Robert L. Park

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Robert L. Park
Professor Bob Park.JPG
Born (1931-01-16) January 16, 1931 (age 83)
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
Nationality American
Fields Physics
Institutions Sandia National Laboratories
University of Maryland, College Park
Alma mater University of Texas
Brown University
Known for Criticism of pseudoscience

Robert Lee (Bob) Park (born January 16, 1931) is an emeritus professor of physics at the University of Maryland, College Park and a former director of public information at the Washington office of the American Physical Society.[1] Park is most noted for his critical commentaries on alternative medicine and pseudoscience, as well as his criticism of how legitimate science is distorted or ignored by the media, some scientists, and public policy advocates as expressed in his book Voodoo Science.[2] He is also noted for his preference for robotic over manned space exploration.[3]

Early life[edit]

Park was born in 1931 in Kansas City, Missouri. His father was a lawyer and a farmer in southern Texas,[4] and Park had originally intended to attend law school himself.[5] He entered the Air Force in 1951 and served (among other places) at Walker Air Force Base in Roswell, New Mexico until 1956.[6] When the Air Force sent him to radar school, he discovered a passion for physics.[4]

Academic career[edit]

Park obtained his bachelors and masters degrees in physics at the University of Texas at Austin in 1958 and 1960, and his Ph.D. in physics at Brown University in 1964.[6] During his graduate work he was associated with physicist Harrison E. Farnsworth[5] with whom he co-authored several papers.[6]

Park spent almost a decade working as a member of the technical staff, and later director of the Surface Physics Division, at Sandia National Laboratories, a U.S. government weapons research laboratory.[6] He would draw on these experiences in later commentaries on government involvement in science and nuclear weapon development.

In 1974, Park took a faculty position at the University of Maryland physics department, where he remained until retirement. He was director of UMD's Center of Materials Research from 1975 to 1978 and chairman of the Department of Physics and Astronomy from 1978 to 1982.[6]

Over his long career as a physicist he has authored more than a hundred technical papers on the structure and properties of single-crystal surfaces and has supervised ten PhD theses. He has chaired "more committees than I want to remember" and edited several peer-reviewed journals or proceedings.[6]

He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Vacuum Society.[6]

Public policy work[edit]

From 1983 until 2006, he was director of public information at the Washington office of the American Physical Society. In this role (which he established), he engaged politicians and the press on matters of science and public policy. The Washington office now employs six people and Park continues in an advisory capacity.[1] He has been seen in the media as an outspoken critic of human spaceflight,[7] efforts to colonize space,[3] and the prototype U.S. National Missile Defense (as well as its predecessor SDI).[8]

Popular writing[edit]

Park writes a column, What's New, which appears on the University of Maryland's website. It features discussions on topics such as science news, space exploration, energy, the government in science, pseudoscience, alternative medicine, the creation-evolution controversy,[9] and nuclear weapons.[10] Park has also expressed his opinion that Wikipedia is a target for misuse by the "purveyors of pseudoscience",[11] though he has also stated that he finds the site to be both indispensable and "cool"[12] In 2009 Park gave a public lecture at Dartmouth College on Malthusian overpopulation and the environment.[13][14] He called for the distribution of the birth control pill, "arguably the most important technological development in history", to reduce fertility rates in developing nations. Park has criticized Texas A&M University's Trotter Prize for being awarded to creationist and intelligent design advocate William A. Dembski, whom Park calls "one of the nation's top pseudoscientists", for inappropriately forcing religion and science together.[15]

He has also written op-eds and other articles on these topics for The New York Times,[7] Newsday, USA Today, The Washington Post,[6] Space.com,[16] Quackwatch[17] and Skeptical Inquirer magazine.[18][19][20][21] Park has been a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry since 2004.[22][23]

Books[edit]

