Voices from our Cold Fusion Forum
Ludwik Kowalski, Ph.D. (see Wikipedia)
Professor Emeritus at Montclair State UNiversity, USA
Motivation for writing this essay came from statements made by subscribers to an Internet forum for Cold Fusion (CF) researchers. Most of them are formally-educated scientists; some of them are self-educated laymen. The true names are not shown, in order to preserve anonymity.
The term cold fusion (CF) is generic; it refers to any kind of a nuclear reaction resulting from a chemical process, at an ordinary temperature. Those who study CF believe that large amounts of thermal