Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society
The Top 5 Science Scams

http://www.chas-daily.com/win/2007/01/13/og046.html?r=41
/ru/articles.phtml?num=000363

The Commission to Combat Pseudoscience and the Falsification of Scientific Research, created at the initiative of the Presidium of the RAN [Russian Academy of Sciences], has existed in our country for eight years now. However, in spite of all the efforts of the academicians, there are no fewer pseudoscientists. The past year has been especially abundant for them. Academician and Commission member Yevgeniy Aleksandrov evaluated the most scandalous "achievements" especially for "Ogonek".

1. Vortex Thermal Generators

Myth

The laurel for first prize belongs to the "torsioneers". I first found out about their work back in 1991 when a special investigation was conducted at the initiative of the USSR AN [Academy of Sciences] in the course of which it was established that a number of ministries of the country had spent 500 million rubles for pseudoscientific and anti-scientific development efforts on spinor (torsion) or microlepton fields. After this some of the "torsioneers" went underground and others directed their gaze abroad. For example, several years ago a certain firm with Russian roots received a license from the British government to search for oil in England, with the aid of "the latest microlepton technologies". The journal "Physics World" investigated this story and came to the conclusion that the swindlers had planned to sell the "innovative technology" to Third World countries with the aid of a cheap British license. And the Russian "kings of oil prospecting" actually later appeared in Australia.

Yet one more firm which entered into a conspiracy with Bulgarian authorities tried to thrust the purchase of "vortex thermal generators" on this country. As Bulgarian journalist Veliana Khristova reported, in November 2006 Anatoliy Akimov, the guru of torsion fields who had decided to present the public with his new "sixth-generation technology", a certain apparatus "for the early diagnosis of autoimmune diseases", planned to honor the Balkans with a visit.

Reality

The most interesting thing in this story is that torsion fields do not exist at all in nature. Experiments have shown that the efficiency of a vortex thermal generator is less than an ordinary home hot water heater but it costs incomparably more, about $5000.

Academician Aleksandrov shared his impressions: "But the only thing that is an undisputable achievement of the "torsioneers" is the invention of a 'kickback system' in which a bureaucrat waving a document received a certain percentage of an allocated sum. Under these conditions even back in Soviet times science officials were ready to finance any, most insane project. Well, what can be said of the era of wild capitalism?"

2. Psychotronic Weapons

Myth

In December 2006 FSO [Federal Security Service] General-Major Boris Ratnikov made a sensational announcement in the press about astral battles which Russian Chekists were waging with a potential enemy; the practice of the magic of ancient priests brought to a scientific level by the special services; and a powerful psychotronic weapon which permits not only people's emotions to be influenced but their thoughts to be read. For example, our valiant special services in particular "tapped into" the subconscious of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in whom they detected "a pathological hatred of Slavs".

Reality

"General-Major Ratnikov is describing that portion of the history of the 'torsioneers' which touched on the interests of intelligence", says Academician Aleksandrov. Even back in Soviet times tales about all-powerful 'psychotronic' generators which supposedly influenced a person's emotions were quite widespread in these circles. In fact these generators were ordinary mockups. But KGB officials were deceived into naively believing in telepathy, and not find the best enticement for intelligence. Meanwhile, there is not yet a single experimental confirmation of telepathy or other paranormal phenomena. More than 10 years ago the noted American illusionist James Randi organized a fund which is obligated to pay $1 million to anyone who presents his committee any sort of "miracle". So far powerful psychics are awaited at URL http://www.randi.org.

3. Alternative Energy

Myth

Deputy Secretary of the RF Security Council Nikolay Spassky, who in April 2006 before the G-8 Summit publicly declared that a "breakthrough in energy" would happen any day, became a victim of his own incompetence. In his opinion, "controlled thermonuclear fusion, hydrogen, and vacuum energy" are among the breakthrough fields.

Reality

"Of all [the items in] 'the Spassky list' only hydrogen energy is more or less realistic", says Yevgeniy Aleksandrov. "Hydrogen itself is not an energy source as such but only its carrier. In this role it has a number of advantages over other varieties of chemical fuels. However its use and production (again, from oil and coal!) are associated with many technical problems which are far from being resolved". In theory, controlled thermonuclear fusion is also completely realistic but it will not be practical to acquire energy using it until 2050. Moreover, up to now all thermonuclear fusion projects have been based on a reaction of deuterium and tritium, which have the lowest threshold of initiation and comes from the explosion of a hydrogen bomb.

