About a year ago here on The Cow we had cause to examine the Irish company Steorn and their announcement of the discovery of a remarkable way of creating unlimited amounts ‘free energy’.

As you may remember, Steorn was challenging scientists to disprove their claim that the laws of physics are entirely wrong and promising that you’d never ever have to put your mobile phone on charge again.

Well, Steorn are still chugging along (powered by some kind of energy – mostly produced by hot air I’m guessing) and have wheeled out a gadget to silence the naysayers once and for all! Catchily titled ‘Orbo’, early photos show that the machine looks like nothing so much as a few plastic pipes and some Meccano.

And guess what Cow Fans? They have a working model ready for ALL THE WORLD TO SEE! Well, actually, not so much. You see, Steorn recently announced that Orbo would be unveiled for public scrutiny at the London Kinetica Museum on July 4th. This event was to coincide with a simultaneous streaming on the Steorn site (presumably from somewhere deep withing the Steorn Free Energy Complex) of live video of a ‘simpler’ (their word) version of the machine ‘lifting a weight’. But, darn, golly gosh, just as everyone was tensing up for the complete re-writing of human history, a few problems seemed to have materialized out of nowhere and, well, they had to cancel the viewing and the web demo at the last moment. Colour me surprised.

It seems that heat from the lights in the room where Orbo was to be exhibited at Kinetica somehow interfered with its capacity to create unlimited energy, delicate little thing that it is. One hopes that the consumer model will be a little more robust if Steorn’s plans to roll out Orbo as part of their scheme to solve all the problems of Africa aren’t to appear a little dismal. It gets a little warm in Africa from time to time, or so I’m told.

It isn’t explained anywhere why the Kinetica ‘heat-from-the-lights’ setback should have had any material effect on the planned webcam stream but there you go.

It’s interesting to observe that Sean McCarthy has now come down unequivocally on the side of claiming to have disproved the Laws of Thermodynamics. He says as much on the Steorn site:

The sum of these claims for our Orbo technology is a violation of the principle of conservation of energy, perhaps the most fundamental of scientific principles.

This is an extraordinary position to attempt to defend. I can’t even say it’s controversial – it’s BEYOND controversy.

Scanning through the Steorn website is a perplexing experience. It seems that these guys really do believe in what they’re doing. One is forced to contemplate the following possibilities:

1. They have rewritten the Laws of Physics as we know them.

2. A fairly large group of well-presented and reasonably intelligent people have somehow fooled themselves into believing Possibility #1.

3. They’re pulling our collective legs.

4. They are consummate swindlers, hoping to profit by pulling in the dollars from gullible suckers.

5. There’s something else going on.

Taken in order: Possibility #1 is by far the most unlikely of events. It is true that there have been occasional turbulent upheavals in scientific thinking, but very very few of those come entirely out of the blue without any indications at all from the prevailing body of scientific knowledge. To clarify, the principles that Steorn are suggesting they have discovered overshadow any other scientific revolution you can name. On the other hand, Steorn is in the company of almost countless numbers of people who have thought they had discovered such miracles.

Which brings us to Possibility #2. I guess it is feasible, but I find it hard to believe that none of these people are aware that they are the latest in a very long line of people to have made such claims to their detriment. But I never underestimate the capacity of human beings to comprehensively delude themselves if the conditions are favourable.

Possibility #3: If it’s a joke they’ve dragged it on for an awfully long time, and we all know the secret of good humour – it’s in the timing.

Possibility #4: Where I’m placing my money. Although there’s one further possibility that hadn’t occurred to me until recently…

Which is Possibility #5. Something else. It came to my attention on Tech Blorge last week that the whole Steorn thing might actually be something other than what it seems, specifically, some kind of viral marketing test or information dissemination experiment. The favourite in this field would appear to be a viral for Halo 3, but in my opinion that seems unlikely. It just doesn’t feel right. But there is definitely something fishy about the Steorn site – as the Tech Blorge guys say, it looks more like it’s been put up by some slick advertising types than the usual free energy type of nitwit. It is feasible that Steorn is wheeling in a Trojan Horse.

Are they idiots? Are they conmen? Are they having a jolly old time running everyone around in circles?

Sean McCarthy seems happy to grasp the bull by the horns:

We were very aware that there would be cries of fraud and scam and so on, and I think that we’ve done far more to mitigate and to demonstrate that we’re not a hoax and we’re not a scam than any company could be reasonably expected to do.

Yes Sean. You’ve done everything EXCEPT actually demonstrate that your idea works. Really. If your machine does what you say IT’S A SPECTACULAR RESULT. It’s not a maybe-it-does-maybe-it-doesn’t kinda scenario surely? Show us the money Steorn, that’s ALL you have to do!

UPDATE: This video on YouTube clinches it for me – they are swindlers. This is the most nonsensical piece of rubbish and misdirection I’ve seen in a long time. Wait till the bit where Sean says “…and that’s the science!” and consider what’s gone before. That’s the science? Sean, that was a humungously cretinous piece of waffle. That’s not science by a long shot.

That’s snake oil.