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196) Open letter to the DOE and its team of 18 scientists

Ludwik Kowalski (December 11, 2004)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043

1) This unit (a set of questions) was prompted by a recent note entitled “US Review Rekindles Cold Fusion Debate.” Written by Geoff Brumfiel, from Nature, it was published on12/2/04.


The author wrote:
“Claims of cold fusion are intriguing, but not convincing. That is the conclusion of an 18-member scientific panel tasked with reviewing research in the area. The findings, which were released on 1 December by the US Department of Energy, rekindle a 15-year-old debate over whether nuclear fusion can occur at room temperature.”

I do not know any scientist who claims that useful energy can be produced from fusion of two isolated deuterium nuclei at a room temperature (ignoring Coulomb barrier). That was the major topic of concern 15 years ago. The new DOE panel was expected, as far as I know, to evaluate claims of selected nuclear anomalies, such as generation of helium, or emission of 3 MeV protons, that were not know in 1989.

2) Broomfield wrote that
“According to the report, the panel was split approximately evenly on the question of whether cold fusion experiments were actually producing power in the form of heat.” Is it not true that in science controversies are resolved through better experiments rather than by counting how many experts are for and against competing claims?

3) Were you, the members of the panel, offered opportunities to visit laboratories of cold fusion researchers in order to participate in decisive experiments, or to personally observe and criticize them?

4) According to the DOE report your conclusions were reached on the basis of one review paper (and interactions with selected cold fusion researchers during a one-day meeting). I would like to know if, in addition, some of you tried to replicate selected experiments in your laboratories. If so, then please share your findings.

5) Did you request anonymity or was it the DOE initiative to remove your names from individual reports? I am probably not the only one interested in your names and affiliations. As you know, scientific publications are usually signed -- for good reason. Who among you were “nine additional scientists chosen by DOE for their expertise in relevant fields”? Who among you are experts on detection of helium, at low concentrations?

6) Four months before the second DOE report was published I addressed you, indirectly, in the form of a Letter to the Editor of Physics Today (published on page 14 in the September 2004 issue). I asked: “Is there any indication that leading cold fusion scientists are incompetent or that their data are fraudulent? Is the research methodology that cold fusion scientists use different from that used in other areas of physical science? Answers to these questions will help me decide what to think about cold fusion and what to tell students about it.” The title of my letter was “Seeking Answers From Cold Fusion Review.” Why was the issue of competence and honesty not mentioned in the DOE report? I expected it to be addressed in view of commonly used epithets, such as “bad science,” “voodoo science,” and worse. A clear statement about qualifications of those whose work was investigated would be extremely useful in the context of existing accusations and attitudes.

7) I agree with you that “claims of cold fusion are intriguing, but not convincing.” Experiments must be 100% reproducible to be convincing. But that does not mean they are fraudulent, or that they belong to voodoo science. Electrostatic experiments were also irreproducible before the role of humidity was recognized. That is why more research is needed. The biggest obstacle is negative publicity. You had a chance to decisively remove that obstacle. But you did not take advantage of that opportunity. What should be done now to help the honest and qualified scientists who are currently exploring the intriguing aspects you mentioned in the report? Conditions of their work are highly abnormal; what can be done to improve them significantely?

8) I would be happy to post your replies here; they will be seen by many interested (and often very qualified) readers. Your replies are likely to become important historical documents, no matter how the issues are resolved in the future.

9) Let me finish this open letter by introducing myself. After teaching physics for more than three decades, at Montclair State University in New Jersey, I retired and became an independent researcher. I was trained as an experimental nuclear physicist (Ph.D. 1963, University of Paris, France) and am now happy to be an investigator of LENR phenomena.

P.S. (12/12/04)
10) I believe that your reason for addressing the issue is not different than mine; we want to see the LENR controversy resolved, one way or another. I also think that it is premature to speculate about practical applications; the emphasis should be on scientific aspects of anomalous phenomena, not on benefits they might possibly offer. Technological explorations will follow naturally after anomalous effects are recognized as real; and after normality is established.

11) In the DOE report I read:
“Results reported in the review document purported to show that 4He was detected in five out of sixteen cases where electrolytic cells were reported to be producing excess heat. The detected 4He was typically very close to, but reportedly above background levels.” Were all sixteen experiments conducted by equally qualified researchers?

In any case, such experimental results are highly significant; total absence of nuclear byproducts (ashes) was one of the most convincing arguments against the suggested nuclear origin of excess heat. That is why I took the 1989 DOE report very seriously. On the basis of your observations, I would say that a tremendous progress was made on the issue of “missing ashes.”

12) I am disappointed that additional experiments were not performed by experts among you to clarify the situation, for example to show that the effects are not due to contamination. I would very much prefer to have a delay of one year, if necessary, than a timely report stating, essentially, “on one hand this and on the other that.” An old joke about a one-handed lawyer came to my mind when I was reading the second DOE report. For everything positive in the DOE report there is an immediate negative, and vice versa. How can such report help us to form a valid opinion about what has happened in the LENR field in the last decade? As experts you are in a much better position to address the contradictions than most of us.

13) And here is another reason to be disappointed. The new DOE report states:
To explain these unusual characteristics, the reviewers were presented with a theoretical framework that purported to describe how collective energy from the material lattice couples to a deuteron pair to induce fusion, how the only fusion reaction channel that occurs would be the production of 4He, and how all the energy is coupled back into the material in the form of heat instead of high energy gamma-rays. The reviewers raised serious concerns regarding the assumptions postulated in the proposed theoretical model for the explanation for 4He production.”

Generation of helium from deuterium is anomalous because it can not be explained by accepted theoretical models. I agree that our textbook models must be taken very seriously because they have been confirmed by highly reliable experimental data. You are not alone in thinking that attempts to develop a better theoretical model (presumably explaining generation of 4He) are far from being totally satisfactory. But why should this weaken our confidence in the experimental fact itself? Why was the weakness of a new model mentioned in this context? Yes, I know, the field is blind without a theory to guide it. But wouldn't you agree that establishing validity of experimental facts is even more impotrant, at this stage?

14) According to the last paragraph of the DOE report “
material science aspects of deuterated metals using modern characterization techniques could be helpful in resolving some of the controversies in the field.” That is certainly true. But use of commonly available, and much less expensive, tools should also be encouraged, especially among students. To prove, or disprove, a controversial claim can be an educational project. What can be a better way to expose students to the excitement of scientific research?

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