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The Real Cold Fusion Problem
By Steven B. Krivit

(This article was first published as an editorial in issue #16 of New Energy Times.)

(Note to readers: This document is a "work in progress."
Last update: Sept. 20, 2006.)

What's the real problem with cold fusion? The following table lists some of the most common answers to this question.

Perceived Problems with Cold Fusion
Difficult to repeat and replicate
Fails to conform to conventional theory
Is pathological science
Not a practical source of energy yet

The answer is: none of the above.

The cold fusion problem is not a science problem; it was, and still is, a human problem.

Cold fusion had four initial problems on the day it was announced:

The Four Initial Problems with Cold Fusion
1. The magnitude of the claim and its potential impact were immense.
2. Hot fusion had failed to meet its promised expectations; cold fusion posed an imminent threat.
3. There was a worldwide tragedy of communication errors; this contributed to a breakdown in the scientific process and scientific communications.
4. Cold fusion was, and still is, a difficult science problem to solve.

This article examines these initial problems and presents an overview of the five distinct periods in cold fusion's early history.

The Five Periods of Cold Fusion's Early History
First Period March 23, 1989 Cold Fusion Announcement
Second Period May 1, 1989 Baltimore APS Denouncement
Third Period Nov. 12, 1989 Department of Energy Report
Fourth Period March 1995 Excess Heat Validation
Fifth Period March 2004 Department of Energy Re-examination

 

First Period

On March 23, 1989, Martin Fleischmann, a visiting professor from the University of Southhampton, and Stanley Pons, head of the chemistry department at the University of Utah, in a press conference organized by the University of Utah administration, announced a startling scientific discovery. In fact, the discovery entailed three claims, each remarkable in its own right.

The Three Claims of Fleischmann and Pons
1. A sustained deuterium-deuterium fusion reaction
2. Massive amounts of unexplained energy, in the form of heat
3.
A "hitherto unknown nuclear process" free of the expected neutron emission and gamma radiation

This first period lasted 39 days, during which the story was reported in the press with optimism and, gradually, with increasing skepticism.

Second Period

The first period of cold fusion's history came to a close on May 1. The turning point was the American Physical Society meeting in Baltimore, Md. No one has captured the essence of that critical turning point better than David Goodstein, California Institute of Technology vice provost and professor of physics.

"For all practical purposes," Goodstein wrote, "the cold fusion episode ended a mere five weeks after it began on May 1, 1989. All three scientists from Caltech [Steven Koonin, Nate Lewis and Charlie Barnes] executed between them a perfect slam-dunk that cast cold fusion right out of the arena of mainstream science."

One reporter who witnessed the meeting wrote:"Steve Koonin and Nate Lewis nearly killed cold fusion between them. Koonin later said that someone told him that he hit a triple and Lewis hit a home run. 'He was good,' Koonin said about Lewis. 'People were just stunned.'"

At Baltimore, the initial four problems were followed by a second set of problems, each causing its own set of negative consequences:

The Second Set of Problems with Cold Fusion
1. As the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer predicted for any new truth, cold fusion was met with violent opposition and outright hostility
2. Because this was a science de novo, the mass media had trouble recognizing the true experts in this new field.

During this second period, after May 1, the cold fusion story reported in the press was nearly entirely negative. Within days of the Baltimore conference, most people in the world would have learned that the idea of cold fusion had all been a big mistake.

Since cold fusion hasn't been prevalent in the mass media since that time, the impressions made in the first week of May have largely determined public awareness of cold fusion to this day.

Third Period

The second period lasted for six months, until the Department of Energy's first cold fusion review panel concluded its investigation and decided that cold fusion wasn't deserving of a special research program. The organizers of the review selected committee members who had made their rejection of cold fusion publicly known, so it's not surprising that the committee came to the conclusion they did.

The Nov. 12, 1989, publication by the Department of Energy's cold fusion committee marked the beginning of the third period of cold fusion. The negative response by the Department of Energy made official the public perception that had been established through the scientific and mass media.

This third period was a largely quiet and largely ignored period for cold fusion, except for those researchers who stayed active in the field.

Fourth Period

By early 1995, over 20 replications of the Fleischmann-Pons excess heat effect had been published. This was a significant milestone.

"Excess heat" is the term used to describe the key phenomenon of cold fusion, where more heat is measured than can be accounted for by known science. This energy is produced without harmful radiation or waste, and it can be achieved in room-temperature experiments. It is this factor that indicates a novel source of energy. These experimental characteristics are profoundly auspicious and, in fact, sound too good to be true. They are at the heart of this science controversy.

Among the early published papers was the 58-page seminal Fleischmann-Pons paper, "Calorimetry of the Palladium-Deuterium-Heavy Water System," published in 1990 in the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry. While critics easily found faults in their 1989 "Preliminary Report," this later paper has not been invalidated.

Only one group has attempted to challenge the 1990 Fleischmann-Pons paper. In 1992, the Wilson group at General Electric published an attempt to refute the 1990 paper, but Fleischmann and Pons subsequently responded to the Wilson critique. Wilson et al. failed to rebut.

Since the 1990 paper has not been refuted, it therefore stands that the Fleischmann-Pons work is valid according to the strict interpretation of the normal rules of engagement for science.

From this point forward, all further informal critiques to the Fleischmann-Pons work are consequently pathological; they have failed to follow the scientific method.

Fifth Period

In March 2004, word leaked out that the Department of Energy would take a second look at cold fusion. Eight months later, the mixed conclusion of the Department of Energy's review committee had little official impact on the field.

However, the press coverage generated by the second review sparked a turning point for cold fusion. We are now in the fifth period of cold fusion's history.

Problem #1: The Magnitude of The Claim Is Immense

The first problem with cold fusion or, more properly, the field of condensed matter nuclear science, is that it is so big. Bigger than most of us can imagine, comprehend and process. What we now know about the subject is just the beginning of a major scientific and technological revolution. Being able to change one element into another with "relative" ease, and being able to produce energy with "relative" ease, sometimes challenges the minds of even the most avid acceptors.

The reason this is a problem is that, in 1989, there was no way for most people to comprehend the magnitude of cold fusion. Nearly everybody underestimated what the claims implied.

Many of those who did sense the magnitude were in utter disbelief. "Large heat release from fusion at room temperature would be a multidimensional revolution," said Richard Garwin, one of the most prominent scientists in the United States, in 1989.

Physicist Jean Paul Vigier, who worked closely with the famous French physicist Louis de Broglie and American David Bohm, was an editor of Physics Letters A. A few years after the cold fusion announcement he was one of the few physicists who not only recognzied the magnitude of the claim, but who also had the courage to look honestly at it.

"There is something new coming up," Vigier said. "You know, professors who teach physics hate to change their courses. Generally they don't appreciate monsters which crop up which cannot be explained within the frame of the present knowledge."

