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318) Theories, Meta-theories, etc.

Ludwik Kowalski; 12/4/2006
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043

An interesting paper was attached to a message posted this morning on the restricted Internet list for CMNS researchers. The author believes that deuterium ions inside metals create surface cracks, typically 10 microns wide. That is not difficult to accept; photographs of cathodes that were used in CMNS experiments often show surface irregularities. What is difficult to accept is a claim that electric fields between the walls of cracks can be as high as 100 million volts per centimeter. The rationale for this claim was not explained. Was it a postulate -- something like “that would be sufficient to explain nuclear particles and X-rays “-- or was it a conclusion based on something that is known to be true? Acceleration of ions in strong local electric fields could indeed be responsible for emission of nuclear particles. If real, that would be a true "electrochemically induced nuclear effect."

If one million volts per centimeter of air (or H2 or O2 or water vapor) in a crack, is an ad hoc assumption then the idea belongs to the category of ideas mentioned recently by Mike McKubre. He referred to polyneutrons, whose existence was postulated by John Fisher, and to stable neutrons inside solids, postulated by Hideo Kozima. Such theories are worth developing, in anticipation of an era of reasonable reproducibility. Such logical structures should not be confused with structures that begin with what is known to be true. A theory that begins with an ad hoc assumption can be wrong on two accounts (assumption and logic); a theory that begins with what is already known can be wrong on one account only (logic).

The concept of NAE, introduced by Ed Storms, is not a theory, it is only a name given to what makes nuclear activities induced by chemical activities possible. The same is true for the idea of “poison” that was introduced by Peter Gluck this morning. He wrote: “The problem of reproducibility, more precisely the painful and disturbing lack of it, deserves a thorough discussion. And, it has to be the central and most urgent task of our thinking and experimental studies. . . . True, we have tens of theories that cannot be translated in practical instructions, lines of trying for the experimenters. . . . [My] explanation is that all the cathodes are inactivated by some poison or some other unknown factor, and the task is to discover or to annihilate this something, protecting the working surfaces, sites. This has happened naturally, by chance, in very few cases during CMNS's complex history.I am ready to discuss an experimental strategy based on this meta-theory. . . . Therefore I consider unknown poisoning more logical than overwhelming complexity.”

Peter was replying to a message in which failures to replicate were attributed to the overwhelming complexity of natural phenomena at the atomic level. Rather than dealing with many factor contributing to complexity he prefers to deal with one factor, an unknown poison. Like NAE, that poison is a mystery. I have a name for it; let us call it NIE. This stands for the Nuclear Inactive Environment. That is funny. NIE NAE covers the entire universe, by definition. And what does it mean in Polish? It means “NOT NAE.” The term meta-theory probably means something to philosophers. Is it a theory of theories or is it a theory outside all other theories (like metaphysics is outside physics)? Go to Google and type -- what is metatheory -- into the search box: I got 225,000 hits.

After reading the above, Peter posted this message: “(a) I have been speaking and writing re poison as reproducibility killer in CMNS- for years. And I have told that the "usual suspects" are the well known impurities due to air pollution i.e. nitrogen oxides, H2S, SO2, CO, COS and VOC (volatile organic compounds)- plenty of them everywhere. Poisoning can be acute i.e fast as for the Pd cathodes or chronic - the most spectacular storyy being that of the Patterson system - the beads have lost their ability to generate excess heat- rather slowly. But once they were dead, they remained so. Poisoning is, at least in part, reversible- laser irradiation can reactivate some sites on the cathode. Bacteria are are also plentiful; should they also be included in the list of poisons? Then Peter added: “(b) The best definition for a meta-theory is at < > “ I clicked this link and the following definition popped up: metatheory is “a theory devised to analyze theoretical systems.” That definition puts metatheories into the domain of philosophy. They are theories of theories, making sense of theories. They are not tools for making sense of experimental data.

