Saturday, October 13, 2007

Madeleine first, then bin Laden...

Here's the excellent bad science debunker Ben Goldacre on Danie Krugel's missing persons "matter orientation system machine" and assorted quantum quackery...

Danie Krugel is an ex-policeman in South Africa who believes he can pinpoint the location of missing people anywhere on the map. He does this by using his special magic box, which works through something to do with “quantum physics”, but you aren’t allowed to know any more than that: these are “complex and secret science techniques”, driven by a “secret energy source” driving a “matter orientation system machine“. By simply popping a strand of the missing person’s hair - or some other source of DNA - into his box of tricks, Krugel can pinpoint that person’s location, anywhere.

This might sound ridiculous to you - or rather, it might sound like the familiar nonsense from psychics, who frequently involve themselves in cases of missing children - but this week both the Telegraph and the Observer, as well as several tabloids, featured Krugel in completely serious news stories on the hunt for Madeleine McCann.

“Traces of Madeleine McCann’s body were found on a Portuguese beach weeks after she was reported missing,” said the Observer under the headline “Forensic DNA tests ‘reveal traces of Madeleine’s body on resort beach’”. (Disappointingly, since the Observer has led the field for non-bonkers McCann evidence coverage.) In its own special grown-up voice the Telegraph informed us that “it emerged the couple had used a scientist to help look for the missing four-year-old using a DNA-tracking device”.

BlogRush advertNeither of these papers made any mention of the top secret “matter orientation” quantum stuff. So what do we make of this box made by a retired police officer (described in one report as “Krugel, of the University of Bloemfontein”) now working as head of health and safety at a university? The device will have to analyse the DNA at a sufficiently high level of resolution that it can pick out the DNA specific to one person, apart from anything else, before locating more of that DNA, anywhere on a map.

It’s amazing, of course, and the military applications alone are incredible. Why not find Bin Laden, every house burglar in Britain, and Lord Lucan too? In fact, if it works, this machine is a guaranteed Nobel prize winner, and in the meantime, psychic debunker James Randi has a million dollar prize for anyone who can demonstrate paranormal powers like these. Krugel’s claims fit the bill perfectly. Why not use the device to locate Randi, and claim his million?

I rang Krugel to ask him. Are his powers paranormal? He says no. He made a discovery while experimenting with some off-the-shelf electronic devices. I asked if I could see the device: sadly, he says, no. I asked him what he measured, how he knew he was measuring anything, but he wouldn’t say. I asked about the theory, but that’s secret of course. I asked him about his background in electronics or quantum theory, and he demurred. Desperately trying to give the guy a chance, I scanned the memory banks and asked “what is a capacitor?”, and “what are the SI units for Planck’s constant?” He was offended. I apologised.

Meanwhile here is Krugel in a South African documentary on his work finding missing children. “If you get a signature sample of something … let’s call it organic or non-organic … a very small sample. I have developed a method to use that small sample and to create data that I use to search for its origin. So you transmit and you receive.”

“Is there anything metaphysical involved? Are you psychic?” Krugel: “I’m a Christian and I put it clearly … this is science, science, science!”

Krugel is gushing. You might feel the power of his words more if you put yourself in the shoes of someone who has lost a child, watching the television through tearful eyes, hoping against hope that your little baby is still alive, not dead, not murdered, not tortured, and will one day be found, brought back to you alive by some inconceivable miracle worker sent from God.

Hear Krugel’s words: “Now that’s fantastic. To phone the dad and say, ‘Look, I’ve got him’ or ‘I have got her. You can come and get him’ or ‘you can come and get her’.” “How many of those have you had?” asks the interviewer. “A lot, a lot, a lot,” replies Krugel. Nice.


At 10:29 AM, Blogger James said...

After the recent international media attention around Danie Krugel in the Kerry Winters case, the South African sceptical community has launched and we are currently trying to develop a web presence via word-of-mouth that will elevate the critical website to the top of the search results when people are curious about Danie Krugel.


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