The magnitude and the implications are still difficult to see except by spending ample time speaking to the researchers who are on the leading edge of this field. Because many people failed -- or were initially unable -- to assess its magnitude, they reacted and responded to it in odd ways.

The public expected those who introduced the field to have had the foresight and the wisdom to introduce it and their discovery properly. People expected critical observers to react rationally. People expected the news media to be able to identify the experts in a new, unrecognized field of science.

None of those expectations was met, and the failure to meet those expectations was symptomatic of the larger failure: to recognize the magnitude of what was being presented to the world.

Problem #2: Hot Fusion Had Failed to Meet Expectations; Cold Fusion Was an Imminent Threat

The second problem is that hot fusion doesn't work.

It's not that hot fusion doesn't work scientifically. Fusion-producing plasmas are real. They are reproducible and repeatable on demand. Most researchers in the hot fusion field are hard-working, intelligent people who care just as much about the environment and humanity as anybody else.

But the field hasn't been funded with the intent to create an interesting science project. The point of the last 56 years of hot fusion research and the $20 billion from taxpayers' pockets has been to deliver a working source of energy.

Granted, the field has well-understood science, and it is proven. What it does not have is a useful technology following from the science. No one has invented a reactor to provide useful energy from that science.

"But we've made lots of progress," advocates from the hot fusion industry say. "We are getting closer and closer to making as much energy from our experimental reactors as they consume."

On occasion, those advocates proudly report how much energy the Tokamaks produced, but they'll neglect to make it clear that the experiments consumed more energy than they generated. This isn't a lie, however; it is merely deceptive.

And some hot fusion advocates say, "Well, theoretically, if we had run such-and-such experiment with tritium-deuterium, rather than deuterium alone, we would have seen a net energy gain." Fine. Now, do it.

Is the point to bash hot fusion research? No. Do we know for certain that hot fusion won't work? No. Does society need to investigate every possible alternative to fossil fuels? Certainly.

So, hot fusion researchers, keep at it. Do it. Make it work. But don't say that the idea of cold fusion wasn't a major problem for you in 1989.

The day the news of cold fusion hit, the Financial Times wrote that hot fusion wasn't expected to achieve the necessary conditions to succeed until 1992.

"Even then, it is not clear whether [the Joint European Torus] will achieve the 'break even' state, in which the energy produced by the nuclear reaction exceeds the energy spent heating up the reactor," the Financial Times wrote.

Cold fusion was a big problem for hot fusion in 1989. It still is. The war against cold fusion isn't just about science.

The congressional hearing regarding cold fusion on April 26, 1989, marked an imminent threat for the hot fusion community. It faced having to share some of its funding (and stature) with the new fusion researchers and the new fusion laboratories.

The hot fusion field had been on a long losing streak, both in funding and public confidence, when Fleischmann and Pons came along.

Were hot fusion researchers afraid of cold fusion? Look no further than the statements from Steven Earl Jones of Brigham Young University.

Months before the physics community voiced its outrage at Fleischmann and Pons, Jones had no problem envisioning that his version of cold fusion might be the answer to the world's energy problems.

On Dec. 10, 1988, Jones wrote, in a draft proposal to the Department of Energy, "We have demonstrated for the first time that nuclear fusion occurs when hydrogen and deuterium are electrolytically loaded into a metallic foil. This remarkable process obviates the need for elaborate machinery to generate and contain plasmas to induce fusion. We are now exploring means to enhance the fusion yield of this new process."

On March 24, before Jones knew how violently his colleagues in the physics community would react to the Fleischmann-Pons announcement, he submitted his cold fusion paper to Nature.

In the next few weeks, the pessimism and skepticism of the Fleischmann-Pons announcement escalated. Jones' paper was already in the hopper.

On April 27, Nature published his paper. His conclusion states, "The discovery of cold nuclear fusion in condensed matter opens the possibility of a new path to fusion energy." This same issue also included a very negative forecast from Richard Garwin on cold fusion as a potential source of fusion energy.

On May 1, in front of the world's physics community at Baltimore, and after Fleischmann and Pons had triggered an outrage in the nuclear physics community with their proposal of cold fusion, Jones changed his tune.

On May 3, The New York Times reported the news of Jones' Baltimore presentation. His work was "less contentious," the Times wrote, than that of Fleischmann and Pons.

Jones "did not claim that any useful energy was produced," the Times wrote. "The result suggests the possibility of fusion, he said, although it is not likely to be useful as an energy source."

The Times reporter could not have been expected to have caught this contradiction from Jones' paper in Nature.

"Physicists who have investigated Dr. Jones's report have been fairly restrained in their criticism, acknowledging that Dr. Jones is a careful scientist," the Times said.

The Times article continued, "[Jones] drew cheers and laughter when he concluded his talk by saying, 'Is this a shortcut to fusion energy? Read my lips: No!' He defended his own experiment, describing his results as a 'fragile flower' that would never grow into a 'tree' producing useful energy, but could nevertheless 'beautify' science."

As an aside, Jones would, in later years, vehemently and publicly disparage the growing body of evidence that evolved to validate the Fleischmann-Pons type of cold fusion.

Privately, though, in recent years, Jones appears to be seeking investment funds to develop cold fusion as an energy source, despite the fact that his version of cold fusion produces a trillionth of the energy that the Fleischmann-Pons version produced.

Not surprisingly, as cold fusion (as a potential energy source) is coming into greater acceptance, Jones conceded on Feb. 13, 2006, on a private e-mail list for CMNS researchers that the Fleischmann-Pons claim of excess heat is real.

On May 1, 1989, the physics community didn't seem to mind that Jones had completely contradicted what he had written just days earlier. It was relieved that Jones had publicly recanted his heretical proposition. After all, chemists doing cold fusion were easy to dismiss, but one of their own, a physicist? That would have been too much.

Fleischmann and Pons, however, made no such retraction. Their threat to hot fusion was clear and present. They posed a threat not only to hot fusion researchers' stature and funding, but also to their entire worldview of physics.

Unlike Vigier, most physicists failed to consider the possibility that the Fleischmann-Pons claim of excess heat may have been valid.

Consequently, a few representatives from the hot fusion field took it upon themselves to minimize the cold fusion threat. As they saw it, cold fusion was a waste of money on a non-existent phenomenon, and they were doing their duty to prevent the public from having false hope.

Problem #3: Tragedy of Errors: A Breakdown in Scientific Communications

The third problem was a massive breakdown in scientific communication. Yes, Fleischmann, Pons, the University of Utah administrators, their attorneys and Pons' private attorneys can all be faulted for their part in the events of 1989. So can Steven Jones at Brigham Young University, his collaborator Jan Rafelski at the University of Arizona and Ryszard Gajewski at the Department of Energy.

