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Old 23rd April 2006, 05:49 PM   #1
boooeee
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The Final Theory: Mark McCutcheon

So I was browsing the Science section at Barnes and Noble the other day, and I came across a book called "The Final Theory: Rethinking Our Scientific Legacy" by Mark McCutcheon. After skimming through it, it appeared to be a standard crackpot work in which some guy thinks his own pet theory is going to supplant everything that has been accomplished in physics for the past 400 years. Mr. McCutcheon's work was discussed at some length in this thread: http://www.internationalskeptics.com...ad.php?t=27983.

The back cover had one favorable review by some nobody, in addition to some very misleading quotes from esteemed scientists like Steven Weinberg. The quotes were listed so as to appear as if these scientific heavyweights were endorsing the book, when in fact it was obvious that the quotes are not referring to the book at all.

When I got home, I decided to check out the book on Amazon. To my surprise, the average customer review for this book was 4 and a half stars! Now, I know there is no shortage of credulous people out there that could be taken in by the author's theory, but something about a lot of the reviews seemed kind of fishy.

There seemed to be quite an abundance of lengthy and detailed reviews gushing all over Mr. McCutcheon's book and his "theory".

Here is the amazon link to the book's reviews:

Amazon Reviews

On the first page alone, there are reviews from Matt Coleman, Steven Knight, Garry Shaw, and Frank Ellis that read less like reviews from enthusiastic readers, and more like "this is how I would want a review of my book to look like" reviews.

Does Amazon have an official policy on setting up sock puppets to create reviews? Apparently, reviews of this book on Amazon have already generated some controversy when it was found that many negative one star reviews of this book were being removed by Amazon (presumably at the request of the author). Some background here.

The writing style of all these positive reviews seems pretty similar, but it may be I am just seeing what I want to see. I was just curious if anybody else here had the same opinion, and if so, is there anything we could do to get Amazon to remove those reviews (probably not, since sock puppetry would probably be pretty hard to prove).
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Old 24th April 2006, 10:57 AM   #2
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I looked at the current reviews and found a few that are negatives. Not a single rating of 1, but several 2's. They may have modified their stance in response to your efforts. They may also have an internal policy of no 1's no matter what. Hard to tell. I agree they contradicted themselves on what is permitted in a review.

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Old 24th April 2006, 11:17 AM   #3
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I gave it a bad review (I think I posted it in the other thread) but Amazon, in their infinite wisdom, did not post it. I know they got it, since I posted a positive review of another book at the same time, which WAS posted a few days later.

I should note that I haven't actually read the book, but his website was enough to make me cry.
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Old 25th April 2006, 08:29 AM   #4
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This was discussed in Luboš Motl's blog:


Original post


Newest post

If you make a search on the blog, you will find more. It seems they have been actively trying to post 1 star reviews, but they kept being erased.
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Old 26th April 2006, 12:11 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by eri View Post
I gave it a bad review (I think I posted it in the other thread) but Amazon, in their infinite wisdom, did not post it. I know they got it, since I posted a positive review of another book at the same time, which WAS posted a few days later.

I should note that I haven't actually read the book, but his website was enough to make me cry.
Thanks, eri. Did you mention in your review that you did not read the book? If so, I would say that it would not be unreasonable for Amazon to have a policy of removing reviews by people who have not read the book. Not that you need to read the entire book to know that this guy is full of it.

There are two issues with the Amazon reviews. One is the removal of negative reviews, which has been hashed out elsewhere. The reason I started this thread is that it appears to me as if the ballot box is being stuffed with pro-McCutcheon reviews written by Mr. McCutcheon himself and submitted through sock puppet Amazon accounts.

Going through the reviews, all of the similar reviews (glowing praise, surprising familiarity with the details of McCutcheon's work) all have a common denominator: The name listed under the review isn't designated as "Real Name", meaning that all it took to set up the account was an email address. "Real Name" means that the name has been linked to a credit card that Amazon has on file, and would thus be harder to set up duplicate accounts. Also, for every reviewer like this, their only review on the Amazon site is for McCutcheon's book.

This isn't proof, of course, but it just doesn't smell right.
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Old 26th April 2006, 12:21 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by boooeee View Post
When I got home, I decided to check out the book on Amazon. To my surprise, the average customer review for this book was 4 and a half stars! Now, I know there is no shortage of credulous people out there that could be taken in by the author's theory, but something about a lot of the reviews seemed kind of fishy.

