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Fakes, Frauds, and Pseudoscience

"In the last analysis, the best means of combating the spread of pseudoscience is an enlightened public, able to distinguish the work of a reputable investigator from the work of the incompetent and self-deluded. This is not as hard to do as one might think. Of course, there will always be borderline cases hard to classify, but the fact that black shades to white through many shades of gray does not mean that the distinction between black and white is difficult."

-- Martin Gardner, Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science, 1957

If you're interested in knowing what science is, it's also a good idea to learn what science isn't.

No, that's not quite right. If you're interested in knowing what is science, you also need to know how to recognize what is not science. Many things have been called science when in fact they aren't. Knowing how to recognize these various kinds of "imitation" science, or pseudoscience, is a very useful skill for everyone to have. I firmly believe that if more people knew how to recognize pseudoscience, we'd all be less vulnerable to the scams and lies perpetrated by con men and unscrupulous politicians.

The Devil's Triangle

This is one pseudoscience topic that most people have at least heard of. The "Devil's Triangle" or "Bermuda Triangle" is the area of ocean in and around the Caribbean, which has allegedly seen a huge number of ships and airplanes disappear without explanation. The Devil's Triangle was the first bit of pseudoscience I really got interested in. Sadly my experience with this topic parallels my experience with most "pseudoscience" topics: I read several books by authors who clearly believed the story and wrote about it in very convincing ways. Then I found some books that looked at the subject with a skeptical eye, as a good scientist should, and the claims of the first group of authors fell apart. Some stories turned out to be exaggerated, while others were complete fiction. I am not claiming that any of the people who popularized the "Bermuda Triangle" were intentionally deceptive. But they were most certainly wrong.

  • BERMUDA TRIANGLE MYSTERY SOLVED, THE
    Author: Kusche, Lawrence David
    Copyright:1975
    Publisher: Harper & Rowe
    ISBN: 0-06-012475-X
    Larry Kusche's systematic debunking of the 'Bermuda Triangle' legend, including reasonable explanations for all the 'mysterious' disappearances of ships and aircraft in the 'Triangle.'
  • DEVIL'S TRIANGLE, THE
    Author: Winer, Richard
    Copyright:1974
    Publisher: Bantam Books
    ISBN: 0-553-08445

  • DISAPPEARANCE OF FLIGHT 19
    Author: Kusche, Larry
    Copyright:1980
    Publisher: Harper & Row
    ISBN: 0-06-012477-6
    Flight 19 is the most famous disappearance event in the Bermuda Triangle legend. On December 5th, 1945, a training flight of five TBM Avenger torpedo-bombers took from Miami Naval Air Station on a routine training flight. They never returned. A sixth aircraft sent out to search for them also vanished. The disappearance was attended by the usual swirl of rumors, hearsay, inaccurate news reports, and other claims. But with Flight 19 some of the claims caught on and became amplified into the Legend of Flight 19, which in turn became a vital element in the Legend of the Bermuda Triangle. In this book, Larry Kusche goes back through the official record and those verified reports available from December 1945, and explains the loss of Flight 19 in entirely mundane ways.
  • GHOSTS OF THE AIR
    Author: Caidin, Martin
    Copyright:1991
    Publisher: Bantam Books
    ISBN: 0-553-28776-1

  • INVISIBLE HORIZONS
    Author: Gaddis, Vincent
    Copyright:1965
    Publisher: Ace Books
    ISBN:
    This is a book from the late 1950s that took the "Bermuda Triangle" craze worldwide. Gaddis collected sea stories from all over the world and throughout history, then combined them into a book in which ships can be cursed or haunted, and ships and men and even whole islands can appear and disappear without warning. Sadly, many if not most of the stories are either exaggerated or wholly legendary. I don't know how much of the exaggeration Gaddis himself is responsible for, but the fact is that very few of the tales he tells can be verified.

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The Loch Ness Monster

The Loch Ness Monster, or "Nessie," is probably the most famous cryptid (hidden or unknown animal) on Earth. There are numerous reliable-sounding reports of a strange animal in Loch Ness and other similar lakes around the world. These books look at the evidence for Nessie, pro and con.

