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Reader David O'Callaghan, of Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, brings us this news: the Dublin-based company Steorn has announced their development of
…a technology that produces free, clean and constant energy… the convenience of never having to refuel your car or recharge your mobile phone.
Hallelujah! It’s Friday, and we’d gone a full six hours into the day without hearing of another new, exciting, pollution-free, magnetic-based, infinite supply, over-100%-efficient, system. We were getting worried that the international crackpot community was failing our expectations. Steorn has now relieved us of that concern. They’ve come up with free-energy plan #12,255,740! (That’s only a rough estimate…) They claim the word “steorn” is Norse. Who knows?
True to class, they’ve issued a challenge to the experimental physicists of the world to examine their claims. The company admits that during the past few years some ninety per cent of those scientists they’d asked to examine the technology, refused. However, as we’d expect, those few who did agree to investigate the idea came to the conclusion that the Steorn system can really create energy. This is the principle of looking around until you find someone – anyone with any sort of academic qualification – who will agree with a stupid idea. However, I find the phrasing used by Steorn to describe this reluctance of the scientists, very interesting. They state:
The vast majority of these institutions refused to even look at the technology, however several did. Those who were prepared to complete testing have all confirmed our claims; however none will publicly go on record.
So we’re back at the starting gate again. What possible reason could there be for any scientist or organization to shy away from a public endorsement? If the thing works, they’re up front, leading the revolution that the fuddie-duddies refused to admit could ever occur! Ah, but look back at the qualification made: “Those who were prepared to complete testing,” it reads. Does this mean that even those who thought Steorn had a winner, never actually completed the testing procedure? That’s the way it looks, and an almost-test is no test at all. How can a scientist confirm a claim when the tests were not actually done? Steorn might be – to put it gently – over-enthusiastic in their claims. For those unfamiliar with the terminology and the phrasing used by these flakes, such questions would naturally arise, but investors adore this…
Steorn, in order to gain major exposure, announced this major scientific breakthrough by placing a paid announcement in that well-known journal of physics, The Economist. The cost of such an ad is in the range of US$100,000. Hark! I hear a warning klaxon!
Just why did the majority of those scientists who were asked to examine the Steorn claim, decline to be part of this major discovery, and why have no academic journals seized upon this breakthrough? Well, the company says that its technology challenges the fundamental scientific principle that you cannot destroy or create energy. This, as any child in high school is aware, is known as the Law of Conservation of Energy, a finding that has probably been tested, proven, looked into, held up to close examination, and thoroughly established again and again, more than any other basic law of the universe. Consider: if just one exception to this law were ever found, it would turn the scientific world upside down, and would reverse the millennia of discoveries about how things work.
And Steorn thinks it has accomplished this. Why? Surely the company retains the services of major authorities in the sciences who have determined that everything we’ve believed is not so? A spokesman for Steorn said, when interviewed:
We are under no illusions that there will be a lot of cynicism out there about our proposition, as it challenges one of the basic principles of physics. However, the implications of our technology go far beyond scientific curiosity: it addresses many urgent global needs including security of energy supply and zero emission energy production.
Interestingly, Steorn is not any sort of a scientific research institute. It’s an “intellectual property research and development” group who apparently have been flummoxed by one or more of the myriad of flummoxers out there who peddle free-energy and/or perpetual motion notions. With delight, they quote George Bernard Shaw: “All great truths begin as blasphemies.” As our friend Bob Park points out, this excerpt from George Bernard Shaw's “Anajanska” , is incomplete. It reads, "All great truths begin as blasphemies, but all blasphemies do not become great truths."
Basically, Steorn asserts that it has three claims for its technology:
1. The technology has a coefficient of performance greater than 100%.
This says that it turns out more energy than is put into it, so the excess is usable to power washing machines, watches, or flashlights.
2. The operation of the technology (i.e. the creation of energy) is not derived from the degradation of its component parts.
