More on Hutchison

What follows is a response made by a visitor to a post I wrote some time ago called “The Discovery Channel is Bogus!”. Read the original post and the response here to get the context.


Richard, thanks for dropping by the site. I appreciate your comments, and I’d like to respond to them one at a time, starting with this one:

“an object is either held [by] a magnet or it isn’t. once a magnetic field is too weak to hold an object up, the object falls, there is no medium ground that would allow an object to be slowly lowered. and even if this was possible, it does not explain why the objects flip around and move horizontally also.”

There was no “middle ground” where the object was being “slowly lowered”. The object was on the surface of the wood and then would reluctantly detach, but as soon as it lost contact with the wood it immediately rose (or fell, I would argue) off the screen. This is consistent with an object that is held in place behind the wood (it’s interesting that the surface is wood, a material with no magnetic properties) by an electromagnet with decreasing current – as soon as the object loses contact with the surface the magnetic field no longer holds it in place and it falls. I did not see any video that showed the object moving horizontally once it detached from the surface.

“he mentions the string as if it is proof positive that [H]utchison is a fake. but i guess he fails to realize that in order for his theory about the electromagnet and upside down camera to be accurate. the toy UFO would have to be standing on the end of the string instead of hanging from it.”

In the case of the object held by a string, an electromagnet isn’t necessary, all you need is a string (in fact, I said that that clip didn’t “fit in well with my upside-down electromagnet hoax idea”). All that’s happening here is an object attached to a string, a laughably transparent trick. Watch this video, where you can clearly see a string in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. I think it speaks for itself.

You also say that my “most convincing point is that [H]utchison himself dresses funny and has unusual stuff in his apartment”. How Hutchison looks or what he has in his apartment is irrelevant to my criticism and was merely included for some flavour and context, it’s certainly not my “most convincing point” or even a point at all.

I am not familiar with all of the so-called Hutchison Effects, so I will limit my criticism to his claims that he is able to inexplicably overcome gravity and levitate objects. This is a clear case of pseudoscience – false claims that do not comply with the scientific method. His levitation “experiments” have these characteristics of pseudoscience:

– They contradict experimentally established results
– They fail to provide an experimental possibility of reproducible results
– They violate Occam’s Razor

I think an explanation of these three characteristics would be interesting to many of my readers. First, his “levitation” contradicts experimentally established results. In fact, his claims to be able to levitate objects run counter to a vast body of theories and evidence, like Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (which deals with gravity among other things) and the enormous number of experiments that have verified this theory.

Second, his levitation “experiments” fail to provide reproducible results. An experiment should be reproducible, that is, you should be able to tell someone else what to do to get the same results you got. That’s why real scientists document every step of an experiment, so that other scientists can try it themselves to see that it works or doesn’t work. Hutchison doesn’t do that, maybe because instructing someone to tie a string to an object and jerk it around is a little embarrassing.

The third characteristic is a really damning criticism of Hutchison’s levitation claims, which is that they violate Occam’s Razor, the principle that when “multiple explanations are available for a phenomenon, the simplest version is preferred”. When looking at Hutchison’s levitation claims, we are faced with two possibilities: 1) that Einstein was wrong and our conception of space, time and gravity is thus completely incorrect, in spite of the fact that this theory accurately describes the motion of the planets, has been verified in thousands of experiments and has led to inventions like the atom bomb, or 2) that an eccentric fraud is dangling some objects from a string and claiming levitation or otherwise deceiving people.

Einstein produced theories (subsequently verified by experiments), Hutchison produces videotapes. Whether or not he deceives people using string, magnets or some other mechanism is irrelevant. I have seen videotape that looked entirely real of a man capable of flying from building to building because he shoots a sticky web from his hands, but that doesn’t mean I think Spiderman really exists. David Copperfield is able to make a 747 vanish in front of crowds of people, but no one believes it’s anything more than large-scale sleight-of-hand.

Hutchison’s levitation claims don’t even stand up to common sense. If he could levitate objects in the 1970s, where are the inventions today that are based on his inventions? The invention of jet engines quickly led to jet aircraft, why hasn’t the invention of levitation led to levitation aircraft? Aren’t the applications of such an invention obvious?

What’s interesting to me about your impassioned defense of Hutchison is that you care so much. There are scientific theories and experiments that are even more remarkable than what Hutchison claims to be able to do that are genuine (for instance, the relative nature of time, knowledge that Einstein, once again, brought us) but I doubt that you feel as passionate about these theories as you do about Hutchison’s claims or probably many other pseudoscientific claims.

I think this is because pseudoscience is much like religion: it satisfies people’s desires for the unexplainable, the mysterious, the supernatural. If objects can levitate, perhaps we can levitate ourselves and fly – perhaps we can invent a time machine – perhaps there are aliens among us. When real science comes along to debunk these claims, the believers in pseudoscience react emotionally, not rationally, because these criticisms strike at that inner desire to believe in “something more”. Or perhaps just because they realize that they just don’t stand up to rational criticism.

If you get a chance, pick up a copy of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan, which does a great job of comparing pseudoscience with the genuine scientific method.

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