There seemed to be quite an abundance of lengthy and detailed reviews gushing all over Mr. McCutcheon's book and his "theory".
Funnily enough I read the same reviews quite a while ago and thought exactly the same thing. Not only are they suspiciously gushing, but they're all written as a very deliberate tease - they don't give away anything about his theory.

I don't think Amazon give a damn though. They had hundreds of 'reviews' of the last Star Wars movie months before it was released.
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Old 26th April 2006, 01:06 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by boooeee View Post
There are two issues with the Amazon reviews. One is the removal of negative reviews, which has been hashed out elsewhere. The reason I started this thread is that it appears to me as if the ballot box is being stuffed with pro-McCutcheon reviews written by Mr. McCutcheon himself and submitted through sock puppet Amazon accounts.
More likely the reviews were removed because they violated Amazon policy. Amazon has a list of criteria available on the site which delineates exactly what will get a review blocked or pulled. Profanity is one, and the most common. Links to other websites will get pulled, as will any sort of personal attack. Reviews where it's obvious that the poster hasn't read the book will also get pulled. Reviews which are just crude disparagement (eg. "This book is garbage, and the writer is just a self-important quack") will often get pulled as well. The last two are most often the case with negative reviews of controversial books; particularly if there's a flood of similar reviews posted in a very short period of time. There's no real formal process for checking reviews, mostly it's an automated system; but authors of these sorts of books frequently keep a close eye on their reviews and are quick to report even the most minor violations on a negative review. In some cases, Amazon will filter and screen all reviews posted about certain problematic books (and other items).

When posting negative reviews, it's important to do so without resorting to crude, dismissive language; and it helps to use examples from the book to support any negative comments. If you haven't actually read the book, at least in part, then chances are your review is not going to stick around.

Amazon will also pull reviews posted by the author of the book. There was a major incident a little while ago involving Anne Rice getting her comments pulled for multiple violations. Several individuals posted some strongly negative, but still entirely valid, reviews of some of her books; at which point she threw a huge hissy fit, posted several reviews that were nothing more than strident screeds aimed at the people who gave her the negative ratings. Her posts got yanked pretty quickly.

I used to work at Amazon years ago, and part of my job was dealing with review violation reports and screening. To my knowledge, they've never pulled a negative report simply because an author didn't like what was said. In fact, I've heard complaints from several authors that they couldn't get negative reviews pulled (in most cases, the reviews were legit and valid); even when said reviews were actually in violation of policy.
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Old 26th April 2006, 02:54 PM   #8
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Another interesting thing is that some/all/most of the low-star reviews have "[...]" in them, which seems to mean that someone has edited them. This seems extremely weird; why is Amazon being so anal about reviews for this one book? Is it because the author is harassing them about it? Because someone at Amazon loves the book? Erasing the bad reviews for arbitrary reasons goes against the entire point of having a rating system.

I hope everyone goes to Amazon and apropriately clicks on the yes/no button for "Was this review helpful for you?" I wonder if that is rigged, too.
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Old 30th April 2006, 02:14 AM   #9
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Update: the book has just fallen to 2 stars, because of about 200 one star reviews that suddenly (re)appeared.

Last edited by Yllanes; 30th April 2006 at 02:31 AM.
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Old 30th April 2006, 10:43 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Yllanes View Post
Update: the book has just fallen to 2 stars, because of about 200 one star reviews that suddenly (re)appeared.
Cool! Thanks for the update.

But the glowing reviews keep on coming. Here is the latest review, posted yesterday by "John Parker" (I hope this isn't against forum rules):

