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This list of warning signs was begun to help federal judges detect scientific nonsense. But the author, Dr. Park, realized that in our increasingly technological society, spotting voodoo science is a skill that every citizen should develop.


Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud, Oxford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0195147103. More info at Amazon.

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     By Robert L. Park. Adapted by Michael Douma. Originally publiushed January 31, 2003 in The Chronicle Review, Volume 49, Issue 21, Page B20. Dr. Park is a professor of physics at the University of Maryland at College Park and the director of public information for the American Physical Society. He is the author of Voodoo Science: The Road From Foolishness to Fraud (Oxford University Press, 2002).

Primary sponsor is the Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement (IDEA).

Before 1993, court cases that hinged on the validity of scientific claims were usually decided simply by which expert witness the jury found more credible. Expert testimony often consisted of tortured theoretical speculation with little or no supporting evidence. Jurors were bamboozled by technical gibberish they could not hope to follow, delivered by experts whose credentials they could not evaluate.

In 1993, however, with the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. the situation began to change. The case involved Bendectin, the only morning-sickness medication ever approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It had been used by millions of women, and more than 30 published studies had found no evidence that it caused birth defects. Yet eight so-called experts were willing to testify, in exchange for a fee from the Daubert family, that Bendectin might indeed cause birth defects.

In ruling that such testimony was not credible because of lack of supporting evidence, the court instructed federal judges to serve as "gatekeepers," screening juries from testimony based on scientific nonsense. Recognizing that judges are not scientists, the court invited judges to experiment with ways to fulfill their gatekeeper responsibility. Justice Stephen G. Breyer encouraged trial judges to appoint independent experts to help them.

Images: Spaceship from a mid 20th century weekly cartoon strip by A. C. Radebaugh, as reproduced by the Lost Highways Archive & Research Library, 307 Market Street, 2nd Floor, in the historic Old City section of Philadelphia. Chemists Stanley Pons & Martin Fleischmann by Tom Smart, as in Time. Loch Ness photo from the Loch Ness Inquirere, Issue Number 4 ~ January 2001. African medicine man ejecting a demon & Galen's physiological scheme of the heart from the Wellcome Trust.



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