Perpetual response

Earlier this month I wrote a story on an Ottawa-area inventor named Thane Heins who has developed a way to make electric induction motors more efficient, and possibly more — much more. The article used the words “perpetual motion” to hint at what Heins’ believes that “much more” might be. This, not surprisingly, unleashed a firestorm of criticism. But the critics weren’t the only ones to respond. In fact, a majority of those I heard from praised Heins for his efforts and encouraged him to go on.

I wrote a followup to this story in today’s Toronto Star, which you can find here and here. Click on both links. The second link gives examples of some of the e-mails I received. Some are quite… well, you be the judge.

NOTE: My apologies to the hundreds of people who e-mailed me. Unfortunately, I could not respond to most of you because of the volume.

2 thoughts on “Perpetual response”

  1. From the article, ‘The letter ends with five words. “Best of luck to you.”‘
    Ouch. If it does turn out to be over-unity, I think it would make great material for an opera someday. John Adams and Peter Sellars, are you listening?

  2. One “in my humble opinion” view is that more should have been done to put the situation in context in the first article. If the scientific context had been fully explored, it then might have been a perfectly interesting human interest story. Was Dr. Zahn asked if he has actually done design of motors… searching his publications, none have motor in the title. What led to Dr. Zahn being the expert in the story. Were their many other people that were approached with greater experience in motor design that rejected the idea out of hand. Might some of these people been able to supply likely explanations for the observed results. The first article did seem to hint at the idea that Dr. Zahn might change his opinion about over unity claims… “would never go there – at least not yet” which seems to not at all be consistent with his view of the science.

    Why so many people found the original story problematic boils down to the frequency with which mainstream media knowingly or unknowingly attacks the credibility of science. It may seem noble if the attack is framed as a quixotic inventor trying to save the world… but in reality it is undermining none the less.

    The view exemplified by one of the comments you quoted… “The truly great minds of the world always challenge the status quo,” has a lot of nuance that probably would make a very good article. It simply is a misconception that in well studied fields of science there are many cases where some out of the blue idea substantially invalidates consensus understanding… be that the consensus on climate change or the consensus on motor design. Most scientists therefore believe that it is inappropriate to publicly taint the credibility of accepted views based on experiments which have not been replicated by an independent source.

    People often have misconceptions about how science actually evolves. A layman’s portrayal of science might include the mistaken idea that there was some consensus scientific view that the earth was flat right up until some “great mind” broke free of the incorrect science. In fact there never was any scientific investigation or theories about the earth being flat, because even the most cursory scientific observations lead to the correct conclusion. Scientists in many cultures all over the world knew the earth to be a sphere long before Columbus. To the extent that any prevailing view was overthrown by European sailing expeditions it was only popular mythology or theology and not any body of scientific study.

    I would be hard pressed to come up with a single example of an instance where there was an established body of science that has been overthrown by a new idea. Granted there are cases where we have discovered rare exceptions or limitations to our previous models of the world. Einstein explained that gravity is far more complicated than Newton could have imagined, but he didn’t invalidate any of the Newtonian science within the context that it had been studied all those years up until Einstein.

    The history of scientific discovery is a truly fascinating field. I wish more people had an appreciation of it.

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