a collection of alternative sciences in which complex theories are used to confuse the general public and to explain the laws of nature that even they cannot understand. In simpler terms, “voodoo science” is a term for pseudoscience or fraudulent science, according to a review by Richard A. Pizzi.
            This pathway avoids the outskirts and rushes right in to the heart of fringe science, in which Park is essentially explaining to his readers that it is much easier to spot voodoo science than most would think. However, author Robert Park manages to keep his head when writing about the billions of dollars wasted on countless research and therapies backed up by fraudulent claims, like the Jarvik 7, an artificial heart that was placed in the body of a Seattle dentist named Barney Clark.
            Although research for an artificial heart may be highly effective in the long run, this dying man was forced to live in “a man-made Hell somewhere between life and death” for 112 days, according to Park in Chapter Five of Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud. Although Clark survived his own heart, his agreement to undergo the procedure was not to live longer than he was destined to; rather, it was to help advance scientific research, a fact that most ill-informed media sources neglected to mention. When Chase Peterson, a retired M.D. by training put on his white smock and hung a stethoscope around his neck each day before appearing in front of the camera to update America on Barney Clark’s condition, the nation was convinced that this man had just returned from Clark’s bedside, and that Clark was living out a happy and grateful life post heart failure.
            This example is the definition of voodoo science; people who go to school and earn a degree deem themselves scientists, and begin fraudulent research on things that will encourage the rest of the country to hop on the bandwagon. This is where scientific fads come from, like super diets, UFO sightings, and paranormal activity, among many others. Maybe some of these claims are true, and maybe they are false. Most of us will never know, and we can thank the supporters of voodoo science for that one.
            My favorite part of Voodoo Science had to do with one particular suspicion related to the cause of cancer. Chapter Seven, titled “Currents of Fear in which Power Lines Are Suspected of Causing Cancer,” is based on a three year study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in which the NAS reviewed the possible health effects of exposure to residential electromagnetic fields. This study focused not only on power lines, but on the recent “microwave” epidemic. Yes, the microwave oven epidemic. These appliances “exert a profound effect on the central nervous system of rhesus monkeys and other primates,” according to an article written by Paul Brodeur. The actual radiation had been studied for thirty years, and the list of health problems connected to microwaves included miscarriages, birth defects, and cancer.
            This created mass hysteria, in which people who were exposed to microwaves (essentially every family that owned a microwave oven) would blame their sudden health issues on the radiation. I have a cold at the moment, but I am not blaming that cold on the microwavable dinner I had last night.
            The best part about this cancer causing fad (and I mean fad in the heaviest, non-humorous sense) is that there are tons of studies about people who were already diagnosed with cancer, but none about cancer before birth. It would be a wonderful thing to find a cure to cancer, but wouldn’t it be even better to find a way to prevent the disease? It would be much more effective to “discover the true biologic causes of the leukemic clones that threaten the lives of children,” as stated in an accompanying editorial to the New England Journal of Medicine.

            I related this novel to class in a way that most other people would; I associated the theories and phenomena explained by Robert Park to the ones in the textbook, and I began to question much of what I have read. I have always been skeptical of most studies that have been broadcasted throughout the media, but never to this extent. I think that is what makes this book so powerful—and interesting—because Park not only elaborates on these theories, but opens your eyes to other fraudulent headlines you have seen throughout your life.

Posted for Laura Caruso

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