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Posts Tagged Hoaxes

Energy Mirages and the False Hope of “Water Powered Cars” Darcy Cowan Aug 06

This morning while perusing my news feeds I saw this article lamenting the state of scientific ignorance and bald political grandstanding in Pakistan. The specific item that prompted this lambasting of an entire country is the claim by one individual to be able the fuel cars using water – and the near unanimous support of this character within the political and scientific realms – despite the physical impossibility of this feat.

I think the author of this article is quite correct in his condemnation of this person and those who support him who tout this technology as a solution to the country’s energy woes. That said I think he does his audience a disservice in not breaking down the claims more fully to explain why this “invention” is not all that it seems and why it will not act as a panacea for the dependence on fossil fuels and the deficit of energy that Pakistan endures.*

It is explained that you cannot run a car on water due to the fact that that it would require a reversal of the second law of thermodynamics. A law that is deemed so fundamental to the operation of the universe that it prompted this quote from a distinguished scientist:

“The law that entropy always increases, holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation. ”

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

But this is not the end of the story. For while the “inventor” and his supporters use the word “fuel” to refer to the water, it is a misnomer as we normally understand the word. A fuel is something that supplies energy, it stores energy that is created by one of any number of processes and enables it to be used to do work seconds, hours or millennia after the energy was first produced.

This is what fossil fuels are – the condensed energy of biological processes that occurred millions of years ago. We tap this energy and use it to run our cars, and depending on where you live, the entire rest of our lives.

So what’s this to do with water?

Well, simply put water is the end product of energy use. It is not a storage medium it is a waste product. It would be like saying you’ll run your furnace on ash. You would be laughed out of the human race. But say you’ll use the magical liquid of life – water – and for some reason people think there’s something to this idea.

Now, what is the proclaimed inventor claiming? When you get right down to it he knows the water isn’t a fuel. He is in effect using the water as a convenient hydrogen source. It is the hydrogen that runs the car, and presumably the “water-kit” enables the car to process this hydrogen as it would petrol. The kit also contains an electrolysis component that splits the water into hydrogen and oxygen. I am unaware as to whether the oxygen released is retained to react with the hydrogen or whether atmospheric oxygen is used for this.

In any case the energy for running the car comes not from the water, but the batteries used to extract the hydrogen. The hydrogen then becomes the interim energy storage medium and the “fuel” for the car.

What we have then is the energy generation being pushed back a step, instead of being done at the car via petrol, it will be handled by the country’s power plants.

I can well imagine that there are benefits to converting cars to this set-up. It effectively turns your automobile into one of this new fangled electric cars without the downside of looking like a self-righteous dick*. There are benefits to using electric cars even if the ultimate power generation comes from fossil fuel consuming power plants (which by my calculation more than half of Pakistan’s electricity comes from) such as local air quality improvements. The ability to deal with emissions at centralised locations and the possibility of sequestering that pesky CO2 at the source.

I suspect however that in the rush to embrace the technology at issue here these peripheral concerns are not really being considered. And for a country that already has too little electricity for the population it has (40% of the country has no access to electricity, and demand is ever increasing for those that do) this does not sound like such a great idea and won’t result in everyone having unlimited fuel for their cars. It can only add to the pressure on the already over-taxed electrical grid.

In addition it is being implied (if not outright stated) that water could be used to run generators. This is where you could justifiably call fraud. While there are conceivable reasons why you might convert a car to “run” on water those reason evaporate when you try to argue that the same can be done for a generator. I’m sure you can see why. You end up just inserting an extra step in the energy generation process, well more like a loop. You have to provide energy to the water to extract the hydrogen and then burn the hydrogen back to water to get the energy. Thanks to that second law thingy you will never get more energy out of that reaction than you out in.

Not only do you insert a completely useless extra step, in doing so you guarantee that the whole process is less efficient. You literally get less combustion for your buck.

I hope that no government official is seriously considering funding a project to replace generators with water powered devices, though I gather millions may be spent investigating the possibility of employing this technology in Pakistan. I don’t know where that money (assuming people don’t wake up by then) is intended to go.

This is the concern whenever fringe theories and technologies are held up as the solution to our problems, that money will be wasted on these rather than put toward more worthy projects.

———————————————————————————————————–

* A more thorough treatment is here, by former chairman of the Pakistani – Higher Education Commission  Dr Attaur Rehman.

