Why Scams Work

The WSJ has an interesting article about why get rich quick schemes that should be so easy to demolish, particularly with Google at our fingertips, seem to attract so many people.

The article reminded me of a piece I published years ago over at my climate site.  It was about a company called "Hydroinfra" in Sweden.  I want to reprint the article as I still find the subject to be immensely entertaining.  In particular, I really really encourage you to look at the comments section of this article linked towards the bottom and see the back and forth with reader "michael".  In the face of overwhelming skepticism from pretty much every other reader, Michael desperately wants to believe -- so much so that he and a few others start heaping derision and sinister motives (interspersed with spurious appeals to authority) on those who are trying to patiently explain the science.  One can see this same desperate behavior from those who have bought into every famous pyramid scheme ever.

I got an email today from some random Gmail account asking me to write about HyrdoInfra.  OK.  The email begins: “HydroInfra Technologies (HIT) is a Stockholm based clean tech company that has developed an innovative approach to neutralizing carbon fuel emissions from power plants and other polluting industries that burn fossil fuels.”

Does it eliminate CO2?  NOx?  Particulates?  SOx?  I actually was at the bottom of my inbox for once so I went to the site.  I went to this applications page.  Apparently, it eliminates the “toxic cocktail” of pollutants that include all the ones I mentioned plus mercury and heavy metals.  Wow!  That is some stuff.

Their key product is a process for making something they call “HyrdroAtomic Nano Gas” or HNG.  It sounds like their PR guys got Michael Crichton and JJ Abrams drunk in a brainstorming session for pseudo-scientific names.

But hold on, this is the best part.  :

Splitting water (H20) is a known science. But the energy costs to perform splitting outweigh the energy created from hydrogen when the Hydrogen is split from the water molecule H2O.

This is where mainstream science usually closes the book on the subject.

We took a different approach by postulating that we could split water in an energy efficient way to extract a high yield of Hydrogen at very low cost.

A specific low energy pulse is put into water. The water molecules line up in a certain structure and are split from the Hydrogen molecules.

The result is HNG.

HNG is packed with ‘Exotic Hydrogen’

Exotic Hydrogen is a recent scientific discovery.

HNG carries an abundance of Exotic Hydrogen and Oxygen.

On a Molecular level, HNG is a specific ratio mix of Hydrogen and Oxygen.

The unique qualities of HNG show that the placement of its’ charged electrons turns HNG into an abundant source of exotic Hydrogen.

HNG displays some very different properties from normal hydrogen.

Some basic facts:

  • HNG instantly neutralizes carbon fuel pollution emissions
  • HNG can be pressurized up to 2 bars.
  • HNG combusts at a rate of 9000 meters per second while normal Hydrogen combusts at a rate 600 meters per second.
  • Oxygen values actually increase when HNG is inserted into a diesel flame.
  • HNG acts like a vortex on fossil fuel emissions causing the flame to be pulled into the center thus concentrating the heat and combustion properties.
  • HNG is stored in canisters, arrayed around the emission outlet channels. HNG is injected into the outlets to safely & effectively clean up the burning of fossil fuels.
  • The pollution emissions are neutralized instantly & safely with no residual toxic cocktail or chemicals to manage after the HNG burning process is initiated.

Exotic Hyrdrogen!  I love it.  This is probably a component of the “red matter” in the Abrams Star Trek reboot.  Honestly, someone please tell me this a joke, a honeypot for mindless environmental activist drones.    What are the chemical reactions going on here?  If CO2 is captured, what form does it take?  How does a mixture of Hydrogen and Oxygen molecules in whatever state they are in do anything with heavy metals?  None of this is on the website.   On their “validation” page, they have big labels like “Horiba” that look like organizations thave somehow put their imprimatur on the study.  In fact, they are just names of analytical equipment makers.  It’s like putting “IBM” in big print on your climate study because you ran your model on an IBM computer.

SCAM!  Honestly, when you see an article written to attract investment that sounds sort of impressive to laymen but makes absolutely no sense to anyone who knows the smallest about of Chemistry or Physics, it is an investment scam.