In 2000 Park published the popular book Voodoo Science, which addressed and criticized topics such as alternative medicine, telepathy and homeopathy.[24] Science fiction author Charles Platt reviewed the book for The Washington Post, criticizing it for citing news stories as the inspiration for his criticisms and using ad hominem attacks against individuals criticized rather than performing a more thorough investigation of the topics, and speaking with the actual researchers.[25] This was followed by a number of letters to the editor criticizing Platt for bias.[26] Reviewing the book for The New York Times, Ed Regis compared it positively to the 1957 book by Martin Gardner, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, calling Voodoo Science a "worthy successor" and praising it for explaining why various purportedly scientific claims were in fact impossible.[27]

In 2008 Park published his second book, Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science.[28] Publishers Weekly called the book "disjointed", unfavorably comparing it to Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon for merely summarizing the existing arguments about science and religion.[29] Park commented that the reviewer for Publishers Weekly was offended at his assertion that "science is the only way of knowing."[30] Booklist reviewed the book positively for its lucid style, engaging with respected scientists who also hold strong religious faith and its internal logic against claims of supernatural revelation and New Age irrationality. The same review noted that Park was less compelling in addressing his own atheism, neurochemistry and its ability to address problems such as free will.[29]

Appearances[edit]

Park spoke at The Amaz!ng Meeting 2 in 2004,[31] and at the National Capital Area Skeptics in 1995, 2000, 2002 and 2008.[32]

Park has appeared on NBC News[33] and was one of the featured participants in the alternative medicine episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit!.

Park appeared on Dateline NBC in April 2009 in a segment investigating Dennis Lee's fraudulent claims for a device that could supposedly dramatically increase the gasoline mileage of a car.[34]

Park appeared on The Colbert Report on July 20, 2009.[35]

Park was the guest on the Skeptics Guide podcast on Episode 11 on August 31, 2005

Personal life[edit]

Park is married to Gerry and lives in Adelphi, Maryland. They have two sons, Robert Jr. and Daniel, and three grandchildren.[4]

On September 3, 2000, Park was hospitalized after being struck by a falling oak tree.[36] He later wrote about the experience in his book, Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science.

Park suffered a hemorrhagic stroke on March 17, 2013, which resulted in difficulty with reading, writing, and speech. In a newsletter update to his readers dated July 12, 2013, Park wrote, "Many wonderful people are helping me, but recovery is a long process. I am optimistic that I will resume writing What’s New." Park stated that he will continue writing his newsletter because "the public is often misled by reports in the media and unaware of it".[37]

Awards and honors[edit]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Park, Robert L. (2002). Voodoo science: the road from foolishness to fraud. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860443-2. 
  • Park, Robert L. (2010). Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-14597-0. 

