July 30, 2010
Issue #35


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3. When Nuclear Is Not Enough: A Tangled Tale of Two Experiments

By Steven B. Krivit

(For a complete, step-by-step account of this investigation, please refer to the accompanying 101-page slide presentation.)

This account documents how numerous scientific data points and values were gradually changed, added and deleted during a 10-year period by electrochemist Michael McKubre at SRI International – all without scientific explanation, most without notification.

McKubre’s objective seems to have been to provide support for his colleague, friend and MIT professor Peter Hagelstein, who, after more than 150 attempts, thinks he’s figured out a theory for “cold fusion.”

The key experiments, called the “M4” series, were performed at SRI International in Menlo Park, Calif., in 1994 and first reported to and published by the Electric Power Research Institute, the sponsor of the project, in 1998.

Beginning in 2000, McKubre and Hagelstein, one of his co-authors, began to change and report the revised data without telling people they had done so. These changes appear to have gone unnoticed until now.

While I was editing and fact-checking a LENR paper submitted for a nuclear energy encyclopedia, I noticed inconsistencies about how M4 had been reported, and I began to investigate.

The extent of manipulation I found was surprising and required thorough investigation. Many of the changes were initially difficult to detect and were buried in, among other documents, a 379-page technical report from EPRI.

The changes are unambiguous and precisely documented in a publicly available paper trail. Only the scientific basis for the changes remains unexplained and ambiguous.

Summary of Changes Between 1998 and 2004 

  • Invented fourth predicted value, 85% of ~24 MeV 
  • Invented helium retention principle based on untested hypothesis
  • Invented helium extraction procedure
  • Shifted theoretical baseline for first sample down by about 40%
  • Shifted theoretical baseline for second sample up by about 150%
  • Added third data point represented as 1.556ppm when it was measured at 0.34ppm

Summary of Changes Between 2004 and 2007

  • Invented data point 4 now shifted from 85% to 104%
  • New data point added at 1,500 hours
  • Data point 3 removed
  • Data point at 500 hours added
  • Data point at 525 hours added
  • “Cycling Procedure” changed from 200-hour to 600-hour duration

As part of McKubre’s explanation to support his claim of D+D "cold fusion," he hypothesizes that helium-4 somehow hides out in the palladium cathode as a result of LENR processes. McKubre hypothesizes that helium-4 also somehow releases from the cathode by electrochemical processes.

However, no evidence whatsoever in the precisely detailed EPRI report even suggests that the researchers made attempts to dislodge any helium that might have been hiding out. There is no known public record that McKubre ever tested his hypotheses.

On the contrary, a record in the EPRI report shows that the hypothesis should be tested. All facts suggest that McKubre's helium retention concept is an idea that went from hypothesis to fact without any scientific confirmation. And a New Energy Times survey of related scientific reports of helium in metals indicates that that McKubre's hypothesis would represent novel behavior of helium in metal. The following table summarizes our survey:

New Energy Times asked McKubre three times, in writing, for an explanation about some of the changes he made in the 12-year period. He has not responded.

On March 21, 2010, at a press conference during the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco, New Energy Times again asked McKubre about some of the changes. Not only did he fail to provide information that explained a scientific basis for these changes, but he also said he reported “a correction” to EPRI. That, too, failed to materialize.

When New Energy Times fact-checked with EPRI later that week, the EPRI representative contacted the two program managers who were directly involved in the project and stated to New Energy Times that it had no record of any correction.

McKubre also implied that the public should disregard the information in the 1998 EPRI report (which reveals McKubre's contradictions) even though the EPRI report states that it is a "corporate document that should be cited in the literature."

The day after the press conference, however, McKubre gave his scheduled talk at ACS, but the slides about experiment M4, perhaps for the first time in 10 years, were missing. Maybe he was making a retraction.

The sad thing about all this is that McKubre has a substantial collection of rigorous experimental reports for the co-production of excess heat and helium.

Helium cannot be produced by ordinary chemistry. That’s a fact. The helium production observed in M4 and SRI’s other experiments should have been enough to convince any reasonable mainstream scientist of the reality of LENR. This alone would have been a major achievement.

But inexplicably, McKubre did all these convoluted manipulations and data massaging just to try to prove Hagelstein’s “cold fusion” theory.

The irony of this 10-year saga is that McKubre’s many experiments, including the early Fleischmann-Pons replication that was audited by Richard Garwin and Nathan Lewis, stand as valuable contributions to science and the LENR field.

The changes in McKubre’s reporting of M4 seem to have begun when McKubre realized that one of his other rigorous experiments showed evidence that did not strongly support Hagelstein’s theory.

It failed to prove their idea of D+D "cold fusion."  


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