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394) Philosophical Aspects of Cold Fusion Controversy

Ludwik Kowalski (see Wikipedia)
Professor Emeritus
Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ, USA
March 7, 2012

The field of Cold Fusion (CF), now called Condensed Matter Nuclear Science (CMNS), remains controversial. The original 1989 claim made by M. Fleischmann and S. Pons (F&P) was that a chemical process in an electrolytic cell could initiate a nuclear reaction-fusion of two deuterium nuclei. This conflicted with known behavior of such nuclei. In the US, CMNS claims were evaluated by the Department of Energy (DOE), in 1989 and 2004, as summarized in this article. The controversial F&P claim, and the DOE investigation of it, are examined in the context of scientific methodology of validation of claims, both empirical and theoretical. Neither F&P nor the DOE followed the expected methodology.

1. Introduction
The philosophy of science is concerned with the assumptions and methods of scientific explorations. One of these assumptions is that activities of scientists are properly described by Merton's CUDOS norms: Communalism (discoveries are not private); Universalism (of the scientific methodology of validation of claims); Disinterestedness (of scientists motivated by love of truth); Originality (search for new data and explanations); and Scrutiny (checking and double-checking of claims). The purpose of this essay is to address these norms in the context of the still ongoing Cold Fusion controversy. That controvesy--started in 1989 (1,2,3,4,5,6)--divided physical scientists into two feuding camps (7,8,9,10).

Scientific methodology refers to the set of norms developed to deal with difficulties, especially with mistakes and controversies. Most scientific mistakes are recognized when new results are discussed with colleagues, or via the peer review process. Occasional errors in published papers are subsequently discovered during replications conducted by other researchers. Scientific results, if valid, wrote Huizenga (5), must be reproducible on demand. “When errors are discovered, acknowledged and corrected, the scientific process moves quickly back on track, usually without either notice or comment in the public press.” The scientific process, in other words, is expected to be self-corrective.

The purpose of this presentation is to analyze the ongoing CF controversy, an example of a situation in which self-correction has not worked for 23 years. Why is it so? The author of this article, and three other researchers, tried to verify one recent CF claim-emission of alpha particles during electrolysis. The results were negative, as described in (11). The most recent CF claim was made by an Italian engineer, Andrea Rossi (12), the inventor of a new kind of nuclear reactor. That claim cannot be independently verified because of imposed secrecy. Rossi's appeal to believe in the efficiency of his "secret catalyst" is not consistent with the methodology of validation practiced by scientists and engineers. His claim may or may not be valid. But there is not a good reason for accepting it as truthful. Secrecy is certainly not consistent with the "scrutiny norm" of CUDOS.

2. In Science Theories Guide But Data Decide.
Why is the CMNS controversy started in 1989 unresolved? Because CF claims are still not reproducible on demand, and because they conflict with accepted theories. A theory, in this context, is a logical/mathematical structure that agrees with a wide range of already verified experimental data. Empirical scientists know the rule-theories guide but experiments decide. But they are very reluctant to abandon accepted theories. To be reluctant means to insist on additional verifications of new experimental results. A recent claim that neutrinos travel faster than light, for example, was received with great skepticism; it has already been shown to be due to an experimental error.

Referring to such situations, Huizenga wrote: “There are occasionally surprises in science and one must be prepared for them.” Theories are not carved in stone; scientists do not hesitate to modify or reject theories when necessary. Rejecting a highly reproducible experimental result “on theoretical grounds” would not be consistent with scientific methodology. Unlike mathematics (and other formal sciences), empirical science is based, in the final analysis, on experimental data, not on logical proofs. In that sense methods of validation of claims in physical and social sciences are similar. Scientific theories are models of objective reality; they are changed, or modified, when new facts are discovered.

Mathematics, on the other hand, is more like theology than like empirical science. A mathematical truth, called a theorem, is based on initial undeniable assumptions (axioms), and on logical reasoning based on them. The only way to refute a theorem is to find a logical error in its derivation. In that sense mathematical or theological truth is said to be eternal; it is not refutable by experimental data. One similarity between theology and mathematics, however, should not prevent us from seeing important differences; one of them has to do with disagreements about axioms. Such disagreements among theologians are frequent; disagreements among mathematicans are rare.

