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Editorial Science

News Media Scammed by 'Free Energy' Hoax 928

Posted by michael
from the not-even-free-beer dept.
Dozens of submitters, some of them quite credulous, have written in pointing to this Reuters story about an anonymous inventor who claims to have solved the universe's energy woes. It's amazing that Reuters ran this story. It's even more amazing that news media across the country are running it too. Check your local newspaper, see if they were taken in. Update: 01/24 16:38 GMT by M : Contest is over; see below.

The General Electric corporate empire was scammed - they modified the story with a skeptical headline but otherwise left it alone. The AOL/TimeWarner corporate empire didn't have any problem with the story. The Environmental News Network, which probably should know better, didn't.

Now I know that wire stories are often run with minimal verification - each paper or website assumes that Reuters, or UPI, or AP has checked the story for veracity before it went out. And I know that reporters and editors can't be experts on every field of endeavor that they report on.

But this is Basic Science. The Three Laws (everyone loves the Second Law[1]) are not a new thing, and they're not going away any time soon. This should have been taught in junior high. There's a simple, well-known test that Reuters could have applied to this story: "Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof". This claim is the most extraordinary of all - free energy, perpetual motion, whatever you want to call it, and it demands proof beyond question. Reuters is running this story based on an anonymous inventor. Is that extraordinary proof?

But wait, I said perpetual motion. The phrase "perpetual motion" is one which sets off alarm bells in people's heads, so the anonymous inventor was quick to head off that thought process:

"But he is keen to head off the notion that he has tapped into the age-old myth of perpetual motion. ``Perpetual motion is impossible. This is a self-sustaining unit which at the same time provides surplus electrical energy,'' he said."

This quote is simply embarassing. It parses to "Perpetual motion is impossible. This is a perpetual motion unit." The inventor must be snickering in his Guinness right now to have snuck that one past.

The story gets better when you read it several times. Three 100 Watt light bulbs created a drain of 4500 Watts, according to the nameless inventor. That would be an impressive feat all by itself, except that it's total nonsense.

The piece would have made a good humor article. A properly skeptical and properly educated Reuters reporter could have examined these claims, poked holes in them, and published a story that simultaneously reported on the claims and educated the public about why they are a load of hogwash. Too bad that's not what happened.

Maybe you'd like to take a crack at evaluating their claims? You think you can examine their device a little more critically than Reuters? Give them a call.

And I have a second task as well. Slashdot is occasionally criticized for getting a story wrong, even though we diligently correct ourselves when necessary. My theory is that the difference between Slashdot and other media is that they never correct themselves, no matter how inaccurate, so readers are left with a false picture of accuracy. To test this claim, I'll send a Thinkgeek t-shirt to the first person who finds a retraction of this 'free energy' story published by Reuters or any of the newspapers/media outlets that ran the original story. *Any* of them. I don't expect to pay out.

Update: 01/24 16:38 GMT by M : CNN has updated their story with a new headline and several new paragraphs at the end, which qualifies. A couple of people also noted that ZDNet appears to have taken their copy of the wire story down. Lucas Garsha was the first to email, so he gets a t-shirt. I wasn't clear whether the claim should be email or in the comments, so I'll also send a t-shirt to the first commenter noting this, which appears to be skia.

[1] This is a fine world that we live in, where I can find a website devoted to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

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News Media Scammed by 'Free Energy' Hoax

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  • by max.inglis (232314) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:02PM (#2891224)
    How quickly we are to jump to wondrous conclusions. I doubt this is a real application of the zero-point effect. I guess all the news media personell who were working 12 years ago when cold fusion came out have moved on and weren't around to lend caution where it was needed?

    max inglis
  • incredulous (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Perdo (151843) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:04PM (#2891236) Homepage Journal
    "If the Jasker men really are onto something, it could be the most important Irish invention since Guinness."

