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161) A set of messages about cold fusion
Ludwik Kowalski (7/20/04)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043
This thread on PHYS-L, the Internet discussion list of physics teachers was triggered by this message from Teacher 1 (myself). Other contributors will be identified only as Teacher 2, Teacher 3, etc.
An interesting piece from Brian Josephson (Nobel prize in 1973 for the discovery of a superconducting electronic switch) about pseudoscience.
It is his lecture at the last annual meeting of Nobel winners in Landau, Germany. According to Haiko Lietz, a science reporter who attended the gathering: "the Lindau conference was very interesting, as one can imagine. Brian Josephson created a big stir. He spoke extensively on cold fusion, and how unscientific attitudes and a publication policy prohibited the field from becoming known in the scientific community. He was the talk of the day. Many students were asking him questions, they were open and interested. Reactions by the Nobel laureates were twofold: Some seemed to be surprised that cold fusion is still around, while others remained silent.
The immediate reply from Teacher 2 was:
Earthshaking shaking claims require earthshaking evidence. Are you saying that such evidence is being suppressed and HAS been for lo these many years ??? This stand wouldn't be giving the 'physics community' much credit. Has EVERYONE missed out on the shaking of the earth? How long was required for 'polywater' to become a lost cause?
or does that research continue as well?
Referring to the above, Teacher 1 wrote:
1) In my opinion dangers of degeneration of science are very real. And I have no doubt that pseudoscientists exist. But I see no evidence that major cold fusion claims, described in item #152 on my website: are examples of pseudoscience. Some of these claims might become part of accepted science, others might be rejected as invalid (due to errors etc.). That is normal.
2) Let me give you an example of what Brian Josephson calls the "denunciation mode" of operation (by leaders of intellectual activities, such as editors of our journals). The example is based on personal experience (see item #154 on the above website). An objective summary of major cold fusion claims (see item #152) was consecutively submitted to editors of five journals. The manuscript was rejected by all of them, without being sent to referees. Each editor answered differently but the bottom line was the same: your manuscript does not correspond to our current needs. My review, as you can verify, does not defend cold fusion claims; it tries to describe them objectively. Why isn't the review sent to referees? Why couldn't it be published, provided, of course, that its accuracy is not challenged by referees? This is not new; the intellectual establishment has often operated in the denunciation mode. How can critical thinkers be protected from bureaucrats? How do bureaucrats benefit from acts of suppression and oppression of cold fusion?
3) I just became a retired teacher and this allows me to participate in the 11th Cold Fusion Conference in France (October 31-November 5). It is very unlikely that my own research (just started) will produce something worth reporting. I do see something but it needs more attention. Therefore my presentation, during the public relations session, will be based on what I wrote above. In that context your input, under this thread, will be highly appreciated. Or write to me in private, if you prefer.
4) In the message that started this thread I forgot to mention that I would not know about Josephson's lecture if Steven Krivit did not send me New Energy Times Newsletter (dated July 15, 2004). Krivit, a journalist specializing in science, is the editor of that newsletter. To subscribe write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Shortly after the above was posted I received a private message from another teacher. It was a set of general observations about intellectual suppression.
Teacher 3 wrote: Here's something you might find interesting.
COMPLAINTS ABOUT INTELLECTUAL SUPPRESSION
ARE NOT "CONSPIRACY THEORIES.
Intellectual suppression in any community's publications certainly exists, since the beneficial purpose is "triage." Triage is there to prevent idiotic troublemakers from wasting our time. For example, if I submit rambling drunken poetry and nude photographs to the journal Nature, they will be discarded. That's intellectual suppression! And when we try to filter e-mail lists so spammers can't fill them with advertising, that's suppression of publication. Nothing wrong with it. And it's very, very common.
Inappropriate suppression also exists in the form of nasty back room politics, when for example the governmental/industrial leaders try to prevent whistle blowers from publicizing embarrassing mistakes and criminal acts. In other words, intellectual suppression often means the same as "coverup." Dr. Brian Martin maintains an entire website on the problems of political intellectual suppression in the sciences, see
Intellectual suppression has a long history involving revolutionary science. Researchers who later created entire new fields of science discovered that they could not get their research published for years, often for decades. They eventually succeeded, but only after a major fight with suppression. No journal editors conspired to silence the revolutionary researchers. They simply assumed that their papers were misguided, or were outright crackpotism. Here's a small list:
Ridiculed, vindicated discoverers
. . . There's no question that inappropriate intellectual suppression is a real problem, nor that appropriate suppression is essential.