3. Scientific Claims: Data And Explanations.
Basic principles of scientific methodology of validation of claims are usually known. Less widely known are differences between validation of facts and validation of scientific theories. A typical process of acceptance of a fact is schematically illustrated in Figure 1 below. A preliminary experimental result is presented to a scientific community. This often leads to attempts to either confirm or refute what is presented. Results are accepted when they become reproducible on demand. Absence of such reproducibility puts data into the domain of protoscience, which may or may not become science.

More important claims call for greater scrutiny, against possible errors and possible fraud. Fraudulent data have recently been discovered in applied sciences, for example about efficiency of certain drugs or medical treatments. Such episodes are not consistent with CUDOS rules. How can they be explained? Complexity of research and its fragmentation--large teams working on small parts of projects and not communicating with each other--is probably an important factor. Such situations are more common today than when CUDOS norms were formulated.

Figure 1

Figure 2

The "love of truth," a component of CUDOS, refers to the pleasure scientists derive from discovering facts and explanations. To explain something usually means to identify causes, and to construct logically satisfying models of reality. The process of acceptance of an explanation, schematically illustrated in Figure 2, is often the continuation of the process diagramed in Figure 1. An attempt to explain one fact, or to resolve an apparent logical conflict, often leads to discoveries of other facts.

A classical example of this was the "theoretical prediction" of the existence of planet Neptune, in 1846. A more recent, and less widely known example, was the discovery of a subatomic particle named neutrino. Experimental data, collected in 1920's showed that most beta rays (electrons emitted in beta decay) had energy lower than expected on the basis of the E=mc2 formula. Austrian theoretical physicist W. Pauli solved this "logical inconsistency" by suggesting that tiny neutral particles, later named neutrinos, are responsible for the missing energy. His hypothesis was formulated in 1933. Experiments designed to confirm reality of neutrinos turned out to be successful, 23 years later. They were performed by American experimental physicists, C. Cowan and F. Reines.

4. The original mistake of Fleischmann and Pons
The strategic mistake made by F&P was an attempt to interpret experimental data before their results were recognized as reproducible (see Figure 1). Trying to establish priority, under pressure from Utah University, the scientists announced their results at a sensational press conference (March 23, 1989). At the same time they claimed that the reported amount of excessive heat was due to fusion of deuterium nuclei -ionized hydrogen atoms introduced into palladium.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . Martin Fleischmann, on the right, with the author of this article (2003)

It is well known that two hydrogen nuclei can fuse, releasing energy. But this happens only at extremely high temperatures. At ordinary temperatures the probability of the reaction is practically zero, due to the well-known coulomb repulsion of positive nuclei. F&P had no evidence that the excessive heat was due to a nuclear reaction. They wanted to study the CF phenomenon for another year or so but were forced to announce the discovery by the university administrators (13). The only thing they knew was that the excessive heat could not be attributed to a chemical reaction.

Suppose their experimental results had been described without any interpretation, and the phenomenon had been named “anomalous electrolysis.” Such a report would not have led to a sensational press conference; it would have been made in the form of an ordinary peer review publication. Only electrochemists would have been aware of the claim; they would have tried to either confirm or refute it. The issue of “how to explain the heat” would have been addressed later, if the reported phenomenon were independently confirmed.

But that is not what happened. Instead of focusing on experimental data (in the area in which F&P were recognized authorities) most critics focused on the disagreements with the reliable hot fusion theory. Interpretational mistakes were quickly recognized and this contributed to the skepticism toward their experimental data. Jumping from the process described in Figure 1 to the process described in Figure 2, was premature.

5. First Investigation Of CF By The US Government
The significance of CF, if real, was immediately recognized. Some believed that ongoing research on high-temperature fusion, costing billions of dollars, should be stopped to promote research on CF. Others concluded, also prematurely, that such a move would be opposed by “vested interests” of mainstream scientists. Responding to such considerations, the US government quickly ordered a formal investigation. A panel of scientists, named ERAB (Energy Research Advisory Board), and headed by John Huizenga, was formed to investigate CF in 1989. The final report, submitted to the DOE several months later, interfered with the normal development of the field.

It should be noted that ERAB scientists investigating the CF claims were not personally involved in replications of experiments. Conclusions and recommendations from their report (14), based on visits to several laboratories rather than participation in experiments, are summarized in the Appendix. Only one of their conclusions (item 2 in the Appendix) refers to CF experiments. Conclusion 4 was about anticipated practical uses of CF while the remaining four conclusions (1, 3, 5, and 6) were about various aspects of the suggested interpretation of experimental results. Instead of focusing on reality of excess heat critics focused on the fact that the hypothesis was not consistent with what was known about hot nuclear fusion.

