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Skeptical tax evasion, and writings by Tom Napier

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  • Eric Krieg
    The following is a link in the skeptical chicks calendar series: http://www.magicdave.com/sccal/sep.htm A great periodical about misuse of statistics:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 30, 2000
      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

      Tom Napier

      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
      achieved over-unity.
      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@...

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