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Book Review: Voodoo Science

chrisd posted more than 12 years ago | from the voodoo-that-you-do-so-well dept.

Technology 505

During the cavalcade of April Fool's spoofs here on /., one submission stuck in my mind as fascinating and enjoyable -- and a complete scam. It was about an alleged anti-gravity disc, made from a 12" superconducting ring that looked not unlike a brake pad. As luck would have it, I was reading the book Voodoo Science at the time and thought once the April Fools hoopla had died down that I'd do a review of it for Slashdot, so read on if you care to.Perhaps I should have posted the story, but in the end that sort of pseudo-scientific chicanery doesn't even deserve the attention that /. would bring it on April Fool's day.

The short review of Voodoo Science is that this is not a book that would make a good birthday gift for Alex Chiu or for that matter Deepak Chopra.

Voodoo Science is a happy little bon-bon of a book for the scientifically inclined. Robert Park is the head of the Washington office of the American Physical Society, and has worked inside the beltway helping the U.S. government and others understand the basics of science so they can make appropriate policy decisions. It is depressingly clear how badly they need it.

While there is a certain level of joy to be found in reading about Mr. Park's exploits debunking cranks and frauds, there is a sad realization that prominent legislators have no clue as to the physical laws that are the underpinnings of science. No, I wasn't surprised, but it was depressing nonetheless to see Trent Lott's name on a resolution designed to push through a patent on a "free energy" device, or Tom Harkin using his power to force the NIH to embrace alternative medicine as anything other than a placebo.

While fun, this isn't a perfect book. It is organized a little strangely, with subheadings throwing off the flow of reading, and at a little over 200 pages it seems too short.Park's mission with this book was not to dissect the great scientific frauds of all time, but I thought he could have spent more time on the issues he did bring up and less on trying to understand the Alex Chius of the world. Mr. Park is probably just trying to be polite, but in my reading of Voodoo Science he comes off as being too soft on the very targets of the book.

The case of cold fusion is a perfect example. His recounting of the famous events was right on, but it just fell flat when it came to to point the finger at Pons, Fleischman and the University of Utah for their complicity in fraud before the Utah state legislature. It is akin to writing a book about Enron and saying about Ken Lay: "It is likely he knew what he was doing was possibly improper."

I'd recommend Voodoo Science as a good gift to a younger reader, as it describes foundations of science in an accessible way. As you've probably gathered, an appropriate name for this book might be "The Laws of Thermodynamics and those that thought it didn't apply to them." As such, the book serves as a decent introduction to critical thinking about the physical world around us.


You can purchase Voodoo Science from bn.com. Want to see your own review here? Just read the book review guidelines, then use Slashdot's handy submission form.

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i've got (-1)

trollercoaster (250101) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365120)

warm bawls.

Cisco executive declared a fugitive (-1)

October_30th (531777) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365336)

The FBI have issued a warrant for a fugitive former Cisco executive charged with multi-million dollar stock fraud after he failed to report to authorities.

Robert S. Gordon, 42, a former vice president of business development at Cisco, missed a court hearing on Tuesday and has been missing since last week, according to the FBI.

Oh shit (2, Funny)

Graymalkin (13732) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365138)

You mean those were spoofs? Holy baby Jesus!

Not all alternative medicine is a fraud (1, Informative)

davidmb (213267) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365141)

After all, some mainstream medicines started out as "alternative."

Re:Not all alternative medicine is a fraud (3, Insightful)

cyclist1200 (513080) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365167)

The difference is they became mainstream because their effectiveness was more than just anecdotal.

Re:Not all alternative medicine is a fraud (2, Insightful)

sugrshack (519761) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365203)

Yes, this is to be granted. However much of alternative medicine is a modern form of snake oil, except for one extremely important point:

Those selling it actually believe that it works, making it much more dangerous.

granted, there is the possibility that some of these methods work, but after removing the placebo effect, many (if not most) do not stand up to rigorous empirical tests. The problem lies in the fact that most people do not even come close to understanding scientific method... people often fear and mistrust what they don't understand. (albeit selectively; it doesn't stop that many from climbing into a plane or getting behind the wheel of car... maybe it should).

Re:Not all alternative medicine is a fraud (2, Interesting)

Brent Marykuca (415503) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365216)

The problem is that in most cases, 'alternative' means 'unproven' (or 'unproveable'). Any 'alternative' treatment that proves effective when studied in a controlled manner would likely be embraced by the medical system and cease to become 'alternative'.

On the other hand there are some 'mainstream' therapies like acupuncture and some parts of chiropractic that don't stand up to scientific scrutiny but are widely considered valid.

There's also the question of intent on the part of the practitioner. Whether or not a therapy is effective is a matter of fact that can be tested experimentally. Whether or not it's fraud is a matter of if the practitioner believes that it's beneficial.

Re:Not all alternative medicine is a fraud (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365257)

Like chiropractic. It's starting to be recognized for treatment of lower back pain, but their more extravagant claims are suspect.

Re:Not all alternative medicine is a fraud (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365293)

Like Acupuncture...oh...still called alternative isn't it...

