South African Ex-Policeman uses DNA, GPS, to find Madeleine McCann

Like the alchemists of yore, Danie Krugel has a secret invention that can perform miracles. Simply provide a sample of a person's DNA, such as a hair from their hairbrush, and the machine will, using quantum physics and DNA, pinpoint the person on the globe within meters. Even if they are dead and have been buried for several years. Supposedly Mr. Krugel has used this machine to find the bodies of some children, dead for over 20 years, and he has now located the body of Madeleine McCann. The Portuguese police, however, acting on his suggestion, brought in forensic sniffing dogs, and the dogs detected traces of evidence in the McCann's suite, which implicates them. A search of the beach where Krugel claims Madeleine is buried has not been performed.

The sheer audacity of Krugels claims is astounding. I can't help but think that he hasn't caught on to the fact that a good portion of the developed world is highly educated and also communicates amongst itself. In the old days, Snake Oil Peddlers[*] would sell products claiming nearly magical effects, often resorting to a scam where an accomplice in the crowd would deliver a fake testimonial about the product. This scam was successful because people didn't know biology or chemistry and weren't all that good at science or testing the validity of someone's claims. These days it's different; there are hundreds of experts in the world who can hear "DNA + GPS" and immediately tell you that there's no way these can find someone. For one thing the GPS satellites don't watch over us, they tell you where you are because the GPS receiver in your hand deduces your location by the location of the satellites. It's as if three blind people in a dark room are constantly saying "It's 3:45:23 and I'm next to the sofa", and you use this information, based on what time it is when you hear them speak, and based on the direction they are coming from, to figure out that you must be next to the toilet. The blind people don't see you and in fact keep telling their location even if you're not there. So I can't ask them to find you.

Second, DNA is a molecule. Even if there was a foolproof way to (quickly) take two DNA samples and identify that they were the same[**], you'd still need some way to FIND a second molecule somewhere on the planet. The planet is a big, big place. We find stuff that's been missing for a long time, stuff we assumed was lost for ever. In order to find something, especially a unique thing, you need to know where to search. And the possibilities are essentially endless for a human. Look at the long list of missing persons, people whose last known whereabouts are very likely right nearby their final resting place. Jimmy Hoffa. Natalee Holloway. The list goes on and on. There's a reason we haven't found these people, and that's because the search space is too large. There's just no way to search every possible place to find their body. And now Mr. Krugel is claiming that he can find a tiny piece of their body... it defies belief.

The irony of this whole con is that it would be trivial to prove that this machine works. As Ben Goldacre wrote in his blog post,
psychic debunker James Randi has a million dollar prize for anyone who can demonstrate paranormal powers like these. Krugel’s claims fit the bill perfectly. Why not use the device to locate Randi, and claim his million?
The technology needed for this machine would be astounding; there'd be a Nobel prize for sure, not to mention government contracts and rewards posted by people who want to find their lost loved ones. But Mr. Krugel isn't doing any of these things, most likely because he'd be exposed as a fraud. Sadly, Mr. Krugel has already victimized some people. Hopefully by spreading the news about him we can prevent others from also being conned.

* Ironically Chinese snake oil actually contains pain-fighting ingredients, and is a real, respectable product. The Wikipedia page has more details.
**(the DNA test used by the police only measures a few similarities so there is a chance of false positives)

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