In recent years I've noticed a strange group-think phenomenon among skeptical scientists. In online forums, crackpots start discussing topics like antigravity, perpetual motion, psychic phenomenon, etc., and they complain that science journals won't publish their research. The
crackpot's opponents then sneer, insisting that the crackpots complaints are nothing but a conspiracy theory.
Um. What? Let's get this straight. Someone wants physics journals to publish their papers where they prove Einstein was wrong... the papers are rejected everywhere... and if the crackpots complain about this, it means that the crackpots are CONSPIRACY THEORISTS? But... but... all the physics journals REALLY DO reject those papers. The crackpots really are being suppressed; their publications are being blocked from all legitimate journals (obviously with good reason.) I thought that the skeptics might be joking, but they're not. They really insist that anyone who complains about intellectual suppression is a conspiracy theorist who should be ignored.
Over the years I've found that this strange reasoning is very widespread among the online scientific community. I find it ridiculous, and I feel embarrassed when I try to point out the flaws to those making the argument. (And I feel very confused when my observations are rejected, and the skeptics making these arguments continue to do so time and again.)
Just to make things perfectly clear once more: intellectual suppression is very real, and is a valid part of the science culture, so when an author complains of suppression, he/she is complaining about something genuine. Journal editors need not "conspire" together before rejecting my nude photographs, or rejecting papers about Bigfoot or UFO abductions or Cold Fusion. Those editors INDIVIDUALLY are disbelievers. That's why they reject the articles out of hand.
Here's something that may shed light on the proceedings. In marriage counseling I found out about a very common human foible: "Invalidation." If someone doesn't want to deal with their spouse's complaints, they can choose to "not hear" those complaints via the process of "invalidation," by declaring the complaints to be ingenuous (perhaps triggered by vengeance or other low motives.) Rather than taking the complaints seriously, the ears are blocked and the complainer is essentially silenced.
When a skeptic declares a crackpot's complaints to be "conspiracy theories", this is a clear example of invalidation: it's a psychological ploy whose most likely purpose is to excuse the skeptic from taking the crackpot's complaints seriously (or from even hearing them at all.) We need not even listen to conspiracy theorists, so declaring a noisy crackpot to be a conspiracy theorist gives us even more reason not to listen.
But when someone complains of suppression, their complaint is almost always genuine. And note well: they never complained about any conspiracy. It was the skeptic, the person supposedly in support of reason and rational argument, who put those words in the crackpot's mouth. Hmmm. Since this phenomenon is so common, perhaps it needs its own name. "Suppression complaints are conspiracy theories" is a bit wordy. Which class of logical fallacy does it fall under?
P.S. Here is a possible answer to the last question; it is pasted from:
The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person's actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. This sort of "reasoning" has the following pattern:
1. Person A has position X.
2. Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).
3. Person B attacks position Y.
4. Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.
XX sent me a private message about dishonest skeptics (pasted below). I am responding to this message publicly because it deserves to be shared. Let me replace the term "skeptics" by "editors" and not use the term "theorists" to describe crackpots. In the context of this thread I am thinking about editors of journals who reject cold fusion manuscripts without sending them to referees. The bottom line, if I understand XX correctly, is that editors use negative labels to dehumanize crackpots in the eyes of the public . This allows editors to act with impunity. It might appear that editors conspire against crackpots but this is not true, they do this independently of each other because they individually believe that crackpots are not legitimate scientists. Editors, incorrectly, place cold fusion in the same category as astrology and UFOlogy. Is this a reasonable summary?
Decisions of what to accept and what to reject (without any further consideration) must be made by editors; that is part of their difficult job. A good editor, however, should be a critical thinker. Did five editors who rejected my paper think that I am a crackpot? Yes, I submitted a review of recent claims made by crackpots (see item #152 on my cold fusion website:
But I am not defending these claims; I am only describing them objectively.
[In the e-mail piece the message from Teacher 3 was pasted here]
Josephson apparently says there is something to telepathy as well. "Nobel laureate, Cambridge physicist Brian Josephson 'Yes, I think telepathy exists,' he told The
Observer, 'and I think quantum physics will help us understand its basic properties.' "
Josephsons speculative 1991 paper on telepathy can be read at his website:
Should this paper disqualify him? I know very little about topics discussed by him. Also see:
A message from a friend:
After posting the above reply I received a private message from a friend who is not a teacher. In the first sentence he wrote: I am convinced that cold fusion is our best hope for a pollution-free source of energy to sustain this planet.
