By Steven B. Krivit 

Charles Beaudette, in Excess Heat & Why Cold Fusion Research Prevailed (2nd Edition), captured the sad chapter in cold fusion's history when the physics establishment, blinded by their own hubris and arrogance, attacked one of the few journalists to have taken a serious look at the cold fusion claims in 1989.

Jerry E. Bishop, an intrepid science reporter for the Wall Street Journal, reported frequently on developments in the field of cold fusion research starting one day prior to its announcement in Utah. His reports came more often and were generally longer than those of most major newspapers, and he was not always writing as a skeptic as were other science reporters.

He was selected in March 1990 by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) as the winner of their annual science writing award for the year 1989. The announcement by the AIP, a professional umbrella group that includes the American Physical Society (APS,) that their annual award for excellence in science writing would be given to Bishop greatly annoyed the skeptics.

Beaudette quotes John Huizenga’s book, Cold Fusion: The Scientific Fiasco of the Century, to convey the hostility and controversy surrounding Bishop's award.

I immediately contacted Professor Peter W. Trower, a physicist and one of the judges for the AIP award. In addition, I contacted the Office of Public Affairs of the APS. I was upset and particularly interested in learning about the criteria that were applied in making the Award. ... On March 20, 1990, Dr. Robert L. Park, Executive Director of the Office of Public Affairs of the APS wrote a letter to the Manager of AIP declining his invitation to attend the luncheon honoring Bishop for the AIP Science Writing Award. In addition, several other officers of the APS boycotted the ceremony (I declined my invitation to attend).

Kenneth W. Ford, the executive director of the AIP, who presented the award to Bishop, knew the sensitivity of the topic, '... because the award was controversial, I wrote out my remarks with care and followed the text.' Ford's award speech in its entirety read as follows:

It is my pleasure to present to Jerry Bishop of the Wall Street Journal the AIP Science Writing Award for the best writing on Physics for the general reader by a journalist in 1989.

Jerry Bishop is a transplanted Texan who has been a distinguished science writer and reporter for several decades. His work has been recognized by numerous prizes in the past—by the American Heart Association, the American Medical Association, the National Association of Science Writers, and the AAAS. This year he won the American Chemical Society’s Grady-Stack Lifetime Achievement Award. And this is his second AIP award. He won our science writing prize also in 1972.

His award this time is presented for his 1989 series on cold fusion in the Wall Street Journal. Jerry Bishop broke that story, with a one-day jump ahead of the now famous press conference held by Pons and Fleischmann at the University of Utah last March. During the weeks immediately following that announcement, he reported frequently on the claims emanating from Utah and from various other laboratories. The articles were well written, often under deadline pressures, and they conveyed to the general reader what nuclear fusion is about and what some of the cold fusion advocates were claiming. Beginning in May, it became increasingly clear that the Utah claims were without substance. Jerry continued to write on the subject and covered both sides of the controversy, although in the opinion of many (including, I must admit, my own opinion), he did not give as balanced a coverage as we would have liked, nor draw attention to the fact that the Utah researchers were violating accepted codes of scientific conduct.

I mention this concern because, as Jerry himself knows, and as many people in this room know, this particular award has become controversial. There are some, including the excellent panel of judges, who think that the clarity of his writing, and his consistent attention to an important and newsworthy topic, justify the award.

There are others who greatly regret that he did not use his reportorial and writing skills to make clear to his readers—at least after May 1989—that there is no credible evidence for the claims of cold fusion. So I have to express the hope, Jerry, that you will not abandon the subject yet. It needs to be brought to closure, so that general readers understand what nearly every scientist now understands—that cold fusion as a practical power source is an illusion.

I am sorry for the roundabout route to this award presentation, but I could not let the disagreements that it has generated pass without notice. Whatever one thinks of this particular series, one must recognize Jerry Bishop as one of the finest science writers in America, with a long list of accomplishments. It is therefore my pleasure, Jerry, to present you with this award—consisting of a check for $3,000, a certificate, and a handsome chair guaranteed to encourage creative effort.

I reflect with awe on the animosity Bishop must have endured and the battle he must have faced after the prestigious American Institute of Physics criticized as unbalanced his honest examination and reporting of both sides in the cold fusion debate.

I find it difficult to imagine that the behavior of this scientific establishment did not send a stern warning to all other journalists from this point onward: "Take heed! If you choose to wander into the dark murky waters of cold fusion, you too will be marked with disgrace and your professional judgment will be questioned."

My investigation into cold fusion started in 2000, long after the bulk of the hostility and outrage subsided. However, I too have on occasion been the target of condemnation and reproach, though it has not been nearly as severe as what Bishop experienced.

One such instance occurred on June 19, 2006, when I placed a telephone call to Moshe Gai, a physicist with Yale University who played a prominent role in the 1989 denunciation of cold fusion. My call to Gai was merely a courtesy call to inform him that I was going to be using a quote of his from Beaudette's book.

The words "cold fusion" had barely left my mouth when he blurted out, "Be my guest, join the club but I will have nothing to do with it. It's just up to you, if you want to write a book about cold fusion and want to join that distinguished club, that is your career, but I have no time for this nonsense."

"I'm saying that cold fusion is not even wrong," Gai said. "You know the expression, that some things are not even wrong? They're not even in the realm of science. This is not what science writers do and I hope this is not what you would do. If you want to quote me, it is up to you but you are wasting your time and you are getting yourself into a place where you will not be appreciated by scientists. And please, don't call me again. Very good, thank you for your call."

And that was the end of our call.