Translation: the device/system doesn’t use up its own parts, including any fuel source. It just runs on and on, and on…
3. There is no identifiable environmental source of the energy (as might be witnessed by a cooling of ambient air temperature).
No natural processes such as flowing water, sunlight, or geothermal sources, are involved in providing the free energy. And Steorn adds:
The sum of these claims is that our technology creates free energy.
And, Sean McCarthy, Steorn’s CEO, clearly and plainly says:
What we have developed is a way to construct magnetic fields so that when you travel round the magnetic fields, starting and stopping at the same position, you have gained energy. The energy isn't being converted from any other source such as the energy within the magnet. It's literally created. Once the technology operates it provides a constant stream of clean energy.
Yep, that’s what it looks like! Folks, this is very easy, simple, straightforward, undemanding, and uncomplicated, to prove! Just perform step number one, showing that the device or system puts out more energy than it takes in, and the whole world will sit up in rapt admiration, and will invest! Hey, I’ll invest! And of course the JREF will immediately award its million-dollar prize. Steorn will scoff at that, since I’m not a scientist, but I sure know a machine that runs itself will get the prize! And we’ve got the million dollars! And, if I may be presumptuous, I assume that Steorn is prepared to pay the costs of doing the real research. Well, if there are any real scientists out there who want some incoming supporting funds for their schools, this appears to be a great opportunity, and Steorn has, after all, requested such input – and agreed to publish the results, negative or positive. That calls for an answer. Hello…?
This European scam naturally reminds us of the Dennis Lee matter that we here in the USA still have going. If you’re not familiar with Lee, go to www.randi.org/jr/112301.html and do a search for “Dennis.” That’s quite an eye-opener. I’m happy to report that our friend Eric Krieg, who has been battling Lee and his free-energy/perpetual motion swindle for years now, just won the second major case that Lee brought against him, a decision made “with prejudice” – which means that Eric can probably ask for damages because Lee’s case was a frivolous one. As Eric points out, Dennis Lee and Steorn are only two in a long line of scam artists who have been selling these free-energy devices for more than a hundred years. Lee himself has been doing this for more than two decades, and though he’s been convicted of fraud in several states, he still manages to sell franchises and dealerships in the USA for a product that doesn’t exist – as Steorn is poised to do in Europe.
In passing, on another matter, I’ll mention that because of the raucous fuss made – particularly by a chap named Richard Milton – about the JREF’s refusal to test the “breatharians” silly and life-threatening claims, I decided, and announced privately on May 19th, 2006, that I would accept the application of one Rico Kolodzey. He has been the noisiest of the no-food claimants, and Milton apparently accepts his claim that he lives on water alone, and has done so for decades. Yes, read that again, so you’ll appreciate my dilemma. In the 100 days since, we’ve been fussing over an appropriate and acceptable protocol, and getting nowhere. This is quite what I’ve come to accept; consider the Lou Gentile matter. Lou made a huge noise over not being tested, and finally retreated, as have so many, many, others, when given the green light. I’m giving Kolodzey the opportunity of joining this bunch under what I’ve decided to call, The Sylvia Browne Rock, where grubby folks hide when confronted by the JREF challenge.
From an anonymous Australian viewer:
Subject: “Enough Rope”
You might be interested in Monday night's “Enough Rope,” a TV interview show broadcast on the Australian national broadcaster, ABC, and hosted by Andrew Denton.
Last night's program featured Michael Willessee, talking about his religious belief, how he's proved the Turin Shroud is real, how he's found a woman with stigmata who passes on messages from Jesus to Mr. Willessee, etc. etc. (oh, and he just happens to have a new book coming out which will have all the details in it).
Mr. Willessee's religious conversion event (though he seems to have been a believer beforehand) happened when he had a premonition that his plane would crash, so he prayed to God to prevent it. The plane crashed. Ergo God exists (no, I don't understand the (il)logic of that either).
(See www.randi.org/jr/7-30-1999.html for the plane crash event.)
