July 30, 2010
Issue #35

 

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18. Contempt for Cold Fusion

By Steven B. Krivit

At nearly every "cold fusion" conference I have attended, particularly the recent ones, the unofficial representatives of the field have waxed polemic about how unfairly the field continues to be treated.

The field was certainly treated unfairly in its earlier years. But the current rejection of "cold fusion" papers by some journals and the lack of interest from some government sponsors and corporations have little to do with the past. The assertion by some "cold fusion" proponents that the 2004 Department of Energy reviewers were too dishonest, ignorant or prejudiced to give "cold fusion" a fair shake is also largely incorrect.

The rules of the game have been clear from Day One: If you want to claim "fusion," then you need hard experimental evidence for fusion and, better yet, a mathematically supportable theoretical model to back you up.

Almost no LENR experimentalists that I know of have been forced to affiliate their work with any form of fusion. The only exception to this of which I am aware is a paper that was being peer-reviewed by a "cold fusion" theorist who would not approve the paper without the inclusion of his suggestions for a speculative mechanism.

A Belief System

Electrochemists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons did not go public with their idea of "n-fusion" in 1989 based merely on a finite probability that fusion may have been taking place in their electrochemical cells. 

They did predict a "one in a billion chance" that packing deuterium into palladium would cause a nuclear reaction. But they didn't bring their idea to the science community based on this theoretical (im)probability or a belief; they brought it forward because five years of experimental work revealed to them direct observations of some of nature's unexplained mysteries.

March, April and May 1989 were among the most confusing, chaotic and frustrating times of science history. This confusion revealed much unprofessional behavior on the part of Fleischmann and Pons' critics. Fleischmann and Pons and the University of Utah administrators who handled the matter made mistakes. Blame for the 1989 chaos is shared equally among the discoverers, the administrators and their critics.

When the field was still in its infancy in 1989, and an extensive database of experimental information did not exist, labeling the discovery a possible "cold fusion" was asking for trouble from the prevailing fusion researchers, but it was not wrong. Asserting that "cold fusion" was a certainty, however, was wrong. A few early LENR researchers, John Bockris (Texas A&M University) and Robert Huggins (Stanford) for example, resisted the trend of their "cold fusion" peers.

On May 26, 1989, the Wall Street Journal said Bockris and Huggins "steadfastly refused to speculate on what is producing the excess heat." By the time the First Annual Conference on Cold Fusion took place March 28-31, 1990, Huggins and Bockris' attempt to remain circumspect became moot; "cold fusion" had not only established its place in the lexicon but also become the de facto identifier for the work and its researchers. 

By the year 2000, a significant experimental database had accumulated. The data increasingly disconfirmed that "cold fusion" was real. Conversely, the data increasingly confirmed that the body of observed phenomena represents new nuclear effects.

The results were inconsistent with the "cold fusion" hypothesis, and it was time to revise the hypothesis. However, many experimentalists and theorists failed to change with the times. They remained wedded to their original hypothesis of "cold fusion."

When Lewis Larsen and Allan Widom released their "nonfusion" theory of low-energy nuclear reactions on May 2, 2005, the expansive experimental database contradicting "cold fusion" was joined by a rigorous theoretical model that also contradicted "cold fusion."

From this point, the actions of people who chose to continue pursuing a "cold fusion" hypothesis in the absence of supportive empirical observations increasingly justified the label of "true believers."

Their actions, coupled with the fact that "cold fusion" was so unlikely to begin with, perpetuated the disregard of the science establishment for the field.

Most scientists and scientific institutions that had a reputation to uphold would not have any visible affiliation with the field by authorizing research or publishing papers. How it was identified or labeled – condensed matter nuclear science or low-energy nuclear reactions – made little difference to such institutions.

The term LENR is certainly more scientific and respectable, but the trepidation toward the field continues. This is the main reason, according to several LENR sources, that top management at the Naval Research Laboratory is hesitant to see its people put in sincere efforts to obtain positive results and, if found, report them.

Miss Atomic Bomb Speaks Her Mind

One of the failures of "cold fusion" proponents is their refusal to hear what their critics are saying. However, in the last decade, very few critics have paid any attention to the field.

One of the few to effectively express outrage at those who have perpetuated "cold fusion" is a blogger who goes by the names "Miss Atomic Bomb" and "Nuclear Kelly." Kelly has a doctorate in applied physics and a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics and is a postdoc in low energy nuclear astrophysics.

In a June 10, 2008, blog post, Kelly referred to "stellar nucleosynthesis," which might be expected because she is studying astrophysics. A year later, Lewis Larsen explained just such a relationship between LENR and stellar nucleosynthesis in his slide presentations. Kelly’s main point is her annoyance over the reckless use of the word "fusion" by some scientists.

Graphical avatar used by
blogger Nuclear Kelly

 

If nobody truly understands it, what right do any of those researchers – or you, for that matter – have to call it cold fusion? You don't know the mechanisms, you don't understand the results, and therefore you can't just call it what you like.

