“Give me my jetpack, and give me my x-ray goggles”

I know I told Steorn not to come back until they had actually done the science but, having asked why the Guardian hadn’t sent Ben Goldacre to do the interview last year, I feel obliged to point to his Bad Science column today where he makes a couple of good points, as usual, including one about the media coverage.

Almost every newspaper gave it lavish coverage in return for this modest expenditure. Steorn has claimed that its machine is validated by eight independent scientists and engineers “with multiple PhDs from world-class universities” (although sadly it declined to name them, citing mutually binding non-disclosure agreements). It now also has a panel of 22 scientists on a “jury” recruited from the ad.

I should therefore like to posit the first law of bullshit dynamics: “There is no imaginable proposition so absurd that you cannot find at least one person, somewhere in the world, with a PhD or professional post, who is happy to endorse it.”

As we’ve already seen with the long history of perpetual motion claims you only need one or two experts, and as far as the media are concerned, there’s a story. And when the negative evidence comes in – like this week with Steorn, say – there is a deathly silence. Shh.

As Ben says

Look, I’m with everyone else in the media, and indeed the world. I want fish oil pills to solve complex social problems in education. I want one injection to be a major reversible cause of autism. I want one invention to solve the world’s energy problems and I want my jetpack. It’s 2007 for God’s sake. Give me my jetpack, and give me my x-ray goggles. This future is rubbish.

, , ,

  • Cruimh

    what’s the fascination – dare I say it obsession? – with this topic Pete?

  • Dewi

    Leave him alone Cruimh – I always wanted a jetpack !!

  • Cruimh

    “I always wanted a jetpack !! ”

    e-mail me Dewi – I have a nice line at the moment in a range of colours at prices you won’t believe!
    Libyan made, so no rubbish – I got them from a contact in South Armagh – said it broke his heart to think of them being scrapped.

  • Dewi

    “I have a nice line at the moment in a range of colours at prices you won’t believe!
    Libyan made, so no rubbish – I got them from a contact in South Armagh – said it broke his heart to think of them being scrapped.”

    Ballybinaby Blue if you’d be so kind…(No VAT of course)

  • Mustapha Mond

    “There is no imaginable proposition so absurd that you cannot find at least one person, somewhere in the world, with a PhD or professional post, who is happy to endorse it.”
    LOL
    So true, especially if money enters the equation.

  • Comrade Stalin

    what’s the fascination – dare I say it obsession? – with this topic Pete?

    It’s the business of Bullshit(tm) – religion, junk science, weird authoritarian political regimes, etc. It fascinates the hell out of me, and I’ve a feeling Pete feels the same way.

  • Pete Baker

    Indeed, Comrade.

    And, in light of Ben Goldacre’s comments above,

    “And when the negative evidence comes in – like this week with Steorn, say – there is a deathly silence. Shh.”

    It’s another example of where a blog can add value.

  • parcifal

    The thread does add a little weight to the oft repeated idea; that these days people don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything!

    Whatever rocks you boat though, so long as it don’t rain on my parade ( pun intended for the marchers )

  • Comrade Stalin

    There are also the Hummingbird and Sundance engines which work on similar principles to those used by Steorn ie electrifying and de-electrifying magnets to turn the motor of a turbine and engine.

    The Emperor has no clothes. The machines do not exist.

    Again, this reserach and development has been suppressed and ridiculed by the same companies and institutions that claim they are looking for alternative engery sources – which they wont find because they have too much to lose.

    Steorn is being ridiculed because their machine does not exist, and their claims are bogus. They’ve had two years, and they don’t have a working demonstration. They’ve failed to explain how their design works, they’ve failed to name any of the independent experts who have verified it. This is some sort of huge scam.

    If the petrochemical business has the power to stop all other research as you seem to think it has, why have the petrochemical businesses been unsuccessful in preventing billions of dollars being pumped into fusion research (ITER) ? Why have they been unsuccessful in preventing the recent British government decision to build more nuclear power plants ? Why, despite the presence of the French oil company Total, is the French domestic energy business dominated by nuclear power ?

    All one has to do is look at the works of Tesla, as soon as he claimed that he could develop free power for the world, he was ridiculed, his work suppressed and his rightful place in history taken from him.

    Tesla was a genius but this argument is always wheeled out by the conspiracy nuts. What precisely is stopping a wealthy entrenpreneur unconnected with the petrochemical business – eg Alan Sugar or Branson or someone like that – from building a machine along Tesla’s designs ? Or sod that, what’s to stop a state such as China or India using their massive resources to research Tesla’s ideas and generate cheap energy in order to surpass the West – which is their number one objective at the moment ? The petrochemical business is not all-powerful. It ultimately cannot stop global market forces.

  • cynic

    “What precisely is stopping a wealthy entrenpreneur unconnected with the petrochemical business – eg Alan Sugar or Branson or someone like that – from building a machine along Tesla’s designs ? Or sod that, what’s to stop a state such as China or India using their massive resources to research Tesla’s ideas and generate cheap energy in order to surpass the West – which is their number one objective at the moment ? ”

    I agree Stalin. There would be nothing at all to stop them save that the laws of physics mean it just wont work. It’s impossible. There’s no free lunch!