    Nothing is more inportant than Guinness. Nothing.
  • by michael (4716) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:08PM (#2891269) Homepage
    I think a test along these lines [syc.org] would be a good start. That was a link I was thinking about including in the story, maybe I should have.
  • by lcorc79 (549464) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:09PM (#2891275) Homepage
    Boy does this story take me back ... when I was in 5th grade this concept was the basis for my science fair project. I was *convinced* that I could make it work somehow ... some of my prototypes were combination wind tunnels (powered fans) and windmills (turbins/fans generating power) with my hopes of somehow using the right combination of equipment to generate more power from the turbins than it required to operate the wind tunnel and tapping into the surplus. Boy was I a dumb naieve kid! I didn't know much back then ... but I knew I loved experimenting. I still remember being absolutely *crushed* and hating my science teacher when he tried to explain to me that it was impossible -- laws of conservation of energy and all that jazz. I just did not want to believe him.

    Ah well, to be young and inquisitive and stubborn :) I guess the folks at Reuters are about par on my mental development at 5th grade ... sheesh.
  • by Planesdragon (210349) <slashdot@@@castlesteelstone...us> on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:09PM (#2891279) Homepage Journal
    Someday, I'll live in a world where every child grows up with a decent science education and critical thinking is encouraged...

    Bah. Science at its most basic *does not* say that the laws can never be changed. It just says that you're probably better off not trying to break them.

    A real scientific mind would be intriqued by the concpet of such a shakeup, and could at least spare such a grand hypothesis enough time to think up a suitable experiment or twenty.

    Just because magnets are the domain of quacks doesn't mean they don't attract.
  • by RareHeintz (244414) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:11PM (#2891293) Homepage Journal
    I'd be intrigued as all hell if evidence were presented. None was. A lot of hand-waving and some blather about zero point energy were all I got.

    (Yes, I know zero-point energy is real. No, I don't think this crank from Ireland could even explain the concept.)

    OK,
    - B

  • by sallen (143567) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:15PM (#2891319)
    How quickly we are to jump to wondrous conclusions. I doubt this is a real application of the zero-point effect. I guess all the news media personell who were working 12 years ago when cold fusion came out have moved on and weren't around to lend caution where it was needed?
    I think it tends to support the criteria used by the 'new media', ie internet or cable news:
    (1) No need to use history or past events or have any knowledge of them;
    (2) Don't bother about using journalists with any background in the subject;
    (3) Don't bother with attempting to get knowledgable source when you don't know anything about the subject being reported;
    (4) If the story was carried by any other organization online or on cable, assume it's totally accurate and don't bother checking it out, no matter how far fetched it may seem (if they can figure out it really is far fetched).
  • by smallpaul (65919) <paul@@@prescod...net> on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:15PM (#2891325)

    And I have a second task as well. Slashdot is occasionally criticized for getting a story wrong, even though we diligently correct ourselves when necessary. My theory is that the difference between Slashdot and other media is that they never correct themselves, no matter how inaccurate, so readers are left with a false picture of accuracy.

    All of the reports said "So and so CLAIMED to have done X and Y." Reporting a claim is not the same as getting a story wrong. I'm not saying that they SHOULD have published it but I don't see why they should publish a retraction...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:20PM (#2891353)
    Quite frankly, in my experience at least half of the Slashdot stories about physics are incorrect, whether due to hoaxes, a submitter who didn't understand what he was talking about, or an editor who just had to stick in that sentence of his own to prove how smart he was.

    When it comes to science news, I don't trust Reuters to get it right, but I do trust them a hell of a lot more than Slashdot. So stop crowing so loudly over someone else's embarrassment.
  • by seldolivaw (179178) <me&seldo,com> on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:24PM (#2891379) Homepage
    The article is a factual account of what the reporter saw, what the "scientist" claimed, and it includes a lot of balancing views pointing out fairly obvious things like the laws of thermodynamics, etc.. The chances of this guy breaking the laws of thermodynamics are infinitismal, but the article doesn't claim any more than that. It is clearly written with tongue planted firmly in cheek ("the most important Irish invention since Guiness"?), and maybe if Americans understood the concepts of "sarcasm" and "subtlety" more people would have got the joke.
  • by anticypher (48312) <anticypher@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:27PM (#2891403) Homepage
    I was just forced to watch 10 X-files episodes in a row. Every single one of them had the "extraordinary evidence" vanish just before the end of the episode.

