Exclusive Interview with Common Sense Skeptic; 10 Questions to Help You Understand the mythmaking of Elon Musk
This is the second part of a three-part series. This part is about Elon Musk, the myth, the third part is about how Musk became a disaster on many fronts – from his shareholders, to rooting for Russia's Vladimir Putin, to his Twitter persona.
Elon Musk earned his mythical reputation as a kind of real life Iron Man. Tesla is an important part of Musk's myth-making prowess, but he became admired as a real life Tony Stark first and foremost because of SpaceX, his rocket company.
Common Sense Skeptic (CSS) is the most prolific debunker of Musk's space business. As you've read in Part 1 of this series, CSS unravels Musk as a man full of nothingness. CSS has done many videos on Musk and his fantasies – make sure you check their videos before you claim that we're just trying to smear Musk's reputation. As you'll see, Musk's claims are based on his assumption that he is untouchable, that reality won't catch up with him. CSS is on a mission to make the world see Musk for who he really is.
Just like Part 1, this part gives you ten questions answered by CSS that will be eye-openers.
The hubris in the space industry is huge. Space executives like Musk take people for a ride without consequences, simply because most people don't get the full picture about space travel and the industrialization of space. As a result, they idolize hot shots like Musk, never mind them being full of hot air.
This is where debunkers and critics like Common Sense Skeptic provide a much-needed public service. You give them ten minutes of your time, and they will give you a boatload of undeniable facts.
I've been personally debunking technology promises since 2000. From Broadband over Powerline to City-wide Wi-Fi to WiMAX; my analyses made these stop in their tracks. I don't have the time anymore, but sometimes I get triggered.
For example, when another celebrated space executive, Tory Bruno of United Launch Alliance (ULA), published a study last summer that “proposes the creation of a Strategic Propellant Reserve using lunar-derived propellant that will drive the growth of a $3 trillion cislunar economy in the next 30 years.”
When I saw Bruno's tweet about this study, I couldn't ignore it, and in fact, I got kind of pissed off. I tweeted a reply:
Agree with the resources thing, but nope, sorry people.September 9, 2022
Rockets are not the vehicles that will drive humanity's pathway to anything of substance.
You need much safer, more efficient, and 1,000 x easier means to launch and travel in space (see my PT).
Otherwise: pipedream. https://t.co/QxGXS8Rs37
This turned into a thread about rocket safety, because basically the space industry is talking about continued use of (reusable) rockets, even in the long term. That is not what will happen. Yes, we will need and use rockets from ULA, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and others (including international players) for the next ten to fifteen years – we have no other options to go beyond Earth's orbit. But, as I rant about in the thread, to keep pushing rockets as a solution beyond 15-20 years, is just plain stupid. Rockets are the most dangerous means of transportation ever invented (I wrote an analysis on this very topic). There are two major issues (shortcomings) with the proposition for continued use of rockets beyond the next fifteen years: capacity, and safety.
Coming back to Musk – people love Musk's idea of the Starship rockets, because Musk has promised that each Starship will take 100 people to Mars. He promises to launch an armada of up to 1,000 Starships on their way to Mars, and as such, people are in awe of Musk's plan to build a 1-million-person city on Mars.
CSS did a whole Debunking Starship series on this issue. If you think you know rockets, and especially the Starship, and you're still a fan, this in-depth analyses series is for you.
It's a sad observation that even when confronted with undeniable facts, people don't want to believe that Musk doesn't know what he's talking about. In their eyes, Musk is the most important entrepreneur and inventor of the 21st century; he is the self-made billionaire rocket scientist, and those who criticize him are envious haters.
So, let me dissect the myth of Elon Musk in two quick parts before we move on to the interview.
First. Musk's hypocrisy is astonishing. While Musk indeed invested millions in Tesla and SpaceX, his gambling with projects almost resulted in bankruptcy. He was broke when he got life-saving breaks from the U.S. government during the Obama years.
Musk and his companies were on the verge of bankruptcy, and only because of their misleading statements, they got a loan of almost half a billion dollars from President Obama's U.S. Department of Energy. “to produce specially designed, all-electric plug-in vehicles and to develop a manufacturing facility in Fremont, California to produce battery packs, electric motors, and other powertrain components for powering specially designed all-electric vehicles.”
Musk then turns around two years later and states that “government subsidies are usually bad”, and that instead of offering federal loans, companies should be allowed to survive on their own merits. That was in 2012, and Musk repeated it again in December 2021. Meanwhile, Musk and his companies kept on slurping government subsidies and handouts, as listed in this Business Insider article.
One point two trillion dollars, that was the market valuation of Tesla Inc. just 12 months ago. It was valued at more than all top 10 auto manufacturers combined. It's now worth less than 1/3rd of that all-time high. Musk fans keep on buying “the dip”, completely brainwashed into believing Musk's claim that Tesla will be worth $10 trillion one day in the not so far future.