The stigmatic woman was real since he had video evidence of her, and you "can't fool the camera" (which is why, presumably, The Lord of the Rings is a documentary). Anyway, he's asked heaps of psychologists to show him another stigmatic person and they can't! They can't explain it! Not only that, but they enlarged an image of the woman's eye and there's something in it! Could it be a reflection of Jesus? asks Mr Willessee. Um, actually, it looks more like the reflections of some lights. Not that you'd expect anything like that when you've got a film crew around making a “documentary.” No, Jesus is a much more likely answer.
You also received a mention when the host brought up the subject of your $1,000,000 prize. "James Randi's a phony" was the only, succinct, response to that (relevant excerpt below and full transcript available at www.abc.net.au/tv/enoughrope/transcripts/s1718105.htm).
Our reader provides an excerpt:
DENTON: I think it's admirable, absolutely, what you're trying to discover for yourself and for other people. I wonder, though, which is why I was asking about your frame of mind, your desire to believe, why in these circumstances, with the stigmata for instance, with Katya, which you absolutely believe to be real and you've overseen the verification of it, why not hand that over entirely to people that aren't carrying any of the religious or psychological baggage you're carrying? Why not hand it over entirely? I know that the American skeptic, James Randi, has a standing million-dollar offer to anyone who can prove stigmata. Why not hand it over to, I don't know, a Swiss researcher and a German and an American research group...
Willessee: James Randi is a phony. I mean he forgets that he once named me Investigative Journalist of the Year and sent me a trophy. Fortunately I threw it away, I didn't take it seriously.
Well, Mr. Willessee, for all his fame and wealth, errs when he claims that I gave him any sort of trophy, though I may send him the Pigasus Prize next April 1st. Yes, I know, he’ll throw it away; though it’s incorporeal, I’m sure that wouldn’t faze someone like Willessee. That award he refers to came from CSICOP, nineteen years ago, before he abandoned reason and took on a mid-life crisis by accepting anything woo-woo that he heard of or encountered.
Mike Willessee – a frightened man who thinks he has the answers, but won’t look to find out…
Very few situations annoy me as much as finding a book reviewer who is uninformed or unwilling to be informed. Such people can be very damaging, not only to the author being reviewed, but to the consumer – the reader of the review. Happily, the author of "Ghost Hunters," Deborah Blum, drew the long straw and got Anthony Gottlieb to produce the New York Times’ review of her book. Mr. Gottlieb appears to have been educated and informed by his contact with Ms. Blum's efforts.
Though I can't tell how much experience the reviewer already had of the subject of spiritualism, he certainly handled this tricky matter competently, and even clarified one specific point where Ms. Blum – perhaps inadvertently – misled her readers. I will quote from the review:
Blum tells her literally wondrous tale very well. But apart from the vague suggestion that it answered a need created by the encroachment of science on religious belief, she offers very little reflection on the question of why spiritualism suddenly became so popular. And perhaps she tells her tale too even-handedly, since readers may be left with the impression that the Society for Psychical Research was on to something.
Mr. Gottlieb, referring to the performances of Eusapia Palladino, defines nicely what the problem of the believers was, and still is, in regards to their belief in the paranormal and the supernatural. He writes:
Members of the Society for Psychical Research wanted to be sure. But above all, they wanted to believe. [my emphasis]
That, I believe, is the most pertinent statement in the entire review.
I admit that, due to pressure of work, I have not yet read this exciting new book, but I certainly will do so at my first opportunity. The reviewer points out that Ms. Blum spent little time explaining the actual methods that spiritualists like Leonora Piper employed. This lack appears to be one of the few defects of the book, however, Gottlieb refers his readers to Martin Gardner’s detailed discussions of such matters. Speaking with Martin, I learned that Ms. Blum averred during a radio interview recently, that she was semi-convinced that there was "something" to be found in all this nonsense. Thus it appears that she might have been less than willing to look into the actual mechanisms involved.
