Martin Gardner's 26-chapter Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science
(1957; revised from In the Name of Science
, 1952). This cover design is a later Dover Books reprint. [ big-lies.org ]
Martin Gardner can be seen in retrospect to have provided much of the agenda of the 'skeptic' movement as it was constructed in the USA after the immense upheavals of the Second World War.
I'll concentrate here on his 1957 book 'Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science'
, subtitled on its cover 'the curious theories of modern pseudoscientists and the strange, amusing and alarming cults that surround them. A study in human gullibility.' Originally published in 1952 as 'In the Name of Science', the second edition had an added final chapter (the 26th, on 'Bridey Murphy') and appendix with notes—the first version presumably had no endnotes. The title must have been influenced by Morris Fishbein of the AMA's Fads and Quackery in Healing
(1932). Gardner seems to have compiled this book by browsing the New York Public Library, presumably briefly noting down, in time for his deadline, small extracts from books that appeared particularly silly. (Incidentally, I was surprised at the high proportion of oddities invented by men described as engineers, Babson, Lawson and so on. But on re-reading I found they are outdone by lawyers and psychologists.) It has a US bias, and has an index (names only, so subjects are hard to locate—e.g. meteorite denial (p.9)) which is useful for a preliminary look at almost-all-US oddities: Rockefeller's mastication habits, the Kelloggs, Walt Whitman's phrenological bumps, disregarded scientific writers (Crehore about whom I know nothing, and Reynolds, of the eponymous number), Kammerer's faked specimens. Some of these items are sourced.
As the Bridey Murphy chapter—a 1956 US 'hypnotic regression' stunt, reminiscent of Shirley MacLaine's more recent efforts—indicates, Gardner is unfussy about what he considers to be science; some chapters, for example 15 The Great Pyramid
, 23 General Semantics Etc
on Alfred Korzybksi, 13 Apologists of Hate
, 20 Eccentric Sexual Theories
, 14 Atlantis and Lemuria
, 22 Dianetics
, and 4 The Forteans
have little connection with science or pseudoscience. However, they represent the sort of thing which 'skeptics' still discuss. The only counter-examples I can think of are astrology, now a popular subject for 'skeptics', which Gardner dismisses in his introductory chapter as 'so far removed from anything resembling science that it does not seem worth while to discuss it', and secret code hunting, which, at the time Gardner wrote, had no books promoted by the US media.
As I'll argue, there is considerable doubt whether Gardner has much scientific grasp, though this is somewhat concealed by his use of appropriated phrases and expressions; he doesn't so much cover his tracks as carefully avoid stepping in contentious areas. I'd better give examples:
• 7 Down with Einstein!
fills 12 pages, of which about a third deal with physics and Newton. Gardner's aim here is to show that established figures attract irrational opposition. After starting, rather surprisingly, with the statement that there are 'always borderline cases' between pseudo-science and competent science, he says there are hundreds of crackpot volumes attacking Newton. I'm uncertain if this is true; at any rate, Gardner produces only three examples: Goethe's theory of colour, a work by a Methodist partly attacking the wave theory of sound, and another obscure book on the same subject. This is feeble stuff and I see no evidence that Gardner even understood Newton, as he concentrates on unimportant parts of Newton's work. His claim that Newton had large numbers of attackers is not substantiated.
On Einstein, Gardner lists two authors (Poor, 1922 and Lynch, 1932) who 'cannot be considered pseudo-scientific', and mentions another. Then we have (1) two pages on someone called de Bothezat, who relied according to Gardner on Dayton C Miller's repeats of Michelson-Morley with nonstandard results, (2) a page by another author, Gaydon, and (3) two pages on someone called Gillette, and (4) finally several pages on the 'very Rev Jeremiah J Callahan', mostly on non-Euclidean geometry.
