I've heard a lot about the "Law of Attraction" lately, mainly due to the wildly popular movie and book, The Secret (Rhonda Byrne, Editor, Atria Books, 216 pages, 2006). The Secret is ranked #9 in books on Amazon, and has garnered 1429 Amazon customer reviews, averaging 3.5 stars out of five. Number 9 in sales - must be good, right?
To find out, I picked up an audio version of The Secret, and listened to it today. For good measure, I read a copy of Law of Attraction: The Science of Attracting More of What You Want and Less of What You Don't (Michael J. Losier, 142 pages, 2004) last week while on vacation.
If you want real science, both books are bunk - absolute nonsense. Great philosophy - perhaps even useful - but not, Not, NOT science.
"In the broadest sense, science (from the Latin scientia, 'knowledge') refers to any systematic methodology which attempts to collect accurate information about the shared reality and to model this in a way which can be used to make reliable, concrete and quantitative predictions about events, in line with hypotheses proven by experiment."
This pretty well lines up with what I learned in school. The key is the use of experimental methods to prove hypotheses. If you can't prove it experimentally, it remains in the realm of hypothesis or belief - and not yet scientific reality.
Losier claims a scientific basis for the Law of Attraction by explaining, in just a handful of sentences, how electrons can have different energy states, and how aligned atoms can lead to magnetic attraction. Then he says,
"Suffice to say, science has shown that if there are physical laws that can be observed and quantified in one arena, there are most probably similar laws in other arenas, even if they cannot be quantified at this time.
So you see, the Law of Attraction isn't a fancy term or new-age magic. It is a law of nature that every atom of your being is in constant response to, whether you know it or not."
EXCUSE ME, but that is the biggest load of claptrap I've read in a very long time. The Law of Attraction hasn't been proved by a single scientific experiment. It just seems right to Losier, Byrne and others, and so that must mean it is right (at least according to them).
Read these books if they light your fire, and use the concepts if they seem to help you. But please call it a philosophy, and not a science or a natural law. It's okay -even important - to believe in something that cannot be proved by scientific means (I believe in God, for instance). But hold that belief proudly, without feeling the need to lend it pseudo-class by dressing it up as science.
By contrast, I recently listened to one of John Maxwell's books on leadership (The 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization, Thomas Nelson, 2006, 336 pages). Maxwell is very careful to say "I believe that..." and "I think that..." Never does he claim that his ideas are grounded in quantum physics, astronomy, geology, or any other science. He's honest about he is writing.
Unfortunately, his book is only #1300 on Amazon's list of books, and only 39 people have bothered to review it. So far more of us are reading pop-pseudo-science-claptrap than are reading well reasoned and carefully written leadership books.
Why do I care?
Because science has been greatly cheapened in much of western society, and especially in North America. Religion, philosophy and politics all masquerade as "science." The real scientists must compete for attention and funding from pseudo-scientists who write bestselling c**p. And fewer and fewer of our young people are choosing to study math and science. Science and the scientific method have helped us improve life in so many ways. In coming years we will need such rigorous thinking more than we ever have before. And I don't want us to lose the scientific spark in muddled thinking.
And I care because you and I are trying to become the best leader we can be. I don't think we'll get there reading pseudo-scientific junk. I think we'll get there by studying well-reasoned leadership writers, trying what they suggest, and learning from our experiments.
For more on evidence-based thinking (science), see my three posts covering Sutton and Pfeffer's book, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management (Harvard Business School Press, 2006, 276 pages):
- And news here that one reviewer named the book as the best business book of 2006.