reprinted from South China Morning Post, September 2 2004
US president Richard Nixon loved to say that "when the going gets tough, the tough get going". American journalist Hunter S. Thompson had his own version: "When the going gets tough, the weird turn pro." In the Philippines, buffeted by political and economic crises, the weird are turning professional, as strange people scent an opportunity to make money from evil times.
One scheme doing the rounds asserts that there are vast "deposits" of deuterium in the Philippine Deep, created by oceanic pressures and "natural electrolysis". If enough money were raised, pipes could be lowered to suck up the deuterium, allowing it to be used as fuel, earning billions for Filipinos, who would live happily ever after.
First put forward more than 10 years ago by a labour recruiter unable to produce a shred of proof, the scheme is a pseudo-science fraud. There are no "deuterium deposits" in the Philippine Deep - the only deposits the proponents are after are the ones a dupe will make into their bank accounts. Deuterium, a form of hydrogen, does not naturally occur in large quantities anywhere. It is found in extremely minute quantities in water - industrial quantities are extracted using massive electrolysis plants. Deuterium is not a fuel, but a toxic liquid coolant for fission reactors. It is being tested as a power source for fusion reactors, but there is one catch: functional fusion reactors exist only in Star Trek.
Facts have not stopped the growth of what one scientist here called "deuterium delirium". A website has been set up to encourage investment in the project. The latest story mentions mumbo-jumbo calculations involving the Earth's rotational speed to prove the extent and depth of the alleged oceanic deposit.
Among those beguiled are: Senator Aquilino Pimentel, who has promised to bring the subject up for discussion in a committee; and assorted journalists who have written as if deuterium in the Deep is an article of faith. Apparently no reporter has called up any nuclear physicists to check the science. The unlikeliest dupe is the Communist Party: recently, its spokesman, Luis Jalandoni, castigated the government for not exploiting "alternative energy sources" like the deuterium in the Philippine Deep. Perhaps, as many people have suspected, scientific socialism really has elements of comic fantasy.
The whole affair highlights how desperate times breed gullible people. In 1986, Senator Pimentel also supported a "water-fuelled car", which turned out to be a fake. If you believe deuterium deposits lie at the bottom of the Philippine Deep, you are all set to buy green cheese from the moon. Allow me to offer you some at wholesale prices.