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211) Fatal confusion about cold fusion

Ludwik Kowalski (4/11/05)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043

Charles Beaudette, the author of a well known book about Cold Fusion, made interesting comments on the second DOE report. His paper can be downloaded from the Library at <html://>. Let me focus on some ideas discussed in that paper. His observation that the “Office of Science did not have a choice in this matter [selecting the cold fusion panel] given the pariah status of the field” is questionable. The DOE had many choices, selecting a panel whose task was to express opinions was only one of them. A better choice, as I wrote in unit # 196, would be to select two teams to perform critical cold fusion experiments. I will have more to say about this later. Claims based only on opinions are not as convincing as claims based on reliable experimental data.

I agree with Baoudette that “there is a considerable level of confusion as to how the field of cold-fusion research began, and how its several parts now relate to one another.” He is making this observation on the basis of what the DOE referee wrote in their individual reports. Some anonymous referees seem to be unaware that two different claims were made, sixteen years age, under the same label. The first was the discovery of the unexplained excess heat (by Fleischmann and Pons) and the second was the discovery of unexplained neutrons (by Jones and his team). The label cold fusion, introduced by Jones, was a natural consequence of his earlier investigations of muonic molecules, and of highly compressed matter.

But imposing the same label on research devoted to excess heat was totally inappropriate. In a recent interview (see item # 208) Fleischmann said that the term cold fusion “was pushed on us by other people.” This, however, was not at all obvious sixteen years ago. Fleischmann and Pons themselves were promoting the idea that excess heat is accompanied by emission of neutrons. Here is how this tragic confusion, now a piece of history, is described by Beaudette: ” By pretending that they were experimental physicists during a few weeks prior to the announcement, the two chemists made mistakes in their attempt to measure neutron radiation. They erred badly collecting data, and their errors were quickly discovered and emphasized.” The resulting consequences are well known. Even today, as illustrated by Beaudette, the claim of excess heat is often confused with the never-made claim that excess heat is due to thermonuclear reactions. The main issues are:

a) Is it true that the amount of thermal energy, released in some electrolytic experiments, exceeds the amount of electric energy received during the electrolysis?

b) Can the excess heat, if confirmed, be explained by chemical reactions taking place in materials from which electrolytic cells are constructed?

And additional non-chemical issue has to do with reality of nuclear particles, such as neutrons, protons, tritons and alphas, claimed to be emitted from solid metals loaded with hydrogen ions. The first issue has to do with calorimetry, the second has to do with quantitative chemical analysis, and with chemical thermodynamics. I see no reason why the DOE could not find a group of experts able to answer the above two questions in its existing laboratories. That would be much more useful than creating a panel whose task was to express opinion. Another panel, composed of physicists would be assigned a task of either confirming or refuting emission of nuclear particles from hydrogenated metals.

Expertise and equipment for addressing the above three issues were, and still are, available to the DOE. I agree with Baudette that it was a mistake to initiate a peer-review work of the cold fusion field by panelists who “were unfamiliar with its technical development, leading scientists, significant experiments, and principal papers.” I also agree with his criticism of approaches used by some panelists. Criticizing experimental findings on the basis of conflicts with the accepted “canon of nuclear science” is certainly not consistent with our scientific methodology.

To end this unit let me address two other topics raised in Baudette’s paper: the issue of the “burden of proof’ and the issue of “reproducibility.” I disagree with him that those who criticise nuclear interpretation of excess heat, and who suspect that the heat might be due to something else, should “have a duty to elucidate possible [chemical or] storage mechanisms as disturbing artifacts.” Their duty is to mention such artifacts, the burden of showing that the artifacts are not responsible for what is observed is on those who claim that the effect is highly unusual, in terms of our current paradigm.

Addressing the second issue Baudette writes: “Concern for experimental reproducibility (repeatability) sometimes overshadows experimental results in cold-fusion research, both among its practitioners and its critics.” That is certainly true. Franco Scaramuzzi, an esteemed hot-fusion physicist who practiced cold-fusion research for fourteen years, wrote: “a) I agree that reproducibility is a ‘must’ in experimental research; b) however, a new field, at it beginning, is often characterized by a lack of reproducibility , and it is the task of the scientists operating in the field to understand what is going on, in order to pursue reproducibility.” I agree with this. In my opinion, however, a field in which reproducibility (of experiments conducted by qualified researchers) is poor is not yet scientific. Protoscience should not be confused with science.

Unlike pseudoscience, the term protoscience is not pejorative. Many alchemists and astrologists were protoscientists before chemistry and astronomy became scientific fields. Cold fusion research will become scientific when at least one of its numerous discoveries is recognized as highly reproducible. I like how Beaudette refuted claims, made in 1989, that Fleischmann and Pons were offering only pseudoscience. He refers to Lagmuir’s description of pseudoscience and contrasts it with what was actually stated, or not stated, in the published reports. Beaudette also reminds us that “Langmuir says nothing about reproducibility.” His paper ends with an extensive list of references.

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