EM-drive baloney continues

Summer vacation has given me better things to do, like wandering the Finnish wilderness, so I have not had time to follow all weird and fringe lately.

EM-drive baloney keeps to be constantly propagated, this time by a group of physicists from Finland [1].  Ah, what a treat from countrymen, again! The main contributor seems to be  Arto Annila,  a supporter of “Holistic Worldview“.

International Business Times writes [1]:

“A new peer-reviewed paper on the EmDrive from Finland states that the controversial electromagnetic space propulsion technology does work due to microwaves fed into the device converting into photons that leak out of the closed cavity, producing an exhaust”

In the original paper [2], the authors deduct that:

“We infer that the EM drive expels photons in pairs where the two co-propagate with 180 degree phase difference”

Well, while I do not understand how pairs of photons like that are supposed carry out momentum and energy, let’s assume for amusement that they do.  Would that save the fabulous Em-Drive from ridicule and get us to the stars?

Whilst I do acknowledge that the writers do not seem to agree with Shawyer’s own pseudo-scientific theory, they write:

“We believe that the proposed comprehension about the paired-photon exhaust will be helpful in optimizing power to thrust by engineering the cavity so that the photons will pair with opposite phases and exit from a preferred surface.”

If correct, all this would mean that Roger Shawyer’s bucket is a very, very inefficient photon rocket. How would that be interesting or useful as a space drive. The answer is, it would not.

It would be absolutely useless.


Bummer. Double bummer.


[1] EmDrive: Finnish physicist says controversial space propulsion device does have an exhaust

[2] On the exhaust of electromagnetic drive (Arto Annila et. al.)

About fooling ourselves – and getting fooled

Ethan Siegel writes in his article [1] about how we cannot be experts in everything and how we are easily fooled by others and by ourselves.

As examples of fooled minds, bad science and scientific fraud Siegel uses for example Em-Drive and Cold Fusion.

“We like to think, as human beings, if we can only keep an open mind, that anything is possible. That if we put our minds to it, buckle down and do our research and apply ourselves 100%, we can not only understand what’s going on as well as any expert, but that we ourselves can make valuable contributions to whatever field we’re interested in. “… http://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2015/11/08/the-em-drive-nasas-impossible-engine-highlights-our-greatest-failing/

I don’t have much to add to what he says. I just wish people would understand, that while positive thinking may be important, it is equally important to practice skeptical thinking.

To avoid being fooled, if you care.

The reader comments of Siegel’s article highlight very clearly, that people actually often prefer fooling themselves, than thinking straight.

[1] The EM Drive, NASA’s ‘Impossible Engine,’ Highlights Our Greatest Failing

I believe… the Internet simply makes you stranger

Several years ago I was out for dinner with a number of my colleagues.

They were mostly engineers, technical people, maybe one or two business weasels had joined the motley crew. Very intelligent and experienced people from Finland, Japan and America, if I recall the gathering correctly.

I remember making a rather long speech, I may not have been completely sober,  how I believe the Internet is the best thing ever happened to democracy.

But democracy has its limitations, that is, even the ignorant can have they say.  You can vote without knowing why you vote, who you vote, you can do this even without caring what you are doing.

I know this is not a politically correct statement, but how can you really avoid thinking about it: In a democratic election, all votes are equal whether or not you care, or understand what you are doing. How can it be so?

Internet should be the democracy of knowledge. That is fine.

But there is also intellectual ignorance, abundant in the Internet, people not caring what is true and creating they own realities. There is also intellectual terrorism in the Internet, people to are deliberately spreading false claims or outright lies, for one reason or the other,  usually for money.

We have vaccinations critics, we have alternative medicine, we have climate change denial, just to name a few. And it is not so rare that people who support one false idea, support also an other.

These things are not only incredibly stupid, they simply can kill.

Are the people who are promoting alternative realities ready to take responsibility of their actions? I don’t think so, at least it does not seem that way to me.

One phenomenon that is widespread in the Internet  is false expectations for technology, based on bad engineering, pseudoscience and wishful thinking.   And or course, lying for financial benefit.

Internet can make you think that technology and science are advancing to directions they are not. Sure, they are advancing fast, but not as fast as some would like to think.

And fairy-tales are not helping.

We have intellectual ignorance, cowardice, terror and the fairy-tales. What can we do? Of course, you can’t have intellectual dictatorship, or be required to have a license to think, no more than you are required to have a license to vote, in a democratic country.

