Number of the Month

October 2015

Crash!

In the popular media “car crash”, as a metaphor for a catastrophe in human affairs, is well on the way to becoming a cliché. It applies to anything, from a poor interview given by a politician to the collapse of an entire industry. It sprang to mind when a regular on our forum recently noted in passing that Steorn is still in existence, more of which later. Such events can be morbidly fascinating, especially when the crash has been long blatantly inevitable to all but the immediate participants.

Such, for example, was the great Sinclair C5 fiasco. When the eponymous proprietor of that business announced that it was going to launch an electric car, there was astonishment and puzzlement in university common rooms and industrial canteens. We had all traded numbers that pronounced such a development to be impossible at the current state of technology: for example there was the rate at which energy was supplied to a conventional vehicle at the filling station, measured in megawatts: this meant that each motorist would require the sole use of a modest power station to match it, even if robust enough batteries had then been available. The actual launch, however, was the epitome of bathos and became, for ever more, the legendary exemplar of technological hubris and its consequences. The vehicle that emerged was a triple cross between a tricycle, a car and a milk float, preserving the disadvantages of each.

A much more grandiose recent example of this phenomenon was the belatedly notorious dot.com bubble. The engineers and scientists in those verbose common rooms were now joined by economists and preachers of business studies. How, we asked each other, could they possibly get any return on capital? Answer came there none. An incident that sticks in the mind is one of those bright young things involved being interviewed before boarding Concord: Amazon, she proclaimed, would not last long, as its business model was all wrong. So much for models, but a lesson that has not been learned. One of the abiding principles of studies of human nature is that there is one born every minute: which brings us back to Seorn.

The Steorn story is an intriguing one for the student of metaphysical inventions. At Number Watch we first came across it in August 2006 (Free energy at last!) and naturally it was recipient of a Numby award. Now, however, it is almost unique in its status as a (multiple) survivor of the (inevitable) crash. It appears that shareholders have continued to pour in capital by the millions. What makes it so uniquely fit to survive? The only hypothesis we can come up with is – in a land where leprechauns hide their pots of gold at the ends of rainbows, the laws of physics do not apply.

Some of the procedures adopted by Steorn are a trifle eccentric by the standards of conventional engineering development. The announcement of a revolutionary product with an advert in The Economist is unorthodox. A Dublin pub is a great place for the craic, but a test bed for a technical field-trial? Elaborate housing with a fancy logo is also a bit unusual in a test prototype, but normally considered to be expensive and irrelevant details at that stage of development. Disappearing web sites are not generally considered to provide the most encouraging of auguries. However, keeping such a ball in the air for almost a decade is quite an achievement. All praise to the Blarney Stone.

So watch out for the Steorn “webinar” on October 28th. Until then we will just have to try to keep our excitement under control.

18/10/15

WHO’s who

At last junkscience.com has got its act together again and just in time. The presentation standards of this vital source had dropped to a point where it could no longer be taken seriously. Now it seems to be back in full working order.

Why “just in time”? Well, the ruthless propaganda outfit, WHO, has launched an attack on meat, naturally based on insignificant statistics. It was obvious to seasoned observers that it had been penetrated by vegetarian zealots (in addition to the all the other varieties of zealot that it hosts). Only Junk Science, however, tells us who is the chief instigator and their history. The BBC, as usual, was to the fore in giving this garbage the full unquestioning scare treatment.

 27/10/15

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Nonsense number of the month – 1.21

Having been informed of the history of the individual behind the WHO claim that red and processed meat cause cancer, we are obliged to add a reminder of two well established truisms:

1.      Correlation is not causation

2.      A relative risk of 1.21 is not evidence of correlation

There are front page news items every day that breach these maxims, nearly all promoted by zealot groups, and it would be fatuous and tedious to pursue them all. Occasionally, however, one emerges that is so outrageous in its claims and motivation that it cannot be allowed to pass without comment.  This is egregiously one of them.

30/10/15

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