Nevertheless, after studying the history carefully, I do not think many people could have done better in 1989 than any of these players.

I also can understand the predicament that electrochemists Nathan Lewis of Caltech and Alan Bard of the University of Texas at Austin were in when they failed or, in the case of Lewis, perceived that they failed to replicate the Fleischmann-Pons experiment.

Gary Taubes, in his account of cold fusion history, which Bard and Lewis reviewed and approved before publication, clearly shows the early struggles of these two chemists and their failures to replicate cold fusion. It is easy to understand why these two scientists made their hasty decision that cold fusion could not be so.

Lewis played a key role in "debunking" cold fusion in Baltimore, but that was only after he failed in the first few weeks to get his cold fusion cells to work.

After all, how would it look for chemists with prominent reputations such as these two to fail in their attempt to replicate the experiment of the century? The same experiment was reported in the Financial Times as being "no more complex than work done by chemistry undergraduates."

Of course, it was indeed extremely complex, but only a few people recognized that fact early on. Who wouldn't have been mad as hell if, like Lewis and Bard, they didn't understand the experiment and couldn't get Fleischmann or Pons to teach them the very intricate details that were required?

A few researchers did have early successes, but that is part of another, forthcoming story.


Nathan Lewis
Photo: Amy Tierney

The history shows that Lewis and Bard did try their hardest, at least for a short while. Unfortunately, they didn't have what it took to make cold fusion work or, in the case of Lewis, the awareness that it might have worked. Even if Lewis consciously changed the calibration constant every day to insure that the "noise" was eliminated, it is not difficult to understand his predicament.

With the outrage toward, and the rejection of, cold fusion from the plasma physicists, how could Lewis have risked telling the world that his experiment might have, just possibly, shown a very weak and uncorrelated signal of excess heat?

Lewis brought good news to the Baltimore physicists. First, he was a chemist, and second, as he told them, he was an objective scientist.

His colleague, theoretical physicist Steven Koonin, had submitted a paper to Nature on April 7, 1989, only two weeks after the Utah announcement, explaining why cold fusion was unlikely, though the clear implication was that cold fusion was theoretically impossible. "We know of no plausible mechanism" for cold fusion, Koonin wrote.

A week earlier, Richard Garwin may have been the first prominent scientist to state publicly his rejection of cold fusion.

His daughter, Laura Garwin, was an editor at Nature. When she received the Fleischmann-Pons manuscript in late March, she immediately formed a negative opinion about it. "I was extremely surprised that that paper got published [in the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry]," Laura Garwin said. "It didn't have the elementary control experiment. The obvious thing you see when you look at that paper is, Why didn't they do it with H2O? Any high-school student could've refereed it, because of that obvious ingredient of the scientific method."

Certainly this was a natural, honest concern on the part of Laura Garwin and many other bystanders. Fleischmann and Pons' first problem was that they underestimated the critics' incredulity of their work by several orders of magnitude.

Understandably, running a control of H2O would have seemed like a pretty stupid idea for Fleischmann and Pons. After all, a substantial body of knowledge existed on the subject of palladium electrolysis in normal water, and there had been no previous reports of anomalous effects.

What got them in hot water was that Fleischmann and Pons just didn't feel the need or the desire to explain everything to others. This attitude was typical of the subsequent communications, or lack thereof, between Fleischmann and Pons and the rest of the scientific world.

It may or may not have been helpful for Fleischmann and Pons to show a plain water control. Laura Garwin's point was that cold fusion was clearly a mistake; a plain water control would have shown the effect identical to the heavy water experiment and revealed that their hypothesis and experiment was somehow flawed, or so she might have thought.

Robert Huggins, a materials scientist at Stanford, perhaps one of the first to claim a confirmation of Fleischmann and Pons, did, however, run a normal water control. But this confirmation was summarily dismissed by Stanford atomic physicist Walter Myerhof.

Myerhof showed a comparison of Huggins' work to that of Fleischmann-Pons, the former reporting 0.2 MJ of energy, equal to 20 MJ/mole of palladium, the latter reporting 4 MJ equal to 20 MJ/mole of palladium.

Myerhof explained that typical chemical reactions produce only a few hundredths of the claimed energy per mole of palladium and that there is "no known chemical or physical process that can explain this 'excess energy.'" On this point, he was absolutely correct.

"What is the solution to this problem?" Myerhof asked the Baltimore audience. He outlined a few likely scenarios that would explain the problem. Myerhof didn't do any of his own experiments. He wasn't an electrochemist, and he certainly didn't have a background like chemist and materials scientist Steven Crouch-Baker, working on the Huggins team, who learned calorimetry at Oxford.

According to Huggins, Myerhof did go into Huggins' laboratory to inspect the work, and he spent an entire five minutes learning how Huggins et al. had theoretically made their mistake.

Yet Myerhof had the arrogance and hubris to assert the claims of excess heat as "fictitious" because it was "impossible to explain with known chemical or physical processes."

Few cases of the cold fusion controversy show such short-sightedness as well as pathological skepticism. Sadly, Myerhof was a featured source for The New York Times on May 3, and for many of the world's other media outlets.

Myerhof also explained to the Baltimore audience that both the Fleischmann and Pons and the Huggins experiments were faulty because the cells were not stirred. According to his analysis, this created nonhomogeneity of temperature within the cell and the illusion of excess heat.

"Now this is the situation as of two weeks ago," Myerhof said. "The ground is shifting so rapidly that one doesn't always keep up with everything. I hear now that they are stirring the water. So I am discussing the case of two weeks ago which has this particular kind of configuration."

Myerhof's main point -- purely speculative -- was that the cold fusion cells were not stirred.

Fleischmann and Pons never needed to stir their cells. Their unique cell geometry, which was misreported in the press and misunderstood by the science community, ensured homogeneous temperature gradients without the need for mechanical stirring. They used the natural turbulence of the cell to do the mixing.

Myerhof goofed. He cannot be charged with lying; he most certainly believed he was speaking the truth. However, his actions do raise serious questions about his process of scientific evaluation, skepticism and the publishing of negative results.

But this wasn't enough for Myerhof. He had to top off his presentation with a derisive poem mocking the cold fusion researchers.

"Tens of millions of dollars at stake,
Dear sister and brother
Because scientists put a thermometer
At one place and not another."

The crowd loved it.

I wanted to discuss this history with Myerhof, however I was told by his wife that he is in a nursing home and would be unable to comment.

The story about why Huggins and his group stopped their cold fusion research is unfortunate. Huggins had a falling out with Joe Santucci, the program manager at the Electric Power Research Institute, which was funding the Stanford research.

"We got in trouble with our money source," Huggins said. "Our project manager wanted to set up a private company, so he wanted to keep everything real secret. And he got upset at us because we were telling people what we were doing.

