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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
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://