    They wouldn't have filmed the X-files if these stories weren't true. Reuters wouldn't have printed this story if it weren't true.

    Maybe this inventor not only invented a perpetual power source, he also invented HEAVY electricity. Three 100 watt light bulbs for two hours is normally only 0.6kwh, but if he has discovered HEAVY electricity, then perhaps 0.6kwh of light electricity == 4.5kwh of HEAVY electricity. Maybe this machine can convert HEAVY electricity into light electricity. Imagine replacing the engine in your car with a big, shiny dishwasher and a bunch of 12 volt HEAVY electricity batteries. You could charge it up every night, and each day you could drive to work and not use any mains energy or petrol. Wow! What a dream this guy has had, I can't believe nobody ever thought of this before.

    Being stuck at home with the flu and 15 DVDs of the X-files can be an enlightening experience. Open your minds, slashdotters.

    the AC
    You can tell this is a joke, when they say this may be a more important invention than Guinness. Ha!
  • by jimbolaya (526861) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:30PM (#2891426) Homepage
    First off, I agree that this probably is a hoax, but I do think that "what if this is true?" is a profoundly important question to ask. Yes, of course the thing is a hoax, because it would be in violation of the laws of thermodynamics...my God, and that's precisely the reason this is such a profound question. Aside from the implications that "free energy" would have, that we were wrong about this law would shake up the science community in ways like never before.

    Please note that I am playing devil's advocate here, and I expect this device to be proven a hoax. But let's go ahead and get in there and prove it. That in itself should be fun (though possibly very trivial).

    Most likely, we'll find that it is not true, but the device warrants looking if for no other reason than to figure out how it pulled off the hoax. I doubt the Slashdot editors have done so.

  • Need more details (Score:1, Insightful)

    by silicon_synapse (145470) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:33PM (#2891451)
    This isn't necesarily total hogwash. Let's think about this.

    - 4 100W light bulbs/4500W draw on batteries
    Don't assume the light bulbs are the only thing drawing power from the batteries. That's a large box and can hold plenty of other electronic apperatus.

    - Surplus Energy
    I certainly don't believe this energy is coming out of nowhere, but that doesn't mean it's not there. The machine could be drawing power from ambient heat, various radiation, or even chemical reactions with air/water/gasses.

    This probably is a hoax, but let's give it a little more consideration before totally dismissing it. I'm curious to know what really is going on in that box. Even if(though) it's not creating power from nothing, it could still be a viable power source.
  • by Alvin_Maker (316828) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:34PM (#2891463)
    First off, do I believe this inventor has created something worth our attention? No.

    However, claiming that it does not work because it's power source is zero point energy [sciam.com] is short sighted and incorrect. Zero point energy is an actual true energy source that fills all of space. It is a consequence of quantum mechanics. If this inventor truly has harnessed zero point, it would work just like powering the light bulbs with a battery. Unfortunately, I've never heard of anyone really getting zero point energy to do anything useful.
  • by inkless1 (1269) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:41PM (#2891507) Homepage
    "Slashdot is occasionally criticized for getting a story wrong, even though we diligently correct ourselves when necessary. My theory is that the difference between Slashdot and other media is that they never correct themselves, no matter how inaccurate"

    oh please. /. has the journalistic integrity of a high school newsletter. The ones published without an editor. Get over yourself.

    Unless the story has been seriously edited since first published, it's full of doubts itself. Just because they don't offer any scientific analysis of it doesn't mean they were duped.

    inky
  • by SpacePunk (17960) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:48PM (#2891544) Homepage
    First off... Laws were made to be broken.

    Second, I'm going to reserve my judgement either way untill this device has been hauled into a credible (I.E. non-fossile-fuel paid) lab for testing.