Gardner shows no sign of understanding relativity; like a hack journalist, he's been told that the speed of light has something to with it, and non-Euclidean geometry. In fact of course there are many objections to relativity, including doubts as to the supposed experimental evidence (which he mentions without any detail), the supposed dependence on light (why, in fact, should light be relevant to the positions of physical bodies?), the false assumption that gravity and acceleration are indistinguishable, the supposedly mystical properties of 'non-Euclidean geometry', and the 'twin paradox'. Gardner's chapter is largely a list of people who invented their own odd physics theories; they might have done so if Einstein had never lived, and can't even be considered specifically as opponents of Einstein. This chapter therefore is virtually worthless, a monument to Gardner scribbling notes in New York. There is no detectable evidence that Gardner had any grasp of relativity. He later wrote a book, Relativity for the Million
, the title being based on Lancelot Hogben's 1936 mathematics book. Gardner's book seems not to have been popular; at any rate, I've never seen a copy. I'm willing to guess that the entire content is plagiarised.
• 10 Under the Microscope
is a short chapter skating over the problem of 'artefacts', as they are misleadingly known, of optical microscopy. The point is, though Gardner doesn't say so, that optical microscopes are tricky things to deal with; the images may be dim, uncertain, variable, and subject to unexpected effects of drying, heating, convection, and so on. There are problems with eyestrain, focussing, and lighting. It's not surprising that people can be misled into believing (e.g.) that they can see certain types of structure, or pictures, or living things, under their microscopes. Gardner makes fun of four such men, but appears to have no grasp of the reasons their mistakes could have happened. This is a characteristic of 'skeptics'—often armchair theorists, they have no feel for the actual problems of conducting experiments. (For this reason, I have some sympathy with the Catholics who allegedly refused to look in Galileo's telescope to view Jupiter's four big moons). The advent of electron microscopy has enabled the same sort of thing to recur, but on a vastly increased scale. Unfortunately, Gardner has not applied his 'skepticism' there, where it might have been of some use, since he had no books on the subject to plagiarise. Nor have any other 'skeptics'.
Three other chapters illustrating Gardner's scientific deficiencies are the closely-related 16 Medical Cults
(much of it, Gardner says, taken from Fishbein's 1932 book), 17 Medical Quacks
(individuals rather than movements), and 18 Food Faddists
. These chapters are a muddled confusion. However we can try separate out three components: 1 History, 2 Statistics and experimentation, 3 Money, 4 Biological sciences.
Gardner identifies and describes four movements: homeopathy, 'naturopathy' (this seems to be a US expression), osteopathy, and chiropractic. He suggests at one point that many odd cults originate in Europe, but this is untrue - the great bulk of his examples are American, including the noteworthy osteopathy and its offshoot chiropractic, named presumably to abbreviate to Chir, the traditional high-prestige representation of a surgeon. (All this might suggest disagreeable things about the American education system, but Gardner at no point reflects on this. As we'll see, 'skeptics' invariably attack soft targets.) 'Naturopathy' seems a catch-all expression for any attitude suspicious of medicine: Gardner includes under 'naturopathy' 'iridiagnosis' and 'zone therapy' and the Alexander technique (plus a couple of food people) for no reason clear to me.
Homeopathy is probably the most important, in terms of staying-power, extent of claims made, and utter oddness. Gardner's section on its inventor Hahnemann (pp 187-191) however isn't entirely fair. Hahnemann lived before bacteria were reliably identifiable, but at a time when immunity was believed in, vaguely, mainly because of smallpox, cowpox, and horsepox. Hahnemann's idea presumably was that any substance might cause disease; if it did, why not try administering a small amount of the substance in the hope of giving immunity? It's a legitimate hypothesis (his main book is dated 1810) which however now seems certainly wrong - for one thing, no known substances cause e.g. smallpox varioles (in fact, it's not even known how smallpox does this trick). And living agents, of course, can increase in number in a way which inert substances usually don't. Moreover, the dilutions used in homeopathic remedies are so great that the pills are completely inert. As against this, though, one must set the fact that medical treatments of the time often were harmful. Given a choice between blood being drawn off, and an inert pill, the correct choice would appear to be homeopathic. Gardner seems blithely unaware of the spotted history of medicine! It's true that the survival of homeopathy seems bizarre, but that's not Hahnemann's fault.
