Sunday, 22 June 2014

Comment #26: -- Is Solar Freakin' Roadways a scam?

Date Started: 21/6/14                       Date Completed: 22/6/14                         Date First Published: 22/6/14

Is Solar Freakin' Roadways a scam?

What is "a scam"?

What is "Solar Freakin' Roadways"?

What is "is"?

What is a scam?

Well, your basic essence of a scam, is where somebody tells you something that's not true, that causes you to unduly reward them with capital value.

Whether it's obviously a scam, to you, depends on two things - the elaborateness of their deception, and the extensiveness of your knowledge. They have to use lies in a subject you know little or nothing about, in order to scam you, or they will fail.

Newage, for example, gains little traction with me, because the bulk of it depends on the abuse of Physical language - 'harmonies', 'energy fields', 'vibrations', 'resonance', 'quantum' stuff, etc - to sell pseudo-medical products, for everything from headaches to cancer.

I know quite a lot of Physics, so that was never going to work. E-mail spam scams do the same - something i have written about before.

So that's your scam - it's a pseudoscience - a claim dressed up as truth, that results in you losing out.

What is a Solar Freakin' Roadway?

Basically, it's a system of inter-locking solar-powered tiles with LEDs on.

See Thunderf00t's 'Pseudoscience' videos of the topic (some of which i have blogged here) for a better answer to that question.

What is 'is'?

Well, the dictionary definition be: "third person singular present of 'be'."

So are the Solar Freakin' Roadways a scam?

I think not... yet... probably.

The whole point of a scam, is that it's performed for personal gain. When someone has committed to a career, that depends upon a practice of deception for perpetuation, then they have become a 'scam artist'.

But the people behind SFRs have only received grant money for it. That's not so odd, when you consider that the whole point of research is to find out what does and what does not work.

Negative results are very important to science, because they tell us what doesn't work - and they thereby save us time, money, and effort, researching dead-ends.

By hiding negative results, industry-funded pharmaceutical research, for example, is made vastly more costly, because when one company's research team finds that something doesn't work, they might have been the 7th team to do so, which means seven times the research cost!

We should expect money to be spent on research that finds and identifies things that don't work. And we should encourage researchers who find such results to publish them.

But money should not be spent on researching areas where we already know the answers.

I don't think the SFR people have been pocketing the money from grants, or even their crowdfunding campaigns - i suspect they are sincere - but whether they should have received that money in the first place depends on whether their ideas were a viable concept, in that first place.

I do think that Thunderf00t has put that idea to rest - the answer is "no". No, they were not a viable idea - they should never have got this far.

But a scam? I don't think so... yet... probably.

Being sincere doesn't mean they won't ever become scammers, in using their dodgy claims for capital gain, because there are plenty of pseudoscientists who are died-in-the-wool 'believers' but are still responsible for extensive fraudulent behaviour.

Homeopaths, for example. Many of them genuinely believe that shaking water and hitting it against a magic leather saddle can, mysteriously, make the water into a valid medicine. They don't understand the mechanism, but then, they don't understand lots of things. The self-deception is surprisingly easily done.

But there is a big difference between requesting money to research something that you genuinely think is worth investigating (which would be a true claim), and requesting money for something that 'can treat illness' (which would be a false claim).

{Quacks, as in the case of homeopaths, will often claim that something they already sell is "worth further research" which should be seen as a confession of fraudulent behaviour!}

If the SFR people ever start selling their hexagonal LED tiles, claiming to have found, and already know, that they work and are useful, and/or are cost effective, etc, then that will be a false claim; and a source of revenue as a consequence of its being made - that would be a scam.

That is why i say that they are not yet scammers... probably...

When huge amounts of time and effort have been put into an activity, people become very good at employing the Sunk Costs Fallacy.

That's the one where you think "I can't pull out now, or all my past efforts will have been wasted". You become emotionally attached to your efforts, and won't see the reality that putting any more effort into it is simply throwing gold after dust.

People do this in all facets of their lives - running companies, having relationships, and especially when gambling on things.

Just because you've wasted the last 20 years of your life, doesn't mean you should waste the next 20!

The people behind SFRs are precariously close, psychologically, to employing the Sunk Costs Fallacy, which would lead them into becoming scammers. Especially if they feel pressure from their funders to produce something of value... even if that value is fake.

This is how cults work - the guy in the middle might be the 'leader' but they are under pressure to say something that will satisfy the baying hoards.

They feel peer pressure, to say something convenient to those who have invested in the project themselves. All of their funders, and all of the people in cults, will be susceptible to the Sunk Costs Fallacy too.

{Incidentally, this is why cults often employ rigorous rituals of indoctrination - when someone's had to rote learn a creed, or something, or been publicly baptised, then they feel emotionally invested, which makes it much more difficult for them to accept that joining in the first place was an error!}

This is a danger of crowdfunding research - find a negative result, and you create a lot of irritated, disillusioned people.

I've never crowdfunded before, so i wonder... how many of those investors can get their money back?

The moral of this story is this:

Always encourage people to publish negative results, and praise them equally (or maybe even more, to encourage change to the status quo) for doing so, or you'll be contributing to an environment where people become scammers, further down the line.

Alternatively, or maybe additionally, always encourage a distinct separation between research and business. When a researcher has a motive to profit by their 'discoveries' (which, as we've seen, are often not what they're claimed to be) then there is a mechanism by which they can become a scammer - a fraudster. All on their own, in a lab, they can quietly rethink their ideas, or at least be hugely less harmful to society if they don't.

Worryingly, modern governments, certainly in the UK, are pushing a closer association between research and business, which inevitably means stronger motives for researchers to dress their claims up as something they're not, and thereby inevitably produces quacks and cranks and scammers and charlatans, in place of great scientists.

I know which i'd rather have, in society!

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