    Perhaps he actually did it, perhaps not. He may just be a nut, he may be the current version of Tesla.

    As for his statement about perpetual motion... The story gives no idea if there's any motion at all in the mechanical sense. So, instead of just knee jerking and saying that it's a load of crap so it's not worth looking at, people should say "let's test the device and see if it does what the inventor says it does." Get that thing up on a platform, make sure there's no hidden power leads, have a disinterested third party take a look at the insides for batteries and the sort, and if it passes all those, run it under a load and see if it runs down. Would be quite a simple test, and more conclusive than the attitude of "You can't break the laws of physics so it's a load of bull." Over time in physics as with any science 'laws' are changed to fit what is currently known. A new thing/way pops up that violates those laws will require a complete rethinking of laws that scientists have come to consider unbreakable canon, and will cause them to have to throw out works of theirs that use the laws that have become invalid.

    So, it's completely in the best interest of the fossile fuel industry, and 'big science' that this device be disproved using any means possible.
    Before anybody takes it seriously enough to put it to the test.
    -
  • Energy Hoax (Score:2, Insightful)

    by WillSeattle (239206) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:50PM (#2891559) Homepage
    On the other hand, is such a hoax any worse than the current hoax we all live under, the one that says that Oil is necessary for our survival and operation?

    I mean, science and small companies have been operating clean coal and wind energy power at less than half the cost of oil or even natural gas for years now, and yet the media would have you believe we "have" to support the terrorists so we can get their oil.

    So, given the general state of the media and its coverage of energy, and the gullibility of the American public on this matter, I don't see why it's so unbelievable they'd buy into a "free energy" scam.

    -
  • hey (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld@nOSpaM.gmail.com> on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:54PM (#2891575) Homepage
    And I have a second task as well. Slashdot is occasionally criticized for getting a story wrong, even though we diligently correct ourselves when necessary. My theory is that the difference between Slashdot and other media is that they never correct themselves, no matter how inaccurate, so readers are left with a false picture of accuracy.

    Now wait just a minute. Every paper has a retractions section, and are usually very prompt in retracting things they get wrong. Your theory with all due respect, is completely and utterly wrong.

    Slashdot occasionally will retract things, but I think "diligent" is going a little overboard. And the retractions slashdot DOES print are usually very vague and defensive (when was the last time you saw "We made a mistake and didn't research this enough"; it's usually "Uhh this may not be totally accurate").

    Secondly, what exactly would they retract in this case? This is the story: "Irish engineer claims to have invented free energy machine". Which is totally accurate. Now most people here would agree that they shouldn't have even given this guy any attention, but the article does cast a lot of doubt on whether it works.

    FINALLY, as someone who has worked with newswire feeds, I can assure you that they often DO run retractions, but these take the form of advisories along the lines of "Article portrays incorrect information; it should read ". It's up to the individual newpapers to decide how to handle it, whether to withdraw the article, correct it, or print a retraction.

    I know I'm kind of going on a rant here, but this was a ridiculous claim. I like slashdot, but I really don't think the editors are entitled to take a high-handed position on editorial fact-checking. Look how often stories are summarized inaccurately, or old news is portrayed as new, or stories are repeated, or incendiary editorial comments are thrown in to skew the story.
  • by Sanity (1431) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @07:55PM (#2891580) Homepage Journal
    ...when our planet is constantly bombarded by more energy than we could ever need? The radiation (heat, light, and other forms) that hits our planet daily from our Sun could, when captured, easily satisfy our energy needs. In effect, we are already using that energy since most natural resources that we consume are simply stored energy from the Sun, locked up millions of years ago by biological organisms.
  • Parts Wear Out (Score:5, Insightful)

    by paulywog (114255) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @08:00PM (#2891603)
    The article states: "the device can run indefinitely -- or at least until the parts wear out, adding that he has supplied all his own domestic power needs free for 17 months."