2. Statistics and experimentation
(including the placebo effect). Discussing quack successes, Gardner says '.. many ills vanish.. the other half of quack successes are psychosomatic.' He makes no attempt to quantify these effects (what proportion of all illnesses are curable in this way?) However, it's worth commenting on the placebo effect. Gardner seems to dismiss such cures, or 'cures', with contempt—something quite common among medical writers. The strange thing is that these people seem to welcome, or not condemn, the same sort of thing in everyday life. For example, at the time Gardner was writing, cars (and for that matter fridges) were given 'aerodynamic' fins, to get money from the suckers. But Gardner says nothing about pseudo-science in industrial design! As another example, nutritional requirements can easily be met by fairly simple food, with perhaps a bit of ethyl alcohol. And yet Gardner says nothing about expensive restaurants, carefully flavoured food, and wine! Or, given scientific proof that fancy clothes are technically inferior to denim, people might still prefer them. Where is Gardner's critique of the fashion industry? For that matter, I've often thought the businessmen, dutifully bored listening to orchestras, would probably be a lot happier with 'The Sound of Music' or watching strippers. And yet Gardner does not insist that audiences be carefully checked for musical taste! But all these things are examples of placebos. I've discussed this at excessive length because this point seems to be overlooked by almost everyone.
A further point is that 'skeptics' make little effort to assess the importance of odd cults. Gardner for example says there were then 80 osteopaths in New York. Is this a significant number? One would guess it was probably fewer than the number of doctors struck off for incompetence. However, it's essential for Gardner to blur this point, to try to conceal the soft-target nature of 'skeptical' criticisms.
Gardner makes a few remarks on money, in passing ('.. There is no indication that this.. has induced naturopaths to stop flushing colons and pocketbooks'), and comments on a few millionaires; the suggestion is that eccentrics make lots of money from their victims. Gardner doesn't make the slightest objective attempt to assess the balance between the notorious avariciousness of established American medicine and these other people. In fact, given a small probability of a cure with cheap method, people might rationally prefer to try that before incurring massive medical bills.
4. Biological Science:
As might be expected, Gardner is a naive supporter of vaccination: smallpox, diphtheria, and whooping cough being selected for special mention (p 198), presumably plagiarised from some document of the time. He might have mentioned e.g. polio (Penguin paperback of 1950, The Human Species
): '... the main incidence [of polio] has been among children of from five to ten years... The most remarkable feature.. is that it is a disease of advanced communities: epidemics occur in just those countries which have the best public health organizations and the highest level of hygiene. ...' Gardner naturally declines to mention the steady rise in cancer which has characterised this century. He misses the point in a passage on bathing in the Ganges, which he says gives 'perhaps the best insight into the medical knowledge of a naturopath'; no doubt there are 'deadly epidemics' of cholera, but the point is, why are they rare? I'll mention two other points, hoping not to become too scattered myself: on 'organic farming' he mentions one Jerome Rodale. Gardner discusses 'fertilizers and sprays' but unfortunately in ambiguous terms—it's impossible to tell whether he could distinguish fertilisers from pesticides. Failure to distinguish these is something I've often noticed in the scientifically illiterate. And of yogurt, he states it has 'no more health merit than buttermilk..' (227). Again, it's impossible to tell whether he's aware that cultures of lactobacilli of various types may (or may not) have some effect on the intestinal flora. There's no evidence he knows this. The fact is, medicine is in a chaotic state now, as it was then. Gardner's claims, so far as they go, about absurd cults are true. But he does not have the honesty to subject medicine to honest criticism.
