Voodoo Science

According to WIKIPEDIA (August 8, 2011):

Voodoo science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud is a book published in 2000 by physics professor Robert L. Park, critical of research that falls short of adhering to the scientific method. Other authors have used the term “voodoo science”, but it remains most closely associated with Park. The book is critical of, among other things, homeopathy, cold fusion and the International Space Station.

The term seems to have been used even earlier, for instance in the title to an article by W. Booth: “Voodoo Science”, and even earlier than that in a 1984 US Government report “Oversight Hearing on the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention”.

The terms “voodoo economics”, “voodoo mathematics”, “voodoo statistics”, “voodoo ecology” and so on, seem to have been coined with the same object in mind. To put across the idea captured in point 4 of the definition given in the old ENCARTA dictionary (color added):

Voodoo n

  1. A religion practiced throughout Caribbean countries, especially Haiti, that is a combination of Roman Catholic rituals and animistic beliefs of Dahomean enslaved laborers, involving magic communication with ancestors.
  2. Somebody who practices voodoo.
  3. A charm, spell, or fetish regarded by those who practice voodoo as having magical powers.
  4. A belief, theory, or method that lacks sufficient evidence or proof.

It should be pointed out, therefore, that the term “voodoo theory” is used in this blog to convey the thinking summed up in point 4 of the above definition. Hence, in this discussion a voodoo theory designates a theory that lacks sufficient evidence or proof, and/or is based on utterly unrealistic and/or contradictory assumptions, spurious correlations, and so on (see example).

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