The Apollo 'hoax'

Over 40 years after the first Apollo moon landing some people still claim it never happened, that it was all a hoax. And some do so quite stridently. I have long had an admittedly somewhat morbid fascination with the pathological reasoning processes that can produce such beliefs. Sometimes I wonder if they're just pulling our leg. Are they simply pretending to believe in these crackpot theories? I wish I were wrong, but the evidence would seem to indicate that these people are serious. And this has some very worrisome implications for our future.

The health and even the survival of any western democracy requires an educated and well-informed citizenry. Many -- not all, but many -- of the big problems we face can only be solved through the acquisition and application of scientific knowledge. Examples include climate change and energy.

Although our universities continue to produce many highly talented and skilled scientists and engineers to work on these problems, this is not enough. Public policy should not be made entirely by skilled elites working in a vacuum; the public as a whole must also have at least a basic understanding of what science and engineering are all about. But the popularity of crackpot "scientific" theories such as creationism (or "intelligent design", its current evolutionary incarnation) and the moon "hoax" belie a terrifying scientific illiteracy and even an overt anti-intellectualism among many members of the public.

Most people admire the intellectual achievements of others and many are deeply inspired by them. Some kids are motivated to get an education and enter the field to make their own contributions. But some people seem threatened or frightened by the achievements of others, even to the point of convincing themselves that humans are simply incapable of major scientific and technological achievements. Some people deny that humans have deduced much of the basic framework of how life evolved and developed on the earth. Others believe our major technological breakthroughs such as the transistor and microwave ovens must have come from space aliens, not human inventors. And some flatly deny one of the greatest (and most inspiring) technological achievements in human history: that the 400,000 people who worked on the Apollo project really did succeed. Instead they prefer to believe that humans are so stupid and gullible as to believe a massive lie for over 40 years. Everyone except the hoax believers who managed to find the "clues" to the hoax, of course.

Most Apollo deniers are remarkably unoriginal. They just parrot the usual tired claims about no stars in the lunar sky because they don't know better. But one stands out as deserving a page of his own: Youtube user 'hunchbacked'.

If you find your blood pressure gets too high when reading the drivel put out by the hoax believers, these might help you unwind. (Note: these are parodies of pro-hoax-theory videos and articles. Don't let their openings deceive you.)

Was the moon landing a hoax?
Fake Moon Landings
Conspiracy Theorist Convinces Neil Armstrong Moon Landing was Faked
You Tube: Misbegotten Moon

"Ultra Narrowband" Modulation Schemes

Harold Walker of Pegasus Data Systems created several digital modulation schemes that he claims will increase the capacity of the radio spectrum far beyond current methods. Several other actors have gotten involved who should know better. But his claims run afoul of several firmly established mathematical principles that govern the field of digital communications, including the Nyquist theorem and the Shannon-Hartley channel capacity theorem.


xG Technology claims a "disruptive" new modulation method called "xMax" that can operate with "vastly less" RF power than conventional schemes. The problem with this claim is that the state of the art is already 0.5 dB away from the Shannon limit, and breaking Shannon is no easier than building a perpetual motion machine. Their patents make it clear that they simply don't understand that there are fundamental limits on communications that you can't exceed no matter how hard you try.

Yet another perpetual motion machine!

This one uses permanent magnets. Something about magnets fascinates people. They are fun to play with, and the new magnetic materials are amazingly powerful. But they're not magical objects. Perpetual motion crackpots think that because magnets can remain stuck to the refrigerator indefinitely, they somehow represent an infinite source of energy. They just don't understand that force and energy are two entirely different things. Force isn't energy, nor does it require it. Energy is force times distance, such as expanding gases driving a piston in a car engine, falling water driving a turbine in a hydroelectric plant, or Lance Armstrong's legs cranking his bicycle pedals. But a magnet stuck to the fridge is no more a source of energy than a piece of paper stuck there with glue, or a potted plant hanging from a hook in the ceiling. Any energy you get by letting a magnet get stuck to the fridge is energy you have to give right back when you pull it away.

Permanent magnets are a perpetual favorite for perpetual motion machines. Never mind that this would have to violate the first law of thermodynamics (conservation of mass and energy) to actually work. Never mind that magnetism is a "conservative" force, meaning that no matter how complicated your machine's motions may be, if all the parts return to their starting points then any energy it produces is exactly equal to the energy consumed throughout the cycle -- minus frictional losses, of course. But hope springs eternal, and the scientifically illiterate and irresponsible news media is always ready to give credulous attention to yet another nutter who thinks he's really done it this time for sure!

There is one thing that these machines do produce in perpetuity: excuses for why they don't work. Sometimes they're really entertaining, but most of the time they're just really, really lame.

Tom Bearden's MEG

Tom Bearden is one of the best known crackpots in the field of "free energy", the modern incarnation of the age-old futile quest for perpetual motion. Bearden has published an amazing amount of utter nonsense.

He is surrounded by a loyal band of cheering sycophants who go out of their way to threaten and silence their critics. This is rather ironic given their constant complaints that a vast conspiracy has successfully suppressed (and continues to suppress) all information about "free energy" because of what it would do to established energy interests.

Bearden's so-called "Motionless Electromagnetic Generator" is nothing more than a transformer with a permanent magnet that was claimed to "draw free energy from the vacuum", i.e, to produce more power at the secondary than is fed to its primary. The only problem, of course, is that it doesn't work -- despite the claims of a few of Bearden's followers who don't know how to use their lab instruments.

Some warning signs of crackpot or fraudulent inventions

  1. Extreme obsession with secrecy
  2. Works alone, refuses technical help
  3. Seeks publicity through mass media and press releases
  4. Invokes vast conspiracies to explain lack of progress
  5. The claimed invention implies violations of firmly established mathematical or physical laws
  6. Claims discovery of new physical theories, or comprehensive "theories of everything"
  7. An unusually long gestation period without commercialization
  8. Lack of formal education in relevant field
  9. Pursuit of funding from unconventional sources
  10. Repeated pattern of touting one design and then abandoning it in favor of a new one when critics show it cannot work ("bait and switch")
  11. Deceptive demonstrations
  12. Appeals to religion or "higher power"
  13. Heavy marketing emphasis on wonderful applications of device, carefully avoiding question of whether the device actually works

Updated: 17 January 2012