yes, but i’m the expert

September 14, 2008 at 11:33 pm | | pseudoscience, science and the public

I’ve been getting comments on my post about how crazy an idea it is to run your car on water. I thought that I was more than fair: pointing out that the thermodynamics is obviously against the idea (splitting water in order to burn it is stupid), but I left some room for the possibility that adding lighter gases might change the combustion efficiency. Still, I was skeptical. I was made more skeptical by the deceptive advertising (e.g. water4gas scam revealed). Remember the seven warning signs of bogus science.

But, despite my requests for non-anecdotal references, I just received long, rambling, confusing, and criticizing comments. For instance:

I wish to correct part of your story, Obviously you must have race through when reading and watching the videos on youtube and elsewhere.

1st of all many people err and state that water is split into H2 and O2. Water is H20. Peroxide is H2O2, Water is actually split into H2 and O. When using the term HHO it is denoting two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen molecule.

So here, I am accused of not studying the concept carefully enough. Huh? I am an expert on this: I am a chemist. I know what water splits into. I know stoichiometry. Monatomic oxygen is not bubbling out of water.

Then there’s the comment:

Your comments remind me of a story; As the first steamboat was readying for it’s maiden voyage, there was a man telling everyone who would listen: “That thing will never work”!

As the steamboat pulled out into the river, he started telling everyone: “They’ll never get that thing to stop”!!

Or, how about this expert: “Man won’t be able to breath at speeds greater than 20mph”!!

Why don’t you take your “Expert” B.S. and tell it to my 25+ very happy customers.

Again, disregarding my expert understanding of thermodynamics, replacing it with fantom customers with their anecdotal evidence.

I also had some attacks from military men:

Water can be used as a safe and powerful fuel, if it is done properly. I guess none of you were in the Navy. In boot camp we were warned not to use water on a jet fuel fire because it burns at the higher temperatures of those fires. That’s why they use foam on fires at airports.

and

Something I think you should know is that the AV8 Harrier jet utilizes this. Water is injected into the engine where it instataniously seperates and burns. As you surely have read, hydrogen puts out 3 time the energy as gasoline (jet fuel). The Harrier hovers many hundreds of feet in the air becuse of the hydrogen burning.

You may want to know that I was with the Marine fighter squadron VMFA-513 when it was at Beaufort, SC. and it was still manufacture by the British, before McDonnell Douglas joint up to partner in building the plane.

I presently work at Boeing in St Louis, MO. The facts I state about the Harrier is common knowledge by those of us who work for Boeing St Louis.

Weird. Kendall kindly debunked both these silly ideas (the Harrier jet uses water injection to cool the engine, and water can’t burn on a diesel fire). But where are these references to the military coming from? I think it is further anti-expert and anti-elite: If you had a little real-world experience, you’d know that … is true. All you schooling can’t help you here.

You know, I’d agree if we were talking about fixing a tank or welding an I-beam or leading groups of people or one of the many other important things in this world that require real-world experience. But this is not the case when it comes to thermodynamics! I’m sorry, but in this case, an expert’s opinion is important.

People hate experts and the “elite” until they actually need their expertise. What would the world be like if people who think free power comes from splitting water and reburning it ran automobile companies? Or where good folks who didn’t believe in the germ theory of disease were our surgeons? Or people with no interest in ever learning about international relations became President of the United States of America?

I don’t think everyone should get a PhD. (On the contrary.) I don’t think one needs an academic education to be intelligent or successful or respected. I think the “real world” gives lessons that cannot be learned in a classroom or lab. However, I also believe that experts have a place in this world, too.

This all reminds me of Richard Feynman’s story about the painter. Let’s all just throw in a little yellow…

11 Comments »

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  1. On the other hand, private individuals who wish to conduct legitimate chemistry are pretty much barred from doing so by the DEA, EPA, OSHA, etc. Just look at chemistry sets nowadays- they’re so lame, even lamer than they were when I was growing up, to protect the children. Fuck it, you reap what you sow. We’ve sowed chemical hysteria, where everything “chemical” is bad- now the only people south of the ivory tower who claim to understand chemistry are fucking quacks. Serves us right.

    /rant

    Comment by excimer — September 15, 2008 #

  2. http://www.newyorker.com/images/2008/08/11/cartoons/080811_cartoon_g_a13414_p465.gif

    Comment by sam — September 15, 2008 #

  3. of course, I’m happy to have non experts experiment with chemistry and engines. they might discover something. what i don’t like is people looking down on experts (or making money off of people’s ignorance).

    Comment by sam — September 15, 2008 #

  4. Has anyone actually responded to your thermodynamic point?

    Comment by jordan — September 15, 2008 #

  5. I’d assume no… thermo is hard, amirite? Not like it has been in a more or less complete form for a century… err wait.

    Comment by Griffin — September 16, 2008 #

  6. “Or people with no interest in ever learning about international relations became President of the United States of America?”

    +1

    Comment by Bush — September 16, 2008 #

  7. i was referring to palin. ;)

    Comment by sam — September 16, 2008 #

  8. I like the Feynman paint story, it’s been awhile since I last read it. The thing that struck me though is that so much of the science we do is actually a lot like the painter mixing yellow: The data isn’t quite pretty enough, or there’s some systematic error in the experiment that we can’t track down so we data mine, smooth things, fit things by eye, etc. It’s all just throwing a little yellow in to make it look right.

    Comment by David — September 18, 2008 #

  9. Not to mention pointing to a white wall and demanding that people see it yellow.

    Comment by Kendall — September 18, 2008 #

  10. Thermodinamics isn’t hard, it’s just that people don’t even bother to learn anything new aside from reading things off internet and stating’em as “true”. The person who said “H2O -> H2 + O” obviously has no idea how the actual world works and while i know it might be rude, you should simply ignore those troll-like comments.

    Comment by Phil Sheldon — December 3, 2011 #

  11. Well said…!

    As I alway say: It’s impossible to argue with an ignorant because they can invent the arguments they need.

    Sometimes I actually get very angry about pseudo-science, and especially the attitudes ‘I don’t understand your argument, so mine must be true!’, ‘It’s just a theory!’ (people really should learn the difference between theory and hypothesis!), and ‘Maybe you’re an expert, but I know better!’.

    By the way I’m a chemist, too. I hate the chemofobia. HATE IT!

    Comment by Steffen Sveegaard — April 9, 2012 #

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