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October 31, 2011
Very Likely Not Real, But Still. . .(The E-Cat)
I occasionally cover odd attempts at alternative - very alternative - energy sources here, because there's a chemistry angle to many of them. The various cold fusion claims have always gotten a slightly less frosty reception among professional chemists than among professional physicists, on average. And yes, there are two good explanations of that, which are not mutually exclusive: (1) that the chemists are willing to be a bit more open-minded since (among other things) they have less invested in the state of physics as it is, and (2) that the chemists are willing to be more open-minded because they know less about physics.
So far, the track record on these things has been pretty close to 100% hardtack disappointment, dry as dust and crunchy as hell. But as Tyler Cowen put it over at Marginal Revolution, the expected value of such things is so high that a small amount of attention is worthwhile. The latest headline-grabber is a mysterious thingie from Italy called the E-Cat, which I mentioned briefly here back in July.
The inventors apparently concluded a larger-scale demonstration over the weekend, as reported here, at the request of an unnamed client from the US. The problem, as that article shows, is that we really don't have a lot more to go on: this "client" could plausibly be DARPA, or that could (also plausibly) just be what the device's backers would like for everyone to think, the better to fleece the unwary in the next round.
So for now, I'm just noting this with cautious interest. I certainly hope that the people behind this are operating in good faith, in which case I will in good faith wish them well. But we'll see what happens next, if anything. For now, the "snake oil" tag stays on.
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