I will take the liberty here of quoting the entire last paragraph of this excellent review:
Despite the meticulous and often Herculean efforts of the Society [for Psychical Research] more than a century of psychical research has added nothing to the stock of human knowledge. There is today no more reason to believe in spiritualism or telepathy than there was in the Victorian era, when the bearded men of science groveled earnestly at the feet of dubious mediums. Of course, parapsychology's hosts of remaining enthusiasts will vehemently disagree. But, to avoid swamping the mail slots and in-boxes of the Book Review, readers should send messages about this by psychic means only, please.
I have acceded to this request, using only crystals, Tarot cards, and “vibrations”…
Reader Mat Callaghan supplies a needed insight for us into my lead item of last week, at www.randi.org/jr/2006-08/081806silly.html#i1. Dr. Alan D. Sokal, Department of Physics at New York University, wrote the now-famous hoax article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” which was accepted for publication by a leading academic journal. It made no sense at all, but was loaded with appropriately heavy words and used proper grammar. As Sokal explained in a follow-up article after his hoax was revealed, he wrote this piece as a parody, and he stated that anyone not blinded by their preferred notions or titillated by the convoluted language – language that they assumed had deeper significance than they could fathom – would not be deceived by it. Furthermore, he had dropped in very blatant and pertinent misstatements that could have been easily checked by any editorial reader vetting the piece – but weren’t. The academic journal ran it. Reader Callaghan comments:
With regard to your lead article this week, the key figures who seem to be the inspiration behind this work – Deleuze and Guattari – have been comprehensively exposed as ill-informed, incompetent, pseudo-scientific purveyors of postmodern drivel, not least in Alan Sokal's excellent book “Intellectual Impostures” – which I urge you to recommend to your readers. Of their work, Sokal says:
The most brilliant mélange of scientific, pseudo-scientific and philosophical jargon that we have ever encountered; only a genius could have written it.
He is referring to texts that include, amongst many others, lines such as:
The ontological relativity advocated here is inseparable from an enunciative [sic] relativity. Knowledge of a Universe (in an astrophysical or axiological sense) is only possible through the mediation of autopoietic [sic] machines. (Guattari 1995)
Quite why any academic is allowed to waste time producing papers citing nonsense like this is a mystery.
Dear reader, do you begin to see my quandary? Have Deleuze and Guattari managed to out-Sokal Alan Sokal…? Are all their writings perhaps hoaxes and parodies? I see that they are quoted extensively in the scientific literature, but that seems to be no guarantee of value or validity, particularly after the very basic lesson taught by Professor Sokal…
Mr. Callaghan comments further:
DON’T get me started on postmodernism – I was fed this crap for three years at University. I spent the whole of my time in Academia thinking, “Is it me? Am I stupid? Or is this stuff a pile of crap?” It was only a few years later after embarking on my career in the media, and reading Sokal's hoax, that I realized I’d been right all along. How universities get away with plying undergraduates with this utter drivel is a national, nay international, scandal.
There is an excellent response to the paper on the “Bad Science” website you might also wish to include. If one of these idiots from the University of Ottawa walks into a store and buys a paper costing $2 and a salad costing $3 and the shopkeeper charges him $5 does he consider this “outrageously exclusionary and dangerously normative”? If, instead the shopkeeper decides to charge him $7 this is presumably “excitingly transgressive of the prevailing hegemony.”
