Daily Archives: July 30, 2008

Rocket science

TV reporters will be among the first to admit they aren’t rocket scientists. With their Journalism degrees and their slightly-above-average IQs, they succeed because they are just smart enough to look under rocks, grasp the obvious, write clean copy and produce ninety seconds of television. The good ones are quick studies, with a broad smattering of knowledge. They may know politics, the courts, or government. But most would admit they are rarely experts at much of anything except TV news.

With that background, it may have made perfect sense for Adam Murphy to produce a story on WGCL about a system that purports to use water to enhance the gasoline mileage of automobiles. The piece ran several weeks ago. Murphy’s bio says he’s a journalism major from UGA. He’s not a scientist.

Murphy’s story showed a couple of Mason jars connected with a rubber tube. There was a motor of some sort attached. And he interviewed a guy who claimed that it works. Turns out, it was the same guy who sold the contraption.

(Since our first draft of this post, Murphy’s piece has disappeared from WGCL’s website.)

Murphy’s story drew the attention of David Dagon, a Georgia Tech researcher and doctoral student. Dagon writes to LAF:

Let’s not mince words: Mr. Murphy (a consumer reporter) was duped by a popular “water for hybrid” scam…. This particular variation of the scam claims that hydrogen, oxygen, and “charged molecules”, are added to the engine– all due to the miracle of “engine vacuum pressure”. (Other versions of the scam claim that steam added to the engine will increase pressure and improve engine horse power.) This of course is complete nonsense.

Murphy has plenty of company. KRIV in Houston also did a story about a local guy producing fuel from water. Were they scammed?

Murphy made an effort to get “the other side” of this story. He visited a mechanic at a Precision Tune. The mechanic’s note of caution: Attaching this gizmo to your engine may void the car’s warranty. Dagon makes this point:

The CBS 46 offices are just a few blocks from Georgia Tech (a world-renowned engineering university). There, he would find Nobel winning researchers and distinguished professors, eager to describe what happens when you add water to an internal combustion engine.

(The auto industry), which is writing down billions of dollars in inventory, has evidently overlooked a way to improve mileage by 50% in its SUV line. If we are to believe Mr. Murphy, he is sitting on the story of the century: a technology that would likely end all of our foreign oil imports, using just tap water.

Meantime, Dagon notes, the companies that are producing these gizmos are showcasing these local TV stories on their websites and in their press releases, adding an air of legitimacy to the stuff that they’re selling.

If Murphy got scammed, he wouldn’t be the first. In 27 years of TV news, there are a few stories I wish I could take back. One of them was a cute feature I produced on a dog kennel. A year later, WAGA’s I-team produced a piece showing the owner abusing animals. Go ahead, call me a dumbass.

So I have some empathy for Murphy, a TV reporter trying to produce a deadline story on which he has no personal expertise. Perhaps this entire concept should have raised a red flag, the one that says “if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.” Perhaps he should have efforted a comment from Tech (and maybe he did).

Murphy concluded his piece by telling viewers that the vendor of this contraption would be available the following day, making sales at a hotel parking lot. Wonder how their gas mileage is now.