  • Frustrated Democrat

    The Telsa machine does not rely on perpetual motion. As I understand it, it relies on utilising the energy waves that exist all around us in very minute quantities e.g. UHF VHF.

    Does it work? many say it does but…………

  • Niall

    “And when the negative evidence comes in – like this week with Steorn, say – there is a deathly silence. Shh”

    In all fairness most of the coverage I’ve read about the machine was pretty cynical to begin with. It was a silly season story, more of a human interest one than a science one.

  • Dev

    “Look, I’m with everyone else in the media, and indeed the world. I want fish oil pills to solve complex social problems in education. I want one injection to be a major reversible cause of autism. I want one invention to solve the world’s energy problems and I want my jetpack. It’s 2007 for God’s sake. Give me my jetpack, and give me my x-ray goggles. This future is rubbish.”

    Here, here. I should be living on the Moon by now!
    It would be nice to get all excited about perpetual motion devices but what’s the point if the don’t exist?

    Now a transporter like in Star Trek, that would be the business!!

  • Brian d’Escartassat

    Weeeeelll…yeah they’re probably attention/publicity-seeking timewasters but beware offering yourselves as hostages to fortune. The history of science is littered with stories of people who dismissed proposed theories or new discoveries as fraudulent, or daft. Anyone who thinks we have the principles of physics all worked out already, or any other field of science, should go and talk to someone who actually practices science for a living.

    The problem is not that guys like Steorn are trying to prove the unprovable, it’s just that they’re trying something that may be possible someday, but unfortunately for us, it seems a long way away – but that’s because we’re just too dumb to figure it out. The rate of scientific progress and discovery has been plummetting in the last 30-40 years compared to the 150-200 years which preceded that timespan. But it has been famously predicted in the relatively recent past that there were “no more discoveries to be made in science”. (I think that ‘quote’ is from around 1850).

  • Comrade Stalin

    Brian:

    The history of science is littered with stories of people who dismissed proposed theories or new discoveries as fraudulent, or daft.

    Can you point me to a new theory that Steorn have put forward ? Can you point me to Steorn’s discovery ? You can’t, because they don’t exist.

    To use an analogy, Steorn are saying that tomorrow the sun won’t come up. The cynics among us are saying this is rubbish, the sun will come up, and Steorn haven’t provided anything to say why it won’t. You on the other hand are saying, well, sometimes scientists are wrong, maybe Steorn are right, maybe the sun won’t come up ? When you think of it in those terms you get to see the level of the nonsense Steorn are trying to foist on people.

    If what Steorn is suggesting is true, it would not merely be an incremental step in changing our understanding of the cosmos, in the way that Einstein’s discoveries were when he successfully challenged Newton’s laws of gravitation. Instead, it would tear all physics and chemistry completely asunder. We would have to throw away everything we think we know about the universe and start again from scratch. The fundamental laws of thermodynamics are embedded in everything that we know and understand about the universe. Given that, on a daily basis, evidence that appears to confirm those laws because available whilst no evidence that contradicts them becomes available, and given that the patent offices around the world have received tens of thousands of applications promoting perpetual motion machines – every single one of them a fraud – it’s a pretty easy choice when it comes to what side to pick.

  • Brian d’Escartassat

    “The fundamental laws of thermodynamics are embedded in everything that we know and understand about the universe”.

    I understand that Comrade. The point I’m making is that what we know and understand about the universe…is virtually nothing. And not only that but we have no way of even knowing whether how much we currently know & understand about the universe is a minute fraction of a percentile of what we could know, or whether we have acquired a substantial proportion of knowledge relating to same. My guess is that it’s probably the former and that what has been discovered by scientists throughout history to date re the forces occurring in nature is only the tip of an iceberg bigger than anyone can contemplate at the moment.

    People keep missing the point about science, and about discovery; everyone thinks that the fundamental/basic laws of physics etc. are unchallengable because we have never been able to come up with mays to manipulate them – beyond what has already been done. But to say that what Steorn is claiming to be doing is impossible, just because it has never been done before, is to commit the cardinal sin of closing your mind to possibilities.

    Look at some of the theories that currently abound in the field of quantum physics. Check out the many versions of ‘string’ and ‘super-string’ theory. Do they make any REAL sense to you? I’ve read a few of them and hurt my brain trying to conceive of such possibilities, let alone truly comprehend the science behind them. Yet Stephen Hawkins is regarded as one of the greatest minds ever to have existed on the planet. But how do we know he, and other scientists who propound these ‘wacky’ theories aren’t just deranged lunatics whose minds have been destroyed by too many years toiling away in physics labs?

    So do I think that Steorn will be able to prove what they say they can? No, not realistically. The chances, as you rightly say, are massively aginst it. But I think the knee-jerk dismissals of people towards their claims is a slightly worrying and disappointing sign…one point I made in my earlier post, which was argued by Brian Appleyard in a Sunday Times article last year, was that the rate of scientific discovery has been plummetting over the last 50 years, which is also worrying.

    Perhaps our scientists are too pre-programmed in their thinking because of the weight of ‘assumed’ knowledge that has been built up over the centuries. It suggests that people think we’ve pretty much got science all figured out at this stage, bar a few small details, and that you must always start out with the same basic tools as every scientist who preceded you because ‘that’s just how it’s done’.

    My suspicion is that those who believe this couldn’t be more wrong.