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Lost Science
- by Gerry Vassilatos

Publisher: Adventures Unlimited Press

Reviewed by Amir Fasad

As anyone with an interest in the fringe areas of science knows, many discoveries are made and then lost over time, whether by accident or design. Such lost discoveries are the subject of this fascinating but poorly referenced and verbose book published by Adventures Unlimited Press.

The various chapters cover, in chronological order, the work of several controversial researchers. These include the "life force" discoveries of Baron Karl Von Reichenbach, the communications-related research of Antonio Meucci and Nathan Stubblefield, the Tesla power broadcasting scheme, the microscope and therapies of Royal Rife, the energy research of T. Henry Moray, the T.T. Brown levitating capacitor experiments, the infrasonic "death ray" of Vladimir Gavreau, and the controlled fusion research of television pioneer Philo Farnsworth.

Some of these reports may be true, and readers emotionally disposed to accept unusual claims will have little problem believing them. As is often true in such cases, alas, the evidence will not convince those of even a somewhat skeptical bent. Anyone who studies patents, for example, knows they are often silly or non-functional, but Vassilatos treats them as important evidence when they are anything but.

While a large amount of impressive evidence exists for the various claims of T. Henry Moray, it is lightly covered here, and some of the other inventors even less so. While the people mentioned as sources for some of the claims seem honest (I knew many of them) the data they gave Vassilatos is the same as what I heard from them myself, and consists of anecdotes they heard from others.

One hopeful point is that some of these devices are simple enough that skilled amateurs should be able to replicate them, and would make an interesting project for those with suitable skills and equipment. Keep in mind an important rule of fringe science, however, which is that getting devices to work is only part of the problem. Harder by far is knowing what one is looking at. T.T. Brown, for example, is widely known to have built electrically propelled flying devices, which he operated in a tethered condition in his various labs, but controversy remains as to whether he was producing a truly anti-gravitational effect, as he claims, or whether there is a more mundane and less useful explanation, which is the majority view.

Philo Farnsworth unquestionably did impressive work on controlled fusion, as presented in one of the more mainstream chapters, and his intertial electrostatic confinement (IEC) technique is being studied by many amateur scientists and some well funded companies. An IEC reactor is basically a (usually) spherical TV tube, and uses electric and/or magnetic fields to cause particles to collide and fuse at the center. Since they don't use high temperatures and expensive equipment like most other fusion methods, they are quite simple to build. However, nobody has reported getting to the break-even point the author says Farnsworth reached in his experiments in the 1960s, so I'm not sure what to make of this claim.

Despite these issues, and a writing style that could be described as rambling and poetic, the book is a fun read and an interesting window into the forgotten byways of science.