I was reading Evolution vs. Creationism and noticed the name Robert Park. He is a physicist who often spends time doing skeptical work, like debunking perpetual motion machines and such. His name was raised in the context of expert witnesses in court and the concept of pseudoscience. He wrote up a list of seven "tells" of Voodoo Science which has made its way into US jurisprudence. I wrote such a list myself in the late 1980s. I was pleased to see that my list and his were in agreement, although my list was longer and more detailed.
As I mentioned, I do not think he stole my list. The list could be conjured up by anyone with and skeptical background with penchant for navel gazing. But I got there first. In any case, Park's book Voodoo Science was mentioned and so I read it.
Voodoo science is an umbrella term for four kinds of dubious science.
The first chapters focus on belief in general, perpetual motion machines (PMMs, and a fellow named Newman) and the infamous Pons and Fleischmann (P&F) case (Cold Fusion). Newman has been pushing his "engine" that runs on nothing for decades. Despite the fact that the Patent Office will not entertain PMMs, Newman managed to get political backing to test his engine. It failed, but Newman is still at it to this day.
Cold Fusion is still alive today, but the search is confined to outcasts and fraudsters. In the beginning, P&F said they needed light water to make the magic work. They were asked if anything changed if they used normal water. They tried that and it made no difference, so they never mentioned light water again. Again and again, they would trumpet a new breakthrough, gather the press, and then explain why what they said they would do or say did not happen. "My dog ate my homework" sort of thing. P&F are a case study of scientists gone wrong, and both are now laying low. They were sincere at the beginning, but eventually they turned to out right fraud.
Most of the topics in this book are familiar to me, and I understand most of the physics. But I still learned a thing or two. For example, homeopathy (chemistry for dummies, literally), in 1938, got a special exemption from FDA oversight in its BS health claims because one senator slipped it into the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act.
Park was outspoken about the space program. He, like most informed scientists, saw what NASA was doing was largely a waste of science's time and money. I speak mostly of the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. I love space exploration and what it has accomplished. But from a science perspective, manned missions are a colossal waste. We have learned an enormous amount about the solar system inside my life time… but all of that was done by automated, computer driven, robotic exploration. The International Space Station, Mir and others produced no science. None, zero, zip. The one promise that I recall, new drugs, did not happen. Add to that is the fact that space is ridiculously dangerous. Solar flares, micro gravity, and radiation are not things we are evolved to deal with. As much as I would like to see humanity on Mars, it will not happen any time soon, nor should it.
You might think that the space station would be a great place to put a telescope. Not so. It is not stable enough. Why? Because people keep changing the center of gravity and bumping into things. To get good images, the observing platform must be free of all vibration. The author spoke to a Russian space scientist about what the Mir cosmonauts did all day. "They try to stay alive" was the response.
Fun Fact: SF author and visionary Arthur C Clarke proposed the idea of communication satellites. He thought they would require a space program just to visit them to swap out blown tubes! Some times, one's vision gets a bit blurry.
Power lines and links to cancer was once a thing. It was rubbish. One reason people were concerned was that they knew the Russians were beaming microwaves at the US embassy in Moscow. So that kind of EM is bad, right? Nope. The Russians were using beamed microwave energy to power bugs that they had literally built into the embassy. The microwaves themselves were harmless.
The book is somewhat optimistic about the law and science. Judges are starting to understand that they are not equipped to deal with Voodoo Science. Judges understand the language of law, not the language of science. Judges are coming to realize that they must act as gate keepers on some issues of science. To do this, rules for "experts" are slowly coming together.
Park spoke of Deepak Chopra and his invocation of quantum mechanics (the most successful theory in science history) to justify pretty much anything. Let me summarize: Deepak is an idiot.
This book is an easy read. The science in the book is easily approachable for the lay person.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.