"Santucci got very upset because we had visitors, and we were openly telling them what we were doing. You just cannot keep an activity in a university secret. The purpose of a university is for people to learn from each other.


Robert Huggins
Photo by S. Krivit

"Anyway, he got really mad, and turned our program off. Some of my people ended up going over to SRI and worked there."

I had some trouble finding Huggins' papers at first but finally found his group's key cold fusion paper from 1990. It was under the name of one of his assistants, Martha Schreiber. I asked Huggins why his name wasn't listed first, since he was the senior researcher.

"I make a habit of putting my name last when I have the opportunity," Huggins said. "Most of the 360 or so publications I've been involved with have my name last. I've always thought students need the visibility a lot more than I do."

A few months ago, two Stanford physics students approached Huggins, recently back from a decade of work abroad, to mentor them in cold fusion experiments. He and the students are eager to start cold fusion research, but unfortunately, they, like many researchers, have little in the way of materials and equipment.

Going back to 1989, on April 12, Richard Garwin attended a one-day cold fusion conference in Erice, Sicily. Two weeks earlier, his daughter had selected him to referee both the Fleischmann-Pons paper and the Jones paper. Garwin's report of the Erice conference was published in Nature on April 20. Garwin concluded, "Large heat release from fusion at room-temperature would be a multidimensional revolution. I bet against its confirmation."

Garwin had privileged information when he published these remarks on April 20. His carefully worded bet clearly differentiated between the Fleischmann-Pons claim and the Jones claim.

Not surprisingly, he rejected the Fleischmann and Pons paper and accepted the Jones paper, which was published by Nature on April 27. This was the beginning of the factionalism that continued to grow, with mainstream physicists cautiously accepting the Jones work but rejecting the Fleischmann-Pons work.

Since very early on in cold fusion's history, some people have thought that Fleischmann and Pons were trying to hide something. Aside from constraints by the patent attorneys, there does not appear to be any evidence to support this claim. Jerrold Footlick, a former Newsweek journalist, in his book Truth and Consequences, performed the best investigation on this matter.

However, they clearly seemed reluctant to share details with others. This does not indicate an insidious cover-up; this is merely intellectual arrogance: "Hey, if you're not smart enough to figure this out for yourself, don't waste our time. Don't try this at home."

Most of the critics’ minds were made up quickly. After all, on the face of it, cold fusion did look ridiculous. When the world's critics started bearing down on the two inventors, to "cooperate" with the critics seemed useless. They were outnumbered, thousands against just two.

Footlick recounts the final straw for Fleischmann and Pons, which occured at the May 8, 1989 Electrochemical Society meeting press conference in Los Angeles:

"After a few timid questions, a [scientist] from the California Institute of Technology—a nonjournalist who had crashed the press conference—commandeered a microphone and began shouting loaded questions at Pons and Fleischmann. Soon everyone was grabbing microphones and interrupting each other; a number of people, some of them physicists cholerically denouncing the work, stood on chairs to shout. Pons and Fleischmann sat stony-faced in the television lights, perhaps stunned, certainly angry. After a few minutes, they announced that they would participate no longer, stood up, and walked out."

Problem #4: Cold Fusion: A Difficult Science Problem to Solve

The fourth, immediate problem with cold fusion was that it was difficult for the original experimenters to repeat and difficult for others to replicate.

People often compare cold fusion to the other big science news of the 1980s, high-temperature superconductivity.

They believe that high-temperature superconductivity was valid because it was easily replicated and that cold fusion was not valid because no one had replicated it.

This is a misinformed and erroneous conclusion on several points.

Cold fusion was replicated first in 1990 and subsequently numerous times. However, cold fusion was, and remains, much harder to replicate than high-temperature superconductivity.

This difficulty did not signify that cold fusion was false, only that the hypothesis of cold fusion was still uncertain.

Mark Goldes, chairman and chief executive officer of Room Temperature Superconductors Inc. of Sebastopol, Calif., remembers that it was "estimated that 1,600 scientists across the world went quickly to their laboratories trying to and largely succeeding in reproducing high-temperature superconductivity."

"Within days of the first announcement by J. George Bednorz and K. Alexander Müller of IBM at an American Physical Society meeting," Goldes said, "high-temperature superconductivity was quickly reproduced around the world."

There was no theory to explain the phenomenon; in fact, this "extraordinary breakthrough showed that the original theoretical temperature limit for superconductivity was wrong," Goldes said.

"To this day," according to Goldes, "nobody can claim that they have the theory. At one point, it was our understanding that there were more than 50 competing theories."

Regardless, the lack of a theory did not prevent the acceptance of high-temperature superconductivity.

The main difference, as Goldes said, is that "the initial paper had enough details that people who were familiar with superconductivity at low temperature could immediately see how to proceed."

The second difference is that, unlike cold fusion, which, for all intents and purposes, came out of nowhere, high-temperature superconductivity was a follow-on from a pre-existing field -- in physics.

It has taken many years for researchers to understand the technical complexities of cold fusion. A forthcoming paper by Graham Hubler of the Naval Research Laboratory in the Journal of Surface Coatings & Technology provides an excellent overview of these challenges.

Violent Opposition and Outright Hostility

The violent opposition and hostility toward cold fusion was a symptom of the first set of problems. And the climate of hostility became a significant impediment to a reasonable and rational scientific debate.

Let's get back to the researchers who have been working in hot fusion. Of course they were, and still are, fearful of losing federal research funds. With a science-averse administration like Bush's, nearly everyone is afraid that their next federal research grant won't be approved or, if it is approved, won't be funded. The good news for hot fusion researchers is that their funding has been steady in recent years, and even slightly increased this year.

But in 1989, when Fleischmann and Pons showed up with their test tube reactor, hot fusion funding was on a steep decline from a one-time purse of a billion dollars a year. Hot fusion researchers were scared. Fleischmann and Pons threatened their funding, their livelihood and their stature.

And they or their representatives retaliated quickly, viciously and aggressively.

Incompetence and Delusion

As Goodstein mentioned, his colleagues Koonin and Lewis led the charge against Fleischmann and Pons.

"My conclusion," Koonin said in 1989, "based on my experience, my knowledge of nuclear physics and my intuition, is that the experiments are just wrong, and that we're suffering from the incompetence and perhaps delusion of Drs. Pons and Fleischmann."

After the applause, Koonin concluded, "The phenomenon of cold fusion was not unknown to the ancients." He then proceeded to read an Aesop's fable known both as the "Boasting Traveler" and "The Leap at Rhodes," which Koonin suggested might be relocated to Salt Lake City.

In a sophisticated, intelligent manner, Koonin was saying only one thing: I don't believe Fleischmann and Pons and I don't trust them.


Steven Koonin

Koonin can't be faulted as being evil. He's just ruthless. He "calls 'em as [he] sees 'em," as he told me in April 2006.