17 Medical Quacks
is another unsatisfactory chapter, many of the 'quacks' in fact barely making any medical claims at all. We have plagiarised history trotted out: Perkins metallic tractors. Then 20th century America: Albert Abrams (who perhaps suggested the Star Trek diagnosis gadget, it occurs to me), and three others. Someone called Ghadiali who liked coloured lights. Dr Wm Koch who wrote 'among the best counterfeits of sound medical writing' (p 231). Gardner doesn't state what criteria he employed to decide this. And Gurdjieff, who recommended dancing and tree-chopping, and Edgar Cayce, who spent lots of time in 'trances.' (An interesting endnote is on Harry Hoxsey (p 337), who was then alive. If one can credit a film (Ken Ausubel, 1987, Hoxsey: Quacks Who Cure Cancer
) the AMA, FDA and so on never made any attempt to test Hoxsey's paste-on compound which supposedly cured superficial cancers. The fact that Hoxsey's father tired them on horses is ridiculed—and yet of course many preparations are tested on animals. Gardner certainly shows no awareness of the possibility of carrying out tests!)
18 Food Faddists
is perhaps not worth saying a great deal about. I'll make the rather obvious point that biochemistry is complicated, and nobody to this day knows the ideal constituents of diet. Certainly not Martin Gardner!
• 13 Apologists for Hate
is an important chapter, as its combination of pseudo-science, pseudo-history, and pseudo-concern has been imitated ever since. (Or, of course, it may be that the forces that shaped it have influenced other people independently.)
Since the book is nominally about science, I'll first summarise what little science is in this chapter. Gardner writes: 'There have been hundreds of carefully controlled research attempts to find genetic differences between the two [sic] races.. All have failed.' (p 156). In fact, trying to assess races, or individuals, is like trying to compare two machines, each with billions, literally, of moving parts, which shuffle kaleidoscopically between generations. And in particular, in view of the huge part learning plays in people, it's relevant that nobody knows how the brain works; even the structure of the brain is in dispute. It's a measure of Gardner's scientific illiteracy that he can seriously suggest that techniques for overall genetic assessment existed.
There is little else in this chapter on science, except the implication that 'orthodox anthropology' was an innocent subject, untainted by the absurdities of Nazism. (Japan is nowhere mentioned in this chapter—presumably because it was an ally of the US). In fact, of course, not only were anthropologists used in the work of racist subjugation, but most racist theories originated or were taken up by them. The 'Nordic race' for example was orthodox, as was 'Mediterranean' and 'Alpine' man. So was the idea of brain size—in fact, at the present day, accounts of evolution proudly display the slow increase in brain size as proof of modern man's superiority, showing they regard brain size as an important aspect of what it is to be human.
Gardner's confusion extends to the point where any discussion of race is assumed to involve 'hate'. He quotes Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard, on for example 'the rising tide of color', who, if the quotations given are reliable, seemed motivated more by fear than anything else. Presumably the number of blacks etc is a statistical matter, just as the question of whether black and white blood plasmas are the same (he says that separate blood stocks were kept by the Red Cross during World War 2) is a technical medical matter.
I'll divide the rest, the non-scientific part of this chapter into two headings: 1 Antisemitism and Extermination, 2 Intense Nationalism.
1. On antisemitism, so-called—Gardner seems to know very little of Jewish history—he says Luther was the 'first [sic] influential and passionate antisemite.' Unsurprisingly, he states Mein Kampf shows 'psychotic elements of an extreme crackpot.' In fact, Judaism is itself a viciously racist cult. A good case was made, by Oscar Levy in 1940, that Nazism was a heresy based on Judaism, but with one small difference—namely, the selected race.
On extermination, Gardner says (e.g.) 'In the final hysterical culmination of hate, came the concentration camps, the gas chambers, and the unbelievably sadistic medical experiments.' It's widely known now, of course, that the latter two stories were manufactured, with Nuremberg providing the official outlet. However, Gardner perhaps couldn't be expected to know that—after all, he read it in his newspapers, so it must have been true.
