Skeptical tax evasion, and writings by Tom Napier
- The following is a link in the "skeptical chicks" calendar series:
A great periodical about misuse of statistics:
I keep getting kook/scam spam selling literature on how I need not
pay any taxes. According to Bo Gritz, a lot of people in the
business selling "pay no taxes" literature actually pay their taxes and
know full well that the suckers buying into it may get a jail cell for the
price of instructions. Many patriot publications make a lot of advertising
money off this and many other scams which prey on patriots.
Ironically, I know a guy who has been faking an illness to live off a
government disability for 2 decades who is a tax protester.
Of course those who buy into fringe-law would tell you that you can't
condemn it until you have read thick stacks of their rants.
For a rational response to tax kooks, check out:
The following is a write up by Tom Napier:
Over Unity -- closing the loop closes the loopholes
Recently I've seen correspondence grumbling about the stipulation made by
skeptical engineers and physicists that any legitimate over-unity device
should be able to supply its own input power. Inventors and supporters of
such machines seem to regard this requirement as overly stringent or even
as not playing fair. So what's the problem?
The definition of over-unity performance is that for some reasonable period
of time the output power from a device should exceed its input power.
Time enters into the statement since energy is power times time. It is
trivially easy to build a device which will produce more output power than
its input power; a storage battery and a flywheel both can. A net energy
output must be measured over a long enough period to eliminate the
possibility that the device is merely releasing previously stored energy.
One way to demonstrate an over unity performance is to measure both the
input power and the output power with some degree of accuracy. These
measurements may involve quite different methods and units. For example,
a motor may have an input of electrical energy and an output of mechanical
energy. The person making the measurements has to be familiar with the
errors which can arise in two quite different areas of technology. Even
measuring DC input power has its tricky points and when the current
contains a pulsing component, as motor currents generally do, simple
measurement instruments no longer give the correct answer. Mechanical
power measurements also have difficulties and potential errors. An inventor
who neglects possible measurement errors can convince himself that he has
Of course some claims are based on ignorance of the correct methods of
computing power. Pulsing the supply voltage to a device achieves a mean
drive power far greater than that calculated by simply multiplying the mean
current by the mean voltage. That doesn't mean that the efficiency has
risen. Dennis Lee's famous counter-rotating device is equivalent to a
times-two gear-box. By better adapting the motor torque to the load it
allows the motor to run faster and to consume less power for the same
output. According to Lee's own figures its efficiency improves from 7% to
21%. Without the "counter-rotating device" the motor could have achieved
some 80% efficiency.
Devices which show excess heat output are a special case. It all depends
on what you count as excess. Joule heating is a notoriously inefficient
process yet it is used as the standard. A device which produces, say, 15
watts of heat in a calorimeter from a 10 watt input may look as if it is
producing more output than its input. It probably isn't when you take all
power inputs into account. For example, a domestic heat pump generates
three to four times as much heat as would be generated by a resistive heater
using the same electrical input. Clever though that is, it isn't over-unity.
The excess heat energy is coming from the ambient air.
Despite claims of 600% efficiency, this "excess" energy cannot be used for
anything other than heating things up. No possible conversion of this
energy back to mechanical or electrical power can supply more energy than
was put in in the first place, a fact which even Dennis Lee must have
realized by this time. That's why cold fusion and similar claims are now
greeted with yawns. Low temperature heat output is probably not
scientifically significant and it can't be used for anything useful anyway.
So why do skeptics want to close the loop? Simply because people can fool
themselves, and others, but they can't fool nature. An over-unity claim may
arise from a technical misunderstanding, a measurement error or incorrect
computations. (Or, for that matter, from deceit.) However, if the output
power is really greater than the input power, it should be trivially easy to
convert the output back into a form suitable for driving the input.
Conventional generators and motors convert between electrical and
mechanical power with efficiencies in the region of 90%. DC and AC
voltages can be altered with similar or better efficiencies. Gear boxes can
adjust motor speeds up or down.
Any machine which really has an output greater than about 120% of its
input must be able to operate in a closed loop with no input other than its
own output. A machine which runs with no external input power is plainly
over-unity; the inventor of an "over-unity" machine who scorns this simple
test is hiding something, if only his own incompetence.
[Copyright 2000, Tom Napier]
Are the Randi tests fair?
by Tom Napier
It is often argued that supernormal powers are so sporadic in their
operation that they cannot be tested by the type of experiment required by
James Randi for the JREF $1,000,000 award. I would like to look at this
contention from the point of view of a physicist with some knowledge of
statistics. I should emphasize that, while I was present as an observer
during the unsuccessful demonstration of the existence of the human
energy field sponsored by James Randi and Bob Glickman in Philadelphia
in November 1996, I have no direct connection with Randi or JREF and I
certainly cannot make any representations on their behalf.
From my reading and my own observations it appears that the object of a
Randi test is to distinguish with high probability between people who
actually have the ability they claim and those who do not. The first
decision which Randi must make is whether the claimed ability qualifies
for the award, that is, does it lie outside the range of normal human
physiology or beyond the laws of science as they are presently
understood. No one disputes that one can bend a spoon with one's
hands, no prizes for that. Bend one by looking at it as it sits on a table
and you would qualify.
The ability also has to be verifiable in some way. You might claim to feel
cold every time a ghost walks through the room but, unless there is an
independent way of determining the presence of a ghost, your claim is
Once it has been agreed that an ability is supernormal and can be tested it
is necessary to devise a suitable test protocol. This is always designed in
conjunction with the person being tested. It is they, after all, who are
making claims about what they can do. There must be some target
performance which, if achieved, shows that the ability probably exists.
There should be a second target which, if not achieved, shows that the
ability does not exist. Between the two there will be a fuzzy area in
which we cannot say for sure whether or not the ability exists.