Quote:
After reading this amazing book I came here to write a review and couldn't believe what I saw. Amidst the many glowing comments full of detail about the book contents there they are -- one-star, one-star, one-star, one-star, and not one saying even a shred about any of the dozens of revolutionary new concepts introduced in the body of the book. Every book on Amazon has its detractors, of course, and even the odd one-star comment from someone who got up on the wrong side of the bed, but EVERY dissenting view being one-star, and for a book of this quality??? I began to wonder what was going on here, so I did some googling using some of the names behind these comments, particularly from a few months back, and sure enough, up came at least one website that has been running a campaign for nearly a year that actively recruits people and PAYS them via someone's personal PayPal account if they manage to fool Amazon editors into thinking they read the book so their one-star comment remains to deface the book's review page! And the person behind this campaign turns out to even be an assistant physics professor who himself admits he hasn't read the book. Check it out for yourself! Amazon doesn't allow specific mention of other reviewers or websites I believe, or I'd include the information here, but you won't have to search too hard. I couldn't believe my eyes! Good old-fashioned ignorant book burning, not by radical members of the church anymore but, embarrassingly, by unprincipled members of my own scientific community. This is appalling scientific misconduct, if not even illegal activity, though my education is in science, not law. I can't say precisely how many of these exclusively one-star comments are there because of the payout, but it seems oddly coincidental that every negative comment in the past year meets this "one-star" payoff requirement and none display any knowledge of the book beyond obvious distortions of nothing more than the promotional material available on the book's website, which includes the first chapter. Sorry to turn what should have been an enjoyable book review into this strange tangent, but since Amazon only allows one review per person I feel my review is best used to expose this shameful unprincipled activity by a handful of bad apples in my own community. Bottom line: amazing book for anyone looking for solid sensible analysis of the state of today's science with very thought-provoking answers to the seemingly endless head-scratching reported in the science media, and obviously hitting a major nerve among the less open-minded, less principled members of the scientific community, and for good reason!
Hmmmmmm.
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Old 30th April 2006, 11:00 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by boooeee View Post
Cool! Thanks for the update.

But the glowing reviews keep on coming. Here is the latest review, posted yesterday by "John Parker" (I hope this isn't against forum rules):


Hmmmmmm.
If you read some of the positive reviews (and some of the negative reviews of people who have done some research), you'll see that they are at the very least highly suspicious. Most of the 5-star reviews share a common theme: 'I finally understand lots of things I've been wondering about since childhood', they are long and made by people with no other reviews. Most of them are very likely sock puppets. So the review system in Amazon is not perfect, no big deal, provided they don't remove again all the 1-star reviews...

Parts of the book are available for free on the Internet. I only read two pages, because I thought I was going to die of an anaphylactic shock.

The arguments the author uses are childish and extremely stupid. He claims to have a degree in engineering 'with several advanced physics courses'. The truth is that a high school physics student knows more than he does. If he did take those courses and passed, either he bribed the instructors or he suffered some kind of trauma or mental illness afterwards.

(Note: the sections I read are one concerning the concept of work and another one about light refraction. Both of them were not even wrong).
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Old 13th May 2006, 11:06 AM   #12
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Well, crap. The average review is back up to 4 1/2 stars, based on 93 reviews. It looks like the 200 negative ones were removed again. What's going on at Amazon?

And the socks keep coming ("Carl Benkis" raves - "I can't fault this new theory no matter how hard I try, and even the objections raised by others who I discuss it with are soon put to rest with a little thought. I have never seen anything like this in all my years of searching, and I doubt I ever will again. This is a read not to be missed!").

There is another 5 star review from "Truthsayer" that I suspected of being another sock, until I read his review a bit more carefully. Here's the review:
Quote:
This book provides us with a simple undeniable truth; that every scientist, past and present, is WRONG!!! That's right, the great shambolic edifice created by all our leading scientists from Galileo to Hawking is unceremoniously torn down and replaced by something much more sensible - and all in a mere 420 pages rather than the vast libraries that current so called theories fill up!

And there's another advantage in buying this book apart from the vastly reduced investment in time, money, intellectual effort and shelf space that a full knowledge of current physics currently requires - no impossibly difficult mathematics to muddy the waters for you!!!

Despite our physicists' use of advanced mathematical techniques such as calculus and tensors in their increasingly bizarre theories, it appears they can't even handle basic high school algebra!! They cannot perform most of their experiments correctly, and when they do they are incapable of interpreting the results properly. One may be forgiven for wondering how we have such things as cars and televisions, let alone weather satellites and nuclear reactors! The answer is simple - SHEER GOOD LUCK!!! That's right! Our scientists certainly don't really understand the science behind any of these things and it's only thanks to a series of lucky guesses that they have managed to get so far. Well finally (and not too soon after some 400 years!) their luck has run out and their nemesis has arrived in the form of Mark McCutcheon!!!!

The only unanswered question that McCutcheon leaves me with is this; how have they managed to get away with it for so long!? Well, thanks to Mark McCutcheon, many of them won't be sleeping too soundly these days, especially now that this book is starting to gather ever more popular support. Ignore this at your peril you at NASA, Caltech and Cambridge - your days are numbered!!!!

