Fear Within the Institution
By Charles G. Beaudette

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Excerpt from Excess Heat & Why Cold Fusion Research Prevailed (2nd Edition)(from chapter 23)

The scientists who constitute the cold fusion field of study have been introduced earlier to the reader. The scientist’s employer is also of interest to this account, be it corporation, university, government agency, or institution. None of these institutions came forth to endorse cold fusion studies in spite of the presence of 100 or so technicians devoted to the field.

This difference between the individual and the institution derives from the ability of the individual to behave in a coherent manner, even about complex affairs. Institutions generally lack this ability; they suffer from institutional incoherence. The individual can more or less simultaneously take into account his career, his relationship with his peers, his family, and altogether arrive at a commitment to devote some years to cold fusion research while accepting the associated contumely. For an institution to make a similar commitment would require the alignment of the multitudinous interests of dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of officers, ranking staff, the board of trustees, and possibly a board of regents. This is an impossible task with such an heretical topic.

Imagine the doctoral degree candidate with a dissertation that had been fulfilled under a professor who was active and successful in cold fusion research at [Texas A&M] University. The candidate accepts the reality of anomalous power, as he had measured it in his own experiment. He thus produced interesting and publishable results in the course of his studies. These were incorporated into his thesis and dissertation. In due course, he successfully defended his dissertation, the last step towards his degree. While you might then expect the candidate would be awarded the degree, institutional incoherence stood athwart that outcome despite the quality of the candidate’s work.

Consider the plight of the department head who planned to approve the degree award. He would be questioned by the department’s members: does our department really believe that cold fusion is true; does the department assert that nuclear fusion can actually be sustained in a jar sitting on a bench top; is it really so much smarter than Harwell, MIT, Yale, and Caltech who demonstrated that it does not work; is it possibly suffering from pathological science; does the department head understand that the vast majority of scientists in America know that cold fusion studies are a farce; and, always, should the department risk its hard earned reputation?

Imagine that this department head is an unusually stalwart fellow who was willing to accept that departmental burden, and then proceeded to affirm the Ph.D. degree award. Each of these same questions then devolve upon the dean of science from an ever-widening audience. If the dean bravely affirmed the award, then the same burden fell on the president. If the president decides to support the degree award, then the trustees would soon be asking, why was [Texas A&M] University standing alone in seeing the “truth” of cold fusion studies; something must have gone wrong. What about the reputation of our university? The regents, philanthropists, and alumni would inevitably be forced to reconsider their support of the university. The recognition process would progress in this manner with any institution of established rank and reputation, be it a government agency or a private corporation. Several hundred scientists could each be dedicated to the field of study, but institutional incoherence will work to insure that not a single institution would acknowledge the legitimacy of the field.

Institutions develop coherence as a reflection of opinion expressed by the scientific establishment and in the mass media. This is why the public assault at Baltimore and in the New York Times Sunday Magazine did such lasting damage to the evaluation of the Utah claims. After those assaults, who would be so reckless as to engage their institution, as an institution, in the study and evaluation of the Utah claims?