military buys snake oil too

For those who believe that military use might legitimise a daft idea, see this BBC report. A British 'businessman' sold 'bomb detectors' which were based on a spoof golf ball finder. Today he has been found guilty, and awaits sentence. According to the lunchtime TV news today, these devices are still in use by the Iraqi army at checkpoints. I suppose having bought them for a considerable price, they can't quite believe that they have been conned. Perhaps they will ask to extradite him to face trial there too?

One thing which ought to have made people suspicious is that the device has no power source. Essentially it is a short telescopic antenna (as you would find on any portable radio) mounted on a hinge so it can rotate. The box is connected to another box via a cable. Inside one of the boxes is a piece of circuit board, not connected to anything. A 'secret card' slots into one box too. If it works at all it is by dousing, not secret technology.

So the next time someone tries to sell you an audio gizmo developed using hush-hush military research, just ask them to tell you exactly how it works.


2009-02-28 9:40 am
They sold for up to £27,000 - almost the price of a top class mains cable.

Experts said the detectors lacked “any grounding in science, nor does it work in accordance with the known laws of physics.

Sounds kind of familiar.

In the audio snakeoil business people simply say "It's caveat emptor." and let the cable manufacturers and their gullible customers get on with it. In this case, the prosecution was presumably brought because lives were at stake. Apart from that, I think there's very little fundamental difference.
This was old news. There have been several versions sold here, going back 20 years or more. If memory serves, it was called a Quadro tracker, sold by a fellow named Quattlebaum, and (like most of these placebo gadgets) based on dowsing. Of course, it failed all controlled testing, but that was after the government blew a few tens of millions of dollars on it.


2009-02-28 9:40 am
In the scheme of things there may be an awful lot of snakeoil out there that is bought by governments. Despite appearing almost plausible and with a sheen of science and mathematics, I strongly suspect that industries such as climate prediction and particularly economics and economic forecasting are based on nothing real at all. Anything to do with statistics is dubious, in my opinion - I'm 93.6% certain of it.

M Gregg

Disabled Account
2010-06-28 11:04 pm
Unfortunately, there really is a night vs. day difference between plastic explosive and a slab of marzipan. . Military nonsense takes limbs off anyone.

I passed by someone who was running the other day on the way to do some work..he looked strange so you try to make out what your looking at (Stare from a distance) I got closer I thought whats wrong with this picture..then OK its (I think a guy/could be a woman) No legs or arms artificial limbs and no face...the thought was were you lucky?...(who am I to judge)..

I see quite a lot of this these days on the way to the classroom...its hard..

M. Gregg
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He was the real culprit. It was his business, and his idea. Some of the people in Iraq who arranged for purchase of these items for their security services have been convicted of accepting bribes. Police in Britain are now considering how to seize his assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act, although they expect that some will be overseas and beyond their reach.