I don’t usually feel like getting on a soapbox about woo because for the most part, it is harmless belief and we are all a bit susceptible to strange beliefs. However, when those beliefs have devastating consequences for others then it is time to shout out. I wrote about the witch-burnings and albino murders in Africa, but now I return to something a little closer to home.
A couple of weeks ago, a number of us (bad astronomer, Ben Goldacre) blogged about the British company selling bomb detecting devices to Iraq that appears to be nothing more than simply a divining rod. The company, ATSC is registered in Yeovil, Somerset. (That’s my neck of the woods). ATSC’s managing director Jim McCormick, a former police officer, invented the detectors a decade ago. The “ADE651 device” costs around £35,000 ($60k). It appears to be a telescopic car aerial attached to a black box. Inside there is a plastic card that is supposed to be ready programmed with an electromagnetic ‘resonance’ of what needs to be detected. It is claimed to be based on the principles of nuclear quadrupole resonance but from what I understand that would require generating a magnetic field and sending out a strong pulse – something that seems to be absent in the ADE651 – its powered by body energy! Even if it does use NQR then it seems highly implausible that it can work from an airplane 3 miles up as claimed in the product details. Still, they have already sold an unbelievable £51 million’s worth to Iraq.
Not surprisingly, when a guard and a driver for The New York Times investigating this story, both licensed to carry firearms, drove through nine police checkpoints that were using the device, none of the checkpoint guards detected the two AK-47 rifles and ammunition inside the vehicle. Later, it even failed to detect a grenade and pistol in plain view on the table of the General in charge of the checkpoint, who replied that the operators needed more training.
Mr Jim McCormick, who generally does not return calls, is reported as saying, “We have been dealing with doubters for ten years. One of the problems we have is that the machine does look a little primitive. We are working on a new model that has flashing lights.”
Flashing lights? That will make it work then and ready for the festive period. Something for the kids maybe?
Take a good hard look at the pictures Jim McCormick. These are from the largest suicide car bomb since 2007 that took place in Baghdad back in October this year. I only just discovered that the two cars involved passed through a checkpoint equipped with the ADE651. If this is true, then I don’t think a few fairy lights will make the difference.
Techowiz has been particularly vocal in this issue with a whole blog dedicated to exposing ATSC . You might want to look at the response from Jim McCormick. I think this issue is too important to be reduced to a war of words and name calling. Rather, I think this company and its claims needs to be checked out. It is bad enough that we de-stabilized Iraq, but worse if we knowingly allowed unscrupulous businesses to exploit the naive.
If it turns out that ATSC have really developed technology to discover these devices then I think a Queen’s medal for technology is in order. But if it turns out that it is nothing more than divining, then it has to be stopped.
I have contacted David Laws who is the Liberal Democrat MP for Yeovil, where ATSC Ltd is registered to look into this mater. You might want to drop him a line if you feel as strongly as I do.