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More Evidence In The Magnetic Fuel Saver Debate 24 August 2000 Edition
Previous 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...

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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"

"Is believed"????

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 4  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 It Out!"

The sites I tend to use most often for such research include: Google.com, AltaVista.com, Deja.com, and Excite.com -- but there are many other excellent resources available on the Net for carrying out such investigations.

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.

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