  • CHAMP: BEYOND THE LEGEND
    Author: Zarzynski, Joseph
    Copyright:1988
    Publisher: M-Z Information
    ISBN: 0-937559-01-6

  • IN SEARCH OF LAKE MONSTERS
    Author: Costello, Peter
    Copyright:1974
    Publisher: Berkley Medallion
    ISBN: 0-425-02935-2
    A comprehensive look at all the reports from around the world of animals similar to the Loch Ness Monster.
  • IN THE DOMAIN OF THE LAKE MONSTERS
    Author: Kirk, John
    Copyright:1998
    Publisher: Key Porter Books
    ISBN: 1-55263-010-2

  • LOCH NESS MONSTER: THE EVIDENCE
    Author: Campbell, Steueart
    Copyright:1996
    Publisher: Birlinn Books
    ISBN: 1-874744-61-0

  • SEARCH AT LOCH NESS
    Author: Meredith, Dennis L.
    Copyright:1977
    Publisher: Quadrangle/NYTBC
    ISBN: 0-8129-0677-2

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Other Mysterious Animals

Nessie is the most famous cryptid, but she's far from the only one. From sea-serpents to Sasquatch, cryptids lurk in the unexplored reaches of every continent and every ocean. Cryptozoology is the science devoted to studying these maybe-myths. Some books about cryptozoology are just nonsense, but others make a serious attempt to study these matters scientifically.

  • BIG FOOTPRINTS: A Scientific Inquiry into the Reality of Sasquatch
    Author: Krantz, Grover S.
    Copyright:1992
    Publisher: Johnson Books
    ISBN: 1-55566-099-1

  • CRYPTOZOOLOGY A TO Z
    Author: Coleman & Clark
    Copyright:1999
    Publisher: Fireside Books
    ISBN: 0-684-85602-6

  • IN SEARCH OF PREHISTORIC SURVIVORS
    Author: Shuker, Karl P.
    Copyright:1995
    Publisher: Blandford Books
    ISBN: 0-7137-2469-2

  • IN THE WAKE OF THE SEA-SERPENT
    Author: Heuvelmans, Bernard
    Copyright:1969
    Publisher: Hill & Wang
    ISBN:

  • MONSTERS OF THE SEA
    Author: Ellis, Richard
    Copyright:1994
    Publisher: Doubleday & Co.
    ISBN: 0-385-48233-7
    A look at the major 'monsters' of the sea and their role in myth and legend through the ages.
  • MYTHICAL MONSTERS
    Author: Gould, Charles
    Copyright:1995
    Publisher: Senate Press
    ISBN: 1-85958-178-1

  • ON THE TRACK OF UNKNOWN ANIMALS
    Author: Heuvelmans, Bernard
    Copyright:1965
    Publisher: MIT Press
    ISBN: 0-262-58020-9
    A look at a variety of mystery animals, many humanoid, sighted but never photographed, captured, or killed.
  • ONZA! The Hunt for a Legendary Cat
    Author: Carmony, Neil
    Copyright:1995
    Publisher: High-Lonesome Books
    ISBN: 0-944383-28-9

  • SHIPWRECKS AND SEA MONSTERS OF CALIFORNIA'S CENTRAL COAST
    Author: Reinstedt, Randall
    Copyright:1975
    Publisher: Ghost Town Publications
    ISBN:

  • STILL LIVING? Yeti, Sasquatch and the Neandertal Enigma
    Author: Shackley, Myra
    Copyright:1983
    Publisher: Thames & Hudson
    ISBN: 0-500-27406-1

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Claims of Magic and Psi

Most of us would like to think that magic is real. I know I would -- as Belgarath the Sorcerer said, a life without any wonder left in it at all is a sad and empty one. Unfortunately, most of the ancient claims of magic powers are unverifiable, and most modern claims fail when tested scientifically. Several very good authors have written a number of very good books about testing and critiqueing alleged modern magicians, and identifying the ways by which they fake their "powers."

  • ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CLAIMS, FRAUDS, AND HOAXES OF THE OCCULT AND SUPERNATURAL
    Author: Randi, James
    Copyright:1995
    Publisher: St. Mrtin's Press
    ISBN: 0-312-15119-5

  • FAITH HEALERS, THE
    Author: Randi, James
    Copyright:1989
    Publisher: Prometheus Books
    ISBN: 0-87975-535-0
    James Randi's systematic, devastating expose of the fraud perpetrated by modern 'faith healers' on their followers.
  • FLIM-FLAM! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions
    Author: Randi, James
    Copyright:1982
    Publisher: Prometheus Books
    ISBN: 0-87975-198-3
    Randi's systematic, well-documented attack on many forms of pseudoscience.
  • PSEUDOSCIENCE AND THE PARANORMAL
    Author: Hines, Terrence
    Copyright:1988
    Publisher: Prometheus Books
    ISBN: 0-87975-419-2

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Frauds in Science

Scientists are human too. Sadly, sometimes this leads individual scientists into committing the ultimate sin for a scientist: faking their data or their results. These books look at scientists who have committed fraud, and the implications for the public trust in science.