Thank you Mark McCutcheon for sharing your genius and insight with the rest of the scientific thinking world; I can't wait for your next publication. And to the rest of the scientific thinking world, burn your physics textbooks (if you have any) and start reading the TRUTH!!!!
Anybody here want to take credit for this?
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Old 13th May 2006, 04:01 PM   #13
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Well, it wasn't me. But yes, I probably did mention the fact that I didn't read the book in my (extremely negative) review. Did I also mention the fact that I have a physics degree? I hope I did.

(If anyone was planning to burn their physics textbooks, I'll take them - I could make a fortune selling second-hand copies of Jackson!)
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Old 13th May 2006, 07:15 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by eri View Post
Well, it wasn't me. But yes, I probably did mention the fact that I didn't read the book in my (extremely negative) review. Did I also mention the fact that I have a physics degree? I hope I did.

(If anyone was planning to burn their physics textbooks, I'll take them - I could make a fortune selling second-hand copies of Jackson!)
I think there were many a late night that I contemplated burning my copy of Jackson in a caffeine-fueled rage. Especially the old version with those stupid units.
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Old 13th May 2006, 07:18 PM   #15
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Here's his web page, which includes summaries of the chapters and even an excerpt.

Judge for yourself.
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Old 13th May 2006, 11:07 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by boooeee View Post
Especially the old version with those stupid units.
Blasphemy! Gaussian units PWN.

Seriously, most theoretical physicists still use Gaussian units (along with natural or geometrised systems). They are more logical and convenient for several things. For example, E and B have the same dimensions in them, so they are easier to compare. Also, the fundamental constant appearing in the equations is c, a better choice than epsilon_0 and mu_0.
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Old 14th May 2006, 11:49 AM   #17
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The most funny one

Originally Posted by Yllanes View Post
Parts of the book are available for free on the Internet. I only read two pages, because I thought I was going to die of an anaphylactic shock.

The arguments the author uses are childish and extremely stupid. He claims to have a degree in engineering 'with several advanced physics courses'. The truth is that a high school physics student knows more than he does. If he did take those courses and passed, either he bribed the instructors or he suffered some kind of trauma or mental illness afterwards.
No kidding. The most funny childish argument was about black hole. those are burn out start which, like burn out bulb, do not shine because they are, well burn out.

I really need to learn how to insert a smiley of a head banging a wall...
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Old 14th May 2006, 12:22 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by Yllanes View Post
Blasphemy! Gaussian units PWN.

Seriously, most theoretical physicists still use Gaussian units (along with natural or geometrised systems). They are more logical and convenient for several things. For example, E and B have the same dimensions in them, so they are easier to compare. Also, the fundamental constant appearing in the equations is c, a better choice than epsilon_0 and mu_0.
Then they should have taught us that way from the beginning. But when I learned epsilon_0 and mu_0 as an undergrad, it was a bit hard changing gears like that. It's like showing up for your first math class in the sixth grade and being told that from now on, you need to do long division in base 7, with roman numerals.
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Old 14th May 2006, 12:38 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by boooeee View Post
Then they should have taught us that way from the beginning. But when I learned epsilon_0 and mu_0 as an undergrad, it was a bit hard changing gears like that. It's like showing up for your first math class in the sixth grade and being told that from now on, you need to do long division in base 7, with roman numerals.
I don't think changing systems of units is that complicated. You need to know both anyway, if you want to read older books or tables.

Some physics books have adopted SI in newer editions (you mentioned Jackson, another very common undergraduate book that is now in both systems is Kittel's Introduction to Solid State Physics). But when it comes to practical work, people will use the most convenient units. For example, atomic transition energies are always given in cm-1, which seems an odd choice for an energy until you notice that what you actually measure are wavelengths and this makes it very easy to handle them.
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Old 14th May 2006, 12:44 PM   #20
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McCutcheon is posting under the username "Homo Mysticus", over on the Skeptics Society forum. His pitch for his book can be found here.

Here's a summary of the thread:
Me: "Present the theory, in a way which costs me nothing, or this will be my last post in this thread."
Him: "Good Bye."
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Old 14th May 2006, 03:07 PM   #21
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There was definitely another thread on this a while back, but I'm too lazy to find it.

Basically, the theory he's pushing is expansionism, where all matter is expanding at an accelerating rate and this is why things accelerate towards each other (gravity, ya see?!).

Of course, you have to hypothesise that things expand at 4.9m/s^2 on the surface of the Earth. That bit works.

The inverse square rule causes the whole thing to completely break down, although he's damned if he'll admit it. In order for different gravitational accelerations to be observed, things would need to be expanding at different rates, and thus we would observe things getting either exponentially larger or smaller as time passed.