However, Tesla is on the way down. The people who identified themselves with Tesla's core value – a tech-driven electric vehicle that helps the planet off fossil fuel- are now disenfranchised and disillusioned with Musk's antics, and the poor quality of the cars don't help either; customers aren't lining up anymore.
All other Musk projects that would maybe bring huge future value turn out to be big fat nothing-burgers: Robotaxis, Hyperloops, Robots, Full Self-Driving, Starship, and the Mars colony… it's basically smoke and mirrors to prevent the public from seeing what's really going on.
Second. Musk can't be trusted as far as you can throw him. Coming back to one of the frauds Musk perpetrated when he and his Tesla were at the brink of bankruptcy. Automotive expert and journalist Edward Niedermayer explains in an interview with Current Affairs editor, Nathan Robinson (January 7, 2022):
Musk has tried to reframe it as if Daimler saved them, and then the government piggybacked. We now know that Daimler did not actually agree. They were not going to invest until they knew the government was on board, which is what caused Musk to pre-announce—he said, in an email to owners and investors (this is when Tesla was a private company) that the government loan (which, by the way, his predecessor, Martin Eberhard, had already been lobbying for before Musk was CEO) has officially been approved, and it will be dispersed within months. At the time he made that statement, Tesla had not even submitted a valid application for the loan program. They didn't even have a complete application, let alone approval. Approval didn't come until a year later or something like that, and disbursement even longer after that.
Even as recently as yesterday (January 17, 2023), Musk's frauds at Tesla were being exposed.
Reuters reported that a Tesla engineer testified in July 2022 that Tesla's fantastic autopilot video was faked. Reuters published an article with the headline: “Tesla video promoting self-driving was staged, engineer testifies.” Musk's critics are already wondering what is different here from the frauds that got Nikola's founder and CEO, Trevor Milton, incarcerated.
There is a litany of fraudulant and misleading statements by Musk. That all will be analyzed in Part 3, Musk, the Disaster.
The following answers to my ten questions for CSS will make things clearer for the reader. You will conclude that Musk has been a master storyteller, a fantastical jester who managed to fool the world by creating many myths surrounding his missions and even his persona. It turns out, Musk even had a bot army on twitter to help him achieve God-like status among his fans.
It will only take ten minutes to finally see through the mythical mist of Elon Musk.
NSL: The myth of Musk's genius entrepreneurship. You've often stated that Musk is no genius. You also did a 2-part series about Musk's lawsuits to be recognized retroactively as co-founder of PayPal and Tesla, and that he failed up. Can you give the gist of that?
CSS: Simply put, Musk likes to come along after a project is already underway, and buy the Chairman of the Board seat with his investment, without truly understanding what the Chairman does.
His testimony in the SolarCity trial, and the testimony of most of his board members, confirm that Musk has no clue what the role of a chairperson is, and that series goes through those facts point by point. In fact, at SpaceX, as he confirmed in the TED Talk, Musk doesn't really even attend the Board meetings – of a rocket company with a current inflated valuation of $140 billion, which means SpaceX has no functional board. Now, the PayPal story is interesting because many people think that Musk was the inventor of PayPal, and that he was a founder of PayPal.
Truth is, Musk had no hand in the creation of the app called PayPal, developed by Peter Thiel, Max Levchin, and Luke Nosek at Confinity a year before Musk bought his way into the company with what remained of his competing project x.com.
So, the platform was called PayPal, but the company name was Confinity, meaning Musk never even worked for a company called PayPal. Musk bought the chair, as he does, and after a reshuffling of the board shortly afterwards, Musk became the CEO of the company. The CFO at the time, named Roelof Botha, discovered that Musk was lying to the board about issues at the company.
There was a successful boardroom coup led by Thiel and Botha where they fired Musk from the company while he was on his honeymoon, despite him being the largest shareholder. This was fall of 2000, so he lasted about 6 months as CEO. The company was renamed PayPal the following June. As such, saying Musk was CEO of PayPal is not accurate, and neither is the claim he was the one who orchestrated the IPO and subsequent sale to EBay which accidentally made Musk rich.
The story at Tesla started the same but had a different ending.
As we've gone through in various episodes, the original founders of Tesla are Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. Musk brought his checkbook to the Series A funding round and became Chair to Eberhard's CEO. The details of what transpired there are captured in our segment entitled “The Truth About Tesla Origins”. Cole's Notes: Musk bought his way in, bullied the original founders out, and pretends he was the mastermind behind it all.
NSL: The myth of Musk's Asperger's Syndrome. Your video about Musk lying to the nation (on Saturday Night Live, no less) about him having Asperger's Syndrome was quite revealing. Please explain.