** Just kidding. For what it’s worth I think electric cars are really cool and if I could spare the dosh would love to have one. But I gather there is something of a stigma and well it’s a joke – lets not analyse it too much eh?

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Filed under: Hoaxes, Sciblogs, Science, skepticism Tagged: Electric car, Pakistan, Science, Science and Society, second law of thermodynamics

Energy Mirages and the False Hope of “Water Powered Cars” Darcy Cowan Aug 06

No Comments

This morning while perusing my news feeds I saw this article lamenting the state of scientific ignorance and bald political grandstanding in Pakistan. The specific item that prompted this lambasting of an entire country is the claim by one individual to be able the fuel cars using water – and the near unanimous support of this character within the political and scientific realms – despite the physical impossibility of this feat.

I think the author of this article is quite correct in his condemnation of this person and those who support him who tout this technology as a solution to the country’s energy woes. That said I think he does his audience a disservice in not breaking down the claims more fully to explain why this “invention” is not all that it seems and why it will not act as a panacea for the dependence on fossil fuels and the deficit of energy that Pakistan endures.*

It is explained that you cannot run a car on water due to the fact that that it would require a reversal of the second law of thermodynamics. A law that is deemed so fundamental to the operation of the universe that it prompted this quote from a distinguished scientist:

“The law that entropy always increases, holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation. ”

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

But this is not the end of the story. For while the “inventor” and his supporters use the word “fuel” to refer to the water, it is a misnomer as we normally understand the word. A fuel is something that supplies energy, it stores energy that is created by one of any number of processes and enables it to be used to do work seconds, hours or millennia after the energy was first produced.

This is what fossil fuels are – the condensed energy of biological processes that occurred millions of years ago. We tap this energy and use it to run our cars, and depending on where you live, the entire rest of our lives.

So what’s this to do with water?

Well, simply put water is the end product of energy use. It is not a storage medium it is a waste product. It would be like saying you’ll run your furnace on ash. You would be laughed out of the human race. But say you’ll use the magical liquid of life – water – and for some reason people think there’s something to this idea.

Now, what is the proclaimed inventor claiming? When you get right down to it he knows the water isn’t a fuel. He is in effect using the water as a convenient hydrogen source. It is the hydrogen that runs the car, and presumably the “water-kit” enables the car to process this hydrogen as it would petrol. The kit also contains an electrolysis component that splits the water into hydrogen and oxygen. I am unaware as to whether the oxygen released is retained to react with the hydrogen or whether atmospheric oxygen is used for this.

In any case the energy for running the car comes not from the water, but the batteries used to extract the hydrogen. The hydrogen then becomes the interim energy storage medium and the “fuel” for the car.

What we have then is the energy generation being pushed back a step, instead of being done at the car via petrol, it will be handled by the country’s power plants.

I can well imagine that there are benefits to converting cars to this set-up. It effectively turns your automobile into one of this new fangled electric cars without the downside of looking like a self-righteous dick*. There are benefits to using electric cars even if the ultimate power generation comes from fossil fuel consuming power plants (which by my calculation more than half of Pakistan’s electricity comes from) such as local air quality improvements. The ability to deal with emissions at centralised locations and the possibility of sequestering that pesky CO2 at the source.

I suspect however that in the rush to embrace the technology at issue here these peripheral concerns are not really being considered. And for a country that already has too little electricity for the population it has (40% of the country has no access to electricity, and demand is ever increasing for those that do) this does not sound like such a great idea and won’t result in everyone having unlimited fuel for their cars. It can only add to the pressure on the already over-taxed electrical grid.

In addition it is being implied (if not outright stated) that water could be used to run generators. This is where you could justifiably call fraud. While there are conceivable reasons why you might convert a car to “run” on water those reason evaporate when you try to argue that the same can be done for a generator. I’m sure you can see why. You end up just inserting an extra step in the energy generation process, well more like a loop. You have to provide energy to the water to extract the hydrogen and then burn the hydrogen back to water to get the energy. Thanks to that second law thingy you will never get more energy out of that reaction than you out in.

Not only do you insert a completely useless extra step, in doing so you guarantee that the whole process is less efficient. You literally get less combustion for your buck.

I hope that no government official is seriously considering funding a project to replace generators with water powered devices, though I gather millions may be spent investigating the possibility of employing this technology in Pakistan. I don’t know where that money (assuming people don’t wake up by then) is intended to go.