That's as presumptuous as me saying that, outside of any consistent, reliable and physically feasible mechanism, my thesis data alone (though it is reproducible and purely experimental) constitute some vague and unexplainable "stellar nucleosynthesis." I can't, in all good conscience, make that leap outside of the proper (i.e., theoretical) context. My results would be published as standalone. No matter how many times I was able to, experimentally, repeat the one or two measurements I made, that wouldn't give me license to blithely create some far-fetched and, as of yet, unphysical and inexplicable concept which I see as producing the entire thing.

Do your experiments, come up with theoretical explanations, combine the two into some coherent and logical whole with reproducible results and predictive power, and then maybe you can give it a name, keeping in mind both what it is and what it is not. Whatever it is, it's a subject still very much in its infancy, and there is absolutely no reason to hock it as a proven technology.

Kelly provides two valuable insights for LENR experimentalists: 1) Realize why the rest of the world views you and your work with disrespect when you call it "cold fusion," and 2) continue to do your good experimental work but leave out your speculations about mechanism.

American Chemical Society

I asked electrochemist Jan Marwan, the organizer of the New Energy Technologies symposium at the March 2010 American Chemical Society meeting, why he pitched "cold fusion" to the ACS news service, the public relations group for ACS. The service is run by journalists Michael Woods and Michael Bernstein, who are not scientists, let alone specialists in LENR. To a great degree, they depend on what their member scientists tell them.

Here is my brief exchange with Marwan at the ACS "cold fusion" press conference:

"Considering the mainstream view of 'cold fusion' and the strong evidence for LENR but weak evidence for 'cold fusion,' isn't promoting this field as 'cold fusion' just about worst thing you can do to gain respect for the field?" I asked Marwan.

"I don't know what you mean about weak evidence for cold fusion," Marwan said. "What brings you to this opinion?"

 

It was almost as if Marwan had forgotten what he and I wrote in his preface and my introduction to our Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions and New Energy Technologies Sourcebook (Vol. 2), he didn't listen to any of my presentations at his ACS symposiums, he didn't read my article "The Decoupling of Cold Fusion From LENR," and he didn't read my series of articles on the 24 MeV belief.

American Physical Society

Now let's look at "cold fusion" from the perspective of someone at the American Physical Society.

After the ACS "cold fusion" press conference, James Riordon, the head of American Physical Society media relations, wrote a blog post titled "Chemists Taken In by Cold Fusion ... AGAIN!" He ended with a plea for the ACS to let go of "cold fusion" "until one of them makes a working battery or something."

Of course, technological applications and science research are two different things. What is crucial about Riordon's comment and his perspective about "cold fusion" is this: It looks bogus. This is where Riordon and I agree. And chances are that his view is shared by a dominant portion of the scientific world. I wrote The Rebirth of Cold Fusion after only about a year of muckraking in "cold fusion." I knew very little about science at the time. It's six years later. I've been studying LENR and science nearly every day since then.

This is Riordon's big and legitimate problem (if I'm wrong, I will certainly ask him to correct me): He doesn't have the time or motivation, let alone access, to dig deeply enough into "cold fusion" to find out why it's not real and why LENR, without the presumption of fusion, might be real.

Charles Petit, veteran journalist and lead tracker for the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, also was annoyed that the ACS was promoting "cold fusion."

I responded to Petit's blog post on May 15, 2009.

Many smart scientists sense that there is something wrong with the picture of “cold fusion.” They have sensed this for 20 years. But they can’t quite put their finger on what is amiss.

They are frustrated with the fact that “cold fusion” is so resilient as a topic of interest. They are puzzled as to why anybody gives low-energy nuclear reaction research (the more appropriate name, and no this is not mere semantics) a second glance and how there could possibly be any validity to the research.

In the media, the more experienced science journalists are puzzled as to why the less-experienced science journalists give “cold fusion” more than a shred of credibility. The frustration often comes out as pejorative characterizations and emotional rants.

Many smart scientists don’t have the interest and patience to dig into “cold fusion” to find out what the problem is. Or maybe they’ve tried but they run into dead ends. Same for the more experienced science journalists.

I came into this field nine years ago as an agnostic. After my initial investigation, I came to accept that much of the reported experimental phenomena was real. Soon after, I naively accepted the hypothesis that two positively charged deuterium nuclei were magically overcoming the Coulomb barrier at room temperature and pressure.

In the next few years, I dug in. Three years ago, I began to see what was amiss, and I recognized the problem.

I broke this story first at a session at the American Chemical Society in August 2008. This presentation is available at New Energy Times.
 
Steven B. Krivit
Editor, New Energy Times

Let's go back to Atomic Kelly. What does Kelly mean by far-fetched? Sidney Harris hit the nail on the head, with a cartoon that first appeared in American Scientist magazine in 1977. It was too early for Harris to be thinking of "cold fusion," but he couldn't have been more prescient.

