[Chase Peterson's explanation about the events leading up to the March 23, 1989 press conference, including his response/corrections to The Rebirth of Cold Fusion, Oct. 12 2005]
In your description of events before and after the press conference, pages 71-76, you report an unfortunate rationale that apparently Martin Fleischmann began to circulate in the weeks after the press conference. I say apparently because I never hear Martin say anything on the matter, nor did I ever read anything he wrote about the announcement or the issue of secrecy. But a week or two after the announcement my vice president for research, Jim Brophy (himself a physicist) told me that he had read a press report from Europe that Martin had said that he had not wanted to hold the press conference but was pressured/forced to do by the University of Utah. In essence, in keeping with what you wrote in pages 71-76.
That was not true, so Jim and I asked Stan Pons, who was still around - Martin being in England - to meet with us. We discussed the press report and Stan readily agreed that the report or Martin was entirely in error.
The facts are that after a refusal by Steve Jones to an offer by Stan and Martin to have Jones work collaboratively with them in extending their work before any publication or announcement, both Martin and Stan were understandably angry with Jones and they said in the car coming back from a meeting with Jones in Provo, "Well, we have to announce ourselves and do so as quickly as possible."
They tried to publish jointly with Jones as a compromise, but when Nature blocked that attempt (another story as to why and how), they felt they had to publish independently and did so in the [Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry], the bible of their sub-division of chemistry. They received a hurried-up decision to publish (and I am not aware as to whether or not the journal and the process amounted to "peer review") and received permission from the journal to hold the press conference prior to publication.
In any case there were the two issues of credit for intellectual primacy and the matter of intellectual property right. We asked for legal opinion from university patent lawyers and Stan's lawyer and they all confirmed the necessity of prior public announcement. So the university, and I myself, supported Stan and Martin's decision to announce based on their painful failure to gain cooperation with Jones so as to allow for the 6-18 more months that Stan and Martin wanted to consolidate their work.
I hope you will be able to speak to Stan on this matter and gain his confirmation of what I've said. Even if Stan is hazy or now contrary, let me make the clear case why it would have been impossible for the university to force Martin to call the press conference or to somehow force him to withhold his data from his colleagues. Within a university, and certainly within the University of Utah, the standard of academic freedom would make it impossible, insulting, and legally unsustainable for any dean or president or administrator of any stripe to tell or somehow "order" any member of the faculty to publish or report anything, research or otherwise, that the faculty person chose not to publish or report.
Your quote from Martin simply could not be correct. And in fact neither Martin nor Stan ever once came to me, or to my knowledge to any other person in the university, and asked that the press conference or their publication be cancelled or postponed. If they had I would have reminded them of the advice they had earlier received with respect to patents, but given the standards of academic freedom, they were the ones to decided how to proceed and the University was prepared to assist.
Certainly Martin would have never had to get someone in the British government to intercede with President Bush to stop the publication or announcement. If President Bush or Mrs. Thatcher had called me I would have told them politely, that publication of research was a personal decision of faculty at our university and not subject to outside pressure.
Finally, the refusal of Stan and Martin to share their data with university colleagues became a painful issue and was responsible for the pressure put on them finally to leave the University. One distinguished chemist, Cheves Halling, in particular had reason to be upset. As a member of the National Academy, he sought and received time to report to the Academy on the cold fusion topic, providing an early explanation for the results that Pons and Fleischmann had.
Walling took some criticism for this effort, and then was increasingly outraged with Pons and Fleischmann for their refusal to share their data with him as a colleague. For the same reasons of academic freedom, no university could even tell a faculty person to share or not share data. Once the announcement had been made, any argument about primacy of documents was over, so Pons and Fleischmann were under no personal restraints to withhold data.
I helped raise $5 million from the state to support their research, a lab was set up, and a fine mathematician named Hugo Rossi at some personal sacrifice agreed to try to manage the lab. Rossi was endlessly frustrated by the unwillingness of Pons and Fleischmann to bring others into the lab or share data outside of the lab. We never knew why. When questioned, Martin spoke of British laws that prohibited the distribution of data having to do with potential atomic weapon matters. I never found out if there was substance to this concern.
In any case, the matter of secrecy made it difficult for faculty colleagues to assist or support their efforts, and as I said, led to their being forced out. I am not suggesting that all the faculty of the University acted with courage. Many felt huge pressure to publicly denounce cold fusion and distance themselves from it. I suspect there was even threats to their own research funding in related fields like physics, but I have no evidence to prove that concern. I did meet one late afternoon with 15 or more of the science faculty, at their request, to hear their objections to the university being connected to cold fusion and to hear their opinion that the university was being harmed by the cold fusion episode. I listened quietly until one of the faculty said something to the effect, "Dr. Peterson, we must stop cold fusion work."
I responded that I thought I would never hear one of our faculty say that another member of the faculty was to be prevented in doing his or her independent research and publishing. I can understand the embarrassment that cold fusion was to faculty given the outpouring of ridicule. But that is the stuff of academic freedom, and in fact I have done some research on whether or not the university was damaged. I'll save the details for another day, but the essence is that neither research funding nor academic recruitment suffered, and for what it's worth, I was elected Chairman of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) in the year following the cold fusion announcement.
But we all did take a lot of public pounding, and my decision to resign from the presidency of the university two years later was influenced by the continuing "noise" on campus about cold fusion and my role in support of the research effort such that we were wasting energy and time on the controversy at the expense of other things that needed to get done. It was good for me to move on. Incidentally, I have never said that I "believed in cold fusion," rather that I believed in the right of faculty to pursue research of their choice, and in the value of public support of research on a topic that held so much potential value for the world if it proved to be correct and capable of being made commercially feasible. I don't "believe" in "hot fusion" either, but do support appropriate funding of its exploration along with other forms of alternative energy.
I hope we meet some day, especially some happy day when cold fusion or something else helps us solve the problem of global energy.