If setting out to find a microcosm for all things pseudoscience, one might well end up at Stanley Meyer. He hit most of the major hallmarks: Remarkable, untestable claims; working in isolation; never producing a working model to be examined; showing his device to reporters, not researchers; claiming to defy the laws of physics without offering evidence this was being done or demonstrating the method by which this was achieved.
Even in death, the pseudoscience hallmarks continued to spring forth, as his believers insisted he was murdered in order to keep his invention hidden.
Meyer claimed to have modified a dune buggy engine so that the vehicle could run on a water-fuel cell that operated via an unexplained, advanced form of electrolysis. He said an oxygen-hydrogen generator enabled this Magic Bus to go 100 miles on a gallon of water.
When Meyer died, he left behind no known blueprints, working models, correspondence with scientists, or anything that would substantiate his sizable claims. He never submitted anything for peer review or offered an explanation for how he had managed to violate the First Law of Thermodynamics.
This Law states that energy cannot be created or destroyed in an isolated system. Meyer’s device purportedly split water into hydrogen and oxygen, then caused the hydrogen to burn and generate energy, and finally reconstituted the water molecules and started the process over. The first two steps describe what happens in a fuel cell and is well-understood science. The third step describes a perpetual motion machine and is pseudoscientific folly. His fuel cell purportedly split water with less energy than what was released by the recombination of the elements.
A glaring red flag was that Meyer made his pitch not to scientific journal editors but to investors. Or litigants as they were later known. Meyer was successfully sued by those he had duped into purchasing dealerships that never received anything to deal. His water-fuel cell was examined by three expert witnesses in his fraud case and they testified that it employed only conventional electrolysis. Unlike the fraud laws he was found to have violated, the laws of thermodynamics could not be ignored just because Meyer found them inconvenient.
Meyer died on March 20, 1998, after a restaurant meal. According to his brother, he had been meeting with two investors, when he suddenly exited the restaurant, declaring, “They poisoned me.” It’s unclear who ‘they’ were. It could have meant the chefs, the investors, or those he had previously tricked out of their money. But conspiracy theorists have filled in the blanks to mean it was those whose livelihood and fortunes would be threatened if Meyer’s device worked.
Despite the poisoning claim, the county coroner found the cause of death to be a cerebral aneurism. This, of course, is meaningless to a conspiracy theorist, for whom any contradictory information is more evidence of a cover-up. In this case, that means that the coroner was in on the plot or was threatened with a similar fate unless he falsified his report.
Beyond the total lack of evidence for the poisoning claim, murdering him would do little good because if his methods were real, researchers into alternative fuel sources would also discover them.
Besides, most successful businesses adapt and embrace change. Restaurants alter the menu when faced with demands for healthier options or vegetarian fare. Newspapers have established an online presence with subscription fees for full access. When baseball integrated, bigoted owners and scouts began signing former Negro League players and started gauging the talent on Hispaniola and in Cuba. If a water-powered car prototype were a reality, automobile manufacturers and petroleum companies would want to find a way to profit from it, not eliminate the man who would make this possible.