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178) Recent messages and comments

Ludwik Kowalski (September 21, 2004)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043

I often receive cold-fusion-related messages. Let me share some of them here.

1) On September 18, 2004 a stranger wrote: “I refer to your Physics Today letter concerning ‘Seeking Answers From Cold Fusion Review.’ The Golden Rule of science that I was taught was: Reproducibility. If a phenomenon can't be reproduced, it cannot be measured, it cannot be counted and is therefore inaccessible to analysis by mathematics. If a phenomenon can't be corroborated it will not be accepted by a consensus of scientists working in the field.

2) My immediate reply was: “I agree with you. Cold fusion is not an established scientific discipline. Neither was electrostatics at the time of B. Franklin. The main hidden variable at that time was humidity. That is why experiments were highly irreproducible. Do you think that cold fusion findings reported by qualified scientists (in the last five or ten years) are based on fraud? Do you think that methods of validation used by them are different from those used in other areas of physics and chemistry? Do you think that they are ignorant charlatans or highly skilled con artists?

Who are you and why are interested in cold fusion? I am a recently retired physics teacher trying to find a way to check some claims made in the area of cold fusion. I will not hesitate to say that my data contradict the reported claims, if that is going to happen. The null hypothesis is going to be that claims are not valid (because they are so extraordinary). I hope to hear from you again.” Today is September 21; I do not know why that person decided not to answer. But that is OK with me.

3) I asked a friend in France about the attitude of French scientists toward cold fusion. Replying to my message (on September 20) he wrote: “People here are quite reluctant - as I already told you - concerning cold fusion. At the beginning there had been much excitement, but at that time all serious experiments which were performed showed that the effects observed were due to background. I just have seen, and read, your letter to Physics Today (it arrives much later on this side of the Ocean); it is quite all right... “

During my trip to France, to participate at the 11th International Conference on Cold Fusion (see>), I will ask what my friends know about recent cold fusion claims. I suspect that many of them think that cold fusion is pseudoscience, not worth their time. In other words, the situation there seems not to be different from that in the US. The word “reluctant” is interesting. Does it mean they are ready to change their minds when (and if ?) convincing experimental evidence is presented in peer reviewed papers? I hope so. Most scientist are open-minded.

4) Several days ago I discussed a cold fusion topic with someone over the Internet. After answering my questions (on September 17) that person added: “I suspect that many would be reluctant to become involved in CF because of its stigma as fringe science. This stigma may or may not be deserved. The point of any experiment is to answer a question, and in my personal but far from universal opinion there is something to be learned by further research into electrochemical CF. So, do you have any suggestions? What has been your experience with colleagues?” I said that I understand the fears of being negatively labeled. Then I resumed our discussion about instruments to be used.

Responding yesterday (September 20) he wrote: “I received your message. Sorry about the delayed response; I had to give this some consideration over the weekend. I believe that there are a few minor misunderstandings in what you say that you learned from me, and I'll address these in another email if you wish. If you want to include our URL in your item, that is OK, but I would prefer that you not use my name. This is just to put a little public distance between me and CF experiments. . . .” Hmm, a person willing to discuss nuances of an anticipated CF experiment in private is reluctant to associate his name with that topic publicly. I know that he is an open-minded individual. But he is also realistic; he knows what others think about cold fusion and he does not want to be responsible if his institution is labeled as pseudoscientific.

5) On September 20 a stranger wrote: “Hi, I've been following your site with interest for a few months. Bob Park is bothered by the anonymity of the new DOE panel reviewing cold fusion. (see below). The first DOE panel on cold fusion was not anonymous. However, anonymous peer review is the norm for many prestigious journals. Maybe if the first panel had remained anonymous cold fusion studies would not have been so stigmatized.” He then pasted what Bob Park wrote (on September 17 at <>) about the DOE investigation. Here is that piece:

“COLD FUSION: DOE REVIEW IS HIDDEN BEHIND A CLOAK OF SECRECY. Believers see DOE’s review as vindication after 15 rough years (What’s New, 2 Apr 04). But watchers are puzzled by how little is known about the process. Who are the reviewers? Who are they talking to? What’s New hears that DOE is claiming anonymous peer review. That shouldn’t please anyone. The controversy will simply continue. Bob Park can be reached via email at THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND. Opinions are the author's and are not necessarily shared by the University, but they should be.”

6) This interesting message shows that information about the panel composition (which was shared with me by X) is not widely known. I do know when the deliberation took place and who was present. This is likely to become public knowledge very soon. I already commented on what Robert Park wrote about cold fusion in his book “Voodoo Science.” It’s a good book but I disagree with Park’s idea of placing cold fusion researchers in the same category as astrologists, UFO-logists and con artists. One should not be surprised to discover con artists pretending to be scientists; there so much to gain and so little to lose. Bob, and his Russian counterpart, Krugliakov, did expose many pseudoscientific swindlers. And they deserve credit for this.

But Bob’s position on cold fusion is wrong. Why do I think so? Because I have not seen anything scientifically-convincing in his accusations. He seems to be sticking to old arguments and ignores new claims (in his book and in What’s New internet messages). My impression is that he is totally unfamiliar with recent cold fusion publications. I did not see him at the cold fusion conference last year. He was personally invited by the co-chair, I heard, but decided not to come. That is strange; the conference would offer him an opportunity to learn about new findings, and to engage scientists whom he ridiculed in numerous public addresses. He always presents himself as a scientist. So why was he not willing to discuss cold fusion topics with other scientists? I can understand my fiend in France, he is active in other areas and has no time to read cold fussion litarature. But a material scientist who publicly treats cold fusion researchers as if they were charlatanes has a moral obligation to be seriousely involved. Will Dr. Park come to the conference in Marseilles? I would welcome an opportunity to speak with him, and to write about our conversations. I wish I had his writing skills.

7) A person I met at the cold fusion conference last year wrote to me (on September 15) about a book he is writing. In a reply I said that I would be interested in seeing one or two chapters. The entire draft was sent to me as an attached file. I read parts of it and made some comments. The message ended with the “I wish you luck in publishing the book.” The reply surprised me; the author wrote: “I am not going to try to publish it. When it is finished and it has been reviewed by several researchers and friends, I will upload it to . . . [web site was given] along with our other papers. I will not copyright it. There is no point. No publisher will touch a book about cold fusion, and people will not pay money to read about it. This goes back to Howard Aiken's dictum: ‘Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.’ “ I have no doubt that good books about cold fusion will be in demand, no matter what the final verdict of DOE will be. Cold fusion is not only science; it is also an interesting social phenomenon. The phenomenon might be indicative of something very profoud on the subject of “science and society.”

8) I am appending an important paragraph at the bottom of item #177; it has to do with an attempt to find someone willing to donate a set of proceedings from cold fusion conferences to an accessible library. Please contact me about this:

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