This is the concern whenever fringe theories and technologies are held up as the solution to our problems, that money will be wasted on these rather than put toward more worthy projects.

———————————————————————————————————–

* A more thorough treatment is here, by former chairman of the Pakistani – Higher Education Commission  Dr Attaur Rehman.

** Just kidding. For what it’s worth I think electric cars are really cool and if I could spare the dosh would love to have one. But I gather there is something of a stigma and well it’s a joke – lets not analyse it too much eh?

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Filed under: Hoaxes, Sciblogs, Science, skepticism Tagged: Electric car, Pakistan, Science, Science and Society, second law of thermodynamics

Guess what Percentage of the World Thinks it Will End In Their lifetime? Darcy Cowan May 07

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The optimist in me (no sniggers please it’s not polite) would liked to have thought that this percentage is quite low. You know, in the barely worth mentioning category. Alas, according to a poll conducted by Ipsos the world average is about 14%.

One in seven.

Think about that for a second.

One seventh of the world thinks they will see the end of civilisation as we know it.

One prediction has only a few weeks to go before hitting the cold light of reality, it won’t be the last. Why? I don’t know – You tell me.

I’ve given up, people are crazy.

Filed under: Hoaxes, Psychological, Sciblogs, skepticism Tagged: end-of-the-world, Science and Society

Guess what Percentage of the World Thinks it Will End In Their lifetime? Darcy Cowan May 07

No Comments

The optimist in me (no sniggers please it’s not polite) would liked to have thought that this percentage is quite low. You know, in the barely worth mentioning category. Alas, according to a poll conducted by Ipsos the world average is about 14%.

One in seven.

Think about that for a second.

One seventh of the world thinks they will see the end of civilisation as we know it.

One prediction has only a few weeks to go before hitting the cold light of reality, it won’t be the last. Why? I don’t know – You tell me.

I’ve given up, people are crazy.

Filed under: Hoaxes, Psychological, Sciblogs, skepticism Tagged: end-of-the-world, Science and Society

Holy Hyperbole Batman!! Darcy Cowan May 25

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Apparently the Armageddon predicted by Harold Camping is not the only one we have to contend with. Watch out, it’s The Next Armageddon!

Did you know that the WHO is not the health promoting organization we think it is but really the most nefarious institution in human history?[1]

According to one conspiracy nut[2] the WHO has put into action a plan to kill over 3 billion[3] people. Huh, WHO’da thunk it?

WHO is really going to take this seriously?[4]

The target of this hysteria is the Codex Alimentarius, a set of regulatory guidelines put out by the WHO to:

“..develop food standards, guidelines and related texts such as codes of practice under the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme. The main purposes of this Programme are protecting health of the consumers and ensuring fair trade practices in the food trade, and promoting coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations.”

At least, that’s what “They” want you to think. Mwahahaha!

Russians and Nazis and conspiracies, Oh My!

The first thing you’ll notice about this brightly coloured screed[5] is the complete absence of references. A large number of extremely serious allegations are made and not a single effort has been made to allow you to verify these for yourself.

The first real claim made (apart from the whole killing three billion people thing) is that a Nazi war criminal teamed up with the United Nations to control the population of the world through the food supply. Not a sniff of backing for this is included in the text. Searching on the name of the Nazi[6] and United Nations turns up only other conspiracy sites using virtually identical text. I’m convinced.

This page also taps into the paranoia around water fluoridation by asserting that fluoride is both a poison and has the effect of eliminating aggression and ambition. the proof?

“…. and the fact that it is used in many drugs prescription[sic] shows that it eliminates aggression and ambition in people.”

What more do you need sheeple??? Obviously it must be true, its all in black and white (except the bits in red). Plus, you know, the Russians used it in experiments and got the same results. Uh, where did you get that tidbit? Show me that paper, and the others where it was replicated. Oh, it’s part of the conspiracy you say. How convenient.

Regarding poisons, I’ve said it before: Dose Matters. Things that in high doses would kill us are routinely used in medicine. There is a range where the benefit’s of a substance outweigh the risks. To deny this is to fundamentally misunderstand medicinal and toxicological science.

Of course, this is all the work of evil entities that have been planing population control since the early 1960′s. I have to say that this is some impressively long term planning. I’m surprised there’s no mention of the “Illuminati” if anyone is good at long term, surely it’s them.

Conspiracies, conspiracies everywhere….

“Why Are You Not Aware Of This?

