Hilarious Steorn post-mortem video

July 12th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, perpetual motion | 20 Comments »

Here is a video of Steorn director Sean chatting to some people in the aftermath of his failed demonstration, it gets particularly funny about 4 minutes in. You just want to reach into the screen and go “Oh, all six of the bearings all broke in three machines and that’s not happened before? It’s alright mate, don’t worry about it, we’ll get some new ones straight away. Fly them in? No problem, you’ve got plenty of cash, this is obviously important. Really? Okay, no don’t go home. We’ll have a whip round. No seriously mate, don’t pack up, stay there, we’ll have your bearings in a mo. Just a delay. Don’t call off the demo. Sean? Sean?”

I don’t know who the people in the room were, there seem to be a lot of Americans who are really into perpetual motion, and have possibly even flown over especially to see his demo in action. I certainly wasn’t invited. Here’s part 2:

And lots more excellent Steorn videos here:


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20 Responses

  1. SPig said,

    July 12, 2007 at 2:07 pm


    Look ma! A perpetual stillness machine!

  2. Ben Goldacre said,

    July 12, 2007 at 2:09 pm


  3. Munin said,

    July 12, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    Perpetual check – noun, Chess.

    A continuing series of checks resulting in a drawn game because they cannot be halted or evaded without resulting in checkmate or a serious disadvantage.

  4. Lukealike said,

    July 12, 2007 at 2:53 pm

    I was at that meeting by accident – I have an office near Spitalfields Market. I blagged my way in about halfway through Sean’s mea culpa and was really tempted to ask ‘So – impossible thing still impossible then?’ But I thought it would churlish on a Friday afternoon.

    Really, the only interesting thing about Steorn is the structure of the scam. Anyone here know enough about the history of such schemes to draw parallels with what has gone before?

  5. SPig said,

    July 12, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    Well there is the incident when Richard Feynman attended a similar demonstration. There are some parallels in it..


  6. Daniel Rutter said,

    July 12, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    > there seem to be a lot of
    > Americans who are really
    > into perpetual motion

    I’d be surprised if the proportion of the population that finds this stuff plausible differs much throughout the Western world. Americans are just in the majority because there are more of ’em. Who knows why they were out in force at the UK Steorn demo; perhaps they’re investors.

    For more information on the burgeoning field of “alternative, clean, practical, renewable [often laws-of-physics-defying] energy solutions”, I recommend PESWiki, wherein can be found vast amounts of information, which is about 90% bullshit as far as I can see.

    The PESWiki page for Steorn is here.

  7. andrew said,

    July 12, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    Lukealike: “…draw parallels with what has gone before”

    There’s also Carl Tilley’s perpetual DeLorean.

    Tilley produced an electrically powered DeLorean that would never need recharging.

    He would demonstrate the car by doing 400 laps (532 miles) around the Nashville Superspeedway. On the big day (7 Sept 2002) he managed 15 laps of the track before he had to stop the car because of an “axle-bearing failure”.

    Tilley announced that:
    “Immediately upon returning to the workshop in Lebanon, planning began for repair of the DeLorean which will include close attention to all mechanical systems, including bearings all around.”

    That was five years ago, he still hasn’t sorted out those pesky bearings (although his company is still going).

    “bearing failure”, that sounds oddly familiar…

  8. Herring said,

    July 12, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    I used to work with a guy who was an engineer for one of the smaller Formula 1 teams. He explained something to me one time:

    It’s getting near the end of the season, you’ve had no decent finishes and the sponsors are getting well nervous. So what you do, you fit half-sized fuel tanks to the car, you tune the engine to f**k and you tell the driver to just go for it. He gets up to 3rd or 2nd, then retires with “mechanical failure”. The sponsors all think “if only they had a bit more money …”

  9. raygirvan said,

    July 12, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    > Lukealike to draw parallels with what has gone before?

    One thing to prepare for is if (or most likely when) Steorn goes into liquidation, the minimal chance of any kind of action for fraudulent trading.

  10. TimW said,

    July 12, 2007 at 9:03 pm


    It’s all so good I’ve been to the Badscience shop and ordered one of those lovely “Orbo My Arse” shirts.

    What, nobody’s designed one yet??

  11. Tontine said,

    July 12, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    That’d be a “Can’t tell my Arse from my Orbo” shirt, surely…

  12. pinguin said,

    July 13, 2007 at 1:34 am

    It’s odd, because with that t-shirt, he looks like a proper physicist. But no.