2. On German Nationalism and Fichte, it's worth making a comparison with 1950s America. While it's hard to measure fanaticism, it's not certain that the American Empire needed less fanaticism than Germany (or Japan). Gardner was writing about the time of the Korean War, in which about three million civilians died and sadistic experiments were carried out; the actual information is of course secret, but examples include biological warfare experiments (evidenced by Joseph Needham) and military experiments (Chomsky recounts a river valley scooped clean for 25 miles). It's hard to be sure how racist these events were, since, after all, in many wars whites killed each other freely, though the word 'gook' suggests considerable racist underpinnings. But naturally Gardner does not mention such trivial events; nor does it occur to him to even wonder what Americans were doing there. Again, we see the myopic 'skeptic' adherence to soft targets.
Generally, examining the political attitudes peeping through in this chapter, one finds a complete lack of skepticism about the presentation of wars, hot and cold, in the media. The diplomats and others who arrange things behind the scenes do this in secret—if reliable information ever emerges, it is likely to be forty or fifty years later at the earliest. Any serious 'skeptic' ought to be aware of this and presumably attempt to factor it in to his/her world view. Gardner shows not the slightest sign of any intelligent appreciation of the possibilities and dangers of science, and technology, in the modern world.
At the end of Gardner's chapter is a note about '.. the Nazarene who taught a doctrine of universal love and compassion'. Again, one is struck by his childlike credulity.
• 3 Monsters of Doom
seems mistitled, as it deals with planets, comets, and meteors, rather than living things. The first part deals with Immanuel Velikovsky. At that time Worlds in Collision
(pubd 1950) was new, though Gardner misrepresents what happened; Macmillan, the publisher, is supposed to have received orchestrated complaints and threats before
publication, not, as Gardner says, after. Gardner does not address the ethics of secret campaigns carried out against publishers, which are subsequently denied.
Velikovsky's idea of near-contact of big bodies wasn't new (there was a theory of the planets being tugged out of the earth by such a near contact of a star with the sun; quite apart from meteor impact ideas), but certainly seems to have had lasting results; 'When Worlds Collide' was a 1951 special-effects film, and recently a BBC/US series on the planets, full of computer graphics and 'experts', had long passages which might have been lifted directly from Velikovsky, who himself ironically quoted in 1955 what a "bizarre coincidence" it was that 'sound work on planetary collisions emerged in 1950 after Velikovsky's book.' Velikovsky threw out assorted suggestions in such quantity that he could be considered, by stretching the evidence, to have predicted e.g. the van Allen belts, the temperature of Venus, etc. (There are several Internet sites on this). Velikovsky received far more attention than he possibly deserved, presumably because his superstitious Biblical material appealed to many uneducated Americans. Gardner in interesting in his lack of appreciation of science: he just repeats that Velikovsky's work is valueless, without attempting to address most of the points made by Velikovsky. (Incidentally, Carl Sagan, now dead, once a beacon of the 'skeptic' movement, seems to have been co-opted as a result of the Velikovsky incident. There's at least one Internet site claiming he plagiarised Velikovsky, and in other ways was dishonest).
• 20 Eccentric Sexual Theories
illustrates another aspect of the 'skeptics' movement, namely lightweight 'filler' material to hide the thin nature of much of their material. Much of the chapter—on hermaphroditism, evolution, superiority of men/ women, determination of sex of unborn children, impotence, homosexuality, aphrodisiacs, menstruation—has little scientific content. One exception is the discredited 'goat gland' or 'monkey gland' transplantation idea, though Gardner doesn't state why it's discredited. One of Gardner's longest passages looks at the Oneida community—surely a matter of taste, not science. (Incidentally an endnote mentions Freud's friend Wilhelm Fliess's nose theory, which presumably someone had pointed out to Gardner).