Here is my reply:
Yes, many people believe in this. Same of them, when asked what do you know about cold fusion? reply in the same way. In my opinion, however, this is still science fiction. The main issue today is to determine whether or not scientific claims made by leading cold fusion researchers are valid. That should be decided by a panel of experts recently appointed (?) by the DOE. In my opinion suggesting practical applications might be counterproductive, at this time. A panel, if asked to evaluate practical uses of unrecognized discoveries, would most likely produce a negative verdict. But a panel of honest experts asked to evaluate validity of major scientific claims, in the area of cold fusion, would probably produce a positive verdict. After all, new data supporting such claims are very strong. Will the DOE declare that cold fusion should no longer be treated as pseudoscience? It will depend on the panels report. Such declaration will not happen unless the report is positive.
The two most important claims, as explained in item #152 at my website, are:
a) Unexplained emission of charged particles and neutrons from metals loaded with deuterium.
b) Generation of excess heat associated with accumulation of helium at the rate of one atom per 23 MeV of heat energy.
I am selecting these two claims because they are supported by research of several groups in different countries. What is needed is a set of clear answers to the following three questions: (a) Were the authors of these claims qualified scientists? (b) Were their methods of validation scientific? (c) Was there any evidence of fraud?
On the basis of answers to these questions the panel might recommend that damaging labels, such voodoo science, pseudoscince or fiasco of the century should be declared invalid by the DOE. Elimination of such pejorative labels will most likely turn cold fusion into science able to defend itself against honest scientific criticism. Sooner or later that might lead to some kind of practical applications. It is possible that formally legitimized cold fusion research will eventually give us pollution-free sources of energy. But that is not at all obvious today. The situation might change dramatically after at least one cold fusion experiment becomes 100% reproducible (by competent scientists, of course), and after the underlying phenomena are understood.
According to Teacher 2, Earthshaking claims require earthshaking evidence. Brian Josephson also commented on this. He thinks that this dictum is too strong. It implies that critics of cold fusion are able reject new claims indefinitely, as explained at:
I agree with Teacher 2, provided the earth-shaking evidence does not refer to something unreasonable or impossible. Instead of the earthshaking evidence I would say very strong evidence. A researcher in the area of cold fusion should consider all possible objections and address them, one after another. Fleischmann and Pons, for example, should have anticipated requests for the evidence that excess heat is nuclear before allowing the university to release the results of findings.
They should also have waited before the reproducibility dilemma were solved or understood. Allowing a press release to go ahead without a peer reviewed publication also weaken their case enormously. Such press release might have been appropriate in a well established area but not in an area known to raise many objections. One kind of experiment might be sufficient in a well established area, several kinds of experiments are necessary when new results are in conflict with what is already in our textbooks. Yes, I know that the situation at the University of Utah was very complex; as usual, things are much clearer in retrospect. In sum, a discovery challenging an accepted paradigm must be announced more carefully than a discovery which does not challenge it.
Responding to the above the friend referred to the straw man man fallacy used by opponents of cold fusion. (The insertion added below the message from Teacher 3 was inspired by his reply.)
The friend also wrote:
. . . ANY scientist who is honest, open-minded, AND skeptical can look at the data and conclude that the Cold Fusion effect is AS REAL as any other new science is or was in its early stages. The DOE matter is sheer politics and money, but a spin-off from a positive vote will be extra incentive to private industry and hopefully, God-willing, a change in policy at the US Patent Office which is a major block to progress. . . .
I am not sure which block (the editors who reject research papers without sending them to unbiased referees or clerks in our patent office) is more effective at this time.
Teacher 5: (another private message)
PATHOLOGICAL DISBELIEF (from today's UnderNews)
"Pathological Disbelief" was the title of a lecture by 1973 Nobel Prize winner Brian D. Josephson, who teaches physics at the University of Cambridge, delivered at the 2004 Lindau meeting of Nobel Laureates. It describes a problem for science but also one for journalism which has over the past few decades moved from ubiquitous skepticism to ubiquitous condemnation of skepticism, most popularly expressed in labeling the skeptic
a "conspiracy theorist."
Josephson, incidentally, cites the treatment of cold fusion as an example. Some readers may recall that the Review is one of a tiny number of publications that has treated research into cold fusion as newsworthy ? Not because this research will necessarily pan out but because the suppression of this research by both science and journalism violated the objective principles of both trades.]