Previous Performance... (1)

Chibi Merrow (226057) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365230)

And some crackpot practices (ie trepanning, bleeding, etc) started out as mainstream medicine. Previous performance is not a guarantee of future returns. =P

F1r5t AC p0st (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365144)

PH1RSST P05t

tHAT'S RiGhT biZNnAtchES

He's just jealous (4, Funny)

Marx_Mrvelous (532372) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365146)

That he wasn't smart enough to discover the amazing Immortality ring! I didn't want to pay for one, but I was lucky enough to find one while graverobbing.

I've read this book as well (0, Troll)

PhysicsGenius (565228) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365147)

Some of it is good, but the author's biases show through all too clearly.

For instance, they entirely reject the idea of homeopathic medicine. What they neglect to mention is the hundreds of studies proving the effectiveness of this treatment for everything from hangnails to brain tumors. Furthermore, you don't even need a degree to perform the simpler remedies (for such things as TB or polio).

Geeks don't pay much attention to the health care industry, so let me lay it out for you in a way you'll understand: alternative medicine is the Open Source Software of the medical world. The FAA and the AMA are the Microsofts trying to keep proven-better-but-less-expensive treatments down.

Fight the power.

Re:I've read this book as well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365158)

Really? If it's SO effective, how come there was a polio outbreak in the 50s? Why is TB coming back?

Your analogy is badly, badly flawed.

Re:I've read this book as well (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365186)

Because you made Baby Jesus cry by touching yourself...

Re:I've read this book as well (2)

Sheepdot (211478) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365161)

Don't you mean FDA instead of FAA? I thought FAA was Federal Aviation Admission

Re:I've read this book as well (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365185)

"Geeks" know better than to be suckered by alternative (see snake oil) morons like you. Go strap on your electric ab-builder, take your placebo homeopathic pills, slip on your magnetic wristbands and copper bracelets and get a clue about how SCIENCE works. "The FAA and the AMA are the Microsofts trying to keep proven-better-but-less-expensive treatments down."Shut the fuck up.

Re:I've read this book as well (2)

(void*) (113680) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365187)

What is the idea of homeopathic medicine?

Re:I've read this book as well (1)

Frank Grimes (211860) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365243)

I heard this guy speak at an APS meeting a few years back. He gave a definition of homeopathic medicine (as distinguished from herbal and other non-standard medicine) that is based on three premines:
  1. Like cures like. If your poisoned, just take a similar poison. Kind of like a vaccine
  2. The more you dilute a substance, the more potent it it. Put a drop in a swimming pool, and it's really powerful! If there are less than a dozen molecules left in the solution, you've got it right.
  3. I forgot the third premise

A single molecule is pretty much incapable of having any noticable effect on a disease, so he writes off homeopathic medicine as placebos and quackery.

Re:I've read this book as well (1)

MrFredBloggs (529276) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365249)

I believe Google can help you out there. You know how to use a search engine, right?

Re:I've read this book as well (1)

jamused (125583) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365273)

As usual, Cecil explains it better than I can:

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/000225.html

Re:I've read this book as well (2, Insightful)

JimPooley (150814) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365303)

To swindle the termianlly gullible by giving them 'medicines' which are just water that once had an eye-dropper of something waved at it.
Homeopathy is bollocks of the highest order.

Re:I've read this book as well (2)

JimPooley (150814) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365321)

I meant terminally gullible. Oops. Finger trouble. I'm not well..
If you take homeopathic medicine instead of real medicine, terminally could be the correct term here.

Re:I've read this book as well (2)

dvdeug (5033) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365322)

What is the idea of homeopathic medicine?

You take some substance, usually related to the disease by random intuitive way, add it to water, and then dilute it with water. They dilute with water so heavily, that modern physics says there should not be even an atom of the non-water ingrediant left.

There are two reason why this is mocked. First is the whole dilution thing; what you've giving people is water. Second is the fact that from we've seen of the rest of medicine, there's reason more than a very tiny percentage of intuitively picked ingrediants should work; even if the fundamental theory works, it should take many, many tries to find the right ingrediants.

Re:I've read this book as well (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365195)

Alternative medicine is *not* the Open Source
Software of the medical world - it's the Pets.com
of the medical world.

Re:I've read this book as well (2)

EFGearman (245715) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365213)

I can understand the American Medical Association (AMA) part, but what does the Federeral Aviation Administration (FAA) have to do with this?

EFGearman

Re:I've read this book as well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365214)

You are a complete idiot. Not that homeopathic remedies don't have merit in some instances but to compare them to open source is ignorant. I tell you what you use homeopathic cures and I'll take all the antibiotics, antivirals, and other miraculous concoctions of modern science and let's see what works better. Homeopathic medicine does have a place but to act like regulating medicine is evil is stupid.

Re:I've read this book as well (4, Interesting)

Carbonite (183181) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365229)

Dr Mel Thusian
Ann Arbor University
Director of Particle Acceleration


Just a question:

I went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and I've never heard of Ann Arbor University. Google hasn't either. Maybe you meant you meant that you teach at UMich but you're not listed in the university directory [umich.edu] . I'm just trying to understand who's speaking here before I decide on your credibility.