    But, hold on... What causes parts to wear out, typically? Friction, or the heat energy that is associated with friction. At the very least, "wearing out" indicates a change in the physical or chemical characteristics of something. Change can only come through the transfer of energy. So, either the device is able to create not only enough power to light bulbs and keep itself running, but also extra power to wear out its own parts!! I guess it's too efficient for it's own good.

    Holes in the story ALL OVER the place!
  • by danro (544913) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @08:01PM (#2891609) Homepage
    "It is impossible to divide a cube into two cubes, a fourth power into two fourth powers, and in general any power except the square into two powers with the same exponents,...I have discovered a truly wonderful proof of this, but the margin is too narrow to hold it."

    He was a really clever guy, but that was really far out... =)
    The difference of Fermat and this "inventor"-guy of course beeing that Fermat is/was a very merited scientist, and his credibility made it possible for him to sneak this one past.
    Follow this link [mathpages.com] to check it out in more depth.
    I found the Fermat reference really fun, but perhaps it's just us (ex) math types...
  • by BlackGriffen (521856) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @08:05PM (#2891629)
    I doubt that anyone here needs a point-by-point debunking, but just to show how fuking stupid the journalist was: "A multimeter reading of the batteries' voltage before the device started up showed a total of 48.9 volts. When it was switched off, a second reading showed 51.2 volts, indicating that, somehow, they had been reimbursed." Not true. The article describes the place as "cold". Car batteries run on a process that requires ions to drift through a solution. I haven't done any calculations, but my gut tells me that the hotter the battery, the greater the open circuit voltage should be since the chemical processes producing the electricity will go faster. All they've proved is that the batteries warmed up during the test (assuming their voltage was measured with everything disconnected to ensure there was no fraud in the measurement taking), quite plausible since that's what batteries do when you use them. "which remained lit during a short power cut." Attach a fly wheel to a generator and motor. Cut power to motor, fly wheel continues to drives generator for a while. "``The draw on the batteries was estimated at more than 4.5 kilowatts. With any existing technology the batteries would have been drained flat in one and a half minutes,'' the inventor said." Ok, 4.5 kW, at about 50 V, you're talking about roughly 90 Amps of current! Considering that the power dissipated by the battery's internal resistance is I*I*R, you're talking about 91kW being dissipated by each battery if the internal resistance was 1 Ohm (1 ohm internal resistance is reasonable, isn't it?). Those fuking batteries should have exploded. All I have left to say is, "Reuters, you're about 2 months early for April fools day." BlackGriffen
  • by skoda (211470) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @08:06PM (#2891634) Homepage
    Thanks for saying the sensible. The news agency reported the news: some guy claims to have invented a revolutionary idea. Experts are skeptical. Demo was performed. Reporter reported it.

    Michael comments on the 4500W drawn by three 100W bulbs. That's not how I understood it. Rather, the "Jakster" drew 4500W, with which it powered the three 100W bulbs and "created" at least 4500W to resupply the batteries. Thus: it acted as a "free" energy device.

    Though I don't understand why a free energy machine needs a power source. That seems a bit counter-intuitive ;)
  • Battery powered? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by evilrunner (307040) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @08:22PM (#2891692) Journal
    Ok. We have three 100W (watt) lightbulbs, and a drain of 4500W durring a two hour run. This means that the lightbulbs used 600W of power durring that time leaving 3900W used by the machine its self. There was a ten minute "startup" time using four 12Volt car batteries. A decent car battery has a capacity of 50Ah (amp hours, which is "is the amount of energy charge in a battery that will allow one ampere of current to flow for one hour"). So unless I calculated wrong, the "free energy" machine was able to take in about 3600W per battery (assuming the battery fully discharged, provided all of its rated charge, maintained a voltage of 12V and ignoring any internal resistance in the battery. And yes I know this is kinda a bogus number). A more likely/realistic output would have been about 1500W per battery. Multiply that by four batteries and you have "!gasp!" 6000W. Subtract the 4500W the machine consumed and you are left with plenty of energy. I'm not entirely sure about my calculation method here so prove me wrong. If the machine ran for a longer period say, a few days, and without the startup batteries, I might be impressed.
  • Junk Food News (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SirSlud (67381) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @08:27PM (#2891709) Homepage
    You people are just prooving that "Dog Bites Man" (which is real news, but happens often) does not make good news, while "Man Bites Dog" (the infrequent type of news that has no bearing on your life) is news.

