13-Year-Old finds Fibonacci Solar Power Breakthrough, or: Media are so in love with the good story they shut down their brains
Monday, 22 August 2011
UPDATE: Trying to explain how the misunderstanding/hoax comes about: Explaining the Fibonacci solar breakthrough (that isn’t one)
A couple of days ago, a story made the rounds on many of our usual suspect technology, environment and entrepreneurial media:
a 13 year old takes a fresh view on solar panels and the way nature arranges leaves and branches, and finds “solar breakthrough”.
Try a search like this and you will see.
Or see the tweets.
Readers’ comments celebrated the “genius”, quote Schopenhauer and drown in a flood of general “awesomeness”.
Now, the disappointing truth is that there is
no solar breakthrough, no new finding -
just a wonderfully enthusiastic young boy who does all the right things: ask questions, allow a fresh view, experiment, illustrate.
Before him, mathematical beauty as the result of optimization has been admired by many.
And there are wonderful findings to make:
Plants optimize many factors by realizing the fibonacci series, not just sun exposure – a fact that we could learn from indeed: that we need to optimize many factors, not just one. In the case of solar power, there s many more things to consider, like social optimization, operation costs, etc
With all that beauty, reality is that any 1 percent improvement in cell efficiency and any 10 cents drop in price per watt would have more real impact than any romantic breakthrough story.
On an even more fundamental level, a breakthrough in humankinds’ intentions and motivations would have more impact that any revolutionary new technology.
So, there s many interesting aspects to talk about, for young curious minds.
However, instead of getting competent sparring with good scientists and practitioners, he gets a wave of misled/misleading media attention.
Layers of the TED generations’ technology folklore get put on top an interesting little experiment, like the human body realizing the golden ratio (no it doesnt), and so forth.
(blog entry seems to have been removed – archived version is here)
for example the fact that
- measuring open circuit voltage is no measure for power generation, and
- the sum of N suboptimal values will never be bigger than the sum of N optimal values (at least not for photovoltaic power output).
But the point is not so much what is wrong with the experiment, or the boy’s approach, or the enthusiastic readers’ comments - the point is what is wrong with our media?
We are so wishing for the good news, especially when it comes to our darkest chapter (energy consumption), we so wish to see the new magic, the new mythical entrepreneur -
so strong is the wish that we shut down our critical brains. Over the past months, TED has become a regular and major source of annoyance – with “awesome” tech stories like Wifi over light waves.
This frenzy is doing nobody a favour.
Creative young explorers get no chance for critical dialogue (what, if we applied fibonacci optimization to nano structures? There is intense research on optimizing efficient surfaces in nano cells – maybe Aidan Dwyer should get a chance to visit a nano lab?)
If ever a young genius should arise and find the magic truth, chances are we would not notice it as we are so busy getting carried away in TED tweets.