  • BETRAYERS OF THE TRUTH: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science
    Author: Wm Broad & Nicholas Wade
    Copyright:1982
    Publisher: Touchstone
    ISBN: 0-671-49549-6

  • FADS & FALLACIES IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE
    Author: Gardner, Martin
    Copyright:1957
    Publisher: Dover Books
    ISBN:
    A book about pseudoscience of many and various kinds.
  • FASHIONABLE NONSENSE: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science
    Author: Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont
    Copyright:1998
    Publisher: Picador USA
    ISBN: 0-312-20407-8

  • FILTERS AGAINST FOLLY
    Author: Hardin, Garrett
    Copyright:1985
    Publisher: Penguin Books
    ISBN: 0-14-00-7729-4

  • FLIGHT FROM SCIENCE AND REASON, THE
    Author: Gross, Levitt, Lewis (editors)
    Copyright:1996
    Publisher: NY Academy of Sciences
    ISBN: 1-57331-003-4

  • FRAUDS. MYTHS, AND MYSTERIES: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology
    Author: Feder, Kenneth L.
    Copyright:
    Publisher: Mayfield Publishing
    ISBN: 0-87484-971-3

  • SCIENCE ON TRIAL: The Whistleblower, the Accused, & the Nobel Laureate
    Author: Sarasohn, Judy
    Copyright:1993
    Publisher: St. Martin's Press
    ISBN: 0-312-09247-4

  • SCIENCE: GOOD, BAD, AND BOGUS
    Author: Gardner, Martin
    Copyright:1989
    Publisher: Prometheus Books
    ISBN: 0-87975-573-3
    A collection of Gardner's book reviews and other columns, mostly skewering pseudoscience and a few praising genuine science books.
  • WEIRD WATER & FUZZY LOGIC: More Notes of a Fringe Watcher
    Author: Gardner, Martin
    Copyright:1996
    Publisher: Prometheus Books
    ISBN: 1-57392-096-7

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Phony or Mistaken History

History is a favorite topic of pseudoscientists, because there's so much material there to be mined. It seems absurd to think that our distant ancestors, with their limited tools and technology, could create some of the things we find in the archaeological and historical record. So some people have invented amazing "explanations" for mega-works like the Giza pyramids. There's no solid evidence for any of them, though -- just wishful thinking. That makes them pseudoscience.

  • EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG - Book One: Human Origins
    Author: Pye, Lloyd
    Copyright:1997
    Publisher: Adamu Press
    ISBN: 0-9660134-3-3

  • STRANGE CREATIONS: Aberrant Ideas of Human Origins
    Author: Kossy, Donna
    Copyright:2001
    Publisher: Feral House
    ISBN: 0-922915-65-2

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Global Climate Change

I really don't like putting this topic here, but I wanted to include it somewhere and it doesn't really fit anywhere else. I count myself among the ranks of skeptics about "anthropogenic climate change," known to most as "global warming" theory. That does NOT mean that I deny the evidence for global climate change. It means that I don't know what to think, because the actual evidence is inconclusive and both sides have done a good job of convincing me that the other side is a bunch of liars. I don't believe the predictions of some sort of ecological apocalypse if we don't take global action right this minute... but neither do I believe the people who say it's all a hoax and we can keep right on going the way we are without fear of ill effects on the planet. I don't know what to believe ... except that both sides have fallen victim to some of the classic errors that turn science into pseudoscience.

  • ECO SCAM: the False Prophets of Ecological Apocalypse
    Author: Bailey, Ronald
    Copyright:1993
    Publisher: St. Martin's Press
    ISBN: 0-312-10971-7

  • GLOBAL WARMING: OPPOSING VIEWPOINTS
    Author: Various
    Copyright:1997
    Publisher: Greenhaven Press
    ISBN: 1-56510-511-7

  • HEAT IS ON, THE
    Author: Gelbspan, Ross
    Copyright:1998
    Publisher: Perseus Books
    ISBN: 0-7382-0025-5

  • SKEPTICAL ENVIRONMENTALIST, THE
    Author: Lomborg, Bjorn
    Copyright:1998
    Publisher: Cambridge Univ. Press
    ISBN: 0-521-01068-3

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