• 24 From Bumps to Handwriting
(the bumps refer to phrenology) and 25 ESP and PK
are two chapters in which Gardner can make use of his knowledge of illusions, in the conjuring sense, or perhaps of other peoples'—it's difficult to be sure of Gardner's standing. He shows, like Randi and many skeptics, considerable interest in tricks of this type, but Gardner usually attributes practical knowledge to other people—in this book, to his friend Milbourne Christopher (investigator of a 'mind-reading horse'), and a magic trade journal writer, Frank Joglar. Gardner evidently feels relaxed with this subject, and has two entirely correct lines of attack, the statistical arithmetic of controlled and uncontrolled experiments, and the technical material on muscle-reading, pencil-reading and so on. From the control experiment point of view, these chapters, and the numerology part of 15 The Great Pyramid
, are probably the best in his book. (Incidentally, the extraordinary story of J B Rhine, and his acceptance in a supposedly serious university, surely deserves extended treatment by an acid pen). Unfortunately of course, the topics are amongst the least important. Another chapter, 9 Dowsing Rods and Doodlebugs
, (doodlebugs being a then-current name for the things used by 'dowsers'), is on similar lines: 'The unwitting translation of thoughts into muscular actions is one of the most firmly established facts of psychology.'
On the statistical analysis front, the methods quoted by Gardner are unimpeachable. Sadly, when he is less interested in getting at the truth he becomes less critical. For example on Orson Welles' famous War of the Worlds
radio episode, he says, like an alarmist hack, '.. it is estimated that about one million [listeners, of a total 6M audience] took it seriously enough to be in some degree frightened.' (p 67). What does 'in some degree frightened' mean?
On the illusionist front, what I dislike about all this is the fact that, after all, the illusionists themselves keep their methods secret! The 'Magic Circle', one gathers, is a tightly-controlled trade union to keep the outsiders out, presumably so the practitioners can make money from the suckers. It's difficult for an unbiased outsider to see why this behaviour is acceptable to professional magicians, but impermissible for anyone else. And why they should be so pleased when people fall into traps which they could have warned them about, but didn't.
• 22 Dianetics
was an invention of L R Hubbard, then still alive, before 'scientology'. The extracts given show clearly enough that 'dianetics' was a Freudian offshoot with oddities added by Hubbard—events remembered from in the womb and so on. It's unclear why Gardner doesn't criticise Freudianism, which so far as I know was then and still is numerically, and financially, much more important than Hubbard ever was. The chapters on Wilhelm Reich, then also alive (21 Orgonomy
) and Korzybski (23 General Semantics, Etc.
) seem to show a similar disproportion. If Freud's followers can make fortunes out of gullible New Yorkers, why shouldn't other people? The only answer seems to be that Freud was an established figure, and these others weren't.
Typical Gardner mathematics book: 1975 title (paperback 1978) extracted from his 1965-67 Scientific American articles. The series began in the late 1950s. Not one item is Gardner's original work.
Gardner's later work Gardner became fairly well-known from the late 1950s for his pieces on mathematics in Scientific American, reprinted ten years or so later—the picture shows a typical cover-design. It's entirely derivative, with the apparent cocksureness, derived from quoting other people, which is typical of 'skeptics'. He says things like 'the Klein bottle is a closed one-sided surface with no edges..' Personally, I quite like this type of bitty approach, since there are occasional interesting items. But it can't be denied that there's no overall picture, no view as to the possibilities for mathematics in the future, and indeed not even any awareness of the mathematical applications of his time, and their ethical implications. It barely counts as mathematics at all.