Because the strategy was so thought-out that it’s almost impossible to realise our food is being used against us.  But when you dig deeper you will see that everything is set up to kill us slowly over time… without one factor being the main cause, because there are many. Basically, for those who die… it will be made out as their own fault…”

Yep, almost impossible. Almost. Only those who have the ability to scratch the surface, pull back the curtain and pierce the fog can work it out. Gosh they must have keen insight. Or perhaps they are engaging in overactive pattern recognition and faulty reasoning, not to mention MSU[7] syndrome. It could go either way.

But wait, there’s more. Not only is this guy warning us out of the goodness of his heart, he’s also willing to sell us a book that tells you how not to be killed by the evil powers that be. How nice.

The price of USD$37 is just symbolic, you know nominal, don’t worry about it at all.

My favourite of the benefits touted as to why you should buy the book is:

“The naked truth behind UMAMI (the taste scam behind 90% of the foods today…which is so toxic and makes the foods taste so good and irresistible). What you don’t know is that UMAMI has a terrible effect over your health. Here’s how to avoid it… “

I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and presume that this is an example of poor editing. Umami isn’t a chemical, it’s the subjective experience of taste that we interpret as savoury/meaty taste. Perhaps what is being referred to here is glutamate or MSG, which for a short time was considered to have negative health effects.[8] Subsequent study has failed to bear this out. So even that generous reading of this point is, well, wrong. Sorry.

If it seems like I haven’t really taken any of this seriously, it’s because I don’t. There are some claims where the only reasonable response is ridicule. There are dozens of assertions put forward on the web page in question. Many of which don’t even give enough information to know exactly what is being claimed[9], let alone providing any basis for refutation or confirmation.

Without providing any details the page is “not even wrong” it’s incomprehensible. The only value it has is to whip up unfounded fear and paranoia, all to pave the way towards buying the book that will save you. From another perspective it has one other value, entertainment.

HT to Alison for bringing this to my attention. Thanks for the hilarity.

————————————————————————–

Footnotes:

1. If you’re an anti-vaxxer, don’t answer that. Also, don’t quote-mine me. Satire has it’s weaknesses.

2. He says he’s not but methinks he doth protest too much.

3. For maximum effect try to read this in the tone of Dr. Evil.

4. Last one, honest.

5. Though not nearly as bad as most conspiracy sites, so there’s that.

6. Hermann Schmitz, president of I.G. Farben the major producer of poison gas for the Germans. http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/genocide/cntrl10_trials.htm#Farben

7. Making Shit Up.

8. Ooooh, the dreaded Wikipedia. Inside joke, don’t worry about it.

9. “All nutrients (vitamins and minerals) that have any positive health impact on the body are to be considered toxins/poisons and are to be removed from all food because Codex prohibits the use of nutrients to “prevent, treat or cure any condition or disease”. “   -What does that even mean? Are they going to suck all of the beta-carotene out of carrots? How would you even go about implementing such a retarded scheme?

Filed under: Hoaxes, Psychological, Sciblogs, skepticism, Warped Science Tagged: Codex Alimentarius, complementary and alternative medicine, Conspiracy, Conspiracy Theories, fluoride, Health and Medicine, Nazi, paranoid, Science, skeptic, WHO

It’s the End of the World as we Know it and I Feel Fine Darcy Cowan May 17

17 Comments

By now you will have probably heard that this Saturday (21-May-2011 for future historians) is the beginning of the end, the Rapture. Don’t panic*, please conduct yourselves in an orderly manner at the appointed time. I recommend congregating in open spaces with no overhead power lines or air traffic. Safety first[1].

Ok that’s enough fun. I have seen a number of stories[2] regarding this alleged event and while many make note of the fact that the main promoter of this year’s doomsday has been wrong before I have not yet seen anyone attempt to put this latest foretelling in historical context. By one estimate there have been at least 275 end of the world predictions in the last two thousand years. 116 of those were predicted for the years 2000 to 2010[3].

That’s a whole lot of wrongness right there. Those guys couldn’t have been more wrong if their name was W. Wrongy Wrongenstein.

One of the more remembered failed apocalypses was the one predicted by William Miller for 1843. Offshoots of this group became the Seventh-day Adventist Church once the predicted day came and went without incident.

While that is a memorable one in “recent” times, end of the world predictions go back to the first century. The writings attributed to Paul the Apostle, if read literally, imply that the end of the world would occur sometime in the first century[4]. At least within the writer’s lifetime. As this obviously didn’t happen room was left for subsequent predictive hopefuls to insert their own dates for the apocalypse.

