August 22, 2006

· Misc · News

A couple of chancers in Dublin calling themselves Steorn claim to have developed “a technology that produces free, clean and constant energy”—in other words, they say they have a perpetual motion machine. As they helpfully point out, this “appears to violate the ‘Principle of the Conservation of Energy’, considered by many to be the most fundamental principle in our current understanding of the universe.” On the other hand, Steorn’s actions thus far confirm some more sociological principles, including the first of the seven warning signs of bogus science, viz, “The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.” Steorn have published a “challenge” in the Economist seeking a “jury of twelve qualified experimental physicists.”

All of this – and the media attention these guys are getting – makes me feel bad for some friends of mine at Science Foundation Ireland, who have worked very hard to build up Ireland’s scientific research infrastructure over the past few years. It also reminds me of a joke. Pádraig is walking along the beach when he finds a battered oil lamp. He rubs it an a genie appears, offering to grant him three wishes. “I’d like a bottle of Guinness that never runs out!” says Pat. The genie claps his hands and a bottle appears. Pat tips it upside-down and for a few minutes watches in delight as the stout pours endlessly from the bottle onto the beach. “That’s fantastic!” he says. “I’ll have two more of these, please.”

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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