Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Bob Park’s What’s New has been Restored!

Screenshot of the What's New website, whatsnewbobpark.com.
Screenshot of the What's New website,
From 1983–2006, physicist Bob Park was the director of public information in the Washington D. C. office of the American Physical Society. During this time, he wrote the delightful weekly column What’s New. When I was in graduate school, every Friday I’d look forward to a new post.

For years What’s New disappeared from the internet, but recently it’s been restored (at least partially) from internet archives. You can find it at http://whatsnewbobpark.com. [Note added October 9, 2020: the link no longer works properly. However, here is one that does: https://web.archive.org/web/20140124195058/http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/archives.html] If you click on “About Bob” you’ll see:
Robert L. (Bob) Park is professor of physics and former chair of the Department of Physics at the University of Maryland. For twenty years, research into the properties of crystal surfaces occupied most of his waking hours, but in 1983 he was recruited by astrophysicist Willie Fowler (who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics later that year) to open a Washington Office of the American Physical Society. Bob initiated a weekly report of happenings in Washington that were important to science, and with the development of the internet, the weekly report evolved into the news/editorial column What’s New. For the next twenty years he divided his time between the University and the Washington Office. In 2003 he returned to the University full time. With the support of the Department of Physics of the University of Maryland, he continues to write the occasionally controversial What’s New, which has developed a following that extends beyond physics.

Dr. Park has also written two books based on his Washington experience:

Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud (Oxford, 2000)

Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science (Princeton, 2008)
In What’s New, Park would return to certain topics again and again; for example, cell phones and cancer, creationism, climate change, and cold fusion. Often he would debunk alternative medicine, such as homeopathy, biomagnetic therapy, and therapeutic touch. Readers of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology will enjoy how he applied physics reasoning to medicine. Below are excerpts from 2011, so you can sample Park’s writing style. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

1. ET TU TARA? “PIERCING THE FOG AROUND CELLPHONES AND CANCER.” The WELL blog by Tara Parker-Pope was the top story in Tuesdays NYT Health Section. Her story is not wrong, but its told in the wrong context. Science is a search for cause and effect, not an epidemiologic majority. To settle the question, WHO invited 31 experts to spend a week in Lyon, the culinary capital of France, strategically located between the two best wine regions. Meanwhile, much had been made of a study showing that the brain is “activated” by microwave radiation. Of course, it is. The effect of microwaves on the human brain, as on cold pizza, is to cause chemical bonds to vibrate, which we sense as heat. Unlike cold pizza, however, the human brain resists being heated. Deep within the brain, the hypothalamus, the thing below the thalamus, senses any increase in blood temperature. It calls on blood vessels in the heated area to expand, and increases the heart rate. The fresh blood is a coolant, but incidentally, also increases the rate of metabolism. “Microwaves have activated the brain,” the human observers shouted. The shout was heard in Lyon. Amidst the clinking of glasses, the vote of the expert panel tipped from “no effect” to “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” What could it matter? No one is going to stop using cell phones anyway. Does anyone care? One enormously powerful group cares, the tort industry.

Friday, August 19, 2011

1. HOMEOPATHY: THE DILUTION LIMIT AND THE CULTURE OF CREDULITY. Based in France, Boiron, a huge multinational maker of homeopathic-remedies, is suing an Italian blogger, Samuele Riva, for saying oscillococcinum, the companys featured flu medication, has no active ingredient. Congratulations Sam, I gave up trying to get Boiron to sue me, years ago but the Center for Inquiry, of which I’m a member, is pleading with Boiron to sue us. “Anas barbariae hepatis et cordis extractum,” is listed as the active ingredient by the company. Its prepared at a concentration of 200CK HPUS from the liver of the Barbary duck. The 200CK means the solution has been diluted 1 part in 100, shaken, and repeated sequentially 200 times. HPUS means the medication is listed in the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States, and prepared according to 1938 federal guidelines. Its a national disgrace that the antiquated law sanctioning homeopathy, introduced by Sen. Royal Copeland, himself a homeopathist, is still be on the books. The dilution claim is totally meaningless. Somewhere around the 30th of the 200 sequential dilutions, the dilution limit of Earth would be reached, with the entire Earth becoming the solute. That is, the possibility of even one molecule of the duck-liver extract remaining in the solution beyond that point would be negligible. Long before the 200th dilution, the dilution limit of the entire visible universe would have been reached. This is all quite meaningless. Astronomers put the number of atoms in the visible universe at about 10 to the 80th power. It would take many universes to get to a dilution of 200 C.

Friday, September 16, 2011

1. WI-FI REFUGE: UNITED STATES NATIONAL RADIO QUIET ZONE. A 34,000 km2 rectangle of land straddling the border of Virginia and West Virginia surrounds The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope. The site was chosen partly because the Allegheny Mountains block the horizontal propagation of radio signals, but mostly because Robert C Byrd (D-WV) was one powerful US Senator. Radio transmission in the zone is either limited or banned outright. In addition to radio astronomers, the quiet zone has also attracted a colony of people who say they suffer from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS). They certainly suffer from something, but EHS is not medically recognized in the US. In a BBC News interview last week I suggested that the appropriate treatment for a non-ailment such as EHS would be homeopathic medicine.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

2. CELL PHONEYS: BRAIN CANCER LINK IS REJECTED AGAIN. Ten years ago, a brilliant Danish epidemiological study found no link between mobile phone use and brain cancer (JNCI 2001, 93: 203-7). A decadal reexamination by Denmarks Institute of Cancer Epidemiology, released last week, again found no link. The object of the new study was to look for any evidence of latent cancer that had not yet shown up in 2001; none was found. In a 2001 JNCI editorial I pointed out that none would be expected, since microwave radiation is non-ionizing, Park, Robert L, JNCI 2001, 93: 166-167. Can we now put the damned cell-phone/cancer scare behind us?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

2. CANCER AND CAUSALITY: EINSTEIN DIDNT HAVE A CELL-PHONE. Of the worlds 7 billion people, an incredible 5 billion have cell phones (mobiles in most countries). The safe use of mobiles is therefore a global health concern. The response of the World Health Organization was to conduct a huge epidemiologic study aimed at demonstrating a link between cell-phone radiation and brain cancer. The effort was seriously misguided no such link exists. The study served only to raise widespread public alarm over a nonexistent hazard. Epidemiology, which is the study of health patterns in populations; is important, but its not a substitute for science. Science is the organization of knowledge into testable laws and theories. It has been known for more than 100 years that electromagnetic radiation at frequencies below the ultraviolet is non-ionizing, and thus cannot create the mutant strands of DNA that constitute incipient cancers. In 1905, Einsteins miracle year, he theorized that electromagnetic radiation consists of discrete units of energy, now called photons, which are equal in energy to the frequency multiplied by Planck’s constant. It marked the origin of wave-particle duality and earned Einstein his 1921 Physics Nobel Prize. His theory is verified every time a cell phone works.
I miss Bob Park. We still need him. His mantle has been taken up by people like the Skep Doc Harriet Hall. We must expose quackery and embrace evidence-based science and medicine.

What’s New was hosted by a University of Maryland website. At the bottom of the page was the disclaimer:
Opinions are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the University, but they should be.

Bob Park is featured in the video 
“You Don't Have to Be a Scientist to Spot 
the Fraudulent Science that Swirls Around Us (2000)” 

 Part 1 of Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science
featuring Bob Park (you can find the other six parts on YouTube).


  1. How very sad. This is a great loss, both for his family and for science. See https://umdphysics.umd.edu/about-us/news/department-news/1594-bob-park.html#!Park_ws_equa