BRIAN D. JOSEPHSON - This talk mirrors "Pathological Science", a lecture given by Chemistry Laureate Irving Langmuir. Langmuir discussed cases where scientists, on the basis of invalid processes, claimed the validity of phenomena that were unreal. My interest is in the counter-pathology involving cases where phenomena that are almost certainly real are rejected by the scientific community, for reasons that are just as invalid as those of the cases described by Langmuir.
Alfred Wegener's continental drift proposal provides a good example, being simply dismissed by most scientists at the time, despite the overwhelming evidence in its favour. In such situations incredulity, expressed strongly by the disbelievers, frequently takes over: no longer is the question that of the truth or falsity of the claims; instead, the agenda centers on denunciation of the claims. . . In this "denunciation mode", the usual scientific care is absent; pseudo-arguments often take the place of
scientific ones. . .
Other popular forms of attack are "if X were true we would have to start over again" (as we of course had to do with relativity and quantum theory, and so the argument proves nothing), and then there is the dictum "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", which has the marvelous feature of allowing the requirements for acceptable proof to be stretched indefinitely as more and more support for a contested claim comes in. Its originator, the late Marcello Truzzi, later decided that his comment was 'a non sequitur, meaningless and question-begging', and had planned to write a debunking of his own creation.
"Cold fusion" appears to be the modern equivalent to continental drift, starting with the controversial claim, made by Pons and Fleischmann in 1989, to have generated in an electrochemical cell heat considerably in excess of anything explicable in conventional terms. This provoked hostile reaction: ignoring the possibility that an aggregate of ions in a condensed matter matrix may behave differently to a collection of freely moving ones, it was asserted that nuclear fusion could not be responsible for the claimed excess heat.
Then came 'failure to replicate' by a number of groups, equated with the non-existence of the phenomenon, ignoring the fact that if different groups get different results there can be two explanations, one that the people who see some effects are bad experimenters, and the other that they were in fact better at creating the precise conditions needed for an effect to be seen.
Usually in such cases time tells which side is right, but here the steadily mounting evidence that there was a real effect was suppressed through the publication policies of the major journals. Consequently, these apparently supportive results are not known to most scientists, who simply take it for granted that the Pons-Fleischmann claims have been disproved.
In an attempt to promote proper discussion of the issue, I tried in 2002 to upload a survey by Storms to the preprint server arxiv.org, the natural place for facilitating such discussion, but the moderators frustrated this intent by deleting the review, declaring it "inappropriate" (chemists, being a more robust species than physicists, were permitted to see it on their own server chemweb.com).
A breath of fresh air has been introduced into the situation now, with the recent decision of the US Department of Energy to review the research; if the reviewers simply look at some of the research going on they will almost inevitably conclude that fusion can take place at ordinary temperatures, with a yield far in excess of the 'almost undetectable level' referred to in Langmuir's lecture.
The overall situation seems profoundly unsatisfactory. The system built up over the years to promote scientific advance has become one that narrow-minded people can use to block any advance that they deem unacceptable. This demands urgent review: otherwise, just as astronomy became fixated on the reasonably accurate, but wrong, Ptolemaic model, science will become fixated in a respectable, but inaccurate, view of reality.
1) Let me observe that Teacher 5, who is usually very vocal on the Phys-L list, preferred not to share personal thoughts. He quotes the UnderNews, he quotes the summary of Josephsons lecture. I am not surprised; most physics teachers are likely to be undecided. They are open-minded people but the flow of information about cold fusion is not normal. Many of them are old enough to remember the 1989 euphoria and their opinion on the subject was formed at that time. I was also convinced, until about two years ago, that cold fusion claims should be rejected.
2) In reading the quoted summary of the lecture again I notice that Josephson refers to Marcello Truzzi, the originator of the "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" phrase. Who was this man? According to the website devoted to him Truzzi made contributions to sociology, the history of juggling, magic, and the study of the paranormal. Aha, study of the paranormal again! Should cold fusion still be considered paranormal or should this label be applied to the suppression of research [in a targeted field] by both science and journalism?
