10 Remarkable Fraudulent Discoveries and Inventions that Shook the World
10 Remarkable Fraudulent Discoveries and Inventions that Shook the World

10 Remarkable Fraudulent Discoveries and Inventions that Shook the World

Khalid Elhassan - December 21, 2017

10 Remarkable Fraudulent Discoveries and Inventions that Shook the World
The Keely Engine and its inventor, John Ernst Worrell Keely. Wikimedia

Keely Engine

John Ernst Worrell Keely (1837 – 1898) worked a variety of jobs as a young man, and was a painter, carpenter, member of a theatrical orchestra, a carnival barker, and a mechanic. In 1872, he declared that he had invented a new engine that would revolutionize the world, by drawing its energy from a new physical force that held limitless potential power.

In the 19th century, there was a widespread and mistaken belief that all space was filled with something called a “luminiferous ether”. It was a hypothetical substance thought necessary for the movement of light or electric waves, and without which those things would be impossible. Keely claimed to have figured out how to tap into and extract energy from this (nonexistent) ether.

Having unraveled the secrets of the luminiferous ether, Keely claimed that he could now tap the power of atoms in water to furnish energy. As he explained it to listeners, atoms were in a state of constant vibration, and by harnessing and channeling water’s vibrations in his revolutionary Keely engine, people could tap into limitless energy. By getting the water’s atoms to vibrate in unison in accordance with the principles of the luminiferous ether, you could use its “etheric force” to power motors. Put another way, the Keely Engine was a perpetual motion machine – an impossibility under the basic laws of physics, because it would violate the first or second laws of thermodynamics.

Keely demonstrated a prototype to guests in his workshop by pouring water into its engine, then playing a harmonica, violin, flute, or other musical instrument to activate the machine with sound vibrations. Soon, the device would start gurgling, rumbling, then come alive, providing pressures of up to 50,000 psi on display gauges. Harnessing that power, Keely arranged demonstrations in which thick ropes were ripped apart, iron bars were bent, twisted, and snapped in two, and bullets were driven through twelve inch wooden planks.

Keely made up science-y sounding terminology to describe the principles of his invention. He began by describing his engine as a “vibratory generator”. Then he started telling observers that they were witnessing “quadruple negative harmonics”. At other times, he told gullible investors that he was going to make them filthy rich with his “hydro pneumatic pulsating vacu-engine”. And whenever a listener sounded a note of skepticism, he drowned it with yet more science-y sounding phrases such as “vibratory negatives”, “atomic triplets”, “etheric disintegration”, and “atomic ether vibrations”.

Such words sounded impressive to non scientists, but in actuality were pseudo scientific gibberish. It was effective pseudo scientific gibberish, however: within a short time, he convinced investors to give him the equivalent of $20 million in 2017 dollars as startup capital, which he used to found the Keely Motor Company. In subsequent years, investors forked over the equivalent of 100 million dollars in today’s money for a stake in Keely’s enterprise.

Over two decades, Keely closely guarded the secret of his invention, refusing to share its details with anybody. But he kept promising investors that the perfection of a commercial version of his machine was right around the corner. And during that time, gullible investors kept giving him more and more money, notwithstanding the consensus of physicists that Keely was a quack and charlatan, and that perpetual motion such as he promised was physically impossible. Finally, when Keely died in 1898, the secret of his engine was revealed to the world. It had not been powered by water, but by a compressed air machine hidden two floors below, and connected to the Keely engine by cleverly concealed pipes and hoses.

10 Remarkable Fraudulent Discoveries and Inventions that Shook the World
Crop Circles. Live Science

Crop Circles

In 1976, crops in a wheat field in Wiltshire, England, were mysteriously flattened in a circular pattern. Soon, mysterious circles of flattened crops, in increasingly elaborate patterns, began appearing in other fields throughout Britain. Once the phenomenon became widely known, it attracted self-declared experts, who offered mystical, magical, and pseudo scientific explanations for the mystery.

Theories ranged from secret weapons testing, to restless spirits and ghosts acting out, to Gaia, the primal Mother Earth, expressing her distress at what humanity had done to her planet. Early on, one of the explanations that gained the greatest currency was that the circles were created by space aliens, as a means of communicating with mankind in some as yet un-deciphered code.

