Pseudo-scientific charlatanism alive and well

Way-back machine: This post was originally made on 3 Aug 2007 on
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People around me can’t stop commenting on the Carte Blanch story from this past Sunday (transcript here … Fingerprint of Fate).
Well, I don’t have M-Net anymore and if I did I certainly wouldn’t be watching Carte Blanche.  I remember the original interview with Danie Krugel back a while ago.  One thing stuck with me; the way he said “it’s science, science, science” as if repeating it made it true.
Oh well, for those who didn’t see either of the shows on this invention, here’s a synopsis:
A former police officer, Danie Krugel, decided one day to combine the known technologies of GPS and Quantum physics to create a device to find missing children instantly by sampling their DNA.  Bring a hair and he can tell you where the child is.  But he also claims to be able to find the source of anything, even non-living things like the original location that a diamond was mined from. 
The thing is, all he is doing is throwing out clever words so that people think that he knows what he is talking about, people have no patience to study the functioning of GPS and the theory of Quantum mechanics, they just take it on face value that Danie does know this stuff.  He refuses to show the system to anyone, he won’t show anyone how it works – when did peer review become a bad thing? It is a cornerstone of scientific research.
There are so many reasons why people want this to be true, but that doesn’t make it true.  And somehow, because it is tied to a story about missing children, simply questionning the validity of the claim makes you appear as though you are against finding missing children.  Why?!?
Anyway, this popped-up in a forum today and I couldn’t resist replying.  The previous poster had scoffed at all the posters before him for instantly rejecting the person tracking technology without thinking about it and that it is actually possible.  He posted a couple of vague lines about research into particle entanglement (which he had heard about but didn’t understand) and simply asked if we were all not considering that it is actually possible because of quantum physics and stuff and there being entangled particles everywhere.
First of all, I am no expert on quantum physics, far from it.  However, from a small investment of time into reading about quantum entanglement it is obvious why it can’t work as the inventor claims.  My reply, as always, was not brief…

Hmmm … the assumption here is that quantum entanglement occurs naturally.  It does not.  The entangled particles are created in a lab. 

Entanglement is basically a link between particles, NOT so that they are doing the SAME exact thing, but that they are CHANGING their actions at the same time.  If one is a spin-up particle, the other may be a spin-down particle and changing the state of one will instantly change the other’s state IN SOME WAY.  The observation of quantum entanglement being sustainable is achieved by physically separating these entangled particles and going somewhere with one of them.

Interesting thing about quantum entanglement is that it cannot be used to transfer meaningful information over any distance (because this would break the Universe’s built in speed limit).

There is a scenario where it may be possible to use quantum entanglement as a locator. If we could pass all children through a lab and create an “entangled twin” of each child (a bank of particles linked to most of the billions of particles in the child – because we loose millions of atoms every year – and the kid would have to be completely “rescanned” every 7-11 years), we could use this library to find missing kids.  But it would not help us to detect what is happening to the child or where the child is by observing the “entangled twin” library of particles.  Theoretically, using a quantum computer we could audit all particles in the Universe and then construct a list of all the particles which are currently behaving the same as the twin child, using the probabilistic powers of quantum computers it could instantly tell us where the child most likely is in our universe.  But, alas, we have no quantum computers.  A couple of experiments have been performed that the various pieces of a quantum computer are possible, but nobody has/can tie them together (yet?).

But after that long digression … to the matter at hand.  The guy just wants to make a buck.  The natural state for any scientist is to be skeptical and if you think that way you should hang on to it. In the field of Philosophy of Science the description of science is a process whereby new information is learned and shared, improving the knowledge of mankind. A scientist is jokingly likened to a paperwork factory.  The sole purpose of a scientist is to make discoveries AND PUBLISH THEM, get a PhD or tenure at a University, that sort of thing.  Technologists are the people who recognise that a scientific principle has a real application.

So a scientist would discover that “while combining acetate solutions with acids I noticed a pungent odour of bananas.  After distillation, it was discovered to be caused by Isoamyl acetate“. The guy probably got a PhD for that.  But then technologists come along and discover that it is cheaper to make banana flavouring than to harvest bananas, so everything from cough mixture to smoothe yogurts are flavoured using this compound.

I am drifting a bit, but what I am trying to say is that Danie is not a scientist.  Anyone who wants to keep such a close secret is hiding a fraud not improving the lot of mankind.

What carte blanche is clamping on to is the broadly held view that an “average joe” can sometimes outsmart a scientist.  And if he was to submit his ideas for peer review they would be “stolen by bad guys” or suppressed so that police men don’t lose their jobs or politicians or whatever conspiracy is this guys favourite. 


Later in the discussion I had more to add, visit the original post if you would like to see more.

~ by James on 3 August 2007.

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