Here is a (small) sampling:

  • Pope Clement I predicts the world could end at any time ~90CE
  • Sextus Julius Africanus predicts Armageddon for 500CE
  • John of Toledo Predicts the end of the world in 1186CE
  • Pope Innocent III thinks the last date is 1284CE
  • Gerard of Poehlde predicts the end of the world date to be 1306CE
  • Melchior Hoffman thinks the real date is 1533CE
  • Benjamin Keach put’s his money on 1689
  • Charles Wesley (one of the founders of Methodism) goes for 1794CE as the date.
  • The Jehovah’s Witnesses First predicted 1914 as the date to remember[5].
  • Pat Robertson predicted 1982. This and other failed predictions do not seem to have dimmed his popularity in some circles.
  • Peter Ruckman (an Independent Baptist Pastor) calculated the date to be around 1990-ish. Other than that he is a completely reliable source.
  • The year 2000 alone had about 32 predictions of the “End Times” to contend with[6]. We’re lucky to have made it out of that year alive. Or not.

Most disturbing is the number of Americans who believe that we are actually are living in the end times. This specific prediction is laughed off as being naive or false teachings but the concept itself is embraced. Harold Camping may be ridiculed but the only thing that is fringe about his beliefs is that he dares put a date on them. Now that’s scary stuff right there. Think about that and try not to have your opinion of humanity lowered just a little.

Quite frankly, when I decided a few of weeks ago to post about this near the date predicted I had no idea that this would be taken up by the media to such an extent. Just goes to show; any crazy thing can be news worthy – given a low enough threshold of “news”.

Still, some good may come of all this hysteria. If we take the opportunity. If some research psychologists out there are willing to exploit the disappointment that is bound to strike the adherents of this belief we may gain some insight into the workings of the human mind. While it may seem like there is no overlap between you and those that hold the Earth to be ending soon the mechanisms that they use to deal with the eventual disillusionment are the same that help you function in everyday life.

The extreme case may illuminate the more mundane.

Everyday we must reconcile the actions we take with the self image we have created. Sometimes this is easy, I’m a good person so I help out my co-workers when they are having trouble. Sometimes we run into difficulty; I’m honest but I also lied to my mother about being busy so I didn’t have to attend that awkward family thing. Discrepancies like this can cause us discomfort – this is referred to as Cognitive Dissonance[7]. In this case we come up with personal stories that explain to ourselves why we acted in  a manor inconsistent with our self image.

Those who wake up May 22nd to the realization that they are still here will have to do some fancy mental footwork to fit their belief in a failed prediction into the image of themselves as intelligent, rational people. Rich fodder for investigation into the human psyche.

Now I’ve had a bit of fun at the expense of this belief but I want to point out that these people are not objects for our amusement. In some cases on May 22nd there are going to be individuals who realize that their lives are ruined. No jobs, no money and families to support. Those who propagate damaging ideologies such as this have some responsibility towards those whose lives they destroy.

By some estimates[8] Harold Camping’s media empire is in control of millions of dollars worth of assets. How much of this will nice old Mr Camping be willing to part with in order to help those who have lost everything because they trusted him?

The depressing part is that the inevitable failure of this prophecy will have absolutely no impact on those who fancy themselves end of the world prognosticators. People will continue to generate beliefs based on untestable propositions. Those people will continue to influence others to their detriment. Post non-rapture the world will go on and with regard to con-men and scam artists (sincere and otherwise alike) it will be SSDD.

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Footnotes:

*Sorry Douglass.

1. http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+thessalonians%204-4&version=KJV
Verse 17

2. Like here or here or here.

3. http://www.religioustolerance.org/end_wrld.htm 
about half way down. This is likely to be a low estimate.

4. http://www.religioustolerance.org/end_wrl16.htm

5. The Witnesses have turned end of the world predictions into something of a cottage industry having at least 9 different dates for the last days.

http://www.religioustolerance.org/witness8.htm

6. http://www.religioustolerance.org/end_wrl10.htm

7. I cannot recommend Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson’s book “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts” Highly enough for a look at our inner justifications.