"Then a Miracle Occurs"  Copyright ScienceCartoonsPlus.com

According to people who have scrutinized some of the "cold fusion" theories, this is exactly the problem. At least one key logical bridge is spanned by some sort of miracle. Theorist Yeong Kim referred to this cartoon during his June 29, 2010, presentation at the Army Research Labs LENR workshop.

Hagelstein's Difficulty

Before I discuss my interaction with MIT electrical engineering professor Peter Hagelstein at the ACS "cold fusion" press conference, let me give outsiders some perspective.

Hagelstein brought to LENR researchers the name of his prestigious institution and the recognition he had earned as the X-Ray Laser whiz kid. Because of these associations, many LENR researchers and their fans put Hagelstein on a pedestal.

He was one of several Americans in the field who controlled the field's micropolitics, as a reviewer of journal papers, chairman of the ICCF-10 conference, lead participant in the DoE 2004 review of LENR, and an often-quoted spokesman for the field.

Let's take a close look at my exchange with Hagelstein at the press conference. Here is the video; below that, the transcript:

 

 

Steven B. Krivit: Dr. Hagelstein, doesn't the experimental evidence of isotopic shifts in D/Pd systems, because of their energy releases, disprove the idea of D+D "cold fusion" with a total of 24 MeV of heat?

Peter Hagelstein: I'm going to have a tough time understanding and interpreting that particular question. The evidence in support of helium associated with energy production in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment is that helium-4 is seen in association with excess power. It comes from more than 10 experiments where people have seen that kind of thing, and there's two measurements where the correlation shows a Q-value or an energy per helium-4 of about 24 MeV. About experiments that show transmutation, the question is, Are they similar experiments or not?

For example some of the claims have been made from light-water experiments rather than heavy-water experiments. Except for a small number of measurements produced by my colleague George Miley and the experiments of [John] Dash and the SPAWAR group showing some elemental anomalies, I'm not familiar with evidence that I believe in showing transmutation correlated quantitatively with the energy production.

I don't know that it doesn't exist; I don't know that it does exist. I think the experimental situation at this point is unclear. In any event, I don't believe that the results from such light-water experiments cause one to doubt the results from heavy-water experiments. I don't understand the logic associated with your question.

SBK: That wasn't actually my question. My question was D/Pd systems, with deuterium. I have a report of a neutron activation analysis from a Fleischmann-Pons system: NAA performed at the University of Texas which shows transmutations, isotopic shifts. Are you familiar with this one? It’s "Trace Elements Added to Palladium by Electrolysis in Heavy Water." It introduces about 10 MeV.

PH: Who's the author?

SK: Here's your copy.

Readers who have traveled thus far with me in this special report now know the problems with Hagelstein's response:

  • There is no "24 MeV" correlation. The two experiments he cites have been exposed by New Energy Times to have significant scientific-integrity problems.
  • The two people who claimed a correlation "about 24 MeV" effectively retracted the following day after the ACS press conference.
  • Even if there were an observed value of 24 MeV, the entire concept of energy/product correlation is meaningless unless you either know precisely what mechanism is responsible or you perform a complete assay of all nuclear products in the experiment.
  • The results of LENR transmutations and anomalous isotopic shifts mean other energetic reactions/processes are occurring besides whatever produces the helium-4.
  • Hagelstein's speculation about the D/Pd versus H/Pd experiments being similar or not is made irrelevant by the isotopic analysis of the Arata-Zhang and Pons experiment reviewed earlier in this special report.
  • Hagelstein's assertion of what he thinks credible is irrelevant. Miley, Dash, SPAWAR and numerous foreign researchers have produced real, permanent, unambiguous nuclear evidence.
  • The second part of Hagelstein's assertion is a smokescreen. If you don't know the mechanism, you cannot determine anything about energy/product correlation. And if he did know the mechanism, he hasn't convinced many people.

Now, about the paper I placed in his hands. Is it conceivable that Hagelstein was unaware of the EPRI-sponsored isotopic analysis of the Pons heavy-water cathode? Or that Hagelstein was unaware of the isotopic analysis reported by retired EPRI program manager Thomas Passell at ICCF-10, of which Hagelstein was the chairman? Is it conceivable that Hagelstein, friend and business partner of electrochemist Michael McKubre, and McKubre, friend of Passell, did not know what Passell had found in the Pons cathode?

Or is it conceivable that Hagelstein and McKubre knew about the isotopic anomalies and ignored them or, worse, omitted to report these facts because they cast cold water on "cold fusion"?

Why is the field being represented by scientists who were fudging data they wanted to see and avoiding data they didn't want to see? And how did "cold fusion" gain a second life in the last decade? These questions are answered in the next article in this special report, “Two Decades of 'Cold Fusion.'”

 

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