    Junk Food news is the weapon of the large media conglomerates. After all, if you're busy laughing at "Man Bites Dog", you're liable not to see the dog about to bite you, sneaking up, unreported, from behind.

    Which is to say, if this story is so incredulous, why support and motivate the desire for the APs and Reuters of the world to print this kind of stuff? Do you think they are interested in bringing you news that affects your life, or more interested in bringing you news you lap up, laugh, argue over, and dis, and ultimately has no direct bearing on your life (until this thing hits mass production, of course).
  • by f00zbll (526151) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @08:29PM (#2891722)
    There used to be a time when reporters and news people were intelligent with critical skills. It's obvious those days are gone and news have become Stone Philips. Do I really care if some news personality wears nice designer suits and has a personal stylist? Fck no. So called main stream journalism has no more credibility than the national inquirer. This is truly sad. I'm not even going to bother with the contents of that so called "news article."
  • by SirSlud (67381) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @08:44PM (#2891766) Homepage
    Two quick and probably easy-to-obliterate points:

    1) If the machine requires energy (my interpretation), then .. well, you need energy to set up winmills and to maintain them. That doesn't mean that they arn't able to collect more energy than it took to set up in the long run from a source that seems limitless (if inconsitant, in this case.) My point being, there's nothing in the laws of physics that says that this machine can't use energy to allow it to collect energy from other source (neutrinos? heat from the sun? i know, its a long shot .. ) that is so near being limitless that it might as well be, with such a small amount of energy required to get it going such that the energy required to maintain it or get it going is insignificant compared to the energy it creates due to it's ability to harness the yet-to-be-identified energy from an energy source that is 'outside the box' of conventional science.

    2) Don't forget how many scientists/explorers were ridiculed in their day, unknown until years later, for thinking 'outside the box'. Gallileo, Columbus, yadda yadda. Some were jailed for their claims.

    It's definately a long shot. Really long. The Segway was claimed, in its early days, to be an invention that 'revolutionizes' the world. Whatever. My only point is that society honours its live conformists (all the naysayers) and its dead troublemakers (Gallileo). I'm interested in knowing more. Calling it a hoax because you read a Reutors story (in which your whole issue is that Reutors knows nothing, so it's kind of a self-defeating judgement) only does a disservice and perhaps delays an important discovery in a world where we will only believe the crazy stories from institutions and people who've already gained our trust.

    I'm only saying ... we've alot to gain by saying "Well, I'm skeptical, but I'll hear you out", and very little to gain (other than an evening's chuckle) from rediculing it before we're filled in on the details. Cell phones were invented 30 years before they became insanely well ingrained in society. This is in part due to people's perceptions and lack of desire to believe in anything that has the potential to significantly alter their world in ways they cannot fathom.
  • by debrain (29228) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @08:59PM (#2891850) Journal
    We, the "wise", and "in the know" of the world, quickly punish the "stupid" and "ignorant" media corporations and people that let this travesty of fact slip through. And yet, we will never reward, few ever even considering, those in the mass media who instantly saw and dismissed this as the rubbish it is. More media will dismiss this than acknowledge it, precisely because they can see it is clearly not something of merit.

    Yet, in this system, where intelligence in the form of denial is never rewarded, how can we ever expect the mass media to churn out the truth, in any extravagant form? Look at how we, on this forum, are lashing out at the media that fell for this dup (presuming, of course, that it, in all likelihood, is), yet we will turn around one day and ask "Why does every reputable media corporation cover the exact same material?"