The test target must be set so that it can be easily achieved by the truly
supernormal but is unlikely to be achieved by chance by someone without
any abnormal ability. After all, if the probability of getting a passing score
were, say, 1% then the Randi award would have been collected ages ago,
even if no one had any paranormal powers whatsoever. The target must
be such that probability of getting a passing score by chance is truly
insignificant, perhaps less than one in a million. (Even with those odds,
there is a 1% chance that one of the first 10,000 applicants would achieve
a passing score by pure chance.)
"Not fair," cry the proponents, "these gifts don't work perfectly. You
have to cut us some slack." On the other hand, claimants tend to be
absurdly optimistic. Before being tested astrologers and dowsers have
claimed 100% accuracy; it would be reasonable to hold them to the
performance they claim. When Randi and Glickman tested a therapeutic
touch practitioner she set her own standard. She showed she could
distinguish between two people's energy fields with 100% accuracy --
when she could see the subjects. When tested under exactly the same
conditions, but with the subjects hidden from view, she scored 11 out of
20, a result entirely consistent with random guessing. A score of 18 or
over would have been accepted as qualifying her for the full, money on
the table, test.
In every test I've heard of the experimenters have allowed a much less
ambitious target to be used as the criterion of success. Far from making
things hard, experimenters go out of their way to make things easy.
They don't want to give the claimants the slightest excuse for failure.
Still, you have to draw the line somewhere. I sometimes claim to have a
gift to predict the sex of an unborn child. It is a powerful gift but it is
right only 50% of the time. Why does that get a laugh from the
audience? Because one can do just as well by guessing. Being right half
the time proves nothing precisely because the odds of guessing right are
also 50%. Does that mean that if someone claims an ability which works
only half the time, we can never prove it true?
The answer is no, we just have to work out a test protocol where the
probability of correct guessing is much less than 50%. Let me give an
example. We are going to test a dowser who can detect gold. If he's a
typical dowser he has never carried out a scientific test of his ability yet
he claims a 100% success rate. He probably means that whenever he
knows gold is present he gets a dowsing reaction 100% of the time. The
important thing to find out is whether he can detect the presence of gold
when neither he nor anyone else present knows where the gold is.
In a typical test a number of identical containers such as plastic 35 mm
film cans are used. One contains a piece of gold padded with cotton
wool. The others contain equal weights of lead. Usually the test starts
with a confirmation that the conditions are suitable for dowsing. The
subject is told which can contains the gold and demonstrates his ability to
detect it. This test can be repeated several times; the expected result is
100% success. The containers are then shuffled out of sight of the
subject and the witnesses.
Now all the dowser has to do is to repeat the former test. The only
difference is that now he doesn't know which is the correct target unless
his dowsing ability tells him. Of course he might hit on the gold by
accident even with no dowsing ability. If there are five targets even a
giftless dowser has a 20% chance of scoring a hit. That's why the test
must be repeated many times. The guesser will continue to get about one
hit in five attempts, the real dowser should do much better.
Regrettably, it is necessary for the test to be designed to make cheating
ineffective. Thus we must switch the gold from can to can between
tests, just in case there is some way of distinguishing the correct can
from external marks. It is also important that no one in the test room
knows which is the correct target in case they give unconscious clues to
the dowser. This doesn't mean that the dowser intends to cheat; people
can use helpful information without knowing they are doing so. The test
protocol must eliminate any possibility of such information being
If we carry out the test twice the chance of getting hits on both tests by
accident is 0.2 times 0.2 or 4%. That's still quite high. To beat the one
in a million level would require nine successful tests. Still, our 100%
accurate dowser should be able to do this in an hour and walk off a
million dollars richer.
So how do we test the less confident dowser, the one who claims a 50%
success rate? We must increase the number of tests until the cumulative
probability of guessing drops below the one in a million level. The easiest
way of doing this is to increase the number of cans used in each test. If
we used two cans, both the random guesser and the 50% successful
dowser would show an identical success rate. With five cans the
difference between the guesser's 20% success rate and the dowser's 50%
rate is not great. By using 100 cans in each test we would reduce the
guesser's success rate to 1%, the dowser should still be right half the
This test must still be repeated many times. We have to pick the number
of tests such that there is some number of total hits which the real
dowser should beat nearly all the time but which the random guesser will
achieve only once in a million trials.
For example, repeating this test twenty times would give the real dowser
an average score of ten. In practice his actual score can vary over a
wide range. However, it can be shown that he will score six or better on
47 trials out of 48 and five or better on 168 trials out of 169. If we pick
a threshold score in the region of five or six hits we are not too likely to
fail a real 50% accurate dowser.
The random guesser would get one hit in about 11% of such trials but
has a rapidly falling probability of getting more than one hit. His
probability of getting four or more hits is one in 731101 trials, not far
short of our one in a million criterion. The guesser will hit five or more
times about once in 29 million trials. Thus taking five hits in twenty tests
as our threshold virtually eliminates chance success and is still fair to our
50% accurate dowser.
I've gone on at some length with this example to show that it is possible,
with some calculation, to devise a fair test even for abilities which don't
work every time. I'm sure James Randi has access to better statisticians
than I and is just as able (and willing) to design fair tests for intermittent
[Copyright 2000, Tom Napier]
posted by Eric Krieg eric@...
To people who say, "I can paranormally discern things way above chance, but
just not at 100%" - I say, the solution is to just do a test with more
trials. Calling 80 coin flips correctly out of 100 would actually be
more impressive than 10 in a row. It's my understanding that Randi is
open to negotiate test terms with claimants who simply can't hit quite
The Randi challenge is found at:
Eric Krieg eric@...