8. http://www.ministrywatch.com/profile/family-stations.aspx

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Filed under: Hoaxes, Psychological, Religion, Sciblogs, skepticism Tagged: Benjamin Keach, christian, Christianity, end-of-the-world, Eschatology, Harold Camping, Melchior Hoffman, Peter Ruckman, rapture, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Sextus Julius Africanus, skeptic

Fraudulent Bomb Detectors Darcy Cowan Apr 04

3 Comments

Those with a good memory for quirky media stories about things that have no direct bearing on their own lives might recall this article or this one from last year. These stories covered the use of proven fraudulent explosive detectors at Iraqi checkpoints by police and security personnel. Ben Goldacre also covered the story a year earlier on his blog Bad Science.

Why am I bringing this old stuff up now? Well for one the repercussions of this debacle are ongoing, and two these devices or others like them are still in use – sometimes no number of weight challenged females displaying their melodic oratory prowess will sound the death knell for frauds and scams. Plus somebody asked me to.

That’s right, ask me to write about something and I’ll say how high; or something like that.

Actually I thought that this was a subject worth bringing up again as not only are lives put in danger around the world by these devices and the fraudsters who sell them but the principles by which they “work” are also promoted here in NZ for more benign purposes. It’s dowsing dressed up for the technology age. Unfortunately the camouflage seems to distract people from the fact that it’s all bunk.  I also consider it a sort of “gateway woo” that could in severe cases lead to Crystal Therapy and possibly even, Reiki. Stay in school kids.

Back to the subject at hand. The devices I’m referring to all appear to be based on the same basic design: a handle and a free moving antenna. That’s about it folks. This set up allows the scammer, uh, I mean legitimate business man, to take advantage to two phenomena; the ideomotor effect and our ability to be fooled by the ideomotor effect.

An example of one of these gadgets is the Alpha 6*:

Alpha 6 Scaminator

No relation to this Alpha 6, who is way cooler:

An Alpha with Attitude

Anyway, as you can see the “detector” can be held and the antenna may swing back and forth. In this manner it can be influenced by slight movements by the handler and appear to give a clear signal. Trouble is, independent tests keep showing they’re worthless.

Now a movement has been initiated to put pressure on responsible governments to crack down on the continuing frauds that cost lives. Sign up if you feel strongly about the lives lost due to the trade of these useless detectors. For more information regarding the background of many of these devices go here.

For more coverage as it happens see these sites:
http://ade651gt200scamfraud.blogspot.com/
http://explosivedetectorfrauds.blogspot.com/
http://sniffexquestions.blogspot.com/

——————————————————-

* For more pics go Here, some of them are hilarious.

I have also been asked to give credit to the following for their input on this issue over the years:  James Randi, Dr. Keith Conover, Andres Tonini, Bruce Hood, Techowiz, Lumpy Low, Techhead,  BBC Newsnight  and to many others who have devoted time and effort to this campaign since 1995. As well as all those that have suffered from this fraud, whether through loss of life, limbs, liberty or because the money could have been spent so much more effectively.

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Filed under: Hoaxes, Psychological, Questionable Techniques, Sciblogs, skepticism Tagged: Alpha 6, Ben Goldacre, bomb detectors, Dowsing, Fraud, Ideomotor effect, Iraq, James Randi, pseudoscience, Reiki, woo

Moon Landing Humour Darcy Cowan Sep 24

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Arg, getting back into this blogging thing after a long break is harder than I thought it would be. Here’s a video to ease back into it.

YouTube – That Mitchell and Webb Look – Moon Landing Sketch.

http://www.youtube.com/v/P6MOnehCOUw

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Filed under: Hoaxes, Sciblogs, skepticism, Uncategorized Tagged: Moon, That Mitchell And Webb Look

Facilitated Communication Case Fails to Deliver Darcy Cowan Feb 16

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The indefatigable Dr. Novella has been keeping track of the Facilitated Communication case of Rom Houben and via his blog I have learned that further investigation into the case has failed to deliver the goods.

As a refresher, late in November last year the news broke of a man who had been misdiagnosed as being in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS, an essentially hopeless prognosis) being given a new lease on life thanks to modern diagnostic techniques and a practice known as Facilitated Communication (FC). While the mainstream media initially reported this news without a hint of scepticism (despite FC’s chequered past) it didn’t take long for doubts to be made known (for previous posts by myself and fellow Sciblogger Alison see here and here).

Dr. Steven Laureys, the neurologist whose work had thrust Rom into the limelight, only performed a few simple tests to convince himself of the communication method’s legitimacy. To his credit once the full force of the criticism was evident Dr. Laureys determined to return the question of FC’s validity with regard to Rom and conducted tests with the appropriate controls and protocols. These test subsequently showed that Rom was not the one communicating after all.