Koonin must have been convinced that he was helping to set the standards for correct scientific investigation and, in his view, Fleischmann and Pons simply had not lived up to these standards.

Perhaps Lewis and Koonin, in their failure to perform a successful experiment and to conceive of a plausible mechanism, could have announced to the audience at Baltimore and to the world, via the assembled press, that they were simply unable to confirm the Fleischmann and Pons experiment.

Perhaps they could have left it at that. But they didn't. They insulted Fleischmann and Pons and "hit them really hard," as Koonin said. Koonin's assault was premeditated and carefully thought out. “I talked to a lot of people before I settled on those words," Koonin said a week later in an interview on May 8, 1989.

Perhaps Koonin had at least some peripheral recognition of the damage he had done. Not only did Koonin believe that the Caltech team had done a good job at Baltimore, he also remarked, "That we said these things just won't matter." Since he was convinced it wasn't real, he figured nobody in the future would have any reason to look back.

In retrospect, it certainly did matter. What scientist, from that point forward, would want to risk such public defamation and humiliation by expressing interest in and support of cold fusion?

Critics took every conceivable problem with cold fusion, significant or petty, real or imagined, and made a very convincing case why cold fusion should have been dismissed and ignored.

In the course of the critics' campaign, the effect of their reaction also made the United States an inhospitable place for Fleischmann and Pons to live and work.

The harassment went all the way to Pons' children, who could not walk through the halls of their grade school without being taunted and shamed by other students, who had heard from their parents of the alleged misdeeds of Fleischmann and Pons.

Critics faulted Fleischmann and Pons for not responding to the miscommunications, which were just as much the critics’ fault as anyone's. But they did this at the same time they were berating, shaming and butchering Fleischmann and Pons privately and publicly.

Not being experts in public relations, Fleischmann and Pons reacted in the only way they knew, and they retreated.

In the last sentence of Excess Heat and Why Cold Fusion Research Prevailed, Charles Beaudette asks, "Why, so often, must the next Columbus be brought home in chains?” Perhaps we should accept this as inevitable, part of human nature. Or not.

And what of the rest of the scientific community that allowed this to happen? Some of those who were present May 1, 1989, at Baltimore cheered enthusiastically at the public flogging of Fleischmann and Pons. Some looked away.

A few of them have provided eyewitness accounts of the "uncivilized" human drama that occurred that evening and a week later at the May 8 Los Angeles Electrochemical Society meeting.

Dorothy Browner Hubler, wife of a U.S. Navy scientist, was at the Baltimore meeting:

"I was just appalled at the kind of verbal responses that were given. I did not expect to hear profanity; I did not expect to hear people calling other people names. I can understand an emotional reaction, but I thought this was just a little bit out of control."

Not all scientists at Baltimore were hasty with their judgment and mockery, however.

Justin Kirk Dickens, of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, despite having made more than 300 runs using a variety of configurations and failing to see neutrons above background, was somber and resolute.

"We shall continue," Dickens said, "and we shall continue because we should stay in the scientific arena as long as it is not understood."

I was curious to know what had happened with his research. I was recently able to contact Dickens but he declined to comment.

Mass Media: Failure to Recognize the New Experts

The May 3, 1989, New York Times article by Malcolm Browne, reporting on the May 1 Baltimore meeting, was perhaps the most destructive media assault on this new science. We cannot blame the Times, however, or Browne. Every word in his article is factual and objective from a journalistic point of view. But he missed the real story.

Browne and The New York Times were not alone. However, his article provides an excellent demonstration of the problem.

The problem was that he was reporting what the self-appointed experts told him at Baltimore. Fleischmann and Pons were unavailable for comment in Baltimore; they did not attend the meeting. As they predicted accurately, they were tried in a kangaroo court and hanged.

The outspoken individuals in Baltimore were not experts in cold fusion; they were far from it. But there was no way for Browne or any other reporter to have known this in 1989.

In 1989, most reporters, with the exception of Jerry Bishop of the Wall Street Journal, did not realize that yesterday's experts in nuclear science were not the experts in today's condensed matter nuclear science.

Cold fusion went through a dark tunnel over the next 16 years. Most reporters and news outlets, like many critics in academia, also bet against cold fusion, and this position has made it difficult for them to reconsider their public stance.

The 2004 Department of Energy review, while mixed, sparked new interest in the field.

Kenneth Chang has been covering cold fusion objectively for The New York Times in recent years. Fortunately, he knows the true experts and sources in this new field.

In January 2006, Michael Lemonick, author of the 1989 Time magazine cover story on cold fusion, mentioned the subject of cold fusion in a very derogatory manner in an article on the Korean stem cell controversy.

A few members of the cold fusion community vehemently informed him that his understanding of the field was outdated and very wrong.

Lemonick and I subsequently began a friendly discussion on the current status of cold fusion.

"Clearly, cold fusion has been assigned to the 'crank' category by many scientists," Lemonick said, "but I'd love for my students to hear from someone like you, who has thoughtful arguments and evidence that this label may be very wrong."

A few months later, on April 3, I spoke with him and the students in his class, "They Laughed at Einstein: How Science Responds to Cranks and Visionaries," at Princeton University.

Lemonick, the students and I had a lively two-hour conversation about cold fusion. It was a learning experience for all. We didn't agree on everything, but we had an honest, productive dialogue, which is something that is sorely needed in this subject area.

Optimists Refuse to Give Up; Pessimists Get Worried

Months and years have passed since the initial uproar in 1989 and some of the most outspoken representatives appear to have become concerned that cold fusion might have been real.

They noticed that cold fusion didn't die, as a few pessimists had predicted it would. They noticed that a few researchers were steadfast in their conviction, despite overwhelming pressure to conform and give up.

Each time pessimists presented a clever argument that might appear to offer a conventional explanation for the Fleischmann-Pons claim, cold fusion researchers would provide the evidence to the contrary.

Despite the fact that Douglas Morrison denounced the entire episode of cold fusion as pathological science on May 1, 1989, he still traveled to every international cold fusion conference until his death in 2001 to observe and report.

Despite the fact that they publicly denounced cold fusion in 1989, Alan Bard, Charlie Barnes and Howard Birnbaum visited SRI International in 1991 to see, and in fact confirm, what was rumored to be a positive cold fusion experiment exhibiting excess heat.

Despite the fact that Richard Garwin and Nathan Lewis publicly maintained that cold fusion was a fluke, they had no problem accepting money from Lee Hammarstrom, working with a "black" Department of Defense program, to audit the SRI cold fusion experiment two years later in 1993, also confirming the evidence for excess heat.

Garwin has denied that he confirmed the SRI experiment. This is reasonable. How would it look for him? Being one of the most prominent physicists in the United States if not the world, he publicly bet against cold fusion, when it was only 28 days old.