Mat then provides some more choice quotes from D&G. If these don’t convince you of either their insanity or inanity, or both, I surrender. Read these:
The philosophical sieve, as plane of immanence that cuts through the chaos, selects infinite movements of thought and is filled with concepts formed like consistent particles going as fast as thought. (D&G 1994)
Not only is the differential relation the pure element of potentiality, but the limit is the power of the continuous, as continuity is the power of these limits themselves. (D&G 1994)
In the first place, singularities-events correspond to heterogeneous series which are organized into a system which is neither stable nor unstable, but rather “metastable,” endowed with a potential energy wherein the differences between series are distributed. (Deleuze 1990)
Reader Ian MacMillan alerts me to an interesting item. Following on my mention last week at www.randi.org/jr/2006-08/081806silly.html#i2 that the media has finally gotten their act together and now refers to Uri Geller’s work as “tricks,” and his profession as, “magician,” we see yet another confirmation in an article about Geller, who is – again! – suing someone who offended him. The pertinent phrase in the article reads:
In a federal court lawsuit, Geller (who gained notoriety for seeming to bend spoons through telekinesis) and his partners asked for a jury trial that would rescind the sale of the property to Nashville record producer Mike Curb.
The words “notoriety” and “seeming” say the whole thing.
Another recent reference to Geller describes him as the “cutlery molester.” I couldn’t have said it better…
Reader Robert Lancaster writes:
Recently, I was discussing "psychic phenomena" in an on-line forum devoted to the television show Haunting Evidence (of Carla Baron fame).One of the believers there, I suppose tired of the skeptics actually wanting that pesky "evidence," said the following:
I wonder what they think of Einstein? He was a philosopher, scientist, and clairvoyant!!!
Well, I asked him for his source of this information (when will I ever learn?), and he directed me to the following page, from the web site of the "Unarius Academy of Science" at www.unarius.org/einstein/. Here are some quotes from that page:
In April 1955, Einstein changed worlds or left the physical plane in so-called death and ascended to one of the higher celestial dimensions. He now resides on the spiritual plane of Eros, a nonatomic planet devoted to the expression of science. After his transition to his spiritual home, Einstein began the process of tearing down or unlearning some of the concepts and precepts of his material life on Earth, replacing them with more of the higher and infinite concepts, which are clearer when one arrives in these inner and higher dimensions, formerly known as Shamballa.
As Johnny Carson would often say, "I did not know that!" It continues:
Einstein thought of himself as much as a philosopher as a scientist. Here we are able to identify a strong scientific continuity from his previous life as Archimedes and a strong influence from his previous life as Jacobi, a German philosopher.
A question: would this mean that the subject of one of your earlier commentaries was actually the Einstein Palimpsest?
As a scientist, Albert Einstein made great contributions in physics that have enriched our view of the universe. Many of his theories and postulates were received through his clairvoyance and thus advanced our scientific world to the threshold of a fourth-dimensional or an interdimensional physics.
One of the other skeptics on that forum asked this believer for an actual quotation where Einstein claimed to have been a clairvoyant, to which I added "preferably a quotation from prior to his death." The answer came:
In the Unarius library there are several transmissions from Einstein himself, from the inner spiritual worlds where he now resides, in which he speaks as a Brother of the Light from a higher perspective – a cosmic consciousness in-tune with the Infinite.
Well, it's good to know he keeps in touch.
Navigating the rest of the Unarius site, I learned many, many other fascinating things, but none as fascinating as the scary fact that there are actually people out there who believe this nonsense.
I’ve commented already at www.randi.org/jr/070805the.html#3, on the literal witchcraft going on in South Africa in regard to the extensive AIDS epidemic. By the end of 2005, there were five and a half million people living with HIV in that country, and almost 1,000 AIDS deaths occurring every day. And it’s not getting any better. Refer to http://tinyurl.com/f4vq7.
Reader Susan C. Mitchell writes:
South Africa's “Minister of Health,” Tshabalala-Msimang, now advocates the use of "olive oil, beetroot and garlic" to combat AIDS. I particularly appreciated the last paragraph:
Tshabalala-Msimang is no longer wacky or funny in any way. Her behavior is beyond the realm of the idiotic and now borders on the murderous.