But they seem to get a lot of positive press.  In my search of Google, everything in the first ten pages or so are just uncritical republication of their press releases in environmental and business blogs.   You actually have to go into the comments sections of these articles to find anyone willing to observe this is all total BS.   If you want to totally understand why the global warming debate gets nowhere, watch commenter Michael at this link desperately try to hold onto his faith in HydroInfra while people who actually know things try to explain why this makes no sense.

Years later, doing a Google search, I still seem to be the only person in the first 10 pages of Google results that wrote a skeptical article.  Seriously, I figured out this was all bullsh*t from about 60 seconds of studying their web site -- is this really what happens in tech journalism?  I got the same press release in my box that they did.  I (and many of the tech site commenters) figured this out quickly, why didn't any actual journalists?



  1. mckyj57:

    "In the face of overwhelming skepticism from pretty much every other
    reader, Michael desperately wants to believe -- so much so that he and a
    few others start heaping derision and sinister motives (interspersed
    with spurious appeals to authority) on those who are trying to patiently
    explain the science. One can see this same desperate behavior from
    those who have bought into every famous pyramid scheme ever."

    Sounds like the definition of the Trump campaign.

  2. J_W_W:

    Heh, you probably don't even love science, let a lone bleeping love science!!! ;-)

  3. bloke in france:

    A fool and his money...
    And a good thing they are easily parted.

  4. ToddF:

    A buddy of mine from college majored in Journalism. We were touring his school and asked him if he had ever been in that (one of the science departments) building. He replied, "I majored in journalism, why would I go into a science building?"

    There's your answer.

  5. Conqueror of All Foes Cheese:

    The "journalism" part of the English dept [which I think has a sub-division called Communication Technology or some BS like that] is on the same floor as I am. As near as I can tell, journalism/communication [think tv talking heads] majors are phobic of and avoid as much as possible any learning that requires numbers, logic, or even sequential thinking. I'm regretfully not kidding. They apparently want to, and are taught to, round up random bits of "information" and crush them into some given "narrative".
    That makes them perfect marks for all kinds of scam artists.

  6. Thane_Eichenauer:

    Saying "That applies to the Trump campaign." doesn't make it true. You might offer an example if you would care to make a point.

  7. kidmugsy:

    I like "exotic hydrogen": it reminds me of the "nascent hydrogen" of my schooldays.

  8. Trimegistus:

    I've seen that in action. I worked at a couple of different newspapers, and the ignorance and gullibility of the reporter and editors was shocking.

  9. mckyj57:

    "In the face of overwhelming skepticism from pretty much every voter, as evinced by huge unfavorable and untrustworty numbers, Thane desperately wants to believe -- so much so that he and a few others start heaping derision and sinister motives (interspersed with spurious appeals to authority) on those who are trying to patiently explain the utter unsutiablilty of Trump as a candidate. One can see this same desperate behavior from those who have bought the pitch of every con man ever."

  10. BobSykes:

    Actually, that was nascent oxygen, and it was a reference to the oxidizing power of nitrates. It was usually found in old texts on water quality, and it was thought then (not now) that the nitrates could make up for a lack of oxygen in lakes and river.

  11. marque2:

    Interestingly Trump is more pro science than Hillary and has a healthy scepticism of the dubious sciences. I wonder if the quote doesn't really belong to you and you are projecting.

  12. SineWaveII:

    Gee maybe we can get these people to invest in this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ac7G7xOG2Ag
    It makes as much if not more sense.

  13. Ann_In_Illinois:

    Wow, sounds great. How do I invest?

  14. obloodyhell:

    I thing that bleeping needs accompaniment... Don't leave the poor thing lonesome!!!

  15. obloodyhell:

    Of course he is. One of the first actions of liberals is to project their own damnfool flaws onto everyone else as a pre-defense against someone calling them that. Similar to the way every communist totalitarian state calls itself the "People's Democratic Republic" of bullshittistan...

  16. jhertzli:

    I thought they were tied fool for fool.

  17. jhertzli:

    The current phrase is "science curiosity."

  18. jhertzli:

    Sounds like every political campaign ever.