He's written other books—How Not to Test a Psychic.. (1989) on someone called Stepanek, with Gardner's immensely detailed investigations into the differences between the front and back of cards and jiffy bags used by this 'psychic'. The cover has a photo of Gardner, a puzzled-looking white-haired old man in a check shirt, sporting pebble-lensed aviator glasses. The Ambidextrous Universe (1964 revd 1990), based on selecting one feature of the universe and assembling a book around what other people have written about it. He has also written a philosophical book, which I haven't read, but, according to its blurb, comes down in favour of deism. (Elsewhere, theism). It's hard to think of a more perfect demonstration of the hypocrisy of his supposed belief in reason than to find that he believes in a disembodied spirit controlling the universe.
Postscript After writing this, I read Gardner's The Night is Large: Collected Essays 1938-1995, (Penguin) and was unsurprised to find confirmation of everything I've said; I should add that a short uninformative biographical note makes it clear that Gardner had only pre-university physics, if that, and presumably as little, or less, math.
I'll briefly describe these essays. The style is plodding: since Gardner is retailing others' views, he naturally has no framework into which to arrange his material, so there are fragmentary presentations of sundry views, usually padded out with anecdotes, rather silly wordplay, quotations, and historical or quasi-historical material, usually omitting the sources Gardner is copying or paraphrasing. A high proportion of the pieces are reviews of single books or of several books on the same subject, giving a spurious impression of learning. I'll trot through the seven sections, listing things which amused me:
 Physical Science. There's a chapter from his book on relativity ('aimed at young people'). Gardner of course assumes such things as the light speed limit. On the Twin Paradox, he says: 'The superficial analysis to be given here will not clear up this controversy' (p 16). (On 279 he does the same with the rotation paradox). He naturally assumes the 'big bang' is serious science, and wonders about Penrose's 'quantum effects in the brain's microtubules' (xviii). Of course he mentions Schrodinger's cat, photons, and Quantum Mechanics, quoting without the least suggestion he knows what he's talking about. (It might be fun to sit him down and ask him to explain what exactly he means by 'collapsing the wave function'. In your own time, Martin.) There are of course anecdotes—Pauli, Bohr, Heisenberg, Copenhagen. He believes of course ‘the working of the bomb rested on Einstein's famous E=mc2’ (75). He has long entirely derivative passages on 'superstrings'. There's a 'review', if it can be called that, of Hawking. There are endless rehashes of Zeno, Gödel, Turing, Cantor, 'non-Euclidean geometry', series that don't converge, fractals, and the rest. His symmetry reviews, as I'd feared, includes such trivia, in this context, as words, sentences, poems which can be read backwards, or reflected; Escher's woodcuts; etc. Another well-worn theme, which of course has run through the entire 20th century, is self-referential problems. (An example here is 'Newcomb's Paradox'. A comic aspect of this piece, which evidently hasn't occurred to Gardner, is that the 'god' figure is assumed to want to give away as little money as possible—a truly American god.)
 Social Science. One might hope for intelligent material on, perhaps, Talcott Parsons. However Gardner has two pieces on economics. He claims to have read Russell, and might perhaps have borne in mind that 'economics as a separate science [i.e. omitting other forms of power] is unrealistic'. Instead he comes up with the usual evasionist material—Phillips and other curves, supply-side economics. Naturally he comes up with nothing useful. Another entertaining chapter is on artificial languages. There are interesting things that might be said; but Gardner produces just a padded-out list.
 Pseudoscience Updated. It's interesting to find Freud, and Fleiss of the nose, here. However, this piece is dated 1993, and its content taken from many other books. When Freud is on the way down, Gardner joins in! There are pieces on Conan Doyle's fairies at the bottom of the garden, and orgone, both of which are ridiculed. (However, Gardner, in his quoting mode, and as a CSICOP member, espouses beliefs much sillier. History may not judge kindly people who believe in duplicate universes or magical quanta. Still less kind may be the judgment on people like Gardner, who helped for example shore up the $40 billion 'AIDS' fraud.) Gardner has what he calls a review of Spielberg's film 'Close Encounters..' and goes on to talk of the 'definitive Condon Report', an official report, which he says clearly showed there are no UFOs. What Gardner doesn't say is that there are, of course, numerous air force testing grounds which are secret. Is there any chance there may be UFOs there? My guess is no. But, obviously, nobody will allow investigators in there to find out! Gardner's implication that there has been a thorough investigation must therefore be a deliberate deception.
