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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Park’

Could this be why I’m not a brilliant medical pioneer?

Posted by c. wagner on November 1, 2009

Was reading Superstition by Robert Park the other night and came across this description of the invention of homeopathy.

Unfortunately, some of the side effects associated with the use of these substances were serious, bringing Hahnemann perilously close to the sort of medicine he had earlier condemned. In an effort to reduce the severity of the side effects, he took the rather obvious step of diluting the medicine. As you would expect, dilution reduced the side effects, but to his astonishment Hahnemann also observed that patients given the dilute medication recovered more quickly from their illness.

At this point, you and I might have concluded that the medicine was preventing them from getting better. Perhaps that’s why you and I have never discovered a new principle of medicine. Hahnemann reached the opposite conclusion. He thought it showed that the more medicine is diluted, the more potent it becomes. He called this the Law of Infinitesimals, and declared it to be his second great discovery. [page 148-9]

I’ve probably ranted enough about homeopathy on this blog already. I’ll sum up: it’s total bullshit. Save your money. I promise I won’t say anything more about homeopathy unless there’s big news about it.

But this excerpt was just too snarky to pass up.

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What’s the difference between a scientist on TV and a magician?

Posted by c. wagner on October 27, 2009

In Voodoo Science, Robert Park makes an interesting point about science reports on TV:

If a stage magician pulls a rabbit from a hat, those in the audience may not know where the rabbit came from, but unless they’re hopelessly naive they know it isn’t magic. It’s a trick. And not a terribly difficult trick either, according to professional magicians. But how much easier it is to fool an audience with a complicated scientific apparatus. The television audience must accept on faith that the experiment is what the scientist says it is. It is as if, instead of pulling the rabbit out of the hat, the magician simply looks into the hat and assures the audience that the rabbit is there. [page 116]

Most viewers don’t have the background knowledge needed to sort fact from exaggeration (or outright impossibilities) in science reporting. They don’t even realize they should be looking in the hat for the rabbit.

What we should be doing is mentally strip-searching the magician and tearing apart the stage to find the rabbit.

With science on TV, sometimes there is a rabbit, sometimes it just looks like a rabbit, and sometimes there’s no rabbit at all.

Of course, the same is true with rabbits and stage magicians:

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Why is the cutting edge so sharp?

Posted by c. wagner on October 26, 2009

Something Robert Park wrote in Voodoo Science resonated with a conversation I had with the girlfriend. She suggested that maybe we should think of how we feel about the strange concepts at the cutting edge of quantum physics when dealing with those who don’t accept the idea of evolution. We should be kind to them because some revolutionary scientific ideas make each of us uneasy. Park writes,

The Copernican solar system, Darwinian evolution, galaxies, quantum mechanics, the big bang, and the genetic code were all intensely uncomfortable discoveries, diminishing the specialness of humankind and exposing cherished myths to ridicule. [page 82]

Maybe we should give those who still haven’t been swayed by scientific evidence more time to adjust to these “uncomfortable discoveries”? You know, like a few hundred years? Park continues,

They were grudgingly accepted, not because they are pleasant but because they are true. [page 82]

Well, accepted by many people. Others are still grudging along.

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