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "What's New: The end of an era". APS News 15 (7) (American Physical Society). July 2006. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  2. ^ Sherman, M (2000-09-01). "Exposing Fools Gladly". American Scientist. 
  3. ^ a b Park, Robert L. (2006-06-16). "What's New: Doomsday: Stephen Hawking Explains Why We Must Colonize Space". University of Maryland. Retrieved 2009-01-11. 
  4. ^ a b c Cohen, Patricia (April 29, 2000). "A Claim-Buster by Calling; From U.F.O. Dreams To Federal Schemes, He Debunks Them All". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. 
  5. ^ a b McCray, Patrick (March 4 & 7, 2001). "Oral history interview with Robert Park, 2001 March 4 and 7". OCLC 78201722. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Curriculum Vitae: Robert L. Park". University of Maryland. 2003. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  7. ^ a b Park, Robert L. (January 16, 2006). "Opinion: The Dark Side of the Moon". The New York Times (The New York Times). ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  8. ^ Park, Robert L. (1987-11-27). "What's New". University of Maryland. Retrieved 2009-01-11. 
  9. ^ Park, Robert L. (1989-08-18). "What's New: Pathological Science, Pseudo-Science and "Creation" Science". University of Maryland. Retrieved 2009-01-11. 
  10. ^ Park, Robert L. (2002-05-17). "What's New: Nuclear Posture Review: Senate Hearing Takes Up The Debate". University of Maryland. Retrieved 2009-01-11. 
  11. ^ Park, Robert L. (2007-03-23). "Wikipedia: Has a beautiful idea fallen victim to human nature?". What's New By Bob Park. Retrieved 2007-04-02. 
  12. ^ Park, RL (2009-08-28). "What's New:Wikipedia: It's Still a Beautiful Idea, but Maybe Not Perfect.". University of Maryland. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  13. ^ "Abstract: The Last Endangered Species: Population Dynamics on a Finite Planet". Dartmouth College. 2009-02-19. Retrieved 2009-03-08. 
  14. ^ "Presentation Notes: The Last Endangered Species: Population Dynamics on a Finite Planet". Dartmouth College. 2009-02-19. Retrieved 2009-03-08. 
  15. ^ Park, RL (2005-04-08). "2005 Trotter Prize: An Award for Overlapping the Magisteria". What's New by Bob Park. Retrieved 2010-08-10. 
  16. ^ Park, Robert L. (2000-02-11). "Astronauts Are Going Nowhere Fast". Space.com. Retrieved 2009-01-11. 
  17. ^ "Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science". Quackwatch.org. 2003-03-05. Retrieved 2009-01-11. 
  18. ^ Park, Robert L. (November/December 1996). "The New Medicine Goes to Congress". Skeptical Inquirer 20 (6) (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry). pp. 12–13. ISSN 0194-6730. 
  19. ^ Park, Robert L. (May/June 1997). "The Podkletnov Gravity Shield:Business Week Levitates Again". Skeptical Inquirer 21 (3) (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry). p. 8. ISSN 0194-6730. 
  20. ^ Park, Robert L. (September/October 1997). "Alternative Medicine and the Laws of Physics". Skeptical Inquirer 21 (5) (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry). pp. 24–28. ISSN 0194-6730. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  21. ^ Park, Robert L. (November/December 2000). "Three More Little Adventures on the Voodoo Science Front". Skeptical Inquirer 24 (6) (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry). pp. 5–7. ISSN 0194-6730. 
  22. ^ "APS's Bob Park elected a CSICOP fellow". Skeptical Inquirer 28 (6). November/December 2004. p. ?. ISSN 0194-6730. Archived from the original on 2007-03-10. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  23. ^ "Committee for Skeptical Inquiry : An International Organization". Skeptical Inquirer 33 (1) (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry). January/February 2009. p. 2. ISSN 0194-6730. 
  24. ^ Park, Robert L (2000). Voodoo Science: The road from foolishness to fraud. Oxford, U.K. & New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860443-2. Retrieved 14 November 2010 
  25. ^ Platt, Charles (June 25, 2000). "Testing the Current". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  26. ^ "LETTERS". Washington Post. July 23, 2000. p. X11. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  27. ^ Regis, Ed (June 4, 2000). "There's One Born Every Minute". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  28. ^ Park, Robert L. (2008). Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 240. ISBN 0-691-13355-7.  On-line excerpt
  29. ^ a b "Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2010-08-09. 
  30. ^ Park, B (2009-08-14). "What's New by Bob Park - August 14th, 2009". Retrieved 2010-08-09. 
  31. ^ "Schedule of Events - Amaz!ing Meeting 2004". James Randi Educational Foundation. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  32. ^ "NCAS Previous Events". National Capital Area Skeptics. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  33. ^ Park, Robert L. (2000). Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 18–19. ISBN 0-19-514710-3.  (Chapter 1 is online at this link)
  34. ^ "Fast money: Car device seller's scheme unravels". 
  35. ^ "Bob Park - The Colbert Report - 2009-20-07 - Video Clip". 
  36. ^ a b "NCAS Philip J. Klass Award - March 2008 - For outstanding contributions in promoting critical thinking and scientific understanding". National Capital Area Skeptics. Retrieved 2008-01-10. 
  37. ^ Park, Robert L. (July 12, 2013). "What's New". University of Maryland.
  38. ^ "1998 Joseph A. Burton Forum Award Recipient". American Physical Society. Retrieved 2008-01-10. 

External links[edit]