Re:I've read this book as well (1)

tomknight (190939) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365332)

Read more carefully - think you may have been suckered?

Tom.

Re:I've read this book as well (2, Insightful)

FatRatBastard (7583) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365355)

Actually, I think its a brilliant troll. Demonstrating exactly what the book/review was talking about. The name tipped me off.

Re:I've read this book as well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365234)

FAA? You mean FDA. True, there is a bias towards commercial and propietary medicine, but to claim they're out to get alternative medicine? They haven't done anything like that since they burned Wilhelm Reich's books.

But as far as homeopathic medicine is concerned, it's a placebo at best, or kook science. Homeopathic advocates still have yet to come up with a testable hypothesis. Hundreds of studies, heh. Hundreds of flawed studies. It's time to sic the Amazing Randy on them again.

Troll protocol (0, Offtopic)

0x0d0a (568518) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365255)

Slashdot protocol dictates that pro-class trolls have "troll" in their name.

Re:I've read this book as well (1)

crumbz (41803) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365292)

Malthusian??? Ann Arbor University???

Nice try.....

Re:I've read this book as well (2)

jdavidb (449077) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365295)

You might be overstating the case somewhat. Sure, many (if not most) "alternative" medicines work. Sure, there's a case to be made that conventional doctors might perhaps have an interest in blocking general use of some of these treatments. But I don't think we can really classify "alternative" medicine in general as better. I'm certain that some of them are, but we can't completely throw out surgeons in favor of St.-John's-wart just yet.

Re:I've read this book as well (4, Insightful)

osgeek (239988) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365297)

For instance, they entirely reject the idea of homeopathic medicine. What they neglect to mention is the hundreds of studies proving the effectiveness of this treatment for everything from hangnails to brain tumors.

Because hundreds of kooks claiming shit in unscientific ways isn't the same as Scientific studies using rigorous methods to discover the nature of reality?

You can claim studies with proof as all you want, but until you really and truly embrace the Scientific method, and show results that a reproducible in double-blind studies that aren't equivalent to placebo control groups, you're going to continue to be laughed at. You remind me of the Christian Scientists who continue to claim to have scientific proof showing the flood and the Genesis creation story.

I encourage everyone to bookmark James Randi's [randi.org] web site as a great source of information for the scientifically mind skeptic.

Re:I've read this book as well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365304)

Horse shit. There is *no* evidence that homeopathy works any better than a placebo. Further, there is no credible explanation or theory behind homeopathy. "Water Memory Effect?" Come on.

Re:I've read this book as well (1)

foistboinder (99286) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365338)

What they neglect to mention is the hundreds of studies proving the effectiveness of this treatment for everything from hangnails to brain tumors. Furthermore, you don't even need a degree to perform the simpler remedies (for such things as TB or polio).

Name one just few of these studies (shouldn't be too hard, if there are "hundreds").

If homeopathic medicine has any validity, then any sample of water should cure all diseases (think about it).

Re:I've read this book as well (1, Offtopic)

sien (35268) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365340)

That is one beautiful troll ! This should be modded +5 Quality Troll.


The simpler remedies for TB and Polio ! Genius !


But the SIG was a bit strong. Was it a take on Malthusian ?

Alternative, but not homeopathic (1)

awharnly (183017) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365341)

(i read the parent post as a soft and gentle troll, proposing a ludicrous position quietly and hoping for overexcited responses. Check his history to confirm his track record. "Dr. Mel Thusian"? - come on, kids.
Nonetheless I'll address the real issues tangentially mentioned)

Investigating alternative medicine is a good idea: it could lead to the discovery and refinement of useful compounds and techniques. Furthermore, "humanizing" medical care in general is a good idea.

For the curious, the ideas underlying homeopathic medicine run contrary to very basic scientific principles.

This is homeopathic medicine [homeopathic.org] : They take substances with real (usually harmful) effects, then dilute them millionfold. The resulting "medicine" is of course just water, to which they add a bit of sugar - a placebo by any definition.

They claim that the water "remembers" the impression of the substance, an idea straight out of medieval alchemy.

In other words, alternative medicine yes, homeopathy, no.

Re:I've read this book as well (1, Flamebait)

JimPooley (150814) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365357)

And here am I without modpoints to mod this fuckwit down. Insightful my arse!

But don't you just love the way he tries to link the complete bollocks that is 'alternative medicine' to open source to get support?

More skepticism, please... (1)

mycr0ft (207814) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365363)

I can't believe that got modded up.

Geeks usually are more skeptical than most folks, and want to know why things work and ask more questions than your average muggle.

Please, read more about homeopathy, before you spend the big bucks for the sugar pills. Most homeopathic remedies have been diluted to the point of absurdity, and you don't even get many molecules of the supposed "cure".

Read more about it at here [youngskeptics.org] and here [slashdot.org]

Mod parent as "funny" not "insightful" (1)

fiendo (217830) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365365)

"Mel Thusian"

MALthusian

Look it up. It's a joke, moderators.

Enlightening Review (-1)

forkspoon (116573) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365149)

I enjoyed your review of this book about scepticism to fraud. I would like to see more reviews about books that investigate fraudulent tricksters and other nonsence. I would also like to see a change in US election laws requiring a certain level of education for policymakers to ensure they have a grasp of reality.

