A.K. Dewdney is well-known to readers of the Scientific American as their former "Mathematical Recreations" columnist. Here he acts as a well-placed professional terrier who has assigned himself the task of sniffing out the rats in the scientific closet and giving them a good shaking. By Dewdney's definition "science" is a big cupboard which includes the social sciences. And he clearly relishes the all-encompassing breadth of his task, which is not to rubbish science--far from it--but to serve warning on slipshod science and its practitioners. Even Nobel Prizes do not give immunity, as Fleishmann and Pons will learn if they care to read this fascinating book. Indeed, every scientist (of both the hard and soft variety) should be given a copy as a reminder of some basic home truths, such as the necessity for reproducibility of results, and as a warning against the lure of instant fame.
As Dewdney writes, "when science goes wrong all hell breaks loose ... the public grows confused [and] sceptical about the scientific process.&" His sample of scientific transgressions runs from the hard science of Blondot's turn-of-the-century "discovery" of N- rays, through the soft science of IQ tests and Freudian psychoanalytical theory, to SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), neural nets, cold fusion (the Fleishmann and Pons story), Biosphere 2 and J. Phillipe Rushton's racial theory as proposed in his book ,The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. Most of his victims are in the soft sciences, perhaps because Dewdney feels that most damage is caused in this area, since they generally make for more media-friendly stories, or maybe just because they are easier targets. Freud may have grossly over-interpreted at times, but recent research on mother/offspring influence supports his Oedipal complex theory and it would be interesting to know what Dewdney thinks of these results.
Dewdney's experience as a professional science writer shines through, making this book a joy to read, and there is a helpful index and bibliography. Finally, as he warns any would-be star of science, "if there are dreams of glory, real scientists keep them, trembling, in the background." -- Douglas Palmer