Mensans Told, "There is No Free Lunch"

-- by Tom Napier

Every year the Central New Jersey Mensa group stages a weekend gathering. This year they invited me to speak and I chose "Free Energy -- Breakthrough or Bunkum" as my topic. I used the physics and history of perpetual motion to stress the need for skepticism, particularly when assessing claims of energy for nothing.

Eric Krieg's active part in deflating Dennis Lee's free energy promotion got full credit. To an intelligent audience, the video of Lee's pitch eloquently demonstrated how shaky was the science behind his scheme. The discussion period was amiable and animated and my back numbers of Phactum were quickly snapped up.

Later I had several opportunities to discuss aspects of skepticism with both individuals and groups. I was surprised, knowing Mensans' partiality to bizarre beliefs, not to encounter more opposition. Most of those I talked to were eager to hear more. One Mensan wanted a source of information on therapeutic touch; he now knows to call Bob Glickman. Someone wanted to know what Kirlian photography reveals about auras; I gave a layman's summary of corona discharge effects.

One couple had been impressed by their performance in a ganzfeld experiment. I advised them to apply for James Randi's $1 million award. I doubt they'll receive any money but they may get a valuable lesson in the design of experiments. My impression of Mensans is that the interest is there but, in many cases, reliable information is not.

So, the Skeptical Inquirer may see a jump in its subscriptions and, since I acknowleged the great debt I owed to Milton Rothman's books "The Science Gap" and "A Physicist's Guide to Skepticism", Prometheus Books may see some new sales.

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