It's 100% Grade A bullsh!t.
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Old 14th May 2006, 03:32 PM   #22
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What a sad loser.

And why is amazon removing all the low reviews?
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Old 25th September 2006, 08:27 AM   #23
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Just joined the forum recently after browsing the web in an idle moment and finding here a reference to my review of McCutcheon's book at Amazon. I have to admit to being that TruthSayer who gave it a five-star review, but I'm Simplicious at Barnes and Noble; a bit of a schizophrenic you might say.

I don't wish to reopen the debate on the book itself. I was just wondering if anybody here has actually/read bought the book. Nobody I speak to has even heard of it, despite it being a "best seller". Most of the five-star reviews read like anti-ageing cream commercials and cannot be taken as real customer comments. I'd be very interested to find out what a geniune advocate of this book is like. I imagine that they are the sort of people who think the X Files is a serious critique of FBI policy, but I may well be wrong. Has anybody met one, even if only in cyberspace?
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Old 25th September 2006, 08:51 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by Simplicious View Post
Just joined the forum recently after browsing the web in an idle moment and finding here a reference to my review of McCutcheon's book at Amazon. I have to admit to being that TruthSayer who gave it a five-star review, but I'm Simplicious at Barnes and Noble; a bit of a schizophrenic you might say.

I don't wish to reopen the debate on the book itself. I was just wondering if anybody here has actually/read bought the book. Nobody I speak to has even heard of it, despite it being a "best seller". Most of the five-star reviews read like anti-ageing cream commercials and cannot be taken as real customer comments. I'd be very interested to find out what a geniune advocate of this book is like. I imagine that they are the sort of people who think the X Files is a serious critique of FBI policy, but I may well be wrong. Has anybody met one, even if only in cyberspace?
Welcome! I hope you stick around. Judging by your review of McCutcheon's book, I think you'll get along fine here. I wonder if Mark even got the joke.
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Old 25th September 2006, 09:45 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by Simplicious View Post
I don't wish to reopen the debate on the book itself. I was just wondering if anybody here has actually/read bought the book. Nobody I speak to has even heard of it, despite it being a "best seller". Most of the five-star reviews read like anti-ageing cream commercials and cannot be taken as real customer comments. I'd be very interested to find out what a geniune advocate of this book is like. I imagine that they are the sort of people who think the X Files is a serious critique of FBI policy, but I may well be wrong. Has anybody met one, even if only in cyberspace?
There were some chapters available for free on the Internet. I started reading them, so I could comment, but couldn't go on after a couple of minutes. The author knows less about physics than a high school drop out and his arguments were so childish that no one in his right mind, no matter his background, would buy it. Most (if not all) the positive reviews are surely sock puppets. They are made by people with no other reviews on Amazon, are long and reasonably well written (grammatically, I mean) and isomorphic in their content.

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Old 29th September 2006, 07:20 AM   #26
Simplicious
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Join Date: Sep 2006
Posts: 1
Well would you believe it! After several months, my one-star review of McCutcheon's great work has disappeared from the Barnes and Nonle website, just a few daysafter joining this forum and admitting I hadn't read it (well who would?). Do you think someone is watching us? I had assumed Barnes and Noble were above thses Amazon type antics.

Anyway, my five-star review as Truthsayer at Amazon is still there. Maybe he liked the joke after all! Perhaps he assumes that his readers are so stupid they won't see the irony. After all, they critcize us for not having read it while they criticize physicists for misusing a "work function" that they couldn't even quote. I wonder if McCutcheon is reading this?
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Old 18th October 2008, 12:12 AM   #27
Old Timer
New Blood
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 1
Having bought the book and been utterly gobsmacked at its ludicrous content, I came across this site by doing a websearch and have now become a member. I too have been very suspicious about the lack of negative reviews on Amazon and yesterday sent in this following review ...
_________________

If you are interested in fairies, the paranormal, homeopathy or astrology then this just might be the book for you. If, on the other hand, you have an serious interest in science or a scientific education like myself then avoid it like the plague!

I have never in my life read such an amalgamation of pseudoscientific claptrap. The author seems to have no grasp of basic science, scientific technique or mathematics, and demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of basic physical principles. There is so much in the book which is so laughingly, absurdly and farcically wrong that I wouldn't know where to start quoting them.

If it were possible to give a negative star rating I would rate this as a minus five.

I shall be much more selective in future about any recommendation I receive from Amazon.

_________________

It remains to be seen if Amazon publishes it!
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