Bob Schadewald could – and would – talk to just about anyone. There wasn’t a crackpot too cracked or a true believer too deceived that Bob wouldn’t talk to. Bob died in 2000 at age 57, but he left behind files filled with articles he wrote about the pseudoscientists he had met, interviewed, and even formed deep friendships with.
Fortunately for us, Bob’s sister Lois Schadewald combed through Bob’s files, talked to Bob’s friends from around the country, and put together a remarkable compilation of Bob’s work.
In Worlds of Their Own, you will meet some amazing characters. Immanuel Velikovsky, for example, was a Russian immigrant and psychoanalyst who took biblical mythology, Greek mythology, and some comets no one else ever heard of, mixed them all together, and “proved” that biblical stories like Noah’s Flood, the Parting of the Red Sea, and the Sun Stopping for a Day thing really happened.
As Bob put it, Velikovsky was like many other pseudoscientists and true believers: “Facts inconsistent with his conclusions never troubled him in the least.”
In 1978, Bob published a spoof in Science Digest about a perpetual motion machine. That article led to his meeting people (including engineers) who truly believed they could build a perpetual motion machine that violated the laws of thermodynamics. Bob’s conclusion: “A perpetual motionist typically concocts a scheme so complicated that he can’t see why it won’t work. He then assumes that it will work.”
After Velikovsky and the perpetual motionists, the reader may be prepared for the flat-earthers. Yes, there really are people who believe the earth is flat, shaped like a phonograph record with a sky dome over it. North is in the center, and South is at the outer edges where you will find huge mountains of ice (Antarctica).
Bob even joined the Flat Earth Society and became friends with the president. Bob was kicked out for a time because of “spherical tendencies,” but he was allowed to rejoin. In a history of flat-earthism, Bob notes that, for flat-earthers, to deny the earth is flat is to deny the Bible is true. Indeed, they feel the spinning ball theory is just a way to get rid of Jesus and say the Bible is a big joke.
While Bob had a sense of humor about pseudoscience, he drew the line at people he felt were deliberately lying for God – the “scientific” creationists. In 1983 until well into the 1990s, he went to every national creation conference. To fight creationism masquerading as science, he was a board member of the National Center for Science Education, edited their newsletter, and was president of NCSE for two years. He also debated prominent creationists.
In Worlds of Their Own, he makes a clear distinction between creation “scientists” and other religionists: “Most religious people see no conflict between their faith and the findings of science. Educated Christians, Jews, and Muslims typically believe that evolution was God’s method of creation, and some of them therefore call themselves ‘creationists.’ It’s not of them that I speak.”
But don’t let that make you feel less worried. In the conclusion of the Lying for God section of Worlds, Bob wrote: “Scientific creationism is the best organized movement in the history of American pseudoscience, and thus the most dangerous. Since they cannot win by the rules of science, creationists promote their doctrines by religious, political, and legal means.”
We all owe thanks to Lois Schadewald for spending her sabbatical and a lot of nights and weekends in this well-conceived effort to share her brother’s humor, wisdom, and, yes, foreboding.
Worlds of Their Own will be published in late September 2006. - Sue O’Donnell