The same observation can be made about the ERAB recommendations. Only one of them (item 9) refers to possible errors in experiments. Items 7 and 8 refer to future funding while items 10, 11, and 12 refer to what was expected on the basis of the suggested hot-fusion interpretation. It is clear that the ERAB observations were based mostly on ”theoretical grounds,” and not on identified errors in experimental data. Recommendations about future financial support for CF were very important. But the DOE ignored them. Support for CF research practically stopped in 1989.

Another result of the first DOE investigation was that editors of some scientific journals started rejecting manuscripts writen by CF scientists, bypassing the peer review (25). They also started to impede communication between nuclear scientists. Sixty letters to the editor of Physics Today--related to the second DOE investigation--were received, according to (26), but not a single one was published. Editorial discrimination directed against a targeted group of nuclear science experts is certainly not consistent with CUDOS norms. How can it be explained? Why was the scientific methodology of validation of claims-theories guide but experiments decide - not followed by the DOE-appointed scientists? Why did “rejections on theoretical grounds” prevail?

6) Second Investigation Of CF By The US Government
The second DOE investigation of CF was announced in March 2004, nearly 15 years after the first one. Links to three online documents related to that investigation - Conference Agenda, Meeting Agenda, and DOE CF Report - can be found in (15). The six most important scientific questions, based on new experimental claims, were:

(a) Is it true that unexpected protons, tritons, and alpha particles are emitted (9, 16) in some CF experiments?
(b) Is it true that generation of heat, in some CF experiments is linearly correlated with the accumulation of 4He
. . . and that the rate of generation of excess heat is close to the expected value of the 24 MeV per atom of 4He (9, 17)?
(c) Is it true that highly unusual isotopic ratios (9, 18) have been observed among the reaction products?
(d) Is it true that radioactive isotopes (9, 19) have been found among reaction products?
(e) Is it true that transmutation of elements (20, 21) has occurred?
(f) Are the ways of validating of claims made by CF researchers [see conference reports presented at (16, 17,18)]
. . . consistent with accepted methodologies in other areas of science?

A positive answer to even one of these questions would be sufficient to justify an official declaration that cold fusion, in light of recent data, should be treated as a legitimate area of research. But only the (b) question was addressed by the selected referees. They were asked to review the available evidence of correlation between the reported excess heat and production of fusion products. One third of these referees stated that the evidence for such correlation was conclusive. That was not sufficient; the attitude of the scientific establishment toward cold fusion research did not change.

7) Conclusion
Long-lasting controversies about scientific discoveries are widely known. Let me mention "Alfred Wegener, whose hypothesis was rejected by the 'cognoscenti' for half a century, but which now represents the basis, not simply for a theory, but also for a true paradigm shift in science - plate tectonics." I am quoting from a comment made by a university colleague, Dr. J.C. Delany. The CF controversy seems to be different in terms of its intensity and caliber of adversaries on both sides of the divide. Huizenga and Fleischmann were indisputable leaders in nuclear science and electrochemistry. Most CMNS researchers are also Ph.D. level scientists. The same is true for those scientists who believe that the announced discovery of CF was a “scientific fiasco”.

Why was so little accomplished to solve the CF controversy during more than two decades? Because CUDOS, and other rules of scientific methodology, were not followed. Scientists are only human; competition among them, as among other groups of people, tends to produce not only positive but also negative influences. Cold fusion will be viewed as an interesting episode in the history of science, regardless of verdicts about validity of numerous CMNS claims. More specifically, the long-lasting CF episode will be remembered as a social situation in which the self-correcting process of scientific development was not allowed to flourish. To what extent was this due to extreme difficulties in making progress in the new area (without financial support from the DOE, NSF, etc.), rather than to negative effects of competition, greed, jealousy, and other "human nature" factors? Such unanswered questions are worth addressing in the context of philosophical debates about science and society.