Thanks,

Travis
forkspoon@hotmail.com

Extravagant Evil and the I.M.F. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365151)

1. IMF/World Bank structural adjustment programs have increased poverty around the world.

Structural adjustment -- the standard IMF/World Bank policy package which calls for slashing government spending, privatization, and opening up countries to exploitative foreign investment, among other measures -- has deepened poverty around the world. In the two regions with the most structural adjustment experience, per capita income has stagnated (Latin America) or plummeted (Africa). Structural adjustment has also contributed to rising income and wealth inequality in the developing world.

2. IMF/World Bank "debt relief" for poor and indebted countries is a sham.

Many poor countries must devote huge portions of their national budgets to paying back foreign creditors -- often for loans that were made to or for dictators, wasteful military spending or boondoggle projects. The money used to pay back debt subtracts from essential expenditures on health, education, infrastructure and other important needs.

The IMF/World Bank plan to relieve poor countries' debt burden will leave most poor countries paying nearly as much as they currently do. And all of the debt relief is conditioned on countries undergoing years of closely monitored structural adjustment.

3. The IMF has helped foster a severe depression in Russia.

Russia in the 1990s has witnessed a peacetime economic contraction of unprecedented scale -- with the number of Russians in poverty rising from 2 million to 60 million since the IMF came to post-Communist Russia. The IMF's "shock therapy" -- sudden and intense structural adjustment -- helped bring about this disaster. "In retrospect, it's hard to see what could have been done wrong that wasn't," says Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

4. The IMF helped create and worsen the Asian financial crisis.

The IMF encouraged Asian countries to open their borders to "hot money" -- speculative finance invested in currency, stocks and short-term securities. That was an invitation to trouble. The Asian financial crisis resulted from the hot money brokers' herdlike decision to leave Asian countries en masse.

Once the crisis hit, the IMF made things worse by requiring structural adjustment as a condition for IMF loans. The result was a surge in bankruptcies, layoffs and poverty. In Indonesia, poverty rates rose from an official level of 11 percent to 40 to 60 percent, depending on the estimate. At one point, Indonesia's food shortage became so severe that then-President Habibie implored citizens to fast twice a week. Many had no choice.

5. The IMF bails out big banks.

The IMF bailouts in Asia, like those in Russia and Mexico, directed money to those countries largely for the purpose of paying off loans to foreign banks. Thanks to the IMF, the banks escaped significant losses for imprudent lending decisions. Citigroup, Chase Manhattan and J.P. Morgan were among the beneficiaries of the "Korean" bailout.

6. IMF/World Bank structural adjustment programs devastate the environment.

Structural adjustment demands an increase in exports and foreign exchange earnings. As a result, explains Friends of the Earth, "Countries often over-exploit their resources through unsustainable forestry, mining and agricultural practices that generate pollution and environmental destruction."

7. IMF/World Bank structural adjustment programs contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Here's how Dr. Peter Lurie and collaborators explained the problem in the journal AIDS: The displacement of the rural sector under structural adjustment programs -- as imports undermine local farmers and the shift to large-scale plantations for exports further displaces the rural population -- contributes to migration and urbanization. Many men leave rural villages for work in big cities or in mines, contract HIV/AIDS from casual sex partners or sex workers, and then spread the disease to spouses in their home village. The displacement of children and young women into the cities has led to a sharp increase in commercial sex work and heightened rates of HIV/AIDS.

8. IMF/World Bank structural adjustment programs harm women.

Cuts in budget spending, mandated by structural adjustment programs, leave women to pick up the pieces -- with government services eliminated, women are forced to provide informal social supports for the sick and disabled. The IMF/Bank emphasis on exports has pushed women farmers to switch from growing food for family consumption to crops for exports -- and left them poorer in the process. The high interest rates associated with structural adjustment have made credit less accessible, undermining the viability of small women-owned businesses.

9. IMF/World Bank structural adjustment programs and Bank project loans have led to deforestation worldwide.

The export orientation demanded by structural adjustment policies has led to more forest cutting. And World Bank forest sector loans to countries around the world have done nothing to improve the situation.

"Although the [1991 Bank Forest] policy had dual objectives of conservation of tropical moist forests and tree planting to meet the basic needs of the poor, Bank influence on containing rates of deforestation of tropical moist forests has been negligible in the 20 countries with the most threatened tropical moist forests." Who said that? The World Bank's own Operations Evaluation Department, in November 1999!

10. World Bank policies have displaced millions of people around the world.

World Bank loans for dams and major infrastructure projects routinely require removal of massive numbers of people from their homes and destruction of their communities. In addition to the emotional hardship of leaving their land, the displaced people almost always find their quality of life diminished after the move. The Bank itself agrees. A 1994 report from the World Bank's Environmental Department found that, "Declines in post relocation incomes are sometimes significant, in certain cases reaching as much as 40 percent for people who were poor even before their displacement."

11. The World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC) provides corporate welfare for environmentally destructive projects.

