Voodoo science the road from foolishness to fraud
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Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud. By Robert L. Park. About the Author: Robert Park. Born in Kansas City, MO in 1931 Obtained BA and MA at University of Texas Austin Received Ph.D. in Physics from Brown University

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Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud

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Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud

By Robert L. Park


About the Author: Robert Park

  • Born in Kansas City, MO in 1931

  • Obtained BA and MA at University of Texas Austin

  • Received Ph.D. in Physics from Brown University

  • Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park

  • Former Director of the American Physical Society

    Intended Audience:

  • We can infer that it’s for non-scholars, though he doesn’t explicitly say that in the preface.

    • “I had no interest in writing a scholarly book to be read only by other scholars…” (p. ix)


Why did Park write this book?

  • Decrease in public support of science after the Vietnam War

  • Few of the major societal problems can be addressed without input from science

  • People tend to judge science according to whether or not it agrees with what they already believe


Categories of Voodoo Science

  • Junk science

    • Deliberately designed to fool nonscientists, specifically juries

  • Pathological science

    • Results from scientists fooling themselves

  • Pseudoscience

    • Practitioners truly believe it; often fills in uncertainties with political/religious convictions

  • Fraudulent science

    • Intends to deceive; knowingly deceives, but rarely starts out as fraud


Science and the Media

  • Crucial because media is often our first exposure to an idea

  • Beware of the “Talking Heads”

  • Narrative v. Numbers

  • Information informs beliefs or beliefs inform information?


What we already believe

  • Forcing the outcome

    • “The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably untrue.” –Mencken

  • Worldview matters

    • The Climate Debate: full of gaps that are filled with religious and political views

  • Where beliefs begin

    • We make connections prematurely


Vitamin O…About $33 per 4oz. bottle


From homeopathic treatment to outer space

  • People want to believe that natural medicine and science will converge

  • People want to keep the dream of a space station alive, regardless of what’s practical

  • Politicians v. Scientists

    • Scientists: advances slowly most if the time and designed to take advantage of what has just been learned

    • Politicians: want to agree on a future and establish policies that will get us there


When things go to Congress

  • We put money on the impossible

    • “Pascal’s Wager”

  • The politicians win with rhetoric


Joe Newman and the Energy Machine

“Scientists and inventors rarely set out to commit fraud”


Some things to take away

  • We should not accept ideasuncritically or prematurely

  • We should assume that our worldview might conflict with our results to avoid “filling the gaps” of science

  • We should not mistake correlation with causation

  • We should seek advances, not miracles


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