University of Maryland physics professor Robert Park spoke at the CUNY Graduate Center on Monday about his new book "Voodoo Science: The Road From Foolishness to Fraud" (Oxford University Press).
In his wide-ranging talk, Mr. Park exposed various characteristics of pseudoscience. He said scientists have been so successful at finding solutions to problems that nowadays "anyone who wants to deceive the public puts on the mask of a scientist." While frauds are not always easy to spot, he offered a few rules to help./P>
First, he said, "There is no claim so preposterous that a Ph.D. scientist cannot be found to vouch for it." Second, he said, beware when a discovery is pitched directly to the public. He added that the "integrity of science rests on the willingness of a scientist to expose new ideas to the scrutiny of other scientists." Third, Mr. Park said to beware when someone, in making a scientific claim, complains that a powerful "establishment" (usually industry or the government) is said to suppress the discovery. He gave examples of the claim that power lines cause cancer, or the man who made a lot of money by claiming to have invented a car that runs on water.
He said such claimants often maintain that the establishment will "presumably stop at nothing to suppress a discovery that might shift the balance of wealth and influence in society." But, Mr. Park continued, science in fact is the opposite, both open and conditional: "If we get better results, we rewrite the textbooks. This is why science has changed the world."
Mr. Park said other warning signs are when "an effect is always at the very limit of detection," such as seeing glimpses of the Loch Ness monster. He also said to beware anecdotal evidence of a discovery and to watch out "if a belief is said to be credible because it has endured for centuries."
He described a time in his 20s he drove his white Oldsmobile back to his Air Force base near Roswell, N.M., around 2 a.m. A bright blue-green light flooded the backseat and streaked across the low range of mountains ahead - as a scientist, he said, he knew what it was: an ice meteorite.
The same evening downstairs at Elebash Recital Hall, a panel celebrated geographer David Harvey's 70th birthday and his new book, "A Brief History of Neoliberalism" (Oxford University Press).
CUNY Graduate Center's president, Bill Kelly, had kind words to say about Mr. Harvey, who teaches in the anthropology department and previously taught at Oxford University and Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Harvey said, "This is the first institution that I've actually been at where I liked the president. I think there's something terribly wrong with this situation."
Neil Smith, director of the Center for Place, Politics, and Culture, recalled the time a faculty member at the University of St. Andrews asked him, "So, Smith, what's beside your bed when you go to sleep at night?" Mr. Smith recalled responding to that provocative question, "Explanation in Geography," Mr. Harvey's methodological 1969 work. The colleague told Mr. Smith he would have a dull life. "That faculty member," Mr. Smith said, "has actually gone on to have a dull life. I have not."
Later at the anthropology department office, Mr. Harvey was presented with a cake that read "We wanted to get you a Revolution for your birthday but all we could do in a week was this cake." Mr. Harvey was debating how to cut the "Revolution" - horizontally or vertically - when Hunter College anthropology professor Tom Burgess exclaimed, "Cut it dialectically!"
FILM FUN Actress Miranda Richardson has three films in production for 2006: "Spinning Into Butter," "Southland Tales," and "Provoked." The Knickerbocker caught up with her as she and Alec Baldwin received the Golden Starfish awards for career achievement in acting at the 13th annual Hamptons International Film Festival. Mr. Baldwin and Ms. Richardson conversed on stage: "Years ago," Mr. Baldwin said, "you got a baby sitter and the adults went to the movies. Now, adults stay home and watch cable TV, and the children go to the movies."
Liza Minnelli took the stage at Guild Hall in East Hampton in connection with the premiere of "Liza with a 'Z,'" a digitally restored version of Ms. Minnelli's 1972 television special, which will air on Showtime in the spring. The audience laughed when interviewer Scott Nevins said, "Bob Fosse was in love with you, and every guy in the West Village has impersonated you."