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149) A message from a young outsider

Ludwik Kowalski (6/24/04)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043

This morning I received the following an e-mail message from David Pesta:

“I am finally starting to understand what this issue is all about after finding your site. To the lay person, all of the other technical material out there is incomprehensible. Keep up the great work! David.”

My reply to this compliment was a simple “thank you.” But a little later I sent another message. Here it is: “David: It occurred to me, after replying with one word, that I should ask you for a favor. Can you summarize, on one or more pages, your own experience with the issue of cold fusion? I would be glad to post your piece (anonymously, if you prefer) on my web site. Tell a little bit about yourself, at the beginning, and about your experience with the subject.” Several hours later I received a short answer; it is indeed worth sharing. The piece shows how a young high school student learned about cold fusion in 1996. It also shows what he thinks about the field today, after graduating from a university. I hope that there are many open-minded young scientists with similar experience. Will the upcoming DOE investigation be positive enough to encourage some of them to become cold fusion researchers? I hope so. Most of the cold fusion researchers, as far as I know, are in their 60’s or older. David wrote:

“ Hello; you can post this piece. My experience with cold fusion may not be impressive, depending upon what sort of things you are looking for.

I graduated magna cum laude from Oklahoma State University in 2001 with a degree in biochemistry. I have an A.S. Degree in physics. In 1996 when I was a junior in high school, my chemistry teacher was on a mission to enlighten us on the pseudo-science that pervades society and how to steer clear of baloney. He had a lot of knowledge, but he never did have a good baloney detector kit and seemed to make appeals to emotion rather than reason. I suppose that was suspicion number one. As a part of his mini curriculum, he showed us a television program about cold fusion, I believe it was part of a series by Nova.

After I watched the presentation, I was left with a strong suspicion that there was more to this issue than the program was reporting. Two things went through my mind.

1. After all the negative media coverage, the two scientists (Fleischmann and Pons) admitted some mistakes but still sincerely believed that many of their initial results were genuine. These two scientists were distinguished and seasoned researchers who never exhibited any sort of history indicative of the kind of accusations that they were receiving. They would have known better than to make up fake evidence and hope that nobody would notice as society tried to implement the fake technology. What is the likelihood of formerly reliable scientists out of the blue trying to do something silly like that? That would be like guaranteeing destruction to their reputation and ending their long career as a scientist, and they would have done it deliberately together. No, something fishy is going on here.

2. Other scientists set out to reproduce the experiment in their own laboratories. Maybe the experiments were hard to reproduce precisely and the results were very sensitive to the way the original scientists conducted the experiments. That being a possible scenario, wouldn't it be sensible for the skeptical scientists to visit the laboratory of Fleischmann and Pons and confirm or deny their work directly? If I were a scientist in the field and I heard that someone stumbled across some positive results in their lab over an issue this momentous, I would be the first one on a flight to their location to see it for myself! The film didn't mention any visit of scientists to their laboratory. Considering how important such a finding would be, it just didn't seem like there was much of an effort placed on reproducing their experiment exactly. To me, it seemed like people were too quick to give up. Cutting federal funds to future research in cold fusion soon after made this
point as well.

These weren't strong reasons to completely doubt the scientific community. But still, for some reason, I walked away from that video with the impression that the scientific community may be missing out on something important and that further investigation should be done before putting the matter to rest. The idea that cold fusion may still be possible remained a thought in the back of my mind ever since.

Last night, while working on a tricky html problem, I was struck with inspiration to see if the scientists of 2004 were making any progress on cold fusion, or if it was a dead field. To my surprise, your website made a lot of issues more clear. I literally read articles all night long and got no sleep, and I haven't done that since the days of college when I was forced to study all night. I am amazed that there is progress that confirms my suspicions that the two scientists Fleischmann and Pons may have actually stumbled onto something. I love rooting for the underdog, especially when there is momentum behind them. I look forward to seeing what actually ends up being discovered, if anything.

Skepticism is great, as long as it is reasonable and not based upon emotion. I do believe that conspiracies happen in American science. Most of them are accidental, but because we are human beings, they happen. And history shows it. Have a great day, David.”

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