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Test Your Science IQ
by Charles J Cazeau
Prometheus Books, $20, ISBN 1573928518
To get my moan about the title out of the way first: the IQ is a measure of intelligence; this book is about knowledge, and the two should not be confused.
It consists of questions and answers on a great variety of scientific topics, divided into “Outer Space,” “The Earth,” “Life on Earth,” “The Emergence of Humanity,” and “The Paranormal.” The last topic has some robust dismissals of fairies, Nessie, ghosts, poltergeists, precognitive dreams, Nostradamus, Mother Shipton, astrology, and so on. There is the sad story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s gullibility about fairies and other phenomena: when Houdini pointed out that a communication supposedly from his mother was in English, a language she did not know, Doyle said she must have learned it in the afterlife! Cazeau makes some good points: with millions of dreams some must seem to fit the future, purely by chance; purported communications with the dead are “gibberish”; only premonitions that come true are remembered. Not only does the section devoted to the paranormal contain comments on such matters: others summarise the differences between astronomy and astrology and say the Tunguska explosion was not a spacecraft; planetary conjunctions are insignificant (“like assuming an elephant would falter … if you threw a cream puff at its legs”).
Galileo’s experience has echoes in modern times, with attempts to ban evolution from textbooks and foist creationism on students “when it has not one scintilla of scientific merit.” Cazeau notes that there is no face on Mars, and neither are its satellites artificial. And as he observes, if some dowsers claim to be able to find gold, why aren’t they rich?
There are well-aimed blows at iridology, crystals, homeopathy, pyramidiots, mummies’ curses and the Turin Shroud, and an excellent summary of Occam’s Razor.