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135) From the Salt Lake Tribune

Ludwik Kowalski (3/24/04)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043

Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the infamous press conference at the University of Utah. Not surprisingly, two articles about cold fusion were printed in the Salt Lake Tribune to remember the historical event. These articles were probably written at least a week earlier; the pending DOE initiative would otherwise be mentioned. Here are some extracts. Quoting Steven Jones the author writes: “ ‘There's really a lot going on that looks very favorable,’ Jones said of the field [of cold fusion] today. ‘But it's not given a fair chance in the journals.’ . . . Jones plans to publish a pair of research papers, as part of the conference record, that involve new thoughts on reactions and evidence of tritium, which he sees as a telltale sign of fusion, in two volcanoes. “

I suppose these are the papers summarized in my unit #113. “In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Jones was able to reproduce what he believes are cold fusion reactions about 15 percent of the time. Today, Jones and company claim to see evidence of charged particles as a product of nuclear fusion up to 80 percent of the time. They also indicate the presence of neutrons about 40 percent of the time. Even the 80 percent figure was still not enough for the top science journals. . . . The journal Physical Review C turned down one of Jones' recent efforts because the experiment did not work 100 percent of the time. Another problem: Jones could not offer an explanation for what exactly was happening.”

Hmm, interesting. Do the editors of this journal ask authors of all experimental papers about how many unsuccessfull attempts were made before a success? In the past I coauthored many published papers but I do not remember being asked about the number of unsuccessful runs or about the number of repetitions. Why is cold fusion treated differently? Because extraordinary claims call for extraordinary scrutiny. But a success rate of 80%, in my opinion, is already very impressive. Knowing the credentials of the author I would publish the article, if i were the editor.

“These sorts of woes [irreproducibility] have haunted the cold fusion community since the early 1990s. The events of 1989 have essentially stigmatized the field as a whole, said Bart Simon, a sociologist at Canada's Concordia University. ‘You can't deny it would have been a different story if it had not been publicized when it was publicized,’ said Simon, who wrote the 2002 book, Undead Science: Science Studies and the Afterlife of Cold Fusion. Jones continues his unfunded work with an apparatus that uses deuterium gas. Three labs are working on replicating his latest findings, he noted.   Even without funding, Jones continues to set up fusion experiments."

In the second Salt Lake Tribune article the same author writes: “ the [cold fusion] episode may be remembered most as a clash between science and capitalism, where science lost.” I suppose that in this context the term capitalism refers to those administrators who wanted the golden egg before the goose was born. I hope the new DOE panel will focus on science and not on practical applications. Such applications seem to be much less certain than highly unusual experimental findings. Fortunately, this time, I see no call for massive support of another Manhattan-like project. The cold fusion tragedy probably would not have happened if scientific findings had been announced through peer review papers and not through a sensational press release. That is what I would emphasize, if asked to write a newspaper article about what happened fifteen years ago.

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