  13. SciencePunk said,

    July 13, 2007 at 2:11 am

    parallels – see Charles Redheffer.

    Louis Enricht knew how to make (and spend) money, and at least he had a convincing demo.

  14. andrew said,

    July 13, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    They had the museum space booked for 9 days (5-13 July).
    They had the technical difficulties on the 4th and 5th, and abandoned the demo on the morning of the 6th, with 8 days left to go.
    Even if they hadn’t thought to bring a complete set of spares, what component couldn’t be purchased within one day, or re-machined within one day?

    In fact, why do the demo at all?
    They announced the demo in their video promo on the 13th April, just after their latest investment round had gone through on the 26th March.

    An unscrupulous scammer in a similar situation (certainly not Steorn) might have pitched the investment like this:

    “OK, we’re about to go public with a proof of the technology, and once that happens the company’s going to be worth billions within days.
    Now, I’m telling you as a favour, right, here’s your last chance to get on board before the whole world wants a slice.
    No pressure, mind, just letting you know”.

    After the demo, it might be
    “Yeah, the engineering’s still flaky, we’ll have another demo in the next few months, when we’ve ironed out the wrinkles”.

    This is, of course, a hypothetical scenario totally unrelated to Steorn.

  15. TimW said,

    July 13, 2007 at 10:28 pm

    That’s brilliant Tontine (11), I’ll buy one, how much? And can you do one with long sleeves? 🙂

  16. Dubby said,

    July 14, 2007 at 1:23 am

    Oh1 Wonderful! For the first time in my life I have nothing to add.

  17. boatie said,

    July 14, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    I cant believe hes messing us about, hes using a Mac!

  18. pcj-the said,

    August 1, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    This is the 21st Century isn’t it? Am I suffering from IMSHI syndrome (I’ve Missed Something Haven’t I)?

    To quote a certain VM person “I DON’T BELIEVE IT!”. No that’s not a reference to the required suspension of the law of conservation of energy, but to the total barefaced cheek of the presenter and to the technical ignorance of most current members of society.
    Skipping the Cof E law for a moment some basic simplicities spring to mind: These people have allegedly spent some 8 million Euros on R & D and they can’t get a simple bloody bearing system to work? They don’t have spares? They don’t even have some video footage of the system running till failure and its subsequent teardown?
    Worst of all the press people present appear to be technically ignorant: not one single telling question re the problems and the lack of real science/technical information from the presenter.
    By the way since this is a perpetual motion machine doesn’t the original newspaper advert constitute a breach of Advertising Standards and maybe even fraud legislation?
    Does anybody have any background on these people? Qualifications, work history, other “magic” products and companies?

    Perhaps I’m just jealous of this ability to charm huge amounts of money out of the gullible/greedy (and no doubt into significant salaries and perks packages for the charmers) and all this other talk of jet-packs, personal helicopters etc rings a few bells at my advanced age.

    Back in 1977 I was a JET (Junior Engineer in Training) with the IBA. Part of our course involved learning about TV studio techniques/work and one of our tasks was to make an advert.
    My mate and I created one to sell Heavy Water as a cleaning agent! Our big selling point was that being Heavy Water it reaches the parts other waters can’t reach. We even set up a filmed demo showing in an absolutely simple to understand way how heavy water was indeed heavier than ordinary water. Two identical coffee jars, carefully labelled with a wrap-around band on their mid-sections, were filled to the same level (about 3/4 full) and the lids replaced. The two jars were then placed in a deep bowl of water. The 3/4 full jar of ordinary water just floated, but the 3/4 full jar of heavy water sank, demonstrating our point. The punch line: don’t ask the cost, it’s what’s dew-ter-um!
    (crap pun I know!) The secret: even though both jars were filled next to each other to the same level there was less water in the ordinary water jar!
    I think I missed my niche, engineering never made me rich. Does this guy need any team members?

    On a slighlty different tack: this future does suck. Never mind the jet-packs and the personal helicopters etc, what happened to the four day week and all the leisure time we would have (forecast outcome after the 3 day week forced on the nation during the miners v Ted Heath battle had showed we could all be as productive in four days as five: I’ve still got the original article somewhere!)

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  20. recalk said,

    January 21, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Amazingly they are back www.steorn.com/news/releases/ wonder if anyone will fall for it this time”