Back in August 2006 a company called Steorn took out a full-page advert in The Economist claiming they had developed a free energy device – charmingly called an Orbo – and were looking for qualified scientists to be a part of their validation process. Steorn is based in Dublin, Ireland and is headed up by a guy called Seán McCarthy.
The claim of free energy is a big one. Many people have attempted it – even Da Vinci tried his hand at it – but so far no one has succeeded. Free energy isn’t the same as solar energy or wind energy, it’s an entirely different beast. There is a law in physics called The Conservation of Energy which says that the energy contained within a closed system will remain constant. This is not a law to be trifled with as it has an enormous amount of strong scientific evidence to support it and, so far, not a shred of evidence against it. Some physicists have even said that a violation of this law “would undermine not just little bits of science – the whole edifice would be no more”.
What Steorn are claiming is that they have a device which, isolated from any external energy source, will produce more energy than it requires to run. This is huge. This would solve all of the world’s energy problems. Imagine it; hook this thing up to a 9 volt battery and it will produce more than 9 volts which you will be hook up to another Orbo (or even back into itself, thus removing the need for a battery in the first place) and so on, giving you potentially infinite energy.
So, should we believe them? After all, scientific knowledge is continually being added to and there have been plenty of times in the past where the ‘scientists’ of the day have scoffed at a new idea. Could this be the next major development in our understanding of the universe? A whole new paradigm? They seem like really genuine people and qualified engineers have been singing their praises. There doesn’t seem to be any overt financial scam going on either.
What we should do is be sceptical (or, ‘skeptical’ if you live in the US). This simply means that we should demand good evidence before believing the claim. And there are some strong warning signs that we should heed as well:
- So far there have been thousands of claims of free energy but none have succeeded
- The most alluring of these claims have involved magnets, the Orbo does too
- We have not heard back from their panel of science validators
- Good science is usually done in the public domain where peer review is encouraged rather than by going directly to the media
- They attempted a demonstration in July 2007 but it was a complete failure
- They have provided no explanation for how they have been able to achieve free energy
- So far all we have is anecdotal evidence
- It goes against some of the best-established science
My thoughts are that they probably genuinely believe in what they are doing (I like to look for the good in people) but that they are either accessing an external source of energy they hadn’t considered or that they are subconsciously allowing themselves to overlook another critical issue in their excitement. I’m deeply suspicious given their reluctance to demonstrate the technology and their unconventional approach of avoiding the public rigour of the scientific community and instead choosing to talk to the media (who are much more gullible).
I would love for them to have broken a strongly-held law of physics, especially given the potential benefit our world could gain. But I’m going to need some very strong evidence before I’m convinced.
I’ll leave you with Robert Park’s Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science:
- The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media
- The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work
- The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection
- Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal
- The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries
- The discoverer has worked in isolation
- The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation