33) Julian Schwinger and cold fusion

Ludwik Kowalski (January 8, 2003)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ

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1) Let me insert the entire message e-mailed to me be Edmund Storms; I only quoted from it last night (see item 31). Referring to my inquiry into unjustified rejections of “cold fusion” papers Storms wrote:


A paper called “Whatever Happened to Cold Fusion” was submitted to the following journals as a proposed paper. The full text paper was offered if interest were expressed. No requests were made. Submission was done in series, with a new journal chosen after a rejection. During this process, the paper was completed and retitled “Cold Fusion: An Objective Assessment”. The purpose of this exercise was to discover whether a scholarly review of cold fusion could be published in a major scientific journal and the reasons why not if it were rejected. When objections were raised about the reasons for rejection, these were not answered by the rejecting editor.
Journal  Submitted   Rejected   Reasons
Phys Rev. B 6/10/01 7/11/01 Said the Phys. Rev.
does not publish reviews,
although this is not
true if the subject is
to their liking.
Rev. Modern Phys. 7/25/01 8/10/01 Editor rejected the paper
with the comment “Cold
fusion is a classic
example of pathological
science. I will certainly
not publish articles
supporting its disproven
Chem. Rev. 8/24/01 11/20/01 Three of four reviewers
rejected the paper because
they did not think cold
fusion is real and could
not trust me to be
unbiased in arguing this
J.Electroanal.Chem. 11/23/01 12/3/01 Editors did not think the
subject was appropriate
to the journal.
2) How would Richard Feynman react to the announcement of the so-called “cold fusion” if he did not die a year earlier? I suspect he would not reject an experimental discovery on the basis of the absence of a theoretical explanation. He would probably do the same things, more or less, as Julian Schwinger, his 1965 Nobel prize colaureate. Schwinger’s two addresses on the subject can be downloaded as pdf files from the library at:


In one of the addresses the great theoretician wrote: “It may not be too much of an exaggeration to say that, early in April, 1989, everyone – including those who, like myself, had to look up the meaning of enthalpy – had thrown together and electrolysis apparatus and was waiting for dividends. After a few weeks, with no reward, they quit in disgust, and denounced it all as incompetence, or fraud. Their votes are irrelevant.

Reproducibility is often cited as a canon of science. And so it is, in established areas. But, early in a study of a new phenomenon that involves an ill-understood macroscopic control of a microscopic mechanism, irreproducibility is not unknown. That was so at the onset of microchip studies. It also appeared in the initial phase of the discovery of high temperature superconductivity, which, by the way, is a prime example of “embracing the concept” without having “to understand the mechanism.”

After discussing objections raised against “cold fusion” Schwinger observed: “Imagine, then, a small but macroscopic piece of the lattice absorbs the excess energy of the HD or DD reaction. Please--I beg of you--do not rise in high dudgeon to protest that this is impossible because of the great disparity between atomic and nuclear energy scales. That is a primitive reaction to what may be a very sophisticated mechanism. And do not forget the failure of theory to predict, and then to account for the phenomenon of high temperature superconductivity. I advance the idea of the lattice playing a vital role as a hypothesis. Past experience dictates that I remind you that a hypothesis is not something to be proved mathematically. Rather, it is a basis for correlating data and for proposing new tests, which, by their success or failure, support or discredit the validity of the hypothesis. It is the essence of the scientific method. . . . The pressure for conformity is enormous. I have experienced it in editors’ rejection of submitted papers, based on venomous criticism of anonymous referees. The replacement of impartial reviewing by censorship will be the death of science.” Schwinger died in 1994.

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