I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.
Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science – Martin Gardner
This was first of about a half-dozen books Gardner wrote in order to inform readers about various examples of fringe science. Published in 1957, it is dated. His predictions about some fringe beliefs dying out have not come true. Flying saucers, pyramidology, Atlantis, reincarnation, dowsing, ESP, remote viewing, and hollow earth theories are still avidly discussed on late-night talk radio.
However, it’s amusing to read about the old classics that have pretty much vanished except to connoisseuses of the bizarre and wacky. Lawsonian physics contrasted concepts as "penetrability", "suction and pressure" and "zig-zag-and-swirl" with the Theory of Relativity. Gardner connects in an interesting way Larmarkism with Lysenkoism. He also covers the amusing sexual ideas of publisher Bernarr Macfadden.
The chapter on medical quacks manages be both funny and frightening. Elisha Perkins claimed his metal rods could "draw off the noxious electrical fluid that lay at the root of suffering.” Albert Abrams invented complicated devices which he claimed could diagnose and cure almost any disease. Using ideas she borrowed from Abrams, Ruth Drown claimed she could diagnose disease with energy similar to radio waves. Chromotherapists claim to be able to use light of various colors to balance energy a patient’s mind, body or spirit is lacking. The cancer charlatans are not so funny.
This book is worth reading because it reminds us skeptics to say “Show me” when claims are being made. It’s fine to say “Possibly, but why do you think so” when we hear something far-fetched.
Which will be pretty often running up to an election year.