 Mathematics. As I've pointed out, Gardner has no pretence to originality or understanding in mathematics, hence the repetitive and pointless feel of much of his work, and the bald assertions which he's been told are true (circles are 'purely abstract structures'. Are they?) One of his chapters, Mathematics and the Folkways', is in fact a book review, and deals largely with colour perception and 'primitive mentalities.'
 The Arts. I'll spare you the detail, and content myself with pointing out that the longest chapter is on the author of 'The Wizard of Oz', and another piece is what is supposed to be a review of Schoenbaum on Shakespeare, a book famous for having discovered nothing.
 Philosophy. There are twelve pieces, and it's agonising to find how meagre they are, in view of the potential interest: Popper, Quine, Isaiah Berlin, get a myopic sloganised treatment. Gardner on free will is amateurish. And  Religion. There are interesting things to say about this. Gardner says none of them.
Even such a shrewd observer as Chomsky wrote—if the blurb is reliable—'.. Gardner's contribution to contemporary intellectual culture is unique.. his marvellous ability.. to present it with lucidity and grace.' It's somewhat extraordinary that an incoherent plagiarist like Gardner should get such accolades, but of course one has to take account of the promotional/bookselling milieu in which these pieces are published. Which incidentally reminds me that many of them were published in such organs as the New York Review of Books, a New York Times vehicle; responsible, for example, for deliberately and over a long period not reporting war crimes in Vietnam. Nobody with any force of character would publish in such a thing. But probably Gardner is too stupid even to understand that.
- Gardner has little knowledge of science. Indeed he seems to have little interest in it; he says (p 14) '.. if he [a crank] is a brilliant thinker.. It is impossible to get the best of him in any argument', though unfortunately he gives no example, unless an endnote added later on G B Shaw describing a flat-earther is counted. His real interest seems to be technology; certainly some of his writings imply the real purpose of mathematics is to produce technicians who can help in war.
- Although he knows little about science, he confidently asserts, or repeats, conventional claims made about it. E.g. (151) '.. the rise of Lysenkoism provides a dramatic object lesson for the free world. Fortunately, our own sins in this respect have not been very grave. .. there is control of research by the demands of government agencies and large corporations which alone can finance the necessary giant laboratories. .. [But] .. Scientists in hundreds of universities and institutes are working with unrestricted vigor on projects of their own choosing. Even in top-secret war research it is unthinkable that the President or Congress would make a decision about a scientific theory, then proceed to purge from their posts all who disagreed.' I quote this passage at length because each of the statements is unsupported by evidence.
- Gardner always selects soft targets; all the cults he lists are minor or failures. He focuses on trivia.
- Gardner is careful not to extend his 'skepticism' into any establishment area. For example, he mentions the 'Direct Credits' movement and immediately describes it as a 'worthless economic theory.' Another example is advertising: the various absurd claims made about beer, cars, makeup—each enormously more important in money terms than any subject he discusses in detail—are ignored. As I pointed out, there's not a whisper of criticism about education systems. And he says nothing about such established absurdities as Freemasonry, Catholicism, Mormons or psychoanalysis.
As another example, there is never any ethical discussion on, say, weaponry and the issues thereof. In fact, this mirrors contemporary 'scientific method', in which people will do work they're told to do, if there's money, but not apply any analysis to the purposes of it.
This witches' brew of political and racist self-interest, ignorance of science combined with absurd arrogance about it, sado-masochistic deference to powerful organisations combined with intense criticism of powerless ones, is what has come to be known, at any rate to adherents, as 'Skepticism'.
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