The audits by these prominent scientists were first reported in The Rebirth of Cold Fusion. To date, the mainstream media have not informed the public of these audits, perhaps for good reason. Who would want to be the bearer of such bad news: that respectable members of the science community were not forthright with the public, that they withheld significant information about a potential new energy source?

In public, however, these men conspired (con-spire: to act in harmony toward a common end) with Gary Taubes to write a very destructive book on cold fusion, in which they attempted to condemn cold fusion to a very short life. Taubes thanked them on the first page of his book for reading the entire draft before it was published and for providing their "suggested corrections."

Mike Epstein (with apologies to Lizzie Borden) wrote the following summary of this malice in his review of the Taubes book:

"Gary Taubes took an axe
Gave Pons and Fleischmann forty whacks
And when he saw what he had done
He gave John Bockris forty-one."

Bockris was another early cold fusion pioneer who, like Fleischmann and Pons, bore the brunt of orthodox hostility toward this new science.

Behind the scenes, these well-respected scientists saw supportive evidence of cold fusion, but they didn't inform the public. And what if they had? Imagine the outrage if the public learned that the truth about cold fusion was suppressed or ignored? Imagine the outrage from the critics' peers. They would have been instantly labeled "believers." It was, as it still is today, a no-win situation for them. Unfortunately for them, as more time goes by, more evidence of their negligence is appearing.

The best they could do, perhaps, was hope that cold fusion researchers would figure out the mechanics and the theory of cold fusion so irrefutably that it would be easy and without risk for them to support the new fusion.

In the following years, when cold fusion poked its head out from under the Taubes party's premature burial, these critics looked for ways to explain away and dismiss cold fusion. As time went on, cold fusion researchers eliminated the causes for each of these critiques, one by one.

When nearly all the possible reasons to dismiss cold fusion were exhausted, some of the critics demanded that cold fusion research meet the expectations of a technology, rather than a science.

"It's been eleven years since [the SRI report]," Garwin said. "For a real phenomenon, you would think that it would have emerged and be on the way to exploitation."

I resisted asking Garwin if he thought hot fusion was a real phenomenon, since it had been going for 52 years at the time and it's not expected to be commercially exploited for at least another 50 years.

Other critics, who had run out of legitimate scientific critique, resorted to slander, with the tacit permission of mainstream science.

"Just by looking at these guys on TV, it is obvious that they were incompetent boobs," Princeton University physicist Will Happer said in Taubes' 1993 book. Happer was a member of the 1989 Department of Energy cold fusion review panel, as well as former head of the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Research (now the Office of Science).

Pathological Skepticism and Disbelief: A Case Study

Compact examples of this unscientific behavior, showing the hatred, fear and disbelief of the few outspoken world science representatives, are rare.

Recently, however, I came across one such article that is replete with such language.

Three authors signed their names to this article: A. V. Arzhannikov, G. Ya. Kezerashvili and É. P. Kruglyakov. The title is "On Russian Conferences on Cold Fusion and Nuclear Transmutation," and it appeared in a Russian Academy of Sciences Physics publication in 1999. [42 (6) 615 – 616 (1999) Uspekhi Fizicheskikh Nauk]

In Russia, instead of attacking Fleischmann and Pons, critics attack Yuri Bazhutov at the Institute of Terrestrial Magnetism, Ionosphere and Radiowave Propagation of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Granted, Bazhutov is known for some unusual ideas, but this does not mean his ideas may not be significant some day.

Bazhutov has led many, if not all, the Russian cold fusion conferences. He will take the lead on the forthcoming International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science next year in Sochi, Russia.

The authors of this 1999 Russian Academy of Sciences article start by pronouncing that the "final conclusion to be drawn from [cold fusion] studies is definitely NO." [Emphasis is original]

This is reminiscent of 1990, when Nature editor Sir John Maddox prematurely pronounced that cold fusion was "dead, and it will remain dead for a long, long time."

From there, the authors make a blanket and unsubstantiated character attack on Russian cold fusion researchers: "Many of those involved do not live up to academic and, in some cases, even to good faith standards." I found no facts in the article to support this claim and must conclude that these are merely the opinions of the authors.

The authors criticize "the cold nuclear fusion community" for turning into "an isolated entity." That researchers of a paradigm-breaking phenomenon will get the blessings and goodwill of the incumbent science authorities is not likely, as Machiavelli would remind us.

The statement by the authors that the community produces "numerous publications of highly improbable and extraordinarily bizarre content," only reveals their own limited imagination and inability to consider new science.

The authors observe but are in abject disbelief when confronted by experimental evidence produced by Luch researcher Irina Savvatimova:

"She has achieved what thus far the world's entire physics community has not been able to do: transmute elements (change nuclei of one element into another) over most of the periodic table. While skilled physicists build particle accelerators to be able to occasionally observe a single event of this kind, their colleagues at ‘Luch’ do this effortlessly by just bombarding metal surfaces with ions in a common gas discharge. And miracles like this abound throughout the conference proceedings under review."

If you can put aside the sarcastic attitude of the authors for a moment and read this paragraph literally, it's brilliant. The authors got it right. They unintentionally explain the perspective and magnitude of the paradigm that cold fusion stands to break.

And is Savvatimova the only one to observe anomalous isotopic abundances in her "cold fusion" work? Readers of New Energy Times already know the answer to that question. Unfortunately, the authors of the article are probably unaware of the world of cold fusion outside of their small Russian window.

Astute readers may notice a relationship among the Savvatimova work, the Widom-Larsen theoretical work, and the Miley and Iwamura experimental work.

So, yes, these miracles do abound. A revolution in science is occurring before our eyes. Some people will lead the revolution, some will follow and others will get in the way.

The authors voice their disbelief at the results of Alexandr Koldamasov, whose work was further developed by Hyunik Yang: "One of the most ‘outstanding’ results was achieved by A. I. Koldamasov, in whose work the fusion process takes place in the field of an electric discharge."

The jury's still out on the Koldamasov-Yang hydraulic-electrostatic work. I wouldn't be so quick to mock this experiment.

The authors continue: "For ten years now, we have been witnessing the formation of a weird self-isolated community - indeed a sect - that produced something inconsistent, incorrect, and simply illiterate, whereas traditional science, while looking at all this with disgust, does nothing whatsoever to let its attitude be known. Neither the Russian Academy of Sciences nor the Ministry of the Nuclear Power industry have spoken out."

Presumably the authors seek to put a halt to this research, or perhaps defame its proponents as Americans like Happer have done.

It bothers the authors that Bazhutov had the "nerve" to ask for government funding to learn more about the science. Bazhutov's request was for "'facilitating the creation of a prototype unit for completing the research, obtaining stable results, developing technology for translating these results into practice, and for carrying out experimental work with the aim of establishing Russia's priority in this area.'”

