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Robert L. Park Fraud in Science IT WAS A POPULAR MYTH IN THE EARLY YEARS OF THE TWENTIETH century that scientists like Einstein, perhaps befuddled by the compli­ cated mathematics they rely on, had abandoned common sense. It was, after all, the steam engine that created the Industrial Revolution, and a skilled mechanic could understand and construct a steam engine using common sense, without ever having heard ofthe laws ofthermodynam­ ics. What the world needed was more of this sort of “practical” science. Einstein’s E = me2 seemed to have of no practical application—until the bomb was dropped a half-century later. Many people with “practi­ cal” skills in mechanics sought to be the first to defy modern science by constructing a perpetual motion device that would not only run continuously, but even do useful work. So many patents were sought for perpetual-motion devices that it began to interfere with the work of the US Patent Office (Ord-Hume, 1977). At that time inventers seeking a patent were required to submit a working model of their invention. In 1911 the commissioner of patents ruled that, if the patent was for a perpetual motion device, the working model would have to be filed with the Patent Office for one year; if at the end of the year the device was still running, a patent application would be accepted. That effectively ended efforts to patent perpetual motion devices, but the Patent Office stopped requiring working models of new inven­ tions years ago. The quest for perpetual motion, however—now usually This article was largely drawn from two books by Robert L. Park: Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud (2000) and Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science (2008). social research Vol 75 : No 4 : Winter 2008 1135 referred to as “free energy”—had never quite gone away. It began again in earnest in 1984 when the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather carried the story of Joseph Newman, a mechanic with a grade-school educa­ tion in the backwoods hamlet of Lucedale, Mississippi (Park, 2000:1-7). Newman claimed to have invented an “energy machine” that produced more energy than it took to run it. “Put one in your house,” he prom­ ised, “and you’ll never have to pay another electric bill.” Dan Rather, the CBS News anchor described Joe Newman as “a self-taught genius.” JOE NEWMAN AND THE ENERGY MACHINE The US Patent Office saw it differently, refusing Newman a patent “with­ out even looking at it,” as Newman put it. As was his right, Newman sued Commissioner of Patents Thomas Quigg to force him to issue a patent. District Court Judge Robert Penfield Jackson, acknowledging that he was not a scientist (something Dan Rather should have done), adjourned the trial for a year, during which he sought information from various universities, including the University of Mississippi. He returned quoting the laws of thermodynamics, and ordered Newman to turn his “energy machine” over to the National Bureau of Standards for testing. Newman vigorously protested the order, even though several years earlier, before going public with his invention, Newman had tried unsuccessfully to get the Bureau of Standards to test the energy machine. The Bureau of Standards found the device to be a motor genera­ tor of a design far inferior to motor generators available commercially. This is sometimes referred to as failing the “K-Mart test.” Now armed with the first law ofthermodynamics, Judge Jackson decided the case in favor of the Patent Office. Judge Jackson’s decision in Newman v. Quigg accomplished two things: first, it gave case law authority to the Patent Office to reject perpetual motion claims out of hand. More important, it provided a precedent for federal courts to serve as “gatekeepers,” screening out speculative or ill-founded science, a role that would subsequently be required of federal judges by the Supreme Court in the landmark case of Daubert v. Dow Pharmaceuticals. 1136 social research Joe Newman, by now a popular figure in Mississippi, wasn’t quite through. He persuaded the two powerful senators from Mississippi, Thad Cochran and Trent Lott, to introduce a private-reliefbill that would force the Patent...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 1135-1150
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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