Fraud, Mistake, Guerilla Marketing… or the Real Thing?

Let’s not take Steorn’s impossible claims at face value. What’s really going on? There are at least four main possibilities:

1) Marketing promotion. When Steorn first went public with their claim last August, many people figured it was just part of The Lost Experience, an online alternate reality game that ABC was running at the time. It does fit in nicely with Lost’s world of magnetic anomalies and Hanso subsidiaries working on scientific schemes to alter the future. Another group noticed the similarity between Steorn’s logo and an XBox logo, and decided it must be part of a marketing campaign for Halo 3.

2) Fraud. Steorn would not be the first to attract investors with bogus claims of a free energy technology, then try to run off with their money. The suggestion that Orbo is a scam strikes some people as obvious, others as cynical, and a few (most of them working at Steorn) as offensive.

3) Mistake. Hanlon’s Razor advises, “Never assume malice when stupidity will suffice.” Sure, Steorn is manned by a number of well educated engineers, but magnetic effects are not fully understood, and a dash of measurement error along with a smidgen too much enthusiasm could explain the whole ordeal.

4) The Real Thing. Science determined free energy was categorically impossible centuries ago, but that didn’t stop hundreds of smart people from trying anyhow. Nonetheless, no exception to this rule has ever been found (at least by anyone competent enough to sell it). So what are the chances Steorn has stumbled upon the impossible while working on an automated ATM camera?

Here’s some evidence we have so far, to help us choose from among these possibilities:

1) Steorn is on public record as a real company that’s been around since 2000. Sean McCarthy is a real person, on public legal records as being associated with Steorn. Steorn has been been involved as a witness in court proceedings dealing with their (original) core business, credit card security. Steorn’s web site has been online and evolving since 2001.

2) Steorn’s financial records are publicly available from the Irish government, and are accessible also on Steorn’s site here. The numbers show that Steorn’s revenue dropped to nothing in the years following their supposed discovery, and at the same time their research spending ballooned. This can be seen as consistent with the story that they refocused on developing Orbo, abandoning their previous course of business and bringing in private investors to fund their new research. However, it can also be interpreted in light of the “Mistake”, and, more insidiously, the “Fraud” theories.

3) Steorn has maintained public forums on the web since the time of their announcement last summer, and CEO Sean McCarthy has participated in discussions on these forums on an often daily basis. One noteworthy point is that Sean has been involved in several highly technical discussions about magnetic physics on this forum with other people who know what they’re talking about; this indicates that at least the technical knowledge appears to be there, which would not necessarily be expected if the “Fraud” or “Marketing” theories were correct. A number of forum members have also visited Steorn’s office and met with Steorn employees. One member (Crank) was even invited to take photos of one of their test rigs recently. The positive impressions of these first hand witnesses strike me as a good indication that this is a real group of people who think they truly have something. But, we also can’t discard the possibility that these forum members are just part of the charade.

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