Wednesday, July 13, 2005

I couldn't make up my mind as to what to put in the Gullible's Travels gallery today. Did I want to do the psychic dog? Or maybe MoonFakers? There are just so many wacky things to choose from.

If you are wondering why this is important to's because I see an enormous amount of zeal flowing into things that aren't real. We have big problems. Big problems that are real. If we could channel the energy we spend on the things that aren't real into the things that are...I just wonder if maybe we could actually do something about things like global warming, wars, food safety, the environment, the rise of fundamentalist extremism, the awful political situation the US is nauseum.

These are taken from Robert L. Park's excellent article, The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science, that appeared in the January 31st 2003 issue of The Chronical of Higher Education. I encourage you to read the article in its entirety. While most of the skeptical articles I refer to deal with science...the principles hold true for politics, commerce and day to day living. You will readily recognize many of these warning signs from advertising.

1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.
"An attempt to bypass peer review by taking a new result directly to the media, and thence to the public, suggests that the work is unlikely to stand up to close examination by other scientists."

2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.
The idea is that the establishment will presumably stop at nothing to suppress discoveries that might shift the balance of wealth and power in society. Often, the discoverer describes mainstream science as part of a larger conspiracy that includes industry and government."

3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.
"All scientific measurements must contend with some level of background noise or statistical fluctuation. But if the signal-to-noise ratio cannot be improved, even in principle, the effect is probably not real and the work is not science."

4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.
"If modern science has learned anything in the past century, it is to distrust anecdotal evidence. Because anecdotes have a very strong emotional impact, they serve to keep superstitious beliefs alive in an age of science."

5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.
Ancient folk wisdom, rediscovered or repackaged, is unlikely to match the output of modern scientific laboratories."

6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.
Scientific breakthroughs nowadays are almost always syntheses of the work of many scientists."

7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.
"A new law of nature, invoked to explain some extraordinary result, must not conflict with what is already known. If we must change existing laws of nature or propose new laws to account for an observation, it is almost certainly wrong."

Also check out Robert L. Parks book, Voodoo Science: The Road From Foolishness to Fraud.


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