Excerpt from Excess Heat & Why Cold Fusion Research Prevailed (2nd Edition)
By Charles G. Beaudette


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 of fear.

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 matter.

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 experimental science.

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 inquiry.

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 of destruction.

Charles G. Beaudette
Cumberland, Maine
January 9, 2000