When are people going to realize that the behavior of other quackery advocates, such as Kevin Trudeau or Sylvia "Bilirubin Is An Enzyme" Browne, also "borders on the murderous"
No, it’s not the latest chocolate-virgin-on-a-stick, but the magical “Kaballah” water that singer Madonna is now touting as a method of removing radioactive contamination. I kid you not. In her great wisdom, she’s promoting specially-blessed water to be mixed into lakes and streams to remove radiation pollution. What can I add? Another overly-rich celebrity adding to the public’s misinformation just to get attention. Sadder still, she just might believe it…
You see, this water comes from “Oroz,” a "research group headed by a Dr. Artur Spokojny, a Kabbalah follower who has developed a "revolutionary" decontamination agent called Orodyne, which can also treat gynecological problems in cows and sheep, adding value to its range and usage.
Here a recent news flash from the Fairfield Ledger – an Iowa periodical definitely in the pocket of the Maharishi. A few typos were corrected for intelligibility…
With situations in the Middle East and around the world heating up to dangerous levels, the followers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi are gathering in Fairfield, IA. and Washington, D.C., in answer to his call to help create peace. “More than ever, America needs a powerful upsurge of positively and true invincibility — on the basis of indomitable peace,” wrote quantum physicist and Maharishi University of Management Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy director John Hagelin in a letter to governors and sidhas last week. According to Hagelin, Maharishi is calling for 2,500 governors and sidhas to fly together in Fairfield and Maharishi Vedic City and another 1,000 in Washington, D.C. [I]t was also explained [that] when a certain number of yogic flyers practice Transcendental Meditation together, they are said to transform the coherent consciousness of the nation; positivity [sic] increases and negativity decreases. For the United States, with a population of just more than 300 million, the required Super Radiance number is 1,730. However, Hagelin said, 3,500 yogic flyers are assembling as a “safety factor.”
How reassuring. I somehow just can’t imagine that a mere 1,730 dummies squatting and humming would help the nation out of its state of war, but 3,500? Well, that’s a different matter altogether! We can now relax, and the TMers will rescue us just as they’ve done so many times before…
Into the air, junior birdmen…!
The makers of the fake headache treatment “Head On” (see www.randi.org/jr/2006-07/072806academic.html#i15) have enlarged their product line to include other “apply to the pain area” quackery. Now they’re offering “ActivOn” – three similarly-advertised wax sticks that differ from Head On only in that they’re not homeopathic, and actually have barely detectable medication in them. The “arthritis” variety lists the “active” ingredients as Histamine Dihydrochloride .025%, and menthol 4.127% – that latter substance literally millions of times more concentrated than in any homeopathic “remedy.” However, according to my local pharmacist, the one-in-four-thousand parts content of the histamine compound would be undetectable by the user even if the entire .2-ounce application stick were to be consumed. The menthol itself would provide a pleasant and reassuring aroma – but not much more. Another variety of ActivOn is for “backache,” with the menthol replaced by camphor – 3.15% – which would provide a different but equally impotent aroma, and the “joint and muscle” stick has only a 4.127% menthol smell.
The only positive benefit from these three new products is the income taken in by the pharmacies and the manufacturers, though endless glowing letters from satisfied-but-deluded consumers will doubtless be flaunted as “evidence” that this material works as advertised.
And note, this is the “Ultra Strength” version! The mind boggles…
The talented Dr. Richard Wiseman, who will be returning to TAM once again, has donated two tickets to his "shocking" show for the TAM 5 scholarship auction. You'll have to read the details. But Dr. Wiseman says: “The winner gets two front-row tickets to whichever performance they like, plus the once-in-a-lifetime chance to be in the cage being hit by one million volts. We have never let anyone else in before, and I suspect we won’t do it again!" Click here for more.
As I put this SWIFT “to bed,” a horde of you folks will be converging on the JREF for a “bon voyage” party prior to leaving on the Bermuda Triangle Cruise. For the next week, I’ll have my laptop with me, and will somehow pull together the next SWIFT, so the rest of you won’t have withdrawal syndrome. Wish me luck!
EXTRA: Michael Shermer, who will be joining us on the Amaz!ng Adventure, just sent me this fascinating interview from Salon.com. Click to learn about The joys of life without God.