    Every media entity that has published this will get attention; I have noticed some magazines mentioned that I would never otherwise have known existed. They are being rewarded with advertisement for their folly. And yet, the media that sensed this folly and avoided it, are relatively punished.

    Or so goes my rant. :)
  • Re:Laws (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Arjuna Theban (143564) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @09:11PM (#2891899)
    Agreed, Family Guy kicks ass, but I don't think any character (cartoon or real) will ever replace the God-like Homer.

    ---
  • by aka-ed (459608) <robt.public@nospam.gmail.com> on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @09:13PM (#2891910) Homepage Journal
    did Reuters even issue this story, or did someone hack the wire?

    I suspect that Reuters just thought twice, and pulled the story.

    But I don't think the story itself is so bad, it's more a "human interest" story than a science story. It's well-disclaimered:

    Experts contacted by Reuters were wary, citing the first law of thermodynamics which, in layman's terms, states that you can't get more energy out than you put in.

    "I don't believe this. It goes against fundamentals which have not yet been disproved," said William Beattie, senior lecturer in electrical engineering at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. "These people (Jasker) are either Nobel prize-winners or they don't know what they're dealing with. The energy has to come from somewhere."

  • by MathJMendl (144298) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @09:38PM (#2892028) Homepage
    All of the reports said "So and so CLAIMED to have done X and Y." Reporting a claim is not the same as getting a story wrong. I'm not saying that they SHOULD have published it but I don't see why they should publish a retraction...
    So what? By publishing something like this it gives it credibility. It's like someone makes a new PI=3 proof and gets newspaper coverage. Or, like someone claims that they "solved" the pigeonhole principle or that the moon landing was a hoax. They should not give space to these absurd claims in the first place, they should simply ignore them. Unfortunately, the truth doesn't make for good, sensationalist news.
  • by lythe (105666) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @09:42PM (#2892054) Homepage
    The Reuters story doesn't once say "this is true," either. In fact, they go to great lengths to explain why the guy is probably a crackpot.

    I'd like to see a retraction from Slashdot on this one - since, unlike the Reuters story, the Slashdot story is actually false, in that it claims Reuters was wrong. But Reuters was scrupulously accurate - quoting the man's claims, then quoting experts, then explaining the claims and why they're unlikely to be possible, while never once stating that he's legit or even that it's very likely he's legit.

    Can I get my T-shirt now? I'd like it signed from Michael, "I admit I was wrong, and futhermore, I don't understand the first thing about journalism. I expected all journalists to take my side in stories rather than presenting a balanced viewpoint. Now I see what an idiot I was."

    Thanks.
  • Re:Laws (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Arjuna Theban (143564) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @09:48PM (#2892090)
    Yes, and for those very reasons it makes about 99% of the viewers laugh hysterically. I'm sorry you are among the other 1%.

    ---
  • by dabacon (221175) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @10:15PM (#2892194) Homepage
    and some have had a good degree of success

    Actually I'd have to say that they've had absolutely no success. No one has yet demonstrate free energy. Now this, of course, is a personal evalutation. I've read the stuff on free energy, and thought about their "demonstrations" and it is clear to me that there are huge problems with a lot of the supposed demonstrations.

    Of course, just because I have this personal evaluation, and a lot of other scientists would probably agree with me, doesn't mean I'm correct. Perhaps you have missed this, but there aren't many people who hold absolutes sacred in science. Scientists are more than aware (except those pesky members of the church of grand unification) that their laws are not absolutes and may not be fully correct. However, if they had to take a bet, at any given moment that a phenonmenon which they think they understand particularly well will behave according to the laws they know, they'd be rich off the wagers.

    Furthermore, to press the issue further, I'd just like to point out that the "three laws" are actually not laws as in postulates but more like derived concepts. This is because thermodynamics is best viewed as coming from stastical mechanics which has its microscopic basis in quantum mechanics. In fact, things like the infamous second law are notoriously hard to think about for nonequilibrium and microscopic systems where thermodynamics is a poor approximation. So if you are going to attack something, you'd probably better go after quantum mechanics (more specifically quantum field theory) or the physical theories that lie on top of this quantum edifice.

    dabacon
  • by homer_ca (144738) on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @10:18PM (#2892204)
    reason why crackpot theories remain crackpot theories, and do not become part of the "established knowledge".