3) I find it interesting that Josephson, who is not a cold fusion researcher, refers to the possibility that . . .nuclear fusion could not be responsible for the claimed excess heat. He probably thinks that what is observed in an aggregate of ions in a condensed matter matrix might be very different from what is known to occur in hot plasma. Wasnt this also the main observation made by J. Schwinger, another theoretically inclined Nobel Laureate who was trying to make sense out of cold fusion? Are they referring to the lowering of the Coulomb barrier in condensed matter, for example, via some kind of screening effect? That is what Steven Jones thinks, according to his papers at the last cold fusion conference (see item # 113 at my cold fusion website). Some theoretical papers presented at the conference also addressed this topic.
Guess what? Messages from this thread, plus additional comments, became unit #161 on my website. See it at:
I might append other messages and comments later, if they materialize.Share what is worth thinking about cold fusion social issues, about its scientific aspects and, above all, what should we tell students about the controversial cold fusion topics? I suspect that questions of that nature will be asked this fall, after the DOE review process is completed.
During my retirement party I gave a short description of current cold fusion claims. It was based on unit #152 on my website. I also mentioned that I might become a cold fusion researcher. The audience consisted of faculty and some students. Recently I was contacted by a student who was present, not one of my students. In an e-mail message she introduced herself and asked if she could assist me in this research. We met several days later and I tried to discourage her. This will not help you professionally, I said. On the contrary, this can hurt you. Many will think that you are a crackpot, like those who take astrology or UFO seriously. Finding financial support for such research is likely to be impossible (I am going to pay for the necessary expenses from my own pocket). Read about the unhealthy situation at my website and think again. I will not be disappointed if you change your mind. About a week later I received this reply:
"I wanted to inform you that I have carefully thought about the pros and cons and I feel that working with you would be very beneficial to me. Hopefully you will allow me to assist you in the fall."
Do I have a moral right to take advantage of this offer? She is a sophomore with excellent grades, majoring in both physics and chemistry.
Teacher 3 (in private again):
In order to convince her that very severe career-damage is guaranteed, you could write up a simple contract where she promises to keep her involvement in this a secret from anyone in the science biz (and keep the stuff OFF her resume, especially off her grad-school application.)
Cold fusion suppression is a conspiracy theory? Yeah, suuuure. Just let any non-tenured faculty try seriously performing some CF experiments, and see how fast they're booted out of a job. With suppression at such a high level, and with so-called "Skeptics" ready to start back-room proceedings against anyone who doesn't toe the line re. conventional physics, only retired physicists and physics-hobbyists can risk working in the field. And that's really shameful. What does it say about the physics community? It says that the equivalent of bicycle-shop owners will make the breakthrough if there are any breakthroughs to be made. (Or perhaps like the situation with Robert Goddard, it will be some 3rd World dictator who will do the equivalent of dropping heretical impossible ICBMs on London in 1944.)
Remember that J. OM. Bockris of Texas A & M, who literally wrote the book on electrochemistry, published some CF/transmutation papers and was attacked by colleagues who circulated a secret petition to get him kicked out of the university. Even with his enormous academic stature he almost didn't make it. It's my belief that he was saved only because he was on the verge of retirement, and for that reason the group trying to remove him didn't have the resolve.
She's an adult, correct? She's had full disclosure, right? She's an undergrad. where few, if any, do research assisting? She may chose to report this work or not, where non-reporting won't signal anything? She may stop anytime or continue till graduation or beyond?
Over the weekend I attended a conference on teaching non-majors introductory astronomy classes. In passing, one of the speakers asked, "How do we handle alternative theories and gaps in our understanding of the universe?" This (and the cold fusion thread) caused me to wonder: At what point is it appropriate to bring up theories that are hard to handle, are probably wrong but may be true, and just aren't mature?
*Should MOND[Modified Newtonian Mechanics] ever be discussed? I have seen a grad student burned at the stake for giving a journal review talk on MOND, and I've also seen a leading astronomer with his face in his hands worried that MOND may have some validity. I usually rely on Greg Bothun's site: < http://zebu.uoregon.edu/special/mond.html > What do you do?
*How do you answer the question: "What was there before the Big Bang?" I typically say, "Here be dragons" and use magazine articles and popular books to discuss some of the theories. Do you have problems with religion creeping into your classroom with this topic?
*How many dimensions do you say the universe has? *Are string theory or super symmetric particles mentioned? I know I don't have more than a very surface understanding of these topics. What should/can we hope for our students to understand? Is this best taught as a "Why we should spend money to build accelerators and bury detectors?" and then test their knowledge of FERMI and CERN, and Super Kamiokande?
*Does Cold Fusion come up when you discuss nuclear energy? *What other discussions are best dropped or skirted around? . . .
