36) Personal reflections of George Miley

Ludwik Kowalski (January 12, 2003)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043

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Those who are interested in sociology of cold fusion (ethical and political aspects), should definitely read the article of George Miley. That article deals with ethical issues associated with “cold fusion.” It can be downloaded (as a 10-pages long pdf file) from the library at this web site:


I met George at the recent International Conference on Emerging Nuclear Energy Systems (Albuquerque, 2002) where he presented a paper entitled: “Low Energy Reaction Cell for Portable Power.” Miley thinks that “Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) potentially offer a radical new approach that could provide portable power units in the 1-50 kW range.” He is a coauthor of the paper which I summarized in item #28. This paper, and earlier references found there, describe experiments demonstrating nuclear processes in cold fusion setups.

Section 1 of the article, entitled “Personal Reflection,” describes the early cold fusion meetings at which Miley participated; he was the editor of three scientific journals: Fusion Technology (FT), Laser and Particle Beams, and Journal of Plasma Physics. He wrote, for example,: “Then there was the famous NSF-EPRI meeting in Washington DC where the NSF ended up withdrawing ‘official’ sponsorship at the last moment due to the swing in opinion against CF. Despite this controversy, Edward Teller attended this meeting in a wheel chair (due to a recent operation) and provided a guiding example of an open scientific mind by freely entering the discussion.” Section 2, entitled “Publication Policies and Related Issues” deals with important issues facing editors of scientific journals.

In that section Miley wrote: “Soon scientific sentiment turned against CF, and editors of Nature and the APS Physics journals quickly took the stance that CF did not have a “scientific” base. Thus, they would not even send papers on the topic out for review, shutting the door for any CF papers in these key journals. Despite that example, I stuck with the original decision that papers passing review should appear in FT. As a result, by default, FT virtually “cornered” the market for CF papers! A backlash quickly followed, with “hot fusion” members of the FT editorial advisory board and some readers vocally questioning my decision. Some declared these papers would “destroy” the journal. At that time, I strongly reiterated (and continue to do so) that the purpose of a journal is to communicate basic science and technology so that papers which can pass review should be published as long as the topic is consistent with journal coverage. I emphasized that I did not feel that I had the right as editor to arbitrarily turn papers away because they were from a ‘questionable’ field. . . .

Another criticism of my editorial policy on CF has been that since I have done research on the topic, I must be biased in favor of it. It’s true that I have had papers in most ICCF meetings, starting from the original LANL meeting in Santa Fe. This criticism, in my view, amounts to a double standard. My initial selection as FT’s editor, and the other two journals, was based on my recognized research on fusion, lasers, and plasma physics. This track record was assumed to provide me with better insight into the technical content of the papers, and allow me to select top reviewers. In universities, teaching and research are well recognized as reinforcing each other. The same is certainly true for editing and research. Why wouldn’t the same be true for CF? Again, this ethical issue is left to the reader to consider, namely, do we want general managers as journal editors or, do we want experts from the field, despite possible conflicts of interest? In conclusion, the issue of whether my FT position, as opposed to Nature’s closed-door policy, is proper for a scientific journal must be left to the reader.”

The next three sections deal with the role of the Internet as a vehicle of scientific communication. Miley writes: “Clearly the web bulletin boards fill a very important role for rapid scientific exchanges. However, this is best used in a concurrent flow of papers through peer-reviewed journals. The review process is time consuming, but it serves to sort out and distill the fundamental results, providing for a more calmed deliberate interchange that ultimately enhances scientific progress in the field. The unfortunate refusal of editors to receive CF papers disrupted the normal system, and left the bulletin board crowd in charge. Without a counter-balance for peer review (except for FT which could not handle this volume and variety of topics involved), CF was left in a confused state. It is difficult, if not impossible, to sort through the bulletin board materials to focus on real issues. Now that bulletin boards of this type have spread widely, we can expect an even more explosive and disastrous episode if a situation like the CF news announcement occurs again. The best defense against reoccurrence of a CF-type episode in the future is for the major journals to assume their rightful role of an “open door” for papers passing peer review.”

Section 6, entitled Scientific Integrity and Openness,” is also very interesting. Integrity means honesty, openness means not hiding proprietary information before patenting and not having industrial secrets. The author writes: “Let us now turn to issues of scientific integrity. Integrity, in the sense of avoiding fraud, has been an all too frequent topic of discussion in the CF field. Some even accused Pons and Fleischmann of fraud, or of purposely misleading others trying to replicate their results. To my knowledge, there is absolutely no truth to these innuendoes. As Pons and Fleischmann stated early on, and history has verified, their experiments were not reproducible due to unidentified factors in the materials science of the electrodes. Generally, when an electrode “worked,” all from that batch of Pd did so, and conversely if it did not work, none did. (This problem is now generally thought to be associated with micro cracking that occurs in some electrode materials during the expansion and stresses caused by loading. Thus, in my own research I have tried to avoid this problem by the use of thin sputtered films for the electrodes. These films have more elasticity so that the tendency to crack during loading is reduced.) While Pons/Fleischmann explained this problem at various meetings, many refused to accept their explanation, claiming something was being withheld. As time passed, it became clear that Pons/Fleischmann had indeed provided all of the factual information known about the electrode problem. However, they were significantly hampered in “openness” in some aspects of the research by overzealous sponsors requesting tight reigns on intellectual property, a situation that remains all too common in the company-dominated field of CF.

Others have somehow tried to associate fraud with the initial introduction of CF via a public news announcement. That view is that the news announcement was purposely distorted for personal gain. To my knowledge, that is simply not true- The information provided was a factual presentation of the data as these researches saw it at the time. However, the news release approach is a most serious break from traditional behavior in any scientific field. In retrospect, it must be noted that the pressures on Pons/Fleischmann at that time were tremendous. Indeed, I would suspect that others who have been so vocally critical of them may have turned to this route if they were placed in a similar situation. Still, the disclosure of scientific results via new releases is certainly to be avoided if at all humanly possible. Such actions are certain to create a “backlash” in the community that interferes with (or may even stop) the scientific search for truth. Everything from the scientific community’s evaluation of the basic science to funding for the field can become grossly distorted by the emotions set in force. Indeed, in the case of CF, the resulting “backlash” soon isolated the field from the mainstream scientific community.”

In the last section, entitled “Conclusion” Milye wrote: “With the growing pressures on researchers in modern society, we must work hard to preserve an atmosphere where the primary objective is to “seek the truth”. Clearly, the turmoil and divisions in the CF area created by persons both within and without the field confused and retarded this search for truth. With human nature being as it is, it is hard to believe that we can prevent a repeat of the CF episode in future areas where high stakes of money and prestige are involved. The education of upcoming scientists, journalists, research managers, etc. in scientific ethics is the best defense. Indeed, my only formal training in the area was a one-hour course on “professional ethics” required of all science/engineering students when I was a senior in college. “

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