The

start of 2006 was marked by a big hullaballoo about a project to extract helium-3 on the Moon, announced by Nikolay Sevast'yanov, the head of RKK Ehergiya. "Experts have even calculated that bringing back 100 tons of helium-3 from the Moon would be sufficient to cover the energy costs of all mankind for a year. The truth is that an area of 23,000 km2 (!) of lunar regolith would need to be strip-mined to a depth of 10 meters and the helium extracted from it. It remains to calculate how much equipment would need to be delivered to the Moon, not forgetting while doing this that a ton of lunar freight costs no less than $1 billion. If this is not pseudoscience it is an attempt to plunder the budget, and in such Rabelaisian scales", laughs Academician Aleksandrov.

But even this project of the century pales before the attempt to extract energy fromů.a vacuum. Reports about this appear in the mass media with enviable regularity. The number of groups which produce this type of perpetual motion machine are multiplying before your eyes. Their sellers refer to a hypothesis which has appeared in recent years about the existence of "dark" or "vacuum" energy which is supposedly leading to a rapid expansion of the universe. The truth is, neither astrophysicists nor specialists in the field of high-energy physics have said that this "dark" energy can be extracted.

4. Antigravity

Myth

And Vladimir Nikitin, the director of NTTs [Science and Technology Center] Intrafizika, reached the RF President himself, more precisely, one of his advisers, and presented his materials to the RAN for review. Academicians read it and shed a few tears. For the Unified Field Theory, over which the best minds of humanity have been struggling for 50 years, was mentioned as the starting point [zatravka] for the basis of the practical part. "All these formulas make no sense and perform the role of an imitation of scientific text", the legitimate anger of Academician Aleksandrov could barely be restrained . "For what a future is revealed! A superweapon, super-capacity batteries, a new type of communications, and even means of transport with anti-gravity engines!" The visionaries nervously smoked in the corridor.

Reality

The basis for all these miracles is some "K-capture energy sources". The authors suggest that in the ring chamber the current will initiate nuclear reactions but the energy acquired can be directed to destroy radioactive waste or toxic substances. "No assessments of the likelihood of the required reaction are cited in the design not to mention the energy loss", notes Academician Aleksandrov. "There is also no comparison with other designs to destroy radioactive waste and toxic substances, which is the general worldwide practice. But in this case we are not dealing with science but with fantasy for which there are no written rules".

The same electron storage ring is proposed for use as an electrodynamic battery with a capacity of 7 billion gigajoules. It is proposed to achieve such a staggering result by creating a rotating ring of electrons contained by varying electrical and magnetic poles. Well now, modern physics has already accumulated enormous experience in building such systems which, it is true, require a lot of energy but they are far from accumulating it. But such trifles have not disturbed the authors of the research. However, an "electrodynamic weapon designed to destroy high-speed space objects" ought to become a real sensation. As an additional bonus it is noted that the device does not have a barrel, does not need ammunition, and does not have a recoil, although "it shoots out an electronic cluster with a mass of up to 90 kg" (?!). Well now, against this background the report that storage rings can also create anti-gravity, which makes possible "the creation of principally new transport equipment like alien spacecraft", seems reasonable.

5. Flying Saucers

Myth

A flying saucer is in general the dream of Russian aircraft designers. Who hasn't promised to build in the near future this silent and ecologically clean form of transportation distinguished by high speed combined with rare maneuverability? This year the Scientific Research Institute of Space Systems got burned in the field of creating of UFOs. Valeriy Men'shikov, the Director of the Institute, states that sketches of a flying saucer of the Third Reich were taken as the basis. He did not expand on the principle of operation of the innovative propulsion system, noting only that the saucer "can accelerate to infinity".

Reality

"It's better they exchange it for a broom", advises Academician Aleksandrov, "Why? It's good transportation, described in many sources, time-tested, and the main thing is it does not violate the laws of physics, as opposed to flying saucers. For what distinctive properties of a UFO they promise us to reproduce: unlimited great speed (which, of course, is impossible because according to Newton's Law infinite engine power is required); the ability to exceed the speed of light and in the process become invisible (violating Einstein's Theory of Relativity); "unsupported [bezopornoe] movement", which violates the Law of the Preservation of Momentum, or Newton's Third Law".

Yelena Zhuravleva

Translated by Gary Goldberg

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