Oz skeptic offers prize if Rossi’s E-cat works

Presentation in hippie-ville

Australian entrepreneur, philanthropist, skeptic, aviator and eccentric Dick Smith has offered $AU200,000 for proof that the Andrea Rossi “energy catalyzer” actually works.

With a local in the town of Mullumbimby hoping to pitch the E-cat to locals as an attractive investment, Smith has offered to send along Australian Skeptics member, engineer and debunker Ian Bryce to the meeting to assess Rossi’s claims, according to this wide-eyed, breathless and clueless report from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Mullumbimby is close to the centre of Australia’s “alternative lifestyle” culture, with the same associations that Stonehenge may invoke in England, or the Bay of Fundy in Canada. In the case of the E-cat, a local retiree is reportedly looking to convince investors to toss dollars in Rossi’s direction.

The E-cat is purportedly a cold fusion device which – stop laughing, you down the back – attaches hydrogen atoms to nickel with little required by way of input energy. The result is supposedly copper (transmuted from the nickel-hydrogen mix; the alchemist’s dream if you don’t mind not getting gold as your output) and a larger release of energy.

As a general rule, physicists would say that the production of an atom as heavy as copper is the kind of reaction that’s best done if you happen to have a supernova handy. The low-energy claims made for the E-Cat are the main source of skepticism about Rossi’s claims.

The E-cat has been demonstrated as a “black box”, but never in the form of an experiment with a setup that other labs could test to obtain an independently-reproducible result.

Smith says that if Rossi, who will speak to the Mullumbimby gathering via Skype, is able to convince Bryce that the E-cat is a real cold fusion device, he will happily part with his $AU200,000.

Smith has a record of being careful with his prizemoney: as patron of the Australian Skeptics, he is also joint backer of an unclaimed prize for anyone who can demonstrate paranormal abilities. ®

Bootnote: The Sydney Morning Herald has a sorry record for helping turn extraordinary claims into investment scams. When Ian Johnstone pitched a “fuel saver” pill through a company called Firepower, the newspapers’ business section reported his fuel pill claims; and its sports section was breathless about his funding for now-defunct sponsorships and teams. Not a stroke of research was conducted by those closest to the Firepower story.

It was only much later that another SMH journalist, Gerard Ryle, uncovered the truth and, without so much as a blush, the newspaper forgot how its earlier stories may have helped convince investors to part with their money.

The Herald’s approach, “it’s supposed to be impossible but wouldn’t it be great if it were true?”, is hardly in the interests of suckers who need only a small push to start handing over their retirement savings.

Since the Herald won't say it, The Register will: do not invest any money in E-cat until someone can reproduce the experiment and explain the mechanism by which the fusion takes place, to the satisfaction of the scientific journals. Or until Smith signs a cheque for his $AU200k. ®

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