Thursday, May 17, 2012

South African Crank of the Week: Danie Krugel

Like last week's Crank of the Week, Michael Tellinger, Danie Krugel has made a name for himself in the media peddling some pseudoscientific nonsense.

Unlike Tellinger, however, I am now convinced that Krugel is not simply a self-deluded ideologue, but is, in fact, a deliberate fraud.

Trying to locate a better barber
That's an assessment I only made very recently, though. I'm not a detective or a court of law, so I can't make any legal claim that his actions are fraudulent. What I can do, however, is apply my sceptical insights and skills to the material available to me, and draw a conclusion based on that. And it what it looks like to me is an intentional fake.

Let's look at the history of the case.

Danie Who?

Danie Krugel is a former police officer from Bloemfontein who more recently became employed doing security work at the University of the Free State.

In 2007 he made an appearance on the bastion of journalistic integrity, Carte Blanche, self-applying the superhero moniker "The Locator", and claiming that he could find any person, living or dead, anywhere in the world.

What's He On About?

It seems that Krugel invented a machine that allows him to use DNA and Quantum Mechanics to somehow track people over vast distances. Seriously. That's what he claims.

Like Spock's Tricorder. (This explains the haircut too)

On his television debut, he was claiming that he had used his device to find the victims of Gert van Rooyen, a paedophile and serial killer who was active in Pretoria in the 1980's. Van Rooyen's victims' bodies were never found, but Krugel thought his magic box invention was up to the task.

Gert van Rooyen's victims

Although Krugel's search did yield a few human bone fragments, they didn't belong to van Rooyen's victims. Didn't stop Krugel (and Carte Blanche) from counting it as a hit.

A few months later, Krugel was in the headlines again, this time for sticking his nose into the case of the dissapearance of Madeleine McCann in 2007. He used his mysterious box to point out some spots where he thought the girl's body could be. The police rightfully ignored his interference, and nothing came of it. They also ignored a raft of other chancers using their gimmicks of choice to try and find little Maddie and make a name for themselves off the McCanns' tragedy.

Krugel seems to prefer little, blonde,
white girls.

Not long after, Krugel made some noise about adapting his device for medical purposes: using it to detect cancer inside people's bodies. Then he went quiet.

I don't know if he was active or not, but some years passed when there was no mention of him in the media. Until last week - the 5th anniversary of Maddie's disappearance.

Why Is He A Crank?

Well, because he's promoting nonsense. Not only is there no known mechanism through which his machine could work, but he also refuses to let anybody take a good look at it. In fact, only recently has he allowed anyone to see it in operation. Here's the video:

In case you didn't want to waste your bandwidth on it, let me give you a prĂ©cis.

It starts off with Krugel sitting behind a desk, wearing an aluminium helmet and with a grey caterpillar on his upper lip. He goes into a long schpiel about the police ignoring his evidence in the McCann case. He says that he hopes they'll pay attention to him now "...for Madeleine".

Seems sweet and sincere, right? Sure. Why not.

He goes on to do a demonstration of his invention. First he takes a hair-brush which he says belonged to Madeleine McCann. He removes a hair from the brush and fastens it to a plate with a little hole in it. Behind the hole is what looks like one of those little LED presentation pointers, which Krugel calls a "laser". He doesn't explain how information can be passed from the hair to the "laser".

Krugel fires his "laser" across the hair and near to another device he describes as a "grabber". The grabber is literally a black box with a little blue button on it. He makes no mention of how the grabber works, only that it somehow picks up the "frequency" of the hair. Note he doesn't shine the "laser" at the grabber - he shines it past the device. He doesn't explain how information can be transferred from the "laser" to the grabber.

Then he takes the grabber and puts in on top of another device which is clearly labelled as the "KTT" ("Krugel Theory Tester", apparently). He just puts in on top of the large, circular display on top of the device and doesn't explain how information is transferred from the grabber to the KTT.

Then the camera angle changes. This is important. Up till now, he's been sitting behind a desk, with all the devices sitting on the desk in front of him. Now we're looking down, over his shoulder, as he's holding the KTT with one hand. In his other hand is the hair brush. As he waves the brush in front of the device, the needle on the KTT's display follows the brush like a compass follows a magnet (with a bit of a time-lag)

Looks pretty compelling, except for this:

Do you see it?

His left hand is hidden from view, underneath the device. Why is it there? Why isn't the device on the table? Why does he need to be touching it? 

He doesn't explain that. And I'm pretty sure I know why: he's operating some kind of switch or dial under there to make the needle move. I've watched the video many times, and because the quality isn't great, and the camera is hand-held and shaky, it's difficult to tell for sure. But it looks to me like his arm is flexing. That means his fingers are working under there. That's right: deliberate fraud.

As always, I'm willing to be proven wrong. I wrote to Danie in 2007 proposing that I assist him in doing a double-blind trial to determine the device's accuracy. He ignored it, but the offer is still open. Not only that, but if his device passes the test, I'll support his application to the JREF for their million Dollar prize. And I won't even ask for a finders fee when he wins the Nobel prize for physics.

That's right, the Nobel prize. See, Danie's device simply cannot work according to the laws of the universe as we know them today. Although he talks about it being "science", the mechanism he claims is unknown to science today. If it were real, we'd have to throw out the laws of physics as we know them, and that would entitle him to a Nobel prize.

Danie claims not to me motivated by money (as far as I can tell, he hasn't asked for payment for his services so far), which is fair. But if that's the case, why won't he publish the design for his device for free online, so that everyone can build their own KTT and find their own loved ones? He doesn't explain that either.

I was once the administrator of a website called Stop Danie Krugel. I let it lapse because there hadn't been any reports of his activites in years. Looks like it's time to resurrect it. I'll gladly accept donations to that end, if you'd like to support it. Hit me up on Google+ if you're keen.

Do you have a crank in mind you'd like me to cover in future editions of this series? Head over to Google Moderator to vote on the ones already suggested, and feel free to suggest more.