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#3660: Dr. Robert Parks' "Voodoo Science" Revisited (fwd)


Rmember Dr. Robert Parks?  He's the guy who wrote "Voodoo Science", a book 
debunking widely held popular pseudoscientific beliefs.  I wrote a letter to 
him, and CC'd it to a lot of people at the University of Maryland where he 
teaches - people who really ought to care.  Neither he nor any of his 
superiors had time to talk with Vodouisants, but Parks sure had time to talk 
with the U.S. News and World Report!  Here it is [note, although the 
interviewer here writes the man's last name 'Park', on the university website 
it's 'Parks'].:

Online U.S News
News You Can Use 5/8/00

How bad science can be hazardous to your health 

By Avery Comarow 

Sales of Voodoo Science (Oxford University Press, $25) could wind up being 
less than author Robert Park might like. On May 5, if Web postings based on a 
doomsday book are to be believed, the world will end, swamped by tidal waves 
and torn to pieces, when the Earth, moon, sun, and five planets line up. It's 
the kind of pseudoscience that Park, a physics professor at the University of 
Maryland, takes on in his book, which will be published this month. 

Will the world end on May 5? 

No. Planets have lined up before and we've survived. A few years ago there 
was supposed to be a major earthquake in New Madrid, Mo., due to tidal 
forces. The only people left in town on the fateful day were in the TV 
trucks, waiting for the disaster that never happened.

What do you mean by voodoo science? 

All bad science. There are scientists who fool themselves, as happened with 
cold fusion. There are scientists who deliberately try to fool others. We see 
this mostly in the courts, where expert witnesses concoct justifications for 
all kinds of points of view without solid evidence. And there is non-science 
dressed up to look like science. A good example would be the books of Dee- 
pak Chopra, in which he writes about using quantum mechanics to keep from 
growing old. In my talks, I like to show his picture on the book jacket. He 
doesn't seem to have managed to stop the aging process.

Do people embrace voodoo science because they have too little information? 

Not necessarily. Part of the problem is that while the public should have 
access to the latest findings, those findings haven't been digested. Fiber is 
a wonderful example, if you'll pardon the double-entendre. The latest 
evidence says the previous evidence was wrong–eating fiber does not reduce 
colon cancer. The public gets the feeling, why can't scientists make up their 

How can a bogus claim be detected? 

Common sense can help, but people don't have enough confidence in their 
common sense. Take homeopathy. If there's no medicine in a medicine, most 
people would believe taking it is not going to be effective, and that's the 
case with homeopathic remedies. Most of them have no detectable level of any 
active substance, and instead its practitioners have concocted this 
remarkable argument that water "remembers" what was in it.

Lots of people use magnets for medical reasons. Why do you say they don't 

Put sheets of paper between the magnet and a paper clip and see how many 
sheets it takes before the paper clip won't hang onto the magnet. The 
magnetic field drops off rapidly to the point that it is no stronger than the 
Earth's magnetic field.

Why is there so much interest in homeopathy, massage therapy, and other forms 
of alternative medicine? 

We tend to get over whatever it is that afflicts us. If we happen to be 
taking prune juice when we get better, some of us will believe that it was 
because of the prune juice. Presto, the Prune Juice Therapy.

Are Americans the worst suckers when it comes to bad science? 

Oh, no. This is worldwide. Alternative medicine is much more prevalent in 
Germany. Superstition is rampant in Russia, all over Eastern Europe. A lot of 
pseudoscience is based on stuff from Asian countries. We're certainly no 
worse than anywhere else.

Is voodoo science really a threat? 

It's not much of a threat to science. But to the people in the Heaven's Gate 
cult, who died thinking they would be taken away by aliens traveling in a 
comet's wake, it was a serious threat. To people who rely on useless cures, 
it's a threat. To mothers who suffer terrible anxiety over supposed dangers 
to their children from electric power lines, it's a threat. It's the public 
that pays a price for this.

What will you be doing on May 5, when the world ends? 

I have no particular plans. It's Cinco de Mayo, Mexican Independence Day. I 
will cheer them on quietly, at home. 


Do I need to point out the obvious?  Nah, I didn't think so.  But I will 
repost what I said to him, in part:

"   So as you walk through the Haitian community of Baltimore or New York, 
look at the people whose lives you are making more difficult by identifying 
them with evil and fraud.  That woman raising three children with her husband 
and working as a nurse, who can never let her co-workers know she is an 
honored clergy person of the Vodou because she fears she may be accused of 
harming her patients; that man teaching elementary school who can't talk 
about his trips home to Haiti to conduct Vodou and Roman Catholic services 
for the family ancestors; that evangelical Christian Haitian who has never 
even been to a Vodou service, who is rejected for employment because some 
ignorant employer is afraid of "those voodoo people" - these are the men and 
women whose lives you impact for the worse.  And don't forget those Americans 
who were not born to Haitian heritage or to the Vodou religion, but who have 
found it a nurturing discipline.  We too are impacted by the stereotype you 

Dr. Parks will keep right on making money though, using the name for our 
religion as a synonym for "bad".

Peace and love,

Bon Mambo Racine Sans Bout Sa Te La Daginen

"Se bon ki ra", 
     Good is rare - Haitian Proverb

The VODOU Page - <A HREF="http://members.aol.com/racine125/index.html">http://