More Evidence In The Magnetic Fuel Saver Debate
24 August 2000 Edition|
Since Aardvark revealed the government's involvement in promoting a
discredited magnetic fuel conditioning device
in Tuesday's edition, the mainstream
media has caught on and produced a number of stories on the matter.
Last night TV3 carried an item that showed Mr Balasingham, the would-be
entrepreneur, lamenting that his business was ruined by the ACT party's
disclosures -- it even showed Richard Prebble reading a printed version
of this column.
In that item, two advocates of the device, including NZ rally driver Possum
Bourne testified to experiencing fuel economies after fitting the device to
their vehicles -- which might prompt the casual viewer to assign some veracity
to the clams made for this miracle device.
Since the original Aardvark article was published I've also had a number of emails
from people inviting me not to be so skeptical...
So I did some more research.
The device in question carries
4 this patent
but I should remind readers that just because something is patented doesn't mean
it works -- one only has to look at the number of patents that have never made
it into manufacture to see that.
In the patent application it states:
"the magnetic field induced in the flowing
fuel is believed to ionize the hydrocarbon fuel to increase combustion efficiency,
thus, increasing fuel economy and decreasing fuel emissions"
It appears that the "inventors" don't actually know how this device works -- so
perhaps they thought up what sounded like a plausible explanation -- based on supposition
rather than any scientific evidence.
But is that explanation plausible? -- I investigated further...
On Deja News I found a posting to the sci.chem newsgroup by Dr George O. Bizzigotti,
a man who seems to know his molecular physics. He says of the claim:
"the magnetic fields being considered simply have
insufficient energy to ionize hydrocarbon fuels."
So much for that explanation!
I also found that there are a number of these magnetic fuel conditioners
on the market -- and most of them are sold by people who are also flogging
magnetic bracelets for curing all manner of diseases and magnetic
water softeners (also widely discredited). Multi-level marketing also
features prominently in the distribution of these devices -- a warning
sign to me that the product may not being sold on its merits but on
an ability to convince other people that they too can make money by selling it.
Virtually all the sites promoting these magnetic fuel conditioners are
littered with testimonials from people who swear that it's improved their
fuel economy and power. Some even claimed to have certified lab tests
available "on request" -- but nowhere did I see a single such lab test
published for public scrutiny on the Web. Don't ya just wonder why that is??
But Possum Bourne said it worked on his cars and surely not ALL of those
testimonials can be wrong -- can they?
Well, a little more research indicates that such reports usually fail to hold
up under close scrutiny for several reasons:
- The placebo effect. This causes some people to drive in a more fuel-efficient
manner after fitting the device, even though they don't realise they're doing it.
- The tune-up effect. On many occasions, the fitting of such a fuel-saving
device just happened to coincide with a change of spark plugs and a regular
(or irregular) tune-up.
- The comparison effect. Most people simply don't keep accurate records of
their fuel consumption and measure their alleged fuel savings against
a perceived "normal" figure.
- External factors. Temperature, humidity, the routes driven, traffic
densities, and a whole lot of other external factors can significantly influence
the fuel economy achieved when driving a vehicle. It is not uncommon for
the same vehicle to produce significantly different (in excess of 10%)
fuel economy figures from day to day or week to week because of these factors.
- Given the MLM method by which some of these devices are sold, there is
some question over the impartiality of some of the testimonials which may come
from people who are actually selling the units and therefore are hardly likely
to be truly objective.
So, there are any number of reasons why some users of these devices might well
believe that they work -- but no amount of "belief" will substitute for
scientific evidence -- of which I've seen none to support these devices.
And... just to prove that even the best racing drivers can sometimes mistakenly
endorse a product we should cast our minds back several years
to the announcement of the
Split Cycle Engine
by kiwi inventor Rick Mayne.
Legendary racing driver Sir Jack Brabham fully endorsed this engine and Mayne's
claims that it was poised to revolutionise the motor industry. It was also
claimed that there were numerous motor companies looking closely at the engine
with a view to licensing it for manufacture -- however, several years later,
we see that it has yet to progress beyond the prototype stage and none of
those deals have come off.
Even more interesting is that Mayne himself sold much of his holding in the
company shortly after Sir Jack's endorsement helped it gain a global profile
and attract huge investor interest. In the end, Mayne and the company became
entangled in bitter litigation that has only recently been settled.
So, even celebrity endorsements are no substitute for cold, hard, scientific
proof -- of which, as I said before, I've been unable to uncover any for the
magnetic fuel conditioner.
Maybe Possum has observed an increase in fuel economy on the vehicles
that have been equipped with the magnetic fuel conditioner -- but he
offers no evidence that this improvement is actually due to the device.
I feel sorry for Mr Balasingham -- but, as an ex-DSIR scientist (according
to TV3), I would have expected him to cast a far more critical eye on the
claims made for the device than it appears he did.
I suggest that ACT have potentially saved a lot of kiwi motorists from spending
their hard-earned cash on a device of such dubious repute and, political
point-scoring aside, for this they must be congratulated.
You Can Play Detective Too
Note that today's column is yet another example of how anyone, with a little
time and an Internet connection, can do an enormous amount of research on
even the most esoteric subject matter with incredible ease.
The catch-cry for the Net-connected consumer must now be "If In Doubt, Check
The sites I tend to use most often for such research include:
Excite.com -- but there
are many other excellent resources available on the Net for carrying out
And, if after all this you're still unconvinced that the device is without merit,
go find yourself a couple of powerful magnets and tape them to the fuel line
of your car -- then let me know if it works.
As always, your feedback is welcomed.