The field of study called cold fusion was born de novo. It did not emerge
from a recognized body of continuing scientific research. It was not an
extension of ongoing scholarship. No precursors puzzled the world’s scientific
laboratories. More dramatically, it threatened the canons of nuclear physics.
This birth will prove unique in the annals of science.
Nature guards its secrets with great jealousy. To discover those secrets, the
practice of science is in constant contest with nature’s elemental powers.
Scientific research aims to outwit nature’s lock: sometimes forcing a lock,
sometimes deciphering a combination, and hoping always to find a castle keep
that was left unguarded.
Some of nature’s most valuable secrets are the so-called laws of science.
These immutable physical laws are expressed as the formulae that govern the
behavior of matter and energy regardless of time or place. The formulae are
mutable when nature reveals more. Then they are modified accordingly.
Occasional modification of the physical law’s formulae is a well recognized
part of the process of scientific progress. That kind of change, or the
threat of it, usually causes severe turbulence in the world of science. Such is
the case at hand.
Change is a difficult burden. In his slim volume The Ordeal of Change,
the longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer contemplated one of its elements:
Back in 1936 I spent a good part of the year picking peas. I started
out early in January in the Imperial Valley and drifted northward,
picking peas as they ripened, until I picked the last peas of the season,
in June, near Tracy. Then I shifted all the way to Lake County,
where for the first time I was going to pick string beans. And I still
remember how hesitant I was that first morning as I was about to address
myself to the string bean vines. Would I be able to pick string
beans? Even the change from peas to string beans had in it elements
A physics professor, who played a public role in this episode, as we were
quietly reminiscing about the spring of 1989, suddenly made a somewhat violent, sweeping gesture with one arm waving it at his wall of books, and declared,
“If cold fusion is true, then all of this is wrong.” Such was the element
of fear in our topic.
Fear of harm was the source of much of the public and private antagonism
that marked the subject at its beginning. Revolutions, even nascent ones
in science, always hit hard and they hurt. The notion that somehow—if only
things were handled better—the deep divisions could have been avoided is not
a realistic sentiment.
This book is the story of a journalistic investigation into a field of scientific
activity. It is not about the sociology of science or the philosophy of science
although, inevitably, there are passages that touch upon those topics.
That demarcation is important because there exists a cultural divide between
science and the sociology of science, if not the philosophy of science. This
book resides within the culture of science. It is a book of and about science.
The field was investigated largely by working with published technical reports
of the laboratory research. Hundreds were reviewed and scores were digested
in full. Out of that study came an explanation of the substance of the
controversy and why the field developed to its continuing level of activity despite
events of the first months.
Although the book contains much that was selected from the technical
literature, it was especially planned to allow a full comprehension of the story
by nontechnical readers. Much of the technical information presented serves
to assuage the intellectual demands of those who have considerable scientific background and therefore deserve further argument.
It is organized in the usual rhetorical manner to support the primary argument
about its findings. A result is that several important topics are treated
in more than one place in the text. Each of the twelve Summations brings together
its topic in concise format. Because these are not chapter summations
but topic summations, they are to be read separately from the chapter text.
They are placed generally within the chapter that contains their principal subject
In this episode, there was the sibling rivalry between physics and chemistry.
There was more to that than rivalry, however. The disciplines of nuclear
physics and electrochemistry had different ways of developing scientific
knowledge. The membership of the two disciplines had different temperaments.
It is remarkable that two early books about the field were written by
nuclear physicists and that no early books were written on the subject by electrochemists
or by chemists for that matter. Most important, in some instances
the fields of nuclear physics and chemistry used different protocols to define
what was or was not within the discourse of science. My hope was that by following
those that were well established, fear and divisiveness would be allayed
sufficiently to permit a measured evaluation of the field.
One conclusion that followed directly from the investigation emerged as
a failure of the skeptics to follow established protocol. In the early years, as reports
of well-measured excess heat multiplied, the scientific community failed
to undertake an evaluation of the phenomenon in the manner customary with
At its tenth anniversary, March 1999, this subject involved a multitude of
technologies, publications, and countries. Its story could no longer be contained
within one book. It was necessary to be quite selective in choosing what
to include if the story was to be manageable. The knowledgeable reader must
inevitably be disappointed by my many omissions.
It was on a lark that I attended the fifth international conference on cold
fusion in April 1995. As a retired electrical engineer, MIT 1952, I was looking
for something new to hold my interest. At the conference, I saw that those in
attendance were competent scientists doing serious research. I reached that
conclusion simply by noting the quality of their technical presentations, by
participating in discussions with them, and by watching them extend sharply
pointed criticisms to one another’s work. At the very least, the best half of
them were so. Many had been honored by their associated institutions. Professional
meetings often have their Saturday morning sessions for topics irreverently
referred to as nuts and fruits. The cold fusion conferences were no exception
to this rule.
Where much of the investigation involved the technical literature, I was
pleasantly surprised to find that its best technical papers were up to the standard
that I was accustomed to from my days in engineering. The talk of lax
peer-review proved to be rumor-mongering. I could find no commentary or
analysis of such a lack in the literature. That condition allowed at least a preliminary
conclusion that they would provide useful insights into the field.
Several outspoken nuclear physicists played an important role in disparaging
the field at its start and their effect was still dominant ten years later.
This account necessarily refers to them often, but that should not be seen as a
prejudice towards those who practice nuclear physics. My concern is only with
those who were loud and strident in their castigation of our subject. Also, my
arguments will certainly be seen by many as an apologia for the two chemists
who started it all. The abuse that was heaped upon them during the early
months, and the ridicule that continues, insures that no reasonable exposition
of their surviving claims could be seen differently in the United States.
Two decisions came from that conference and my subsequent overview of
the topic: to make a modest financial investment in a firm active in the field
and to write a book on the subject (although at the time it was by no means
clear what kind of a book it would be). What resulted was an investigation
that was undertaken to determine why there was so much confusion in the
subject and to find out whether a new science did exist.
The term cold fusion predated the cold fusion episode by several decades
and came to include a mélange of topics. It became a misleading term in many
ways. For that reason, the statements “cold fusion is true,” or “cold fusion is
false,” carried no unambiguous meaning. For example, if one said, “cold fusion
is false,” did that mean there was no real excess heat? And if so, on what
argument was the excess heat data to be dismissed? Literal reference to a cold
fusion event required the use of a more specific nomenclature than the phrase
“cold fusion,” such as deuterium–deuterium fusion. The term cold fusion was
adopted for this book as the name of the field of study and research simply because
most references during that period used the term exclusively. I found no
substitute for it that the reader would not have considered prejudicial to the
My hope is that the reader will come to see the cold fusion contention
laid out in an orderly fashion, much as the writer happened upon his own understanding
of it, sometimes fortuitously, in the unfathomable depths of individual
comprehension. This is a story of test and contest, of science and politics,
challenge and response, integrity and cowardice, of accomplishment and
Charles G. Beaudette
January 9, 2000