As detailed in an article by Spiegel Online:

Laureys has now carried out those tests, and his results hold that it wasn’t Houben doing the writing after all. The tests determined that he doesn’t have enough strength and muscle control in his right arm to operate the keyboard. In her effort to help the patient express himself, it would seem that the speech therapist had unwittingly assumed control. This kind of self-deception happens all the time when this method — known as “facilitated communication” — is used. (As a result, the things that Houben was attributed as saying to SPIEGEL for an article printed in November 2009 were also not authentic.)

In the more recent test, Houben was shown or told a series of 15 objects and words, without a speech therapist being present. Afterward, he was supposed to type the correct word — but he didn’t succeed a single time.

Those of us that were aware of FC’s history may not have been be surprised at this result but that does not mean we are not also saddened. I for one would have been happy to lose my cynical opinion of FC in order to keep the eloquent man who spoke movingly of having “Dreamed [him]self away” and his relief at being recognised as conscious; “I will never forget the day they discovered me, the day of my second birth.“. Speaking of which, what pray tell, has happened to the alleged speech therapist Linda Wouters who, it is now evident, was the true originator of the words gushingly attributed to Mr Houben by his family and the media? (And would have been behind the planned book ostensibly written by Rom.) Even if such deception was inadvertent (ie she truly believed that the words came from Rom) this surely casts deep doubt on her professional abilities, and possibly, integrity.

It must be a crushing blow to Mr Houben’s familiy to realise that they must start all over again in their attempts to communicate with Rom, remember that the speech therapist had been working with him for three years. Three years wasted. I hope his family can find the strength to carry on and the fortitude to be cautious about further improvements in the face of this disappointment.

[UPDATE: 19-02-10. Dr. Novella participated in a radio story about the case yesterday, the audio of which can be found Here. Interestingly Dr. Laureys was also interviewed and admitted that the facilitator may have been in the room during the first tests thus completely invalidating the results and subsequent tests were thwarted by "Rom" responding with answers like "you don't trust me" and "I don't want to do the test". A second facilitator had to be brought in in order for the final testing to be done. To my mind this makes the likelihood of Linda Wouters being an innocent participant here much less and that of conscious fraud much more.]

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Filed under: Hoaxes, Psychological, Questionable Techniques, Sciblogs, Science, skepticism, Warped Science Tagged: Facilitated communication, FC, Health and Medicine, persistent vegetative state, Rom Houben, Science, Steven Laureys

Man Flu, the Disappointing Reality Darcy Cowan Jun 12

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Man Flu, scourge of modern Manly life. Struck down by this dreaded disease men are reduced to a shadow of their former glory, unable to maintain the meager level of household responsibility they usually get away with or even care for their own well being. Reduced to mewling invalids, men afflicted with Man Flu have little recourse beyond bed rest and watching daytime television while a significant other tends to their every need. After being ridiculed by wives and girlfriends for decades science has come to the rescue and vindicated us, the Man Flu exists!*
*The preceding is a work of fiction and any resemblance to real people or events is coincidental.
Despite what the media would have us believe recent advances in scientific research has not in fact established that Man Flu is a real phenomena beyond simply showing our inability to deal with sickness effectively. The real science behind the hype, as usual, is much more modest in it’s scope and consequences.

So what was actually studied? The research was carried out by McGill University in Canada and looked at the effects of a certain protein, caspase-12. The study involved investigating how the activity of this protein affects immune response against Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, a microbe that can cause serious food poisoning, in mice. Part of the study also investigated the effect of gender on the activity of the protien and whether any difference was mediated by the hormone oestrogen. To do this researchers infected mice with the bacteria and looked at spleen and liver bacteria levels in male and female mice with and without the gene for the protein and male mice with the gene and being treated with estrogen.

The interesting thing is that this gene did have a different effect on how sick the mice got depending on the presence or absence of estrogen. Those male mice with the gene were more susceptible to the infection than females or males recieving hormone treatment, but the gene is inactive in most humans. Only about 20% of native Africans have a working version of the gene, so this research has virtually no applicability to general differences in flu severity between men and women. I guess Man Flu remains a myth, for now.

Posted in Hoaxes, Medicine, Sciblogs, Science, skepticism Tagged: Flu, man flu, media, medical research, Medicine, mice, Research, skeptic

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