Jun 29 2009

The Jury Is In For Steorn – No Free Energy

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Comments: 23

This is one of those stories that science writers, educators, and journalists will have to write about forever – free energy claims. The story is always the same, only the names and details change. The allure of free energy, it seems, is just too great. There will always be someone to get snared in its beguiling charms, or to exploit it to ensnare others.

This time around the name of the company is Steorn, an Irish company that announced in 2006 that it had created “a technology that produces free, clean and constant energy.” The typical news cycle ensued. The company touted its innovative technology, with a promised demonstration. The press covered the story with a mixture of wonder and skepticism, depending upon the savvy of their journalists and editors. The free energy community starting buzzing – sure that this time the Great Pumpkin would finally makes its appearance.  The scientific and skeptical community scoffed and used the episode as an opportunity to remind the public of the conservation laws, thermodynamics and all that – you cannot get energy from nothing. Period.

It’s one of those few actual laws in science that cannot be violated. It’s just the way nature works. In order to overturn this law something new and fundamental would have to be discovered about the universe, and the burden of proof would be enormous. History is now littered with the stories of those who believed they had found a loop hole in physics (or pretended to) only to crash and burn, or simply fade into obscurity.

In July of 2007, true to the script of such stories, Steorn promised to demonstrate their “Orbo” free energy technology. However, the demonstration never happened. On their website the next day they explained:

“Further to Steorn’s announcement yesterday (5th July) regarding the technical difficulties experienced during the installation of its “Orbo” technology at the Kinentica Museum in London, Steorn has decided to postpone the demonstration until further notice.”

Sean McCarthy CEO stated that “technical problems arose during the installation of the demonstration unit in the display case on Wednesday evening. These problems were primarily due to excessive heat from the lighting in the main display area. Attempts to replace those parts affected by the heat led to further failures and as a result we have to postpone the public demonstration until a future date.”

That is the way these stories go – promises followed by excuses, but never the product itself, never the free energy. Free energy claimants can produce experts to verify their claims, schematics of their machines, elaborate explanations for how they work, and copious excuses when they don’t – but never free energy.

In August of 2006 Steorn appointed a jury of 22 scientists and experts to evaluate their technology and their claims. This was an independent group of experts, not invested in the company, and with the expertise to evaluate the Orbo technology to see if it actually works. They recently announced their results:

Twenty-two independent scientists and engineers were selected by Steorn to form this jury. It has for the past two years examined evidence presented by the company. The unanimous verdict of the Jury is that Steorn’s attempts to demonstrate the claim have not shown the production of energy. The jury is therefore ceasing work.

That certainly seems like a thorough evaluation – 22 experts over two years, and they unanimously concluded that the company indeed has not produced free energy.  So far, that is how every single free energy claim has ended – without free energy. The story is more predictable than Murder She Wrote. What is also predictable is that the company and the free energy community will not simply abandon the claims. Now it’s excuse time.

The comments to the jury verdict is filled with skeptics and believers (there does not appear to be any middle ground). One commenter, who runs a free energy news site and is commenting under the nym of 007, wrote:

This does not sound to me like the jury seen the review process through to it’s conclusion – far from it. If they had followed this process to a full conclusion then the statement would have read “The jury have completed their work”.

Why did they cease work? That’s an interesting choice of words, don’t you think?

There is always something to nitpick – something to focus on other than the huge giant fact that the jury found no evidence of free energy. The company CEO, Sean McCarthy, has this to say:

Due to these difficulties we had focused on providing the Jury with test data relating to the underlying magnetic effect behind Orbo. This work concluded at the end of 2008.”

McCarthy concluded by stating that “during 2009 the company had resolved the key technical problems related to the implementation of Orbo and is now focused on commercial launch towards the end of this year, at which time academic and engineering validation would be released concurrent with public demonstrations”.

Ah – so the jury had information only up to the end of 2008, and since then the company fixed their technical problems. Got it.  That is what the script says – make an excuse for the lack of evidence, then push back the date for the promised results. Repeat this cycle as long as possible.

There are then several possible endings to choose from. Some free energy claimants just fade away. The final promised date comes and goes, but nary a peep is heard. Others will continue to endure on the fringe, in the free energy subculture, perhaps limping along on whatever investments they can find. Still others, those who I think fit into the conscious fraud category, simply migrate over to new claims to sucker in a new crop of “investors.”

I don’t think Steorn fits into this latter group, so we’ll see how long they can limp along without actually producing anything. As for the true believers, they will bluster and bloviate until this claim is forgotten and the next one comes along. As one believer commenter wrote:

The science is not so bad – just delayed a bit. If you publish a sarcastic piece on this you may be in for rude awakening end 2009.

“Delayed a bit” as in forever.  And, the thing they don’t get, is that the skeptics would love to have the “rude awakening” that someone has solved the world’s energy problems and launched our civilization into the next, and presumably better, phase. They also don’t get that scientists (at least collectively) are not afraid of being wrong – being wrong is an almost constant state of affairs as new information is discovered and ideas change. If someone could demonstrate free energy, any embarrassment over being wrong would be overwhelmed by the excitement of new science – the universe is even more interesting than we thought.

And – no one could reasonably blame any scientist for being skeptical about an idea that has failed hundreds of times in the past and is at odds with pretty solid science. Skepticism is the appropriate stance to such claims. The key is – if it can be adequately proven, we will accept it, just not before. That’s where the line is between skeptics and believer, the placement of adequate proof before acceptance.

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