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71) Josephson about voodoo science

Ludwik Kowalski
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ
(June 1,2003)

R. Park’s “Voodoo Science” book has been referred to several times. A review of that book by Brian Josephson, a Nobel Laureate and a professor of physics at the University of Cambridge, can be seen at:

Josephson wrote: “We find in Park's book the official story regarding a number of "mistaken beliefs". What one will not find -- and is hard to find anywhere if one does not know where to look to bypass censorship -- is the additional information that might lead one to conclude that the official view does not tell the whole story. Regarding the paranormal, Park follows others in quoting a lecture on "pathological science", given by noted chemist Irving Langmuir, concerned with claimed phenomena that are difficult to reproduce. In a number of cases this was because the observed effects were clearly shown to be caused by a flaw and went away when a properly designed experiment was done. But Langmuir then went on to make the dangerous generalisation that if any effect is weak or difficult to reproduce then the effect is not a real one. This does not logically follow; an effect may be weak or difficult to reproduce simply because it is weak or difficult to reproduce. It is not easy, for example, to detect neutrinos from the Sun, and different laboratories tend to get different results in this research. . . .

It is interesting to look both at Park's account of the history of cold fusion and at that of the protagonists, presented in a video documentary Cold Fusion: fire from water (available from Park impresses on the reader the fact that if the process that generates the heat is really fusion then one would expect to see fusion products. He fails to mention here, as the video does, that the small amount of such products anticipated, given the amount of energy generated, was eventually observed, and in just the right quantity. All mention of positive results, such as the experiment where, by what appears to be a sound method, it was found that the energy generated was considerably in excess of anything that could be explained conventionally, is collapsed into a paragraph where Park notes that many claims are soon withdrawn because of errors being found (as also happens in ordinary science).

This device legitimises the dismissal of all positive results, and so also the corollary ‘cold fusion is no closer to being proven than it was the day when it was announced’. This is a seriously misleading statement. There are scientific arguments against cold fusion, but equally there were arguments against continental drift. . . .Despite its faults, Voodoo Science is an interesting book, with many stories about the kinds of mistakes made by people who believe they have made an important discovery. But it should carry a disclaimer that is the converse of the one with which Park ends his ‘What's New’ column on the American Institute of Physics website: ‘the opinions in this book are unquestioningly shared by many scientists, but they should not be’.”

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