The authors are annoyed that Bazhutov has not perfected the results yet. Consequently, they don't see why he should be given a chance to do so. "Clearly Mr. Bazhutov has let the cat out of the bag: no stable results yet - but give us some money! Where is the logic here, for heaven's sake?"

Cold fusion proponents try to find the answers to solve these problems. Opponents try to find reasons to dismiss cold fusion. Really, where is the logic? And what type of researcher is most likely to contribute to solving global problems facing humanity?

The authors express the same objection voiced by MIT researchers when the University of Utah requested congressional support for a national cold fusion research center in Utah. History repeats itself. "And, mind you," the Russian authors protest, "it is Luch which should be appointed as the lead institution on the project."

Bazhutov does have the skills, the experience and the background in the field.

The authors continue their scorn of Bazhutov's request to the Russian government: "Should the said research be funded, the institute would be able to develop and create demonstration units capable of confirming the possibility of excess heat release and reduced waste radioactivity. Thus we see how ‘research work’ of a highly questionable nature may become the subject of a highest-level discussion in the country."

Are these matters appropriate for discussions at highest levels in every nation? As stated in the 2004 federal testimony of U.S. patent examiner Thomas Valone, it is "a noble and patriotic act to make [one's nation] less dependent upon conventional energy by seeking alternative forms of energy."

The Scientific Press: Facing the Stigma and a Pressure to Conform

This brings to light the next problem with cold fusion. With hostility against cold fusion and the institutionalized stigma against it, few editors and journalists have the courage or perhaps the political stamina to withstand the climate of skeptical terrorism.

Is terrorism too strong a word? There is a Navy scientist who nearly lost his job just for presenting a cold fusion paper as a Navy representative. There is an MIT professor who was given a choice to stay in the JASONS or continue his interest in cold fusion. There is a retired Navy scientist who was given a choice to be a filing clerk or find work elsewhere after a new department head, unfriendly to cold fusion, took over the group he was in. And there is Valone, the U.S. patent examiner who was fired, in large part, for his support of cold fusion.

Last month, a journal editor terminated a dialogue with Mel Miles, an electrochemist with the University of La Verne, regarding his manuscript submission, which reported results from a run of nine cold fusion experiments. Eight of them yielded excess heat. The explanation for the failure of the ninth is known.

The editor refused Miles' request to send his manuscript to reviewers who were skilled in cold fusion. That the editor declined to do so is unconscionable, however understandable. I speculate that the editor was terrified to be the first in more than a decade to publish a paper reporting evidence of excess heat.

On the other hand, the editors of Naturwissenschaften, the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry, European Physical Journal A and the European Physical Journal C all made the decision to publish "cold fusion" papers in recent months. I have been privileged to have insights into the challenges they and the authors faced to get these papers through the review process, and I commend them for their courage and discipline.

Pathological Skepticism/Disbelief

Two cold fusion skeptics have been quoted from time to time in the press over the last 10 years. However, I have a hunch that Robert Park, in contrast to what we wrote about him in The Rebirth of Cold Fusion, has read a few cold fusion papers recently and senses the winds of change. Notice what Park has said about cold fusion in the last few years - or, more specifically, what he has not said -- and you'll see what I mean.

I would expect that Park, an expert in pathological science, would be able to recognize pathological skepticism as well.

Take, for example, Bard, one of the chemists who failed in his attempt to replicate the Fleischmann-Pons effect in April 1989. He, along with Koonin and Garwin, were quick to denounce cold fusion publicly. All three were selected by two prominent authorities in conventional nuclear science as members of an "expert and well-balanced" Department of Energy cold fusion panel to help assess cold fusion's validity.

Two years after Bard failed to replicate the Fleischmann-Pons effect, he personally (and secretly) inspected the cold fusion research at SRI International in 1991.

His conclusion was that the research "has been carried out carefully and has shown some excess heat effects that cannot readily be attributed to artifacts or errors." An honest skeptic would conclude that there was evidence -- not proof, just evidence -- of possible excess heat, but not Bard.

In the report, Bard states that, before he can accept cold fusion, he must see "detection of nuclear products at levels consistent with the excess heat levels."

As noted in the mediator's testimony at Thomas Valone's Department of Commerce hearing on Oct. 28, 2004, "Dr. Melvin Miles and his collaborators [at the Navy's China Lake laboratory] were the first to show that a correlation exists between the rate of excess enthalpy and [helium]."

These results were published in two peer-reviewed journals, the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry in 1993 and Fusion Technology in 1994.

A few years later, the SRI team also measured a very high correlation, and a handful of other researchers have done so, as well.

Since the mid-1990s, most cold fusion critics, having exhausted all other possible conventional explanations for cold fusion, have stated that reproducibility on demand is the ultimate requirement to accept cold fusion.

In 2004, Bard indicated that, for him, full reproducibility is "not good enough." Consequently, he failed to honor his agreement that correlation would be an acceptable goal. He stated that he now will require cold fusion experiments to produce 1,000 percent excess heat and that an accepted theory must exist to explain the phenomenon.

Bard's assertion that the scientific method requires a 10x magnitude of effect is unacceptable. Certainly, good science requires a strong signal-to-noise ratio. However, a scientist who measures "only" a small percentage of heat excess with a high signal-to-noise ratio provides valid scientific data. The SRI International's 90-sigma result would provide reasonable confidence for an honest skeptic.

Does Bard's assertion that an accepted theory is required hold water? No, an accepted theory is not required for a valid scientific phenomenon.

Bard set a goal for cold fusion researchers. They achieved that goal. Bard then changed the goal. They met the next goal. Bard changed the goal again. This is called "moving the goalposts."

Astute observers will note that, in the last 12 years, no cold fusion critics have publicly engaged in a proper scientific debate, challenging cold fusion papers in the scientific literature.

Although the general public still remains largely under the misapprehension created by Koonin, Lewis and others, no one is willing to challenge cold fusion expertly, formally and directly in the published literature.

Validation

The scientific validation for cold fusion had emerged by the end of 1994.

Charles Beaudette wrote the most thorough assessment of the primary signature of cold fusion, excess heat, in chapter 14 of Excess Heat & Why Cold Fusion Research Prevailed, 2nd Ed.

"Validation is an ongoing process that becomes more secure with each successive corroboration," Beaudette wrote. "Protocol ordinarily allows the original experiment full confirmation if it is successfully replicated once. That corroboration was properly done in the fall of 1989 by Oriani."

The Oriani group's paper, " Calorimetric Measurements of Excess Power Output During The Cathodic Charging of Deuterium Into Palladium " was published in 1990 in Fusion Technology.

"With confirmation, an experimental observation is admitted into the company of mainstream science even if it conflicts with theory," Beaudette wrote. "During that admissions process, the confirmation must include a full consideration of possible systematic error, error that may be common to every trial."

