The first thing I noticed about this book was that its title had an eery familiarity. Sure enough, it was cribbed from my very own Fire from Ice: Searching for the Truth Behind the Cold Fusion Furor (1991), the title of Chapter 8! The book’s publisher was familiar too—John Wiley & Sons. With the subtitle, “An Eye-Opening Tour Through the Twists and Turns of Bad Science,” the book had to be yet another assault on cold fusion, among other purportedly bogus scientific episodes.
In that sense, the book did not disappoint. Further cribbing: Author Dewdney stole the “Bad Science” theme of Gary Taubes’ anti-cold fusion book, Bad Science: The Short Life and Weird Times of Cold Fusion (Random House, 1993). This sad little book—very little, indeed, only 163 pages of body—is an example of yet another incompetent bumbler spewing forth his prejudices about various episodes in science he deems examples of “bad science.” There are points in this bumbling dissection of various happenings with which one might agree, but after examining the astonishingly inept treatment of cold fusion—inept even for a cold fusion critic—one would be forced to take everything else in this book with a large tablespoon of salt.
I’ll not spend much time on the other science decried by Dewdney, let’s just see how he handles cold fusion. First, he looses on step one: basic knowledge and copyediting: He and his handlers at Wiley manage to misspell Martin Fleischmann’s name throughout the book and even in the very first sentence of the introduction! He has it as Fleishmann. The book’s introduction, “Of Sorcerers and Apprentices,” introduces the strange concept of the scientific “apprentice,” or the “bumbler,” as Dewdney phrases it. Dewdney, by the way, was formerly the author of the “Mathematical Recreations” column in Scientific American, and he is Associate professor of Mathematics at the University of Western Ontario. We learn that in his opinion F&P are not frauds, just “bumblers”—“apprentices.” The true scientists—the “good scientists”—are the masters, the “sorcerers.” Of course, the Library of Science promotional piece for the book calls it “An entertaining look at the frauds and fallacies committed in the name of science.
He describes the cold fusion episode straight out: “For a few nights and days we lived in an atmosphere of dreamy unreality. Imagine! Free energy! It was magic...But magic can go awry, as the sorcerers apprentice discovered. Failure to follow the exacting methodology of good science can produce strange results, as Pons and Fleis(c)hmann also discovered.”
Dewdney makes the astounding claim that Pons and Fleischmann were so eager to announce their discovery that they were “ignoring the fact that their results were essentially irreproducible.” This is totally at odds with historical fact; it is a oft-repeated lie that filled the void of Dewdney’s laughable ignorance of practically every aspect of cold fusion. One thing is certain, Dewdney is a mere “apprentice” to such anti-cold fusion Masters of Deception as John Huizenga and Gary Taubes. So why this book? Did not the feeble-minded editor in charge not think to check the facts with at least the previous Wiley Book, Fire from Ice? Apparently not, witness the misspelling of Fleischmann’s name throughout. We have learned second hand that it was Wiley that chose the title of this book, so it had to have come via a Wiley editor stealing from Fire from Ice..
More from Dewdney about “apprentices” in science: “What is the apprentice then, but someone whose dreams of glory (or wealth) obscure or displace true caring?...If there are dreams of glory, real scientists keep them trembling in the background.” So Fleischmann and Pons were “uncaring” about the validity of their work? And is “trembling in the background” how one would describe the incessant press agitation of the hot fusioneers about the performance of their vaunted machines?
In the introduction, Dewdney proves that he knows not of what he speaks: “I describe how these two sorcerers-turned-apprentices could not repeat their own experiments with any degree of reliability: Sometimes they got anomalous currents from their electrolytic cells and sometimes they didn’t.” Currents!! He thinks Pons and Fleischmann were claiming electricity production?! Later, contradicting this description, he says, “Fleischmann and Pons reported their electrolytic cells produced more heat than they consumed.” Consuming heat or producing electricity? How could such preposterous errors creep into a discussion of cold fusion!
Dewdney, incompetently cribbing from another anti-cold fusion book (Frank Close’s Too Hot to Handle), says that physicist Stan Lockhardt (the incorrectly spelled name of Luckhardt) was leading a team at the MIT Plasma Fusion Center investigating cold fusion. No, Lockhardt (Luckhardt) was not leading any team—it was Professors Parker and Wrighton who led the team.