Replying to Peter, Michel Jullian wrote: “Which makes me think, sorry if this has been discussed before, that the SPAWAR codeposition method could be used to bypass the cathode poisoning problem by regenerating the top cathode layer when needed: just pour some palladium salt into the electrolyte every time the effect seems to die, this will build a fresh palladium hydride layer on top of the dead one.” That is an interesting observation. Peter’s ad hok assumption about poisons will become testable, like other theories, after reproducible protocols are published. I do not think that he is offering a meta-theory. In replying to Michel he elaborated:

“The idea is good in principle, however unfortunately the liquid phase contains solved air, including the poisonous impurities. So the newly formed surfaces are poisoned at their birth, more or less (actually less, this is one of secrets of the superior results via codeposition. The same impurities are doing harm to chemical catalysts and it seems that our CMNS active sites are smaller and even more sensitive than the catalytic ones. In my 1992 paper -see I concluded that CF/CMNS is an extreme form of catalysis. Some polymerization processes are also very sensitive to impurities, e.g. 20 ppb (parts per billion sulfur) destroys a kind of acrylic polymer- you don't obtain a latex (milk like emulsion) but rather great beads. The solution of this problem is NOT to try to measure with great care and effort the impurity- a very difficult task; you add 0.5 grams copper salt to a 40 cubic meter vessel and this inactivates completely, kills the impurity. Probably in the case of CMNS a similar strategy could work:

1) the surface of the cathode has to be covered with a very thin, monomolecular layer of a substance permeable to hydrogen/deuterium but not to the impurities;

2) the liquid phase has to be cleaned, desaerated, some filters/chemical filters retaining them added to the cell .

You remember that Fleischmann and Pons have discovered that the boiling cells are working better than those at ambient temperature? Giving more excess heat? The complexity meta-theoiry does not explain this, but for the poisoning theory the effect is obvious- boiling cells contain less air, and less impurities, the cathodes are more active. Unfortunately, the poisoning metatheory is usually rejected ab ovo by our colleagues. I don't understand exactly why.”

Experiments designed to test Peter’s idea should be conducted after CMNS is transformed from protoscience to science. We are probably very close to this historic transformation now. Yes, I am assuming that the SPAWAR discovery is going to be confirmed in the TGP (the Galileo Project initiated by Steve Krivit)

The <> link was posted today on Phys-L, a list for physics teachers. It points to a piece written by Richard Faynman. In that piece, referring to a good theory, Faynman wrote:

“Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can - if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong - to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.”
I think it is good advice. A theory must predict at least one unknown fact in order to be testable. Addressing another issue Feynman wrote: “

“I would like to add something that's not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you're talking as a scientist. I am not trying to tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your girlfriend, or something like that, when you're not trying to be a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We'll leave those problems up to you and your rabbi. I'm talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you're maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

For example, I was a little surprised when I was talking to a friend who was going to go on the radio. He does work on cosmology and astronomy, and he wondered how he would explain what the applications of his work were. "Well," I said, "there aren't any." He said, "Yes, but then we won't get support for more research of this kind." I think that's kind of dishonest. If you're representing yourself as a scientist, then you should explain to the layman what you're doing - and if they don't support you under those circumstances, then that's their decision. “

And here is another wise observation, from the same source: “I was shocked to hear of an experiment being done at the big accelerator at the National Accelerator Laboratory, where a person used deuterium. In order to compare his heavy hydrogen results to what might happen with light hydrogen, he had to use data from someone else's experiment on light hydrogen, which was done on different apparatus. When asked why, he said it was because he couldn't get time on the program (because there's so little time and it's such expensive apparatus) to do the experiment with light hydrogen on this apparatus because there wouldn't be any new result. And so the men in charge of programs at NAL are so anxious for new results, in order to get more money to keep the thing going for public relations purposes, they are destroying - possibly - the value of the experiments themselves, which is the whole purpose of the thing. “

Appended on 2/3/07:

An interesting, but not recent, review of the cold fusion situation has been “advertised “ by one of the subscribers to an Internet list for CMNS researchers. The title of the 1999 article was: “Whatever happened to cold fusion,. It was published in PhysicsWeb.