The IFC finances and provides advice for private sector ventures and projects in developing countries in partnership with private investors. Among its private sector partners: ExxonMobil, BP, Coca-Cola, Kimberly-Clark and Marriott. There's no reason for a public development institution, supposedly working to fight poverty, to lend its support to these well-endowed multinationals. Making matters worse, many of the private sector projects supported by the IFC, especially in the oil and gas sector, are environmentally destructive.

Re:Extravagant Evil and the I.M.F. (-1)

BattleCat (244240) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365306)

Well, although your posting, as well as my comment, is somewhat offtopic - I have to say I agree with you completely. Here (in Russia) we felt IMF grip on our necks until recently, when Putin said "We don't need your help as well as your advises". It was akmost too late for us, but we've got another chance with country-targeted government, as opposed to Western-banks-pleasing Eltsin's govt. The biggest fraud in economical science is a belief that there are filanthropes amongst bankers and TNC CEOs.

Thats a review??? (4, Insightful)

gowen (141411) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365153)

Holy moley. I've had more gained more in depth knowledge about their books from 2 minute conversations with strangers on the bus.

'Laws' (1, Insightful)

Ed Avis (5917) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365159)

But the various Laws of Thermodynamics are just a theory. The theory might be wrong. You can't say a perpetual motion machine is impossible, just that it is inconsistent with current theories about how the universe works.

Re:'Laws' (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365190)

But the various Laws of Thermodynamics are just a theory. The theory might be wrong. You can't say people spontaneously floating off the earth is impossible, just that it is inconsistent with current theories about how the universe works.

Logic - love it or lump it.
Why not go insane?

Re:'Laws' (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365204)

Change Laws of Thermodynamics to Laws of Gravity.
Damnit.

Re:'Laws' (3, Insightful)

(void*) (113680) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365210)

That's fine, but theories are our BEST GUESSES of how the universe works. If there really is a better law, please publish it, and let others be the judge.

Re:'Laws' (1)

tomknight (190939) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365305)

I don't think you need to publish a new law to disprove an existing one - "all" you have to do is show an instance where it isn't true. Remember that laws in physics are essentially based on observation (okay, I'm not sure that this is the case for quantum stuff, but I'm sure you know what I mean).

This means that you can say "according to the blah law, this cannot happen", but you can't really say "this cannot happen". (Okay, you can if you want to, like I'm hardly going to stop you...) I know I'm being very pedantic here, but you'll have to cope with it.

Tom.

Re:'Laws' (1)

GreyPoopon (411036) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365359)

If there really is a better law, please publish it, and let others be the judge.

I'm not going to try to say that perpetual motion is impossible, but if there is a better law somewhere, just poopooing somebody elses work because it "violates law X" is a mindset that will never let a better replacement for "law X" be found. If somebody does an experiment that appears to violate one of the laws of physics, rather than call them a quack, we should say "Hmmm. This seems to violate the laws of physics. What can we learn?" Then, we analyze the experiment and try to find out what happened. Most of the time, we'll find a problem with the experiment or analysis of the results, but every once in a while there will be some interesting nugget of truth about how our laws of physics fail us. One has to hope that this is exactly what is going on in the scientific community.

Re:'Laws' (2)

xtermz (234073) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365261)

"Lisa, in this house, we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson

Re:'Laws' (2)

dvdeug (5033) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365346)

You can't say a perpetual motion machine is impossible, just that it is inconsistent with current theories about how the universe works.

I.e. as impossible as me jumping out of the window and flying, or the moon being flat. If you're going to overturn theories with as much evidence as the Laws of Thermodynamics, you need solid proof. All we want to see is the machine in actual operation, with proof that it will actually run forever.

Alex Chiu (4, Funny)

toupsie (88295) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365160)

For your information, Alex Chiu's Immortality Device works. He hasn't died. According to his web site, if you think he is crazy, you are the same kind of person that would have thought that Edison, Einstein and Tesla were kooks. So there, science boy!

Now if only Alex Chiu could design a contraption that prevent ocular damage from looking at his web site.

Re:Alex Chiu (2, Funny)

return 42 (459012) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365300)

Now if only Alex Chiu could design a contraption that prevent ocular damage from looking at his web site.

U.S. Patent No. 4587349578

A method of preventing ocular damage resulting from viewing a website is described.

Step 1: Submit a story to Slashdot that includes the URL of the website in question.
Step 2: Wait until the story is published, plus ten minutes.
Step 3: Attempt to view the website. No ocular damage will result.

Re:Alex Chiu (2)

CaseyB (1105) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365310)

According to his web site, if you think he is crazy, you are the same kind of person that would have thought that Edison, Einstein and Tesla were kooks.

YOU are educated stupid. YOU worship cubeless word. YOU are your own poison. YOU create your own hell. YOU must seek Time Cube.

Re:Alex Chiu (1)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365330)

When Alex Chiu is 150 and takes a DNA test to prove he's the same person, I'll believe it. Personally though, I'm not at all interested in living that long.

Torture! (-1, Offtopic)

avandesande (143899) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365163)

Your going to torture us with April fools stuff after April fools?