Dewdney says that on August 7, 1990, when “the University of Utah sponsored the first annual meeting of the National Cold Fusion Institute, it must have seemed strange to the two electrochemists to be surrounded by two-hundred ‘believers.’ as they were then coming to be called.” First, the first annual meeting was in March/April, 1990, not August. Second, it is incredible to realize that Dewdney actually believes his own propaganda. He thinks that Pons and Fleischmann knew that they were “fooling” everyone and were surprised to see so many “believers.”
This is 1997, mind you, and Dewdney can still write stale absurdities the likes of: “From this point on [August 1990!], however, the number of believers began to dwindle steadily. The dream was dying, and somewhere (but not in a jar) the fusion genie laughed a hollow laugh.“ He repeats the nonsense propagated in the New York Times article by William Broad, “On October 23 no one could find Pons, and his house had been put up for sale.”
Dewdney can’t even get John Huizenga’s name or affiliation straight! He calls him John Huizinga and says that he is a physicist at MIT, not the University of Rochester, Huizenga’s correct affiliation then.
Dewdney writes admiringly of Frank Close’s conclusion that “errors” in the Pons and Fleischmann calorimetry may have been due to their using open cells. Then he states, “It is true, nevertheless, that many subsequent attempts to detect the anomalous heat with closed calorimeters have failed.” Oh? The SRI International calorimetry, on which the EPRI conclusion supporting Pons and Fleischmann was based, was all closed cell. Does Dewdney think he can just make up facts and history? Apparently. He has a lot of company—the phenomenon is quite common among virulent cold fusion “skeptics.“
The book is filled with Dewdney’s childish, cheap humor, e.g. “in search of a new idea, a scientist may plunge into a hot bath, ponder the universe in an opium den, visit a psychiatrist, lie on the floor kicking and screaming, whatever works.” or “I ask Euclid in flawless classical Greek (writing books gives you strange powers) to rephrase his proof in English.” Maybe that’s how Dewdney writes his books?
One last buffoonish statement “graces” Dewdney’s indigestible tract: “At last report, Fleis(c)hmann and Pons were happily running new versions of their experiment and building a commercial scale experimental cold fusion reactor. Whatever we may think of the science, how can we not wish them luck.”
Thanks, but no thanks, Dewdney! There are no reports of Japanese official or corporate activity in cold fusion. There are no reports of other international conferences or publications. So, we can only conclude that Dewdney makes up stories and is living in a fantasy world. What must this say about his treatment of other matters in the book. To enumerate chapter coverage (not that any serious reader of IE would waste their time on this book): 1. The Century Begins: The Rays that Never Were; 2. Mind Numbers: The Curious Theory of the Intelligence Quotient; 3. Dreaming up Theories: The Unconscious Con of Sigmund Freud; 4. Surfing the Cosmos: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence [Dewdney says that SETI has consumed over a billion dollars in congressional appropriations—a complete falsehood. He also says that SETI is unavoidably geocentric and “essentially nonfalsifiable” science, which is a thoroughly misinformed opinion.]; 5. The Apprentice Builds a Brain: Misled by Metaphors [neural networks]; 6. Genie in a Jar: The “Discovery” of Cold Fusion; 7. Biosphere 2 Springs a Leak; 8. For Whom the Bell Curves: The Racial Theories of J. Phillipe Rushton.
This book is so bizarre, it is difficult to imagine the process that gave it birth. John Wiley& Son’s, perhaps in a bow toward commercial self-interest (although they no longer carry or reprint it), has listed Fire from Ice first in the three references for the cold fusion chapter, but dubs the book, “The best exploration from the believer’s side.” Always the pejorative “believers.” Spelling again: ”Furor” is entered as “Furore.”
Dewdney was recently quoted by science writer Lee Siegel in The Salt Lake Tribune (June 19, 1997). Dewdney is ever the joker: “Despite his book, Dewdney said he has nothing against cold fusion or UFO’s from outer space—if they ever prove real. ‘Other things being equal, I’m all in favor of limitless energy and an alien in every garage.’”
Of his spelling Fleischmann’s name incorrectly throughout, Dewdney told Siegel: “Just say Dewdney cringed.“
By far the best description of the Dewdney approach is his own, on page 12: “Speculation flourishes in an environment that is free from the chilling effect of actual experiments.” One might add, Dewdney’s speculation flourishes “free from the chilling effect of actually reading the literature.”