  19. Matthew Slyfield:

    "Exotic Hyrdrogen! I love it."

    Could this be an obscure reference to deuterium or tritium?

    Deuterium = hydrogen isotope with a neutron.

    Tritium = Hydrogen isotope with two neutrons.

  20. SamWah:

    Exotic hydrogen dances and strips off atoms.

  21. SamWah:

    " I (and many of the tech site commenters) figured this out quickly, why didn't any actual journalists?" COME, now, Warren; you know journalists don't study science!

  22. Thane_Eichenauer:

    Copy/paste. No original ideas. No example I asked for. Y'all are confirmation bias all the way to election day.

  23. glenn.griffin3:

    This junk comes out all the time, and is taken more seriously every time by the mainstream press. NeuMoo, NanoSolar ... my favorite is the "compressed air powered car" that gets pushed every time gas prices go up. Not only is the math against it, common sense is against it, but: the last time I saw the press release in 2009, the car photo had a license plate sticker from 2003; but they still said it was "about to be released" and of course they were seeking investors in this exciting opportunity.

  24. markm:

    If deuterium or tritium was what this word-salad was talking about, then they're claiming to add neutrons to the common single-proton hydrogen nucleus just by applying an electric field. Which is as impossible as what they _are_ claiming: that they can drop a hydrogen atom into a lower energy state than the ground state.

  25. markm:

    How about this one: "HNG can be pressurized up to 2 bars."

    When I was 10 years old, I pressurized air up to 2 bars (60 psi) when I used a hand pump to inflate my bicycle tires. The only limit on how how high a pressure you can apply to a gas is the point (depending on temperature) where it turns into a liquid or solid, and that's in the hundreds or thousands of bars for hydrogen. Water vapor (if that's what they mean by HNG) will condense into liquid water at a few bars, but you can also apply much higher pressures to liquids and solids - the only limit is how much force the dies on your hydraulic press can stand. (Scientists use diamond dies to simulate pressures near the center of the earth.)

  26. markm:

    Or the Hillary campaign. Her supporters desperately want to believe that Hillary didn't knowingly violate security laws when she had all her government e-mail - regardless of classification markings - forwarded to her private server. They desperately want to believe that she's telling the truth that she had no idea what (c) and other classification markings meant, and yet that she is experienced and competent in government operations.[1] They desperately want to believe that this private server wasn't in violation of FOIA, and that mass deletions of subpoenad e-mails weren't a conspiracy to corrupt the course of justice. They desperately want to believe that being the wife of the President, and a few years in the Senate and as the figurehead of the State Department beats Trump's decades of managing large businesses for executive experience. They desperately want to believe that repeatedly collapsing doesn't imply any serious health problems. They desperately want to believe that she isn't a serial enabler of Bill's sexual predation. And most of all, they desperately want to believe that she isn't a sociopath.

    Neither Trump nor Hillary will be an acceptable President, but Hillary's minuses far outweigh Trump's. Furthermore, it's clear that both the entire Democratic contingent in Congress and the establishment Republicans will oppose the implementation of Trump's bad ideas, unlike their failure to rein in Obama. Hillary will have even more freedom of action - she has already managed to blackmail or suborn the FBI

    [1] It's not just Hillary that's getting a pass on this. Every member of her supposedly experienced staff that knew the laws on classified information and didn't report her mishandling of it to other authority was a lawbreaker and should be going to prison.

  27. Mole1:

    Really? What do you think his opinion is on Ricardo's principle of comparative advantage?

  28. Mike Powers:

    There's also the "EMDrive"--which NASA totally tested, and they refused to discuss the results afterwards, that means IT TOTALLY WORKS RIGHT?!

  29. J_W_W:

    What, she only frequently, occasionally, almost never, a couple of times, has collapsed!!!!

  30. DaveK:

    Scams work for one simple reason: People are seemingly hard-wired to suspend disbelief. We learn through hard experience that we shouldn't do it, but we still want to (hence the popularity of stage productions). Some of us learn to hold on to that disbelief, while others never do.

  31. JTW:

    And worse yet, they are actually proud of it...