We DON’T Live in a sci-fi movie.
At least that’s what I had to keep telling myself when researches were unable to find the cause behind a mass-less propulsion device. It’s made a bit of a splash on the internet the past few days and that’s understandable. With such a device, interplanetary missions to such places as the moon, Mars, and even the moons of Jupiter all seem possible!
But as my thermodynamics professor warned, “Nearly 100% of those claiming they have broken the laws of physics are lying. The rest are misguided.”
There are three simple ways to weed out nearly every claim as astounding as violating the conservation of momentum:
1) Has the paper been peer reviewed?
Why it’s important: Like your parents told you when you were little: chose the friends you make wisely. Peer reviewed papers mean that others in the community have seen this work, weighed in on it, and provided feedback before going to publishing. That brings us to the second point:
2) Has the paper been published in a reputable journal?
Why it’s important: I can write a paper about flying monkeys and their attempts to infiltrate and overthrow the government, but that doesn’t necessarily make it true. I’m fairly sure the internet is big enough for someone to even agree with me. However I’m never going to get my paper in a respectable journal.
Journals are a lot like papers, there are trusted ones like AIAA and there are others that are not so trusted. It’s kind of like comparing the Wall Street Journal to the Weekly World News (Headline: Bat Boy visits President!). Remember just because someone printed it doesn’t mean it’s truthful.
3) Does the corresponding work conform to previous or concurrent work being done?
This is a bit tricky because it instantly makes us skeptical of “miracles” and “breakthroughs”. This is a good thing because it keeps us from running away with insufficiently supported theories. It also means that an experiment must be duplicated many times before the results are accepted into the general body of science.
Now in this case you can make the argument that an AIAA conference proceeding is a sufficiently reputable source to publish in. Also this “EM Drive” was successfully tested in China and in a few peoples garages. Finally, a conference paper is a great way to seek out peer reviews and attempts to validate their findings further.
So really what we are seeing is the process at work, not the final result. Despite some early success, this potential new technology has a long way to go before we can really accept it…But that didn’t keep me from squealing with excitement when I first read about it!