Beaudette provides an in-depth analysis of seven examples of excess heat replications. Readers wishing to learn of power, integrated energy, signal-to-noise ratios, control cells, various precautions against prosaic errors, etc., are encouraged to read this chapter in his book.

At the end of the chapter, he presents a summation of 21 independent validations of excess heat .

He makes a point that should not be missed by any reader. From this point forward, the challenge to reject cold fusion now is raised to a higher level. In order to reject the claim of excess heat, each and every one of these papers, as well as the seven specific examples reviewed by Beaudette, must be refuted -- without exception.

This is not shifting the burden of proof from the claimant; this is the scientific method. These are the published claims. They must be formally refuted, and if not, then accepted.

Many people, myself included, have at times engaged in various arguments about the validity of cold fusion. The debate has even approached the Supreme Court once in recent years, but they chose not to hear the case.

As mentioned earlier, since the 1990 Fleischmann-Pons paper has not been refuted, according to a strict interpretation of the scientific method, their claim of cold fusion stands. This, then, is the defense for cold fusion.

Professional scientists and amateurs alike can argue about cold fusion in Internet chat rooms until the cows come home. In the end, none of these arguments matters. Fleischmann and Pons, and consequently cold fusion, have not been scientifically disproved in the published literature.

Ever since the Wilson critique and the Fleischmann-Pons response to Wilson in 1992, not one paper has been published to challenge the Fleischmann-Pons seminal paper. There can be no misinterpretations about this. Their claim has stood for 14 years.

I would like to see someone take this fact to the Supreme Court, if necessary, and challenge the Patent and Trademark Office. It is beyond belief that patent examiners today cite "evidence" from Internet discussion lists to deny cold fusion patents.

Bruce Klein, a senior engineering executive from Bechtel Corp., recognized the evidence in support of cold fusion in 1995.

At the 5th International Conference on Cold Fusion, Beaudette writes, Klein "reported the results of an informal survey carried out over the previous eighteen months. This overview included substantive visits to several laboratories. The following quote from that report expresses his view of the field:

'The first [premise] is that the cold fusion effect in its various forms is real. There exists sufficient experimental evidence at this time that this issue no longer needs to be addressed. It is not justified to devote additional resources to demonstrate the existence of the effect.'”

In 2003, Sharon Begley of the Wall Street Journal, after attending the 10th International Conference on Cold Fusion, also put the pieces of this puzzle together.

"The only thing pathological about cold fusion is the way the scientific establishment has treated it," Begley wrote.

Not My Hat!

The cold fusion problem is no longer a scientific problem. It is a human problem.

The biggest mistake of cold fusion was not the rushed University of Utah press conference. It was the rapid dismissal of this new field and the very human but not very objective response to it from the orthodoxy.

This orthodox response has used every logical and illogical argument to avoid saying, "I just don't believe it." This would be a fair and understandable statement.

Why not admit that they "just don't believe it"? Because such an admission runs counter to the self-professed image that science's practitioners are objective and dispassionate. Science is not supposed to be about feelings, emotions, belief or disbelief.

It is unfortunate that Garwin and others rushed so hastily to judgment against cold fusion and consequently made it difficult for themselves to retract their initial skepticism. Garwin made no effort to hide his disbelief within the first month after cold fusion's announcement.

"Somebody is going to have to eat his hat," Garwin wrote on April 20, 1989, in Nature. "Within the next few weeks, experiments will surely show whether cold nuclear fusion is taking place; if so, it will teach us much besides humility."

Garwin's suggestion that a resolution would be known within weeks, taken alone, might be considered merely optimistic and simplistic. Taken in the context of his "bet against its confirmation," however, this comment was disingenuous.

Garwin is not known for being a thoughtless man; I can only conclude that the Fleischmann-Pons claim was so offensive and so preposterous to him that his emotions got the better of him.

University of Utah President Chase Peterson got it right on March 23, 1989:

"The full story of the research Professor Pons and Professor Fleischmann will announce today will not be known for months or years, as others confirm and challenge and enlarge their ideas and their data."

Extraordinary Claims: Extraordinary Resistance

Many nuclear physicists have a fair and honest reason to reject cold fusion.

From their perspective, the claims of cold fusion are truly extraordinary. Consequently, experts in nuclear physics have an extraordinarily difficult time accepting cold fusion.

This is not extraordinarily difficult to understand. Cold fusion is unlike any nuclear reaction they have ever heard of.

Excess heat is the most challenging of the cold fusion effects to validate. It is transient, leaves without a trace, and its measurement is not for the impatient or the inexperienced. It requires extensive experience in calorimetry, the measurement of heat.

Nuclear physicists generally know little about nor have any training in calorimetry. Consequently, they are inherently unqualified to evaluate this, the most significant aspect of cold fusion.

It is the electrochemists, and only those with specialized training in calorimetry, to whom this provenance is rightly assigned.

There is a reason that Galileo was the first to observe flaws on the surface of the moon: he was the best lens grinder of his day and had a telescope capable of the finest resolution.

There is a reason that Fleischmann and Pons were the first to confidently report excess heat: they were some of the best electrochemists of their day, having custom-made a calorimeter capable of discerning as little as two milliwatts.

The fact that "cold fusion" exhibits extraordinarily low signatures of nuclear radiation is a paradox. On the one hand, it suggests an extraordinarily benevolent source of energy; on the other hand, it presents an extraordinary challenge for nuclear physicists to measure.

Fortunately, new work in the area of nuclear transmutation, which does leave tangible results, is providing new data to help in the adjudication of this novel field. These new research studies should enable a broader range of experts to make confident assessments.

Part of the cold fusion controversy has been self-imposed by Fleischmann, Pons and their followers, including some of their "believers," who place the word "fusion" prominently on the cover of their books.

The final and perhaps most significant problem of cold fusion is that this word "fusion" has created a battle for provenance. Battle lines have been drawn to assert and conversely reject the hypothesis of nuclear fusion.

If "cold fusion" makes energy, in the form of heat, without harmful radiation or byproducts, in ordinary laboratory environments, does it really matter what the underlying mechanism is?

As of last summer, it didn't to Martin Fleischmann.

"In the end, I don't care what the explanation is," Fleischmann said. "It could be bananas as far as I'm concerned."

Steven B. Krivit
Editor, New Energy Times
Executive Director, New Energy Institute Inc.

 

[I would like to thank Nadine Winocur, Edmund Storms, Charles Beaudette, Kirk Shanahan and Michael Lemonick and his science class for their thoughtful dialogue with me on various matters that served as background to this article. Thanks to Brian Josephson, Nick Palmer and Randy Souther for their assistance in obtaining source documents. Many thanks to editors Cindy Goldstein and Sally Robertson.]

 

 

 

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