CSS: Our email box and comment feeds filled up after Musk made this claim, with people writing in who have been diagnosed on the spectrum or have Asperger's. Of course, that term isn't used much anymore for a number of reasons, but these people wanted us to dive into his claim. We determined the best way to approach that was to compare Musk to an actual Asperger's assessment protocol. We went through an exhaustive list of what mental health professionals would look for in determining an Asperger's diagnosis and found that Musk missed the mark on nearly all of them.
One by one, Musk failed the criteria, leading us to believe that the claim was falsely made. Adding to that suspicion is the fact that nowhere in previous interviews, biographies or statements had Asperger's and Musk been mentioned in the same sentence. Neither has he made a similar claim since. At the TED Talk, during this segment, Musk now refers to “whatever condition I had” as a child, which would imply no longer having it, and that's not how Asperger's works either.
NSL: The myth of Musk helping save the planet with his electric vehicles. Musk is heralded as the guy who's helping planet Earth getting rid of ICE cars, and his EVs will help us become fossil fuel independent. What's your take?
CSS: So many different angles to this. First, since glass, rubber, aluminum, lithium and everything else that goes into his cars rely on fossil fuels to mine and/or manufacture, and since 70% of the national energy grid uses fossil fuels to create electricity, the entire premise of EVs being green is laughable.
Musk's selling pitch regarding Tesla is that the company is promoting the transition to sustainable energy. But Tesla's solar energy division is shrinking and canceling orders, so that's obviously not the real goal. They were never a manufacturer of solar products as people believed – they resell and install Chinese products. That's all they have ever done. Even their Buffalo arrangement with Panasonic didn't result in products Tesla used. The other products they create – the cars, the battery packs – they STORE energy but don't CREATE energy, and they REQUIRE energy to make.
BEVs in general are another band-aid solution to a major problem. Because they are extremely resource intensive, there will always be a limit as to how many can be produced in a year, or ever, and claims like Musk has made about Tesla producing 20 million cars per year by 2030 are physically impossible given the rate at which lithium is extracted from the ground.
NSL: The myth of the multi-faceted billionaire rocket genius. Most Musk fans are in awe of him being such a versatile specialist, from electric vehicles to transportation to rockets. What's your opinion?
CSS: People need to realize that Musk claims to be a lot of things that he simply is not, and Rocket Genius would be one of those exaggerations.
Musk founded SpaceX, no debate there at all. But he did not dream up the machines that SpaceX flies today, and he's not the one who got them to work. Tom Mueller was the rocket genius that got SpaceXs Falcon/Dragon combo working, after taking open-source patents provided by NASA to aid their subcontractor in completing their goals. Because Musk is the face of the company, as he always is regardless of his credentials, people shower him with praise. But he is never gracious enough to step out of the way and let that praise find the people who deserve it.
NSL: The myth of saving NASA from dependence on Russian spacecraft. SpaceX Dragon is taking astronauts to space, something that NASA wasn't able to do without Russia since the Space Shuttle was discontinued. Can you expand on the answer you gave in Part 1?
CSS: NASA went through some difficult times as a result of the change in administration between W Bush and Obama. Without getting into the politics, the Shuttle was to be decommissioned, so Bush authorized the development of a replacement vehicle. That's where the Delta vehicles came from, and they were capable of re-landing in the 90s, so that idea was not unique to SpaceX either.
When Obama came in, priorities changed and the replacement programme was scrapped. Which left only the aging Shuttles to keep going until they couldn't any more, with no new vehicles in the development pipeline to replace them. This left the Russians to perform the task of getting people and supplies to the ISS.
When this arrangement was no longer ideal, the push to privatizing these operations was floated, The Commercial Resupply Services contracts were tendered, and SpaceX was able to come through in the end to catch up with the Russian space program. But NASA provided the blueprints for what was required, and the patents and designes for the engineers to follow – which is why what flies today is still very reminiscent of what we watched launch in the 70s.
NSL: The myth of Musk's Starship. Musk promises to take 100 people to Mars in his Starship. Your Debunking Starship series decimates this promise. Please summarize for our readers.
CSS: This is where it all began for the channel – taking the physical dimensions and declared payload of Starship and comparing that to the needs of a crew of 100 people. The physical volume of the vehicle's payload/crew area at the time was declared as 825 cubic meter in the presentation materials. Now they're claiming it's higher, at 1,000 cubic meters. Then we went to NASA's number for the minimum Net habitable Volume (NHV) per astronaut determined after studies were done, and the NHV for long duration missions is 25 cubic meter.
