Sunday, February 7, 2010

Modern Snake Oil?

A recent NYT opinion piece serves as a reminder of how important it is to be on the lookout for trumped up marketing claims:
The full history of war profiteering in Iraq may never be known, but it will be hard to top the magic wand known as ADE 651 as a symbol of corruption. The hand-held wand, wielded by Iraq’s security teams at hundreds of checkpoints, is supposed to detect car bombs and weapons. But the battery-free device — supposedly powered by the static electricity of a soldier’s body — turns out to be a very expensive hoax, no more reliable than a coin flip or a Ouija board.

After widespread doubts, including warnings by American military officials who never used ADE 651s, Britain finally banned the devices’ export and arrested the manufacturer for fraud. But not before Iraq bought more than 800 wands, which cost $250 each to make but drew up to $60,000 each from the Baghdad government.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this scam is the fact that it ensnared a military organization.  I would have thought that if a military force wanted to rely on such a product that they would have done some independent testing (or some form of reliable assurance) before choosing to rely on this device as a security measure.

As an aside, this story got me thinking about some of my favorite Dilbert comics:

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