The occasion was the 10th anniversary of Cold Fusion. The author, David Voss wrote that the main motivation was to generate unlimited amounts of energy. Some people, like Patterson and Case, did expect material rewards but I do not think that this applies to most CF researchers. The field is still very far away from practical applications; the main task is to convince ourselves that a chemical process can trigger a new nuclear process. Those who stubbornly continue to conduct CMNS experiments are most likely motivated by desire to discover, or to confirm, new phenomena. Applications and theories will develop naturally after scientific claims, such as transmutation of isotopes and excess heat, are finally recognized as valid. The person who dug the old article asked: “a number of criticisms are made of CF expts. How valid are they?” Here is how this was answered by an active CMNS researcher, Scott Little. First he quoted this paragraph:

"Sporadic reports have continued to trickle in from various small research efforts, but in each case the results have proved erratic or impossible for other groups to replicate. It appeared to be a classic case of what the Nobel chemist Irving Langmuir called "pathological science", in which the results are always near the limit of detectability and the proponents always have an ad hoc answer as to why."

Then he added: “In my experience and area of study, particularly for excess heat results, this is largely true. One would reasonably expect to see some increases in the amount of excess heat obtained from cold fusion experiments as the years go by. I believe the opposite is the case. People keep building better and better calorimeters and, in general, the magnitude of their excess heat results keep shrinking.

As to the ad hoc explanations, isn't that just what you would expect in a field where nobody really understands how the "reaction" works in the first place? Another criticism, not mentioned in the article, which I would level at CF expts is their tendency to believe that any anomalous "positive" result in their experiments is a sign of nuclear reactions. For example, if a complex calorimetry experiment is underway and the instrument shows a small excess heat of, say, 50 milliwatts (out of 15 watts total input), I know that some CF expts would say something like, " we're getting some excess heat". In my opinion, the reaction should be more like, "Hmmmm.....50 milliwatts is only 0.33% relative of my input power. Is my calorimeter that precise? This could easily be the result of a systematic can I check for that?”

The 20th anniversary of the 1989 announcement of Cold Fusion is not very far away. Will the field be recognized as truly scientific by the majority of mainstream scientists, and by scientific establishment? I think I will be in a much better position to answer this question by the end of this year. The ongoing investigations of the SPEWER discovery (emission of nuclear particles when an electrolytic cell is placed into a magnetic field) has been described in The New Energy Times. The answer will depend on the outcome of The Galileo Project, directed by Steven Krivit. Look for the upcoming issues of The New Energy Times, published every two months. That online magazine is already an important source of information about CMNS research.

The person who dug out the Voss’ article wrote that transmutation experiments seem to be less vulnerable to criticism than the excess heat data. What follows is the reply from Scott Little.

“At Earthtech we have expended some effort on the transmutation claims. We were one of the few participants in the RIFEX experiment promoted several years ago by CETI (Patterson et al). You should read the report(s) I wrote about this work to get some idea of the difficulties in confirming transmutation claims.

Executive summary: trace contaminants in the electrolyte could easily explain most of the elements claimed to be created in the cell.

And this report on the purported excess heat made by Patterson beads:

Executive summary: No excess heat was observed. Our detection limit was about 0.1 watts in this experiment.

[You wrote that methods of generating excess heat at much higher rates might have been developed but the inventors prefer to be quiet about this.] Indeed. Do you think a substantial cash prize, say $1,000,000 US dollars, would get such people to reveal their discoveries? Of course, I wouldn't expect them to give up their discoveries for a relatively small amount of money like that but what if we just asked for a simple demonstration of the excess heat effect and awarded the prize to the first group to succeed?”

Referring to the suggestion that effective excess heat devices might exist but information about them is hidden, Michel Julian asked: “But for how long? This argument couldn't hold indefinitely, not for 18 years anyway.” Then he added: “CF researchers could be (well, are) accused in earnest by honest skeptics (like we ourselves may be in other topics such as free energy, UFOs, your own mind-matter stuff, etc...), of being either frauds, or incompetent experimenters, or self deceived indefectible optimists, or face savers. In support of the last point: How could Mizuno's sudden disinterest for his 100W-in 130W-out GDPE experiments be explained logically, apart from ‘I was wrong but I won't admit it’ ?

It can't be denied that apart from a few rare exceptions we do not criticize/analyze/verify each other's work and claims as diligently as we should. This is IMHO what keeps the field in this state of suspended life. We need more people to take up Earthtech's generous offer of free expertise, and if they pass Scott's hawk's eye they can go and claim the Randi prize right away ;-)” Another researcher reminded the list that in some experiments (Swartz et al. and Dardik et al.) excess heat was large and exceeded the input energy by the factor of ten and more.

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