That line of reasoning of aliens being behind the circles was buttressed by the fact that only a decade earlier, mysterious circles had appeared in Australian crops. Many had attributed the Australian circles to UFO landings, labeling them “[flying] saucer nests”. Wiltshire, where the first British crop circle appeared, is located near Stonehenge, and the region is rife with burial mounds and ancient marker stones. New Age types had long claimed those landmarks were linked to others throughout Britain via “leys” – mysterious energy paths.

For years, the region had also been a hotbed for UFO watch parties – England’s Roswell, if you would. So it seemed apt that the first crop circles, or saucer nests, would appear in its vicinity. It was not long before theories combining Stonehenge, ancient Druids, mystic energy paths, and the recently revealed crop circles, were combined in a complex explanation for the phenomenon. The circles themselves became magnets for New Age mystical tourism.

In reality, the crop circles had been the brainchild of Doug Bower, an English prankster. One night in 1976, he had been drinking with his friend Dave Chorley, and the two got to talking about UFOs, aliens, flying saucers and the mysterious Australian circles. Midway through the conversation, Bower suddenly said: “Let’s go over there and make it look like a flying saucer has landed“. As they confessed in 1991, when they finally revealed the mystery to journalists, it had been incredibly easy. As they demonstrated to print and TV journalists by creating other crop circles in just minutes, all it took was rope, a wooden plank, and a wire to help them walk in a straight line.

A “cereologist” – a crop circle “expert” who had made a living for years by writing and lecturing about the phenomenon, was called in. He declared the circles authentic. Then the hammer was dropped on him, when it was revealed to that it had been a simple hoax and prank all along. As Bower and Chorley explained, they had created all crop circles up to 1987, when other pranksters discovered how to make their own circles and patterns, and joined in on the fun.

10 Remarkable Fraudulent Discoveries and Inventions that Shook the World
Vaccine autism hoax’s aftermath. Medium

Vaccine Autism Hoax

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor, published a study in The Lancet – a prestigious medical journal. In it, he alleged a link between the combined measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and autism. Dr. Wakefield’s claims were widely reported, and led to a sharp drop in the rates for vaccination in the United Kingdom and Ireland. That resulted in numerous children dying or suffering serious permanent injuries.

Only problem? The study published in The Lancet was fraudulent. Not “controversial”, or “poorly researched” or “mistaken”, but straightforward deliberately fraudulent. As in the serious and deliberate type of criminal fraud for which fraudsters lose the license to practice their profession. Following Dr. Wakefield’s study, other large scale studies were conducted, but found no evidence to support his claims. Researchers then examined Dr. Wakefield’s methodology – how did he arrive at his conclusions, linking MMR and autism?

It turned out that the doctor had simply fabricated the evidence. He did not make “mistakes” in his research – he simply made up much of the research, inventing it out of thin air. And as icing on the cake, transforming the doctor from an incompetent researcher or crank into a cartoonish villain, it emerged he had been paid 55,000 British Pounds to claim that MMR vaccines caused autism. Several of the parents used in his “study” were litigants suing pharmaceutical companies. Naturally, he had failed to disclose that conflict.

With egg on The Lancet’s face, its editor in chief wrote: “It seems obvious now that had we appreciated the full context in which the work reported in the 1998 Lancet paper by Wakefield and colleagues was done, publication would not have taken place“. After the vaccine hoax study was revealed as a fraud, the study was retracted by The Lancet. As to Dr. Wakefield, he was found guilty by British medical authorities of serious professional misconduct and fraud, and had his medical license revoked.

Unfortunately, by then the former doctor’s hoax had found resonance within certain population segments, who went on to become fervent anti vaccination activists. Notwithstanding that the study upon which their activism is based has been debunked as a fraud, those activists convinced many of the poorly informed, poorly educated, or gullible, that vaccines are bad for children.

Thus, one of the greatest medical advances in human history, which helped end widespread epidemics that killed a majority of children before they reached adulthood, is threatened. Childhood diseases that had been all but eliminated are making a comeback, and a steadily growing number of unvaccinated children are dying or suffering grave illnesses that leave them crippled for life. As such, this fraud has been described as the most damaging hoax of the past century – a fraud that has already killed or maimed many children, and has the potential to kill or maim millions more.