Placebo? (3, Insightful)

kubrick (27291) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365169)

Tom Harkin using his power to force the NIH to embrace alternative medicine as anything other than a placebo.

What's wrong with the placebo effect? It's probably responsible for a good chunk of conventional medicine's positive results as well :)

Re:Placebo? (2)

ryanvm (247662) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365276)

What's wrong with the placebo effect?

Exactly, the placebo effect is the perfect treatment for a hypochondriac like me.

So how does bad science propagate? (5, Insightful)

tsornin (248038) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365170)

Robert Park exposes how bad science propogates (sic).


So says the summary, but the review is mostly about the fact that so many people who make decisions about science are utterly uninformed. Does the book actually tell us how the system got to be this way, though? Like, how so many people get through our educational system with so little knowledge of science, and how such people are permitted to have control over scientific organizations? I wanna learn more.

New names! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365176)

Methylene Trollide
Troll'd Gold
Kentucky Fried Troll
Trollitos
Egg Trolls (my favorite)
Trollan the Barbarian
Trollcules in New York
Jason and the Trollonauts
A Tale of Two Trolls
Mototrolla
"My God, it's full of trolls..."

See also... (4, Informative)

kzinti (9651) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365177)

In a similar vein are Martin Gardner's classics Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science and Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus. Great books, good reading.

--Jim

Podkletnov (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365184)

Are you referring to the Podkletnov effect as being a spoof?

Scientific Literacy (2, Interesting)

crumbz (41803) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365191)

My personal experience in the IT world for the past eight years is that general scientific literacy among Americans is on the decline. Ignorance of basic scientific principles, methods and tools from co-workers and customers amazes me on a daily basis. Ex. The metric system. The ability to perform simple conversions such as inches to cm and pounds to kg. Ex. The ability to perform math operations more complex than arithmetic. Ex. The ability to interpret statistical data in a meaningful manner.

Given the sorry state of affairs, it is not surprising that people beleive in perpetual motion machines and other devices that violate the laws of thermodynamics.

Re:Scientific Literacy (2)

Darth Maul (19860) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365222)

People don't even understand percentages, let alone higher math concepts.

When asked why they now tip wait staff 25%, a friend of a friend replied "inflation". Just think about that for a second.

Unfortunately, it's the same people that think cutting taxes only benefits "the rich". You cut taxes across the board by 2%, and they all cry foul, like the rich are "getting more". Well hello, they pay more! Don't you understand what a percentage means??!?

Sickening.

Re:Scientific Literacy (2)

crumbz (41803) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365270)

Yikes. Your example of the 25% tip sent a shiver up my spine. Inflation???

And you are correct. If you have a hard time with percentages, you are seriously screwed.

Not to pick on Americans, but what has happened to the support for science in this country? Science and engineering degrees as a percentage of total degrees have been on the downward slope since the 1970s, especially for domestic students.

I like the quote from William Gibson, "The Japanese have forgotten more about nerve splicing than the Chinese have ever learned." Might as well apply to Americans. Course, I am being a little hard on us....

Re:Scientific Literacy (1)

gowen (141411) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365287)

You cut taxes across the board by 2%, and they all cry foul, like the rich are "getting more".
Maybe they're just proponents of progressive taxation?

Re:Scientific Literacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365315)

Not that your friend understood technically, but perhaps intuitively your friend understood that in absolute terms, compensation has been declining. By tipping 25%, your friend is making up for some of this.

"Inflation" is the wrong answer, but in some sense, it's not either.

Re:Scientific Literacy (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365275)

Sound like you've encountered people who are lax in their math skills, not necessarily their knowledge of physical sciences.

And what's with the "Americans" swipe? Where's the research to prove that there is a significant discrepancy between Joe American and Joe European? Does geography really affect IQ curves?

Re:Scientific Literacy--possible? (1)

fiendo (217830) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365348)

It is a sad state of affairs, but isn't that the price we pay for humanity's ongoing diversification of labor?

I've known learned people in one scientific discipline who were unaware of the basic principles of another scientific discipline, but still they are competent scientists.

Are we simply at a point in our society's development where it is impossible for everyone to have a basic grasp of all the fundamentals? With the flood of information on the Information Age, can more than a handful of us can be "Renaissance men"?

Weekly 'What's New' (4, Informative)

gorilla (36491) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365192)

Park has a weekly 'What's new' email, where he briefly describes the weeks events, you can read it on the web [aps.org] , or subscribe for the email list.

another review (2)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365193)

My own review is here [theassayer.org] . To me, the most interesting thing about the book was the way it documented how pseudoscience has invaded otherwise respectable organizations like NASA.

Good book (5, Informative)

Eloquence (144160) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365199)

I read Voodo Science. It's a good book and gives a nice summary of subjects like homeopathy and manned space exploration. What it lacks the most are sources. The author states that he didn't want his book to be riddled with footnotes so as not to confuse the reader, but that is obviously a stupid attitude for a book that is written to encourage people to embrace science. Author Robert Park also writes a newsletter called What's New [aps.org] about developments in Voodo Science.