8) Appendix: The 1989 US Government Investigation of CF
As stated in Section 4, the first investigation of the CMNS field took place in 1989. The final report, submitted to the DOE several months later, interfered with the normal development of the field. It should be noted that ERAB scientists investigating the CF claims were not personally involved in replications of experiments. Their report (14), based on visits to several laboratories rather than participation in experiments, can be summarized by the following statements:

1. There is no evidence that a nuclear process is responsible for excess heat.
2. Lack of experimental reproducibility remains a serious concern.
3. Theoretically predicted fusion products were not found in expected quantities.
4. There is no evidence that CF can be used to produce useful energy.
5. The CF interpretation is not consistent with what is known about hydrogen in metals.
6. The CF interpretation is not consistent with what is known about nuclear phenomena.

7. We recommend against any extraordinary funding.
8. We recommend modest support for more experiments.
9. We recommend focusing on excess heat and possible errors.
10. We recommend focusing on correlations between fusion products and excess heat.
11. We recommend focusing on the theoretically predicted tritium in electrolytic cells.
12. We recommend focusing on theoretically predicted neutrons.

1) M. Fleischmann, B.S.Pons and M. Hawkins, J. Electroanal. Chem., 261, 301, 1989.
2) F.D. Peat, "Cold Fusion", Contemporary Books, Chicago, 1989.
3) E.F. Mallove, "Fire from Ice: Searching for Truth Behind the Cold Fusion Furror," John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1991.
4) F. Close, "Too Hot to Handle: the Race for Cold Fusion," Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1991
5) J.R. Huizenga, "Cold Fusion: The Scientific Fiasco of the Century,"Oxford University Press, 2nd edittion, Oxford, 1993.
6) G. Taubes, "Bad A Science: the Short Life and Weird Times of Cold Fusion," Random House, New Park, 1993.
7) Robert L. Park, " Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud," Oxford University Press, USA (November 15, 2001)
8) Jed Rothwell, "Cold Fusion and the Future;” 2004; Amazon Kindle Book; also online, at
9) E. Storms, “The Science of Low Energy Nuclear Reaction: A Comprehensive Compilation of Evidence and Explanations About Cold Fusion,
” World Scientific, 2007 (see
10) L. Kowalski, " Cold Fusion: Reality or Fiction," Progress in Physics, April 2012, p 33-35. Also available online.
11) Driscoll J. et al. Issues Related to Reproducibility in a CMNS Experiment. Journal of Condensed Matter Nuclear Science, 2011, v. 5, 34-41.
12) L. Kowalski, "Rossi's Reactors - Reality or Fiction?" Progress in Physics, 2012, v. 1, 33-35.
13) Fleischmann M. Private conversation in 2003, after his presentation: “Background to Cold Fusion: The Genesis of a Concept” in: roceedings of the 10th Intercantionl Conference on Cold Fusion, World Scientific, 2006. Also see H. Lietz and S. Krivit at:
14. ERAB, “Report of the cold fusion panel to the Energy Research Advisory Board”, Department of Energy, DOE/S-0073: Washington, DC, 1989.
15. Krivit S. Special online collection, “2004 DOE Review of Cold Fusion” in:
16. Mosier-Boss P.A. et al. Use of CR-39 in Pd/D Codeposition Experiments: A Response to Kowalski. European Physical Journal - Applied Physics, 2008, v. 41, 291-295.
17. Hagelstein P.L. et al. New Physical Effects in Metal Deuterides. In: Eleventh International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science, 2004, Marseille, France.
18. Urutskoev L.I. et al. Observation of transformation of chemical elements during an electric discharge. Annales de la Fondation Louis de Broglie, 2002, v. 27, 701.
19. Karabut A.B. et al. "Nuclear product ratio for glow discharge in deuterium." Physics Letters A, 1992, v. 170, 265.
20. Mizuno T. Nuclear Transmutation: The Reality of Cold Fusion. Infinite Energy Press, 1998.
21. Iwamura Y. et al. Elemental Analysis of Pd Complexes: Effects of 2D gas permeation. Japanease Journal of Applied Physics, 2002, v. 41, 4642-4648.
22. International Conference on Cold Fusion, Cambridge, MA, USA, 2003, (published by World Scientific Co. Pte. Ltd.).
23. Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Cold Fusion, Marseilles, France, 2004, (published by World Scientific Co. Pte. Ltd.).
24. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Cold Fusion, Yokohama, Japan, 2005, (published by World Scientific Co. Pte. Ltd.).
25. Kowalski L.,"History Of Attempts To Publish A Paprer," 6/29/2004
26. Kowalski L. "Another Rejection By Physics Today," 7/31/2005 at:

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