So a crew of 100 would require 2,500 cubic meters of usable space where Starship only has 1,000 cubic meters max. Then you take into account the materials they would need to bring with them, the fresh/grey/black water systems and storage, food requirements, beds, walls, life support systems at everything else this self-contained system would require for a journey lasting six to nine months, the numbers get even more embarrassing for Musk from there.
NSL: The myth of a 1-million-person city on Mars. Musk is planning a self-sustaining city on Mars for 1 million people. You've done a Debunking Mars series and you've done an ISRU series. Please explain the details.
CSS: We've done episodes ranging from what society would look like on Mars, to how people should be selected for such a proposition, to what it would take to grow enough wheat on Mars to give each colonist a single loaf of bread. The numbers are incredible, astronomical. The impossibility of this is mirrored in the In Situ episode, where we break down how much propellant is required to refill the ship for a return flight to Earth, then compare that to the identified resource on Mars, and use the only form of energy natively available on Mars (solar) to produce 4,700 tons of combined methane and LOX.
Let's put it this way, and people can check out the episodes for the fine details and breakdowns – until there is a domed, self-sustaining city on Earth that can provide everything it needs for itself without any outside intervention whatsoever, you can forget about it ever being possible on Mars where there is almost no nitrogen, a very thin atmosphere of carbon dioxide, and no fresh liquid water to be found on the surface.
NSL: The myth of changing transportation. In July 2012, Musk announced his concept for the “fifth mode of transport”, the Hyperloop, that would change the world in terms of mass transit. You did a critical video on it. What's the status of Hyperloop anno 2023?
CSS: There is no Hyperloop. There is never going to be a Hyperloop such as Musk outlined in his white paper. Other companies have already tried and failed to make this a reality, Virgin Hyperloop being a notable case, after spending billions of dollars on it.
Honestly, if Musk was brighter, he'd admit to sending these companies on a wild goose chase with his paper so his counterparts could burn through endless billions of dollars, rather than holding on to and continuing to promote this nonsense. We have maglev trains, and they work just fine. Wrapping them in a vacuum tube adds impossible logistics and expenses to that paradigm, with no added benefit.
NSL: The myth of Neuralink's implantable brain-computer interfaces. Musk's Neuralink had anticipated experiments with humans in 2020, but it's now postponed till later this year. You did a video on Neuralink. Can you explain your criticism?
CSS: With Neuralink, once again Musk has injected himself into a company without having the slightest clue what he's talking about, and critics from within that field are calling him out on it. Add to the fact that Musk was the sole author of the white paper produced by a company with eight founders who were exerts in their respective fields, and you begin to understand Musk's all-encompassing narcissism in a different light. Surely that has played some role in all but one of the original founders leaving the company they helped found.
Here's the current state of their device – they can't put it in a monkey and keep the monkey alive the vast majority of the time. The stunts they get the monkeys to do are re-enactments of experiments done years ago by better and smarter people.
Musk promotes the device as being a cure-all for every condition the brain suffers, and every psychological malady endured by a patient. It can, according to Musk, restore and improve vision to the point where you could “see in radar”; restore hearing; cure obesity; repair damage from strokes; cure Alzheimer's; cure addiction; allow users to speak through telepathy; and, allow someone to transfer their consciousness to a new host body. All of these declarations are insane.
NSL: The myth of Musk's charity donations. Musk claimed he donated billions of dollars, and he was going to help the U.N. solve world hunger. Do you know what really happened?
CSS: Musk often gets credit with doing things he promises, but is never called out when he later reneges on this promises.
He's always very front-and-center when there is a crisis to get the free press, but his follow through leaves much to be desired.
The UN World Food Program made a public statement as part of their fundraising efforts stating that for $6 billion they could solve world hunger. Musk flippantly tweeted that if the UN provided him with the plan to make that happen, he would cut them a cheque personally (which we all know, he was never in a position to do).
The UN provided him with what he asked for, then Musk ghosted them. Instead, what Musk did was “donate” $5.7 billion to an unnamed charity, and because of the proximity to the $6 billion the UN was asking for, his fans started spreading the lie that Musk made good on his claim.
As it turned out, as we predicted, Musk's “donation” was to his own charity, and the $5.7 billion given to the Musk Foundation was done in the form of Tesla shares redeemed at face value, not the actual price Musk paid for them. At the end of 2021, TSLA was trading at around $1,000 per share. But the shares Musk buys through his self-authored self-enrichment compensation plan cost him only $6.24. Meaning, Musk's tax deductible donation of “5.7 billion dollars” to his own foundation only cost him about $35.6 million.
Even in his “charity”, Musk is extremely self-serving.
For fun, check out Musk's foundation website.
2 thoughts on “A Skeptic’s Epic Takedown of Elon Musk – Part 2: Ten Myths That Made Musk Uberwealthy, Admired, and Famous”