July 30, 2011
Issue #37


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Opinion: LENR Needs Constructive Criticism, Not Faith

by William Collis

[Ed: The following message was posted by William Collis, the executive secretary of the International Society for Condensed Matter Nuclear Science, on the CMNS e-mail list on July 9, 2011. It was leaked to New Energy Times. The context was a discussion about scientific skepticism about Andrea Rossi's claims.]

Constructive criticism, whether based on skepticism or not, is a fundamental part of the scientific process. None of us are experts in every field. But some of us are sufficiently expert to be able to make constructive comments on others' work. It is frequently the case that such comments or criticism can be rebutted. In such cases, we all learn something, and everybody has more confidence in the science.

In the case that the constructive criticism is correct, there is the possibility to make improvements or clarifications. Again, everyone benefits. I think [Mitch Randall's] commentary on calorimetry is very constructive and useful to the field. [He has] noticed and brought to the attention of this forum (where others have not) some highly pertinent observations.  [He has] very tactfully not pressed home the corresponding conclusions. Is this an excess of modesty or of politeness?

Let's be polite, honest, tactful and even generous. But nobody should pressure us into silence when we have legitimate points which need clarifying.

Scientific research is a frontier, where not everything is known with absolute precision. Critics help us all to refine that precision by pointing out anomalies. Critics have a useful, even fundamental role to play, so long as neither side descends to personal attacks.

There is nothing worse than a scientific field full of "True Believers" where criticism is not tolerated and the current dogma can never be attacked. Of course critics often exaggerate!  I do this on occasion, and I have been quite rightly criticized in turn for it!! But this is all part of the legitimate process. By taking a more extreme position than mere logic demands, we isolate and simplify the issues for discussion.

In answer to [Edmund Storms], I don't think that we, as good scientists, should have faith in anything at all, but of course being human, we do! But what we should be able to do is back up any opinion with evidence. In the case of contradictory positions, where there is evidence on both sides, our personal experiences may influence which side we tend to support. It doesn't matter, so long as there is constructive debate. As the French say, vive la différence!

To be clear, I use the word belief in contrast to the word faith. I agree, faith is reserved for things like E=MC2 or the laws of thermodynamics. We all have beliefs, which is a general word having unambiguous meaning. People lose sight of [the fact that] belief [tends to be] the basis for most opinions. Therefore, when we are discussing Rossi, we are comparing beliefs. Of course, some beliefs are closer to reality than others. Eventually, the belief will change to certainty.


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