Park's book should be read together with another one: Trust Us, We're Experts! (Amazon [amazon.com] ) by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton. While there is a lot of "junk science" out there, there is at least as much corporate sponsorship behind efforts to discredit real scientific work as such. See also this story [earthisland.org] about PR efforts to discredit global warming, and my related K5 comment [kuro5hin.org] .

"alternative" medicine (1)

mattdm (1931) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365212)

Sure, there's a lot of not-real stuff out there -- and a lot of crap being pushed by scam artists/companies -- but that doesn't mean all "alternative" medicine is inauthentic or just placebo effect. Remember where we got aspirin from. Or, if you doubt that naturally-occuring substances ever have any sort of effect, um, consider marijuana or peyote.

Re:"alternative" medicine (2)

(void*) (113680) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365307)

Why is this even an argument? If someone says "therapy X does not work", why is "there is a lot of good stuff out there" a counter-argument?

Secondhand Smoke, Global Warmning, etc. (0, Flamebait)

Sheepdot (211478) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365215)

Junk science has existed for ages, just look at the expansion of the Global Warmning religion and the tactics of organizations out to fight "Secondhand Smoke".

Even such groups as JEL (Just Eliminate Lies), a sort of truth.com for teens in Iowa, advocate teasing smokers about impotence. This is akin to laughing at obese people and joking about death from a heart attack.

Global Warmning activists, meanwhile, have approached the subject with such religious fervor that "denominations" exist in which they all disagree over small points, yet refuse to even debate the large points, such as a response to the UHIE argument that junk science debunkers have been pleading for them to answer for YEARS.

Mars And Venus Examined... (2, Informative)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365224)

After buying a couple of John Gray's books, I was scratching my head on some of his theories. While some seemed like common sense, others smelled strongly of stereotypes and assumptions the quality of which one can find in any sit-com.

A while back I did a litter searching to find out a little more about the authors of the Mars and Venus books. Here's [compuserve.com] a grain of salt to take with them.

A gravity "shield" isn't that far fetched (2, Informative)

ergo98 (9391) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365232)

If you really understand gravity, then you're probably the first (yeah, I'm sure some first year physics students can expound about gravity, incorrectly believing that they understand what gravity is and how it works, but the reality is that gravity is mostly an unknown with some guesstimates and postulations [what is the "Speed of Gravity"?] : An invisible, almost magical attraction between objects). As such, the idea that gravity is a wave or a force and therefore can be blocked, or shielded, isn't that absurd. I'm not a physics buff by any measure of the imagination, but it is one of those fascinating fields that can make one curious. IEEE's Spectrum magazine had a fascinating story about how little has actually been proven in the field of quantum mechanics, and it really is stunning.

Re:A gravity "shield" isn't that far fetched (1)

0x0d0a (568518) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365286)

In high school, my teacher told me gravity travels at the speed of light.

Re:A gravity "shield" isn't that far fetched (1)

ergo98 (9391) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365313)

Your teacher knows more than many others [ldolphin.org] then. Look at the section that contains the following text if you're in a rush:

Even today in discussions of gravity in USENET newsgroups on the Internet, the most frequently asked question and debated topic is "What is the speed of gravity?" It is only heard less often in the classroom because many teachers and most textbooks head off the question by hastily assuring students that gravitational waves propagate at the speed of light, leaving the firm impression, whether intended or not, that the question of gravity's propagation speed has already been answered.

Placebo effect? (0, Troll)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365235)

"...force the NIH to embrace alternative medicine as anything other than a placebo."

What makes you think that alternative medicine doesn't work? Can you prove to me by anything other than purely anecdotal evidence that *mainstream* medicine has anything other than a placebo effect?

Quick disclaimer - I am deeply sceptical about both conventional and alternative medicine. However, I have empirical evidence that both *seem* to work. I've tried conventional medicine, and it seemed to make me feel better. I've tried alternative medicine, and *that* seemed to make me feel better too. I've observed similar effects in other people.

Re:Placebo effect? (2)

radja (58949) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365337)

all depends on WHAT alternative medicine:
-herbal stuff? well it could work. lots of conventional medicine comes out of nature (willowbark and aspirine, to name one)
-magnetized water? questionable...

just saying 'alternative' isn't enough.

//rdj

Re:Placebo effect? (1)

Dusabre (176445) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365350)

Yes, I can prove that mainstream medicine has anything other than a placebo effect. It's called falling mortality statistics for new-born infants. This is empirical data.

More Books (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365239)

Skeptic.net [skeptic.net] has their book recommendations hidden at this page [skeptic.net] and their secret front page is at this URL [skeptic.net] --anyone know when they are adding all of their content back? This was a sweet website before the crash.

Wrong assumption (1)

warrior (15708) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365240)

The anti gravity experiment article was not run on April Fool's Day, it was run on March 24th [slashdot.org] , and is quite real. Thanks for playing.

I know I'm not the first to say it but... (1, Flamebait)

SkyLeach (188871) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365246)

I couldn't leave this review without commenting on this: "...or Tom Harkin using his power to force the NIH to embrace alternative medicine as anything other than a placebo. " statement.

Consider E=MC^2: Matter is energy, and energy is matter. Molecular structures break down as they release energy. Living things absorb energy (calories) by breaking down other materials.