    Unless you're talking about the news, where their idea of balanced reporting is putting the scientist backed by 99.99% of the scientific community next to the crackpot theorist and giving them equal time.

  • by klparrot (549422) <klparrot@hotmaGINSBERGil.com minus poet> on Wednesday January 23, 2002 @11:11PM (#2892417)
    Every nutbar and goof that comes up with a "free energy" miracle device would demand equal and thorough investigation to legitimise his/her "discovery".

    Thorough investigation may be appropriate in some cases. Is it really a good idea to slam the door on free energy just because we have theorems that say it can't happen? Just because we accept the laws of entropy doesn't mean there isn't an infintesimal chance they could be proven wrong. People once thought the earth was flat.

    The USPTO didn't say "absolutely no perpetual motion patents," they just imposed an extra requirement to weed out the fakes; a candidate invention must run for a year in a room at the patent office with no external power source (or something to that effect). Only then can the invention be considered worthy of further investigation.

    To my knowledge, nobody has been confident enough in their perpetual motion machine to put it past the USPTO's preliminary test. However, if a machine passed, surely it would be worthy of at least some further investigation.

    Don't get me wrong; I don't believe the Jasker machine is anything but a hoax, but at the same time, I don't think we should categorically dismiss all perpetual motion machines. It is infintesimally probable, yet still possible, that one could be built. But no way should Reuter's be covering any perpetual motion machine that hasn't passed the USPTO's preliminary test.

  • Re:Laws (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 24, 2002 @12:36AM (#2892819)
    100 years ago if you would have told me there were going to be atomic bombs, microwave ovens, and 747's that could fly anywhere in the world in under a day I would probably be thinking the same way I am now about this device. You never know when someone is going to stumble upon something by accident. Breaking the laws that we set is tough, but not impossible sometimes.
  • by Blaede (266638) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @01:42AM (#2893011)
    Notice it wasn't put in the Science section? That's because this story was pure entertainment, not hard science reporting.
  • free energy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dragonfly28 (466802) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @03:10AM (#2893247)
    Its a bit sore that the reuters article depicts and even compares the 'so-called' inventors of cold-fusion with this Mr X. The inventors of cold-fusion where really carefull in publicising their work. They showed the complete scientific community their work and at first no one seemed to find a flaw in their setup. They media got the smell of it and then it became complete exarated. When finally the mistake was found they were one of the first to admit it. And now everyone talks 'bout those scammers from the cold-fusion. The scientific career of these people is complete ruined.

    And now some weird guy in Ireland makes a machine which produces a whole lot of power. But refuses to give his name and let alone gives permission to check his apparatus!!

    I'm quite sure that when one strips this machine their will be a load of car-batteries or other energy supplying stuff.

    Energy just doesnt come for free!

    -still struggles against the gravitational energy everyday
  • by LMCBoy (185365) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @11:00AM (#2894586) Homepage Journal
    I disagree. From the Reuters article:

    "Not surprisingly, this topic is red hot with controversy -- sharply dividing a world scientific community still on its guard after the ``Cold Fusion'' fiasco of 1989"

    and

    "Experts contacted by Reuters were wary, citing the first law of thermodynamics which, in layman's terms, states that you can't get more energy out than you put in".

    The experts were anything but "wary"! Touting this 'invention' as a "red-hot controversy" and stating that the scientific world is "sharply divided" on the question of its legitimacy both strongly imply that scientists believe it might be true. Complete rubbish.

    The popular press has a really nasty habit of trying to sensationalize science and pseudoscience alike, and they often fail to distinguish between the two (as we see here so blatantly). Michael's criticism of this story is legitimate, IMO.

What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind. -- Thomas Hewitt Key, 1799-1875

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