We all just need understanding, how to learn to care what we think is true; and what, who, and why we want to vote.

I still think the Internet is the best thing ever happened to democracy. But all good things come with a price. The Internet is a powerful entity we have created, and we should take good care, that our children and grandchildren learn how to use it.

And learn it before they learn to read.

Happy New Year in the new, free thinking, democratic world. Lets be carefully out there.


Heat Ledger in “The Dark Knight”: Warner Bros. Pictures, 2008

Philosophy, Thomas Kuhn and Pseudo-science

While cleaning up my bookshelf I stumbled on a volume of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions[4]. It is an important book, and Kuhn’s impact on philosophy of science was remarkable.

According to Kuhn, science does not progress steadily, but instead through big and revolutionary changes, paradigm shifts. We stay in the era of normal science as long as the current paradigm is sufficiently compatible with the observations. When the situation ceases to be so, we have a need for revolution, which will eventually replace the current paradigm with a new one. Gradually, when the new paradigm is accepted by the scientific community, we re-enter the era of normal science.

An other philosopher of science, Karl Popper, approached the problem from an other direction. He was concerned of something that is known as the demarcation problem [7]. That is, how to make a difference between what is science and what is for example religion, politics or pseudo-science. He devised a term falsification, which means that a scientific claim must be such, that you can at least in principle to be able to prove it wrong [8]. If this is not a case, we are not dealing with science.

The Mad Scientist. Picture: Wikpedia.

Kuhn did not believe falsification was not any more plausible than proving something was real and thus all views we might have of reality must be treated as equal.

Personally, I have not been a great fan of Kuhnian philosophy and many scientists tend to agree, that the idea of scientific revolution is actually very problematic. Irish physicist Cormac O’Rafferty has written a very nice article about the subject: Was Kuhn more wrong than right? [5]. Same blog also has an introduction to Karl Popper’s philosophy [9].

I am not very surprised, that Kuhn is more popular with pseudo-science practitioners that Popper. At least, Kuhnian philosophy gives you an option, or even an obligation, to trash all that was and start a new brave world.

Kuhn was an important philosopher of science and his book still has a great influence, but even Kuhn was known to say, that nobody actually understood his true meaning and he is much fonder of his critics than his fans [6].

Thomas Kuhn. Picture: Wikipedia.



The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962


Space kicksledges and overunity devices

In Finland we have a traditional vehicle called a kicksledge [1]. The sledge is propelled forward by kicking backwards against the ground, thus demonstrating the conservation of momentum.

British aerospace engineer Roger J. Shawyer have invented a kind of a space kicksledge, which is a drive that supposedly operates without propellant, but still generating thrust in some magic way.

Last month, the Wired magazine [3] wrote that Nasa had tested an other similar device, a Cannae  drive designed by one Guido Fetta.  Amazingly, they reported that the drive produced thrust. Very weak but still measurable thrust.

Ok, I have a problem with this. The device is supposed to work by bouncing microwaves in a cavity and somehow generating the thrust. I have no idea what to make out of this, but the  conclusions of Nasa test engineers are even more nonsensical.  They say in the report:

“Test campaign results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.”

So, the space kicksledge is kicking against “quantum vacuum virtual plasma”. Now, putting it mildly, this sounds like wild speculation to me. John Baez called it “graduate-level baloney” [4].

Reactionless drive is problematic, because it is also easily an over unity device [7]. When accelerating with constant thrust without loosing propellant, the spaceships kinetic energy grows proportional to the square of the velocity.  At some point the kinetic energy can be shown to exceed the work done by the reactionless thruster and thus the spaceship becomes a perpetuum mobile.

“I cannae change the laws of physics! I’ve got to have thirty minutes!”

Shawyer says, this does not happen, because the devices thrust decreases as the velocity increases.  But I don’t know how this could be, because the principle of relativity says the laws of physics are the same in all inertial frames of reference [5].

Well, the accelerating spaceship is not an inertial frame, but if EmDrive efficiency somehow decreases when speed increases, this would anyways seem give us a method of measuring some kind of absolute speed for the spacecraft. According to relativity, such thing as absolute speed does not exist.

I may be wrong in this, but it all sounds to me like Shawyer’s space kicksledge is trying to bring back the aether theories [5].

Picture: Wikimedia Commons