. . . New, and especially controversial or speculative, developments almost never need to be discussed in a text. If it is appropriate, the instructors can bring them up in class (this assumes that the instructors are keeping up with the subjects they are teaching).
. . . [Students should] be exposed to the idea that scientists and educated people could be biased such as Galileo's detractors who refused to look through a telescope because the "images were not real". Or consider how Einstein persisted in raising objections to QM, how Boltzmann committed suicide before his theory became scientific canon, or how MDs continued to wear bloodstained wool coats long after there was clear evidence for antiseptic operating conditions. Paradigm change takes time. . . .
I often see the term paradigm in connection with cold fusion. But I am not ay all convinced that the validation of experimental cold fusion facts would lead to a change of paradigm. Why should one take it for granted that the existing paradigm can not possibly accommodate theoretical models of cold fusion phenomena? Discovery of nuclear fission (in 1939), as far as I know, did not make the liquid model of nuclear reactions invalid. Fission of uranium, after being recognized, was at once explained in terms of this model. Who knows what will happen, and how soon, after the experimental cold fusion claims are recognized as valid by the mainstream scientific community.
Here are some well known details. The paper of Hahn and Strassmann, announcing the discovery of fission, contained an interesting phrase it makes no sense to us. Hahn was referring to strange transmutations, such as production of barium. The explanation, first by Lise Meitner and then by Niels Bohr, appeared about one year later. It was based on the liquid drop model that was used since 1936 to make sense of nuclear reactions.
After posting the above I found (on the Internet) the following abstract of a paper in the Czechoslovak Journal of Physics (49 (6): 985-992, June 1999). The author is Xing Z. Li (Department of Physics, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China) and the title is: Overcoming of the Gamow tunneling insufficiencies by maximizing the damp-matching resonant tunneling. This does not sound like a suggestion for a departure from Gamows theory of tunneling; it sounds like an attempt to use it creatively. But my knowledge of the theoretical physics is very limited. Perhaps somebody will write a summary of current attempts to make sense of cold fusion data for introductory physics teachers. That could become a very useful item on my website.
The resonant quantum tunneling current through the barrier between two wells may be maximized when the damp (absorption) in one well matches the barrier parameters. The maximum resonant tunneling current is much greater than the conventional expectation by a factor of 1/TET^2 (1/TET^2 is the Gamow tunneling factor). It is shown that with all the established quantum mechanics, very much higher reaction probabilities between nuclei in contrary to the Gamow theory can be explained in agreement with experiments. Particularly, the resonance will select the sub-barrier fusion with a suitable fusion rate which matches the barrier parameters. This selective resonant tunneling model is able to explain both the hot fusion data (e.g. the width of resonance in 11B(p, alpha)2alphas reaction) and the cold fusion data (e.g. excess heat without any commensurate neutron and gamma.
Way back at the beginning of this thread, Teacher 6 asked a two-part question: How do we handle alternative theories and gaps in our understanding of the universe? And mostly "alternative theories" is a codeword for crackpot theories ... but I would like to nudge the discussion toward the second part of the question: IMHO there ought to be more
discussion of non-crackpot unanswered questions. Lists of important open questions in physics are easy to find. One of my favorites is John Baez's list
* * * * <http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/General/open_questions.html>
Another is David Mermin's list of "alternate" questions to ask a visitor from the future:
* * * * <http://www.qub.ac.uk/mp/questions/alternate.html>
Naturally you can find lots of other lists:
* * * * < http://www.google.com/search?q=important+open-problems+physics>
and it is also interesting to look at the open problems
in allied fields (math, computing, fluid dynamics, ......)
Also in this context I suppose one is obliged to mention "Physics in a New Era" ... the view from the National Academy:
* * * * <http://www.nap.edu/openbook/0309073421/html/>
but I find it to have more detail than imagination. Tangential remark: There is a whole lot of good physics and math stuff on Baez's site:
* * * * <http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/>
Well worth exploring.
The observation about , a codeword for crackpot theories, is likely to be correct; especially when such theories are developed by obscure people publishing in obscure journals. Credentials and professional associations do not guarantee anything but they should be looked upon very seriously when it comes to alternative theories, or earth-shaking experimental data.
I believe that exposing crackpot theories is a worthwhile exercise, provided one is knowledgeable enough. In exploring the Internet I often encounter claims that there is free energy from torsion fields. That is far above my head, as far as mathematics is concerned. But I will address this topic in the next unit.
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