We understand so little about life and energy and yet normally reasonable people are willing to throw out an entire realm of science because it threatens their superiority complex. Some things in this world might just be beyond Newton and Einstein's realm of expertise. To say that alternative medicine is placebo flies in the face of every single person who believes in an afterlife and a soul. Nearly three billion people might be wrong about that belief, but they sure as hell deserve to be credibly examined first.

Re:I know I'm not the first to say it but... (2)

Chasuk (62477) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365343)

To say that alternative medicine is placebo flies in the face of every single person who believes in an afterlife and a soul.

Erm, no. That statement is so ludicrous as to be stunning. There is absolutely no connection between on'e belief in afterlife and a soul and one's belief in the claims of alternative medicine. I repeat: no connection.

Of course, if you see a connection, please provide it, because my current level of mystification is really tiring. :-)

Re:I know I'm not the first to say it but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365353)

We aren't throwing out an entire realm of science. We are throwning out an entire realm of psuedoscience.

Come back when the 'Alternative Medicine' proponents conduct proper, double-blind studies as to the effectiveness of their methods.

and for the slightly older reader I recommend... (2, Informative)

Bogatyr (69476) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365252)

Carl Sagan's _The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark_. Here's links to two different [2think.org] reviews [epinions.com] .

Stephen Jay Gould, almost everything he's ever written but particularly The Mismeasure of Man [wwnorton.com] .

Then there's the classic, much older but still frequently cited Charles Mackay's _Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds_ online.
(entire text available courtesy of Gutenberg)
part 1 [upenn.edu]
part 2 [upenn.edu]
part 3 [upenn.edu]

You Want Voodoo ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365260)

OK folks, if you want voodoo then try this site !! I'm sorry that it's not a clickable link but I don't know how to encode them into a Slashdot posting.

www.netwanga.com

And no, I'm NOT connected to the site owners !!

Peter

Disinformation & Propaganda. (0, Troll)

Fantastic Lad (198284) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365265)

Doesn't a book like that make you feel all safe, warm and superior?

Look. Everybody knows the stance of the 'other' side, so I won't waste everybody's time pointing out why subtle crap, (sneaking little lies in with patent truth, using ridicule, and re-enforcement of the con artist's trick of making you defend your own folly so that you don't have to face the embarrassment of others realizing you were conned.), like this book are very much in the best interests of mega corps, military infrastructure, control freak governments and the list of regular suspects.

What continually stuns me is that people like /.ers who, one would think, sported a slightly higher I.Q. than most of the populace, are falling over themselves to give away their power to think for themselves and jump on the popular opinion bandwagon.


-Fantastic Lad

Not so fast.... (2, Informative)

JohnPM (163131) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365282)

...and a complete scam. It was about an alleged anti-gravity disc, made from a 12" superconducting ring that looked not unlike a brake pad.

This is far from being consigned to the scam basket (although it may end up there). The easiest way to demonstrate this is to note that NASA has invested in research [space.com] to try to replicate Podkletnov's [amasci.com] results.

The interesting thing about gravity is that it isn't well understood by modern physics. We know how it behaves (we think) but we don't know what causes it really. This makes it equally ripe for psuedo-science as for breakthrough science. In any case, an April Fool's day scam it isn't.

There are a bunch of other links here [amasci.com] and a good overview here [rognerud.com] .

Brake Pad? (1)

qurob (543434) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365301)


You must mean brake ROTOR

Pad's aren't 12" rings...what kind of car are YOU driving?

Park has been much critized himself, with reason (5, Interesting)

vinsci (537958) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365308)

Slashdot already covered [slashdot.org] Robert Park's book.

See what Nobel Laureate and professor of Physics Brian D. Josephson has to say [cam.ac.uk] of Robert Park.

In Washinton Post, Charles Platt comments like so [washingtonpost.com] .

For a good commentary on Park vs Cold Fusion, go to the source [mv.com] .

"When I began my physical studies [in Munich in 1874] and sought advice from my venerable teacher Philipp von Jolly... he portrayed to me physics as a highly developed, almost fully matured science... Possibly in one or another nook there would perhaps be a dust particle or a small bubble to be examined and classified, but the system as a whole stood there fairly secured, and theoretical physics approached visibly that degree of perfection which, for example, geometry has had already for centuries."

  • -- from a 1924 lecture by Max Planck (Sci. Am, Feb 1996 p.10)

When V-Science fails (1)

RudeDude (672) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365312)

So when you are dissapointed, angry, and bitter about your anti-gravity experiments failing maybe it's time to use some Digital Voodoo [pinstruck.com] to get revenge.

I'm sorry but I hear 'voodoo' and I can't help but think PinStruck!

The immortality ring may be a fraud (1, Offtopic)

Pope Slackman (13727) | more than 12 years ago | (#3365325)

But the Timecube [timecube.com] is definately for real.

C-X C-S

How about a way to see failed slashdot submittals? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3365329)

I'd like to see a section on slashdot where I could read all the stories that people submit that are turned down.

Maybe even a new ranking system where stories can be user moderated?

I know there are a lot of them, but there are a lot of good ones that get turned down. I know... I submit them.
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