Return to the clickable list of items

63) Jed Rothwell’s publication

Ludwik Kowalski (May 23, 2003)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043

1) Jed Rothwell is one of those who manage the list. Last night I sent him a message making the following suggestion: “. . . My sabbatical project devoted to cold fusion will culminate just before the beginning of the academic year. It will be my participation at the 10th ICCF. During that conference I would like to have a chance to meet and speak with major CF researchers. I also want to write an article about that conference. Perhaps it will be published somewhere; if not it will be shared as another item on my web site. With this in mind I would like to suggest that conference organizers collect statistical information about participants. How many of them (percentage) hold Ph.D. degrees in science and technology? How many . . . I think that information of this kind is worth collecting and sharing. It will show how cold fusion proponents differ from pseudo-scientists. The best way to collect such information, I think, is to prepare an anonymous form and to send it to each person who registers. . . .

Responding to the above Jed wrote: “There will be few people at the conference. Most researchers have retired and are too old or too poor to attend. How many of them (percentage) hold Ph.D. degrees in science and technology? 100%, I expect. I do not know any who do not have a Ph.D.. How many of them have published at least ten papers in their specialties? All of them, I expect. All the ones I know have. People like Bockris and Fleischmann literally wrote the book on the subject. I mean the authoritative textbooks. They are all senior people, because young people would never be allowed to do CF. How many were affiliated with national labs? Not so many. Storms, Miles, Srinivasan and a few others. Most are from universities. How many were university professors? Nearly all, including Miles, who also did a stint at China Lake. How many were research project directors? etc. etc. I wouldn't know. Fleischmann and Bockris were.

2) Jed also referred to a paper he presented at the 1999 conference, and modified this year. It can be seen at Let me comment on some points of that paper.

a) Problem of age: Jed wrote: [in the past] ”young scientists have made most new discoveries. . . . They have the instinct to explore, and strike out for new territory. This is considered the natural order of things, and perhaps it is, but it is also a cultural construct. Unfortunately, the culture of science has changed. We punish failure. Research is too formal. Fun in the laboratory is discouraged. Young people have grown up with this system and know no other. Nowadays, old scientists are in the vanguard. They have tenure. They came of age in a more dynamic, liberal era when mistakes and adventures were encouraged, and progress was in full flood. Young scientists are afraid to step out of line. Controversial research will jeopardize their careers. Too much scientific funding is controlled by policymakers in Washington and science journal editors who demand allegiance to established theory.”

It is true that exploring cold fusion is a risky business for a young scientists. Who wants to be branded a pseudo-scientist after investing several years in serious investigation of an abnormal phenomenon? Who wants to enter a field in which research grants are not available? Only people with tenure, or retired, can afford to be active in an officially condemned field. That is why another official evaluation of cold fusion is urgently needed.

b) Problem of demonstration device: Jed wrote: “[Eugene Mallove] and I tell scientists to put aside their theories, stop trying to improve their calorimeters, stop trying to improve reproducibility for the time being, and concentrate on a public demonstration instead. . . . Many scientists respond to our suggestions with hostility, because they do not understand our strategy. They think we are denigrating theory, and belittling the need for rigorous experiments and better calorimeters. We say first things first: get the funding, and then go back to your research. Many scientists dismiss this as grandstanding or a publicity stunt.”

I agree that it would be extremely useful if, instead of exploring many different aspects of cold fusion, the effort of many could be focused on one aspect, such as accumulation of tritium, or emission of totally unexpected alpha particles. A reliable working device demonstrating a single abnormality would convince skeptics that at least one claim of cold fusion researchers is real. Why is it that no such device has been produced in the thirteen years since the original announcement? Limited financial support in the US is only a small part of the answer, I think. Somebody will answer this question in the future.

My trip to Salt Lake City (see items 44 and 45 on this list) was triggered by a desire to produce such a demonstration, at least for physics teachers and students. Unfortunately, the attempt was not successful. At least one claim made under the cold fusion banner was shown (by the initial investigators themselves, with my participation) to be premature. This claim, as far as I know, did not undergo the scrutiny of the peer-review process. Would I be able to construct a device based on a claim made in a peer reviewed article? Which claim should have been chosen if chices were available? How many “failures to qualitatively confirm a claim” would be sufficient to discredit the entire field? Is it too late to ask such questions at the next cold fusion conference? It depends on how many active cold fusion researchers will participate. Not too many, according to Jed.

c) On cycles in support for science: Jed wrote: “generational role reversal is one reason we got into this mess. Another is that science happens to be at a low ebb. It is going through a conservative, uncreative phase in which theory overrules experiments, talented young people ignore science, and experts go around saying this is the twilight of the scientific age. I think science is cyclical, like the stock market. An upsurge begins when a dramatic improvement comes along. Success follows success; excitement causes more excitement. Society rewards the enterprise with bigger budgets, more money. Eventually the process gets out of hand. Too much success carries the seeds of future failure, breeding smug satisfaction, hubris, bloated budgets in science, and irrational exuberance in the stock market. Giant projects like the hot fusion program and the supercollider are botched; the public loses faith, budgets are cut, morale plunges. We reach a low ebb, a crisis. The crisis leads to self-examination, house cleaning, renewal and revitalization, and the cycle begins again.”

That is an interesting observation. But is it correct? In the last two hundred years scientific progress was gradual, not cyclical. It was nothing like stock market fluctuations which tend to repeat themselves every ten years or so. I am not aware of similar cycles in physics. But perhaps it has to do with the scale of operations in science; in the past experiments were much less expensive than they are now. How long will scientific progress cycles be? Jed ends on an optimistic note; he writes: “I hope we succeed in my lifetime. Regardless, I have faith that science will recover, and mankind’s adventures will begin anew.” What is the basis for such optimism? It seems that a generation of cold fusion pioneers is leaving the stage without producing natural successors. What could have been done in ten years may take a century to accomplish in the future. One good thing is that a large fraction of reports describing what has been done is gathered in one place -- the library at the site.

Return to the clickable list of items