|Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud|
|publisher||Oxford University Press|
|summary||Robert Park exposes how bad science propogates.|
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.
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