Originally written Saturday, November 13, 2004
The Discovery Channel can be pretty entertaining, and when I’m home briefly between work and class I sometimes watch 15 or 20 minutes of it while I’m eating. (I like the shows they have about engineering and monster machines.)
Yesterday I watched almost a full program about the “Hutchison Effect”. The Hutchison Effect is supposedly a series of effects (it’s not just one) that a Canadian inventor, John Hutchison, invented. Here’s a summary from a webpage that describes it:
The Hutchison Effect occurs as the result of radio wave interferences in a zone of spatial volume encompassed by high voltage sources, usually a Van de Graff generator, and two or more Tesla coils.
The effects produced include levitation of heavy objects, fusion of dissimilar materials such as metal and wood (exactly as portrayed in the movie, “The Philadelphia Experiment”), the anomalous heating of metals without burning adjacent material, spontaneous fracturing of metals (which separate by sliding in a sideways fashion), and both temporary and permanent changes in the crystalline structure and physical properties of metals.
I was immediately skeptical, just from hearing them talk about it during the beginning of the show. It didn’t help that Hutchison looked a little eccentric, or that he did all of his ‘experiments’ in his apartment using cast-away Navy and Army surplus equipment.
This guy lives in an apartment that has to be seen to be believed, it’s packed chock full of all sorts of crap, although it looks pretty organized. I’m talking wall-to-wall oscilloscopes, digital readouts, metal boxes, dials, knobs, chains and pulleys.
They started showing clips of this “effect” in action, specifically ones that showed its apparent anti-gravity powers. Each clip was a fairly close up shot taken from about 5 feet. They showed a wooden floor (you could see the bottom of a broom sitting on the floor) and a household object sitting on it. The object would then move a little bit and then levitate off the screen! Stuff like nails, a hammer, a wrench, a bowl, a bottle of 7-Up, tin foil, etc.
This was pretty interesting, I thought, but hardly conclusive evidence. I was trying to think up ways that you could make an object “levitate” like that, say, using magnetism, when it showed a very interesting clip. The clip was of a cup of a thick white liquid or syrup, about the consistency of creamy plaster. You could see a glob form at the top of the liquid, then rise out of the cup and go up off the screen! It left behind a spike in the liquid, if you know what I mean – like it globbed upward, and when it separated there was a kind of liquid string pointing straight up.
This had me impressed. How could you make THAT levitate? It’s one thing to fake levitating a piece of tin foil, but that was pretty convincing!
But I was still skeptical. I started trying to think of how you could do this as the show progressed. They then interviewed a guy from a US intelligence agency. They sent a team of 6 or 8 observers up to Canada in the early 70s to do tests and observe this phenomenon (I think the LSD craze permeated into the US military back then too). Well, it didn’t work out too well, because although Hutchison claimed that things happened during these tests, they ONLY happened when the observers weren’t there.
Then Hutchison went on about how he was worried that the US government could be using his invention to create weapons. As he talked, I suddenly realized how he’d faked his levitation videos.
In each case, the wooden floor is NOT actually a floor, it’s just a piece of wood. The videos are taken UPSIDE DOWN. He uses an electromagnet above the piece of wood to hold the object in place, and he’s got the end of a broom stuck on there to give the illusion that it’s a floor. Then, he slowly reduces current to the electromagnet, and the object loosens and then falls. Turned upside down, it looks like the object is actually going UP, not down!
In cases like the pepsi bottle or the white liquid, it would be simple to just put metal in the base of the container and hold it in place that way (the 7-Up bottle was closed, by the way).
The show was ending, and convinced that I would find other skeptics on the Internet, I ran upstairs and looked it up on Google. Well, there’s stuff all over the place, but not really any skeptics, at least none that really talk about how he could have faked his experiments.
Then I found a site that had a different video I hadn’t seen. You can see it right at the top of the page. It looks like a metal object jumping around. Hmmm, I thought – that doesn’t fit in well with my upside-down electromagnet hoax idea. Then I read farther down the page and found this (bolded emphasis mine):
I’ve received a number of messages about the above video-links pointing out that a string is clearly visibly holding up the toy-UFO that Hutchison is experimenting with. I asked John for more information on the purpose of the string, and received the following reply:
“The string is not string but #32-gauge double polythermalized wire on a takeup up reel with 20 to 50000 volts DC. The the main apparatus was turned on, causing the toy plastic ufo to fly all about in amazing gyrations. This was a pretest to gryphon films airing this fall for fox TV. I did not need the extra high voltage 2000 time period so the toy levitated without a high voltage hook up during the filming for gryphon there was a string on the toy no high-voltage dc but interesting movements.” – John Hutchison
This is the most ridiculous explanation I’ve ever heard. Someone sees the string attached to the object, and his excuse is, “no, that’s not a string, it’s a wire?!!! Then he tacks on a pile of mumbo-jumbo to try and mask the fact that he’s bouncing the object around on a wire!
Although videos are easily faked, it would have been easy for him to make the videos a lot harder to criticize. He must have known that people would have a hard time believing that he can levitate objects using some equipment he bought at the neighbourhood surplus store, or that an aging hippie who wears cut-off jean vests has managed to leapfrog ahead of Einstein and NASA. Levitating the object while pouring a glass of water from a pitcher would have been a good demonstration. Or simply standing next to the object. Or showing the object COMING DOWN again – I found that very interesting! The videos don’t show where the objects go, and it doesn’t show them coming back down. I wonder why?
The man is obviously a total charlatan. And I am extremely unimpressed with the Discovery Channel. I realize that they are in the business of entertainment BUT they also claim to educate. Yet there was not a single skeptic or critic on the entire show!
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard the defense, “it’s true, I saw it on the Discovery Channel” when people are confronted with skepticism about some bizarre claim. The Discovery Channel is BOGUS, people!
If you want to read some skeptical views on a variety of hoaxes, frauds, and outlandish claims, go to www.skepdic.com, which includes a criticism of the famous Philadelphia Experiment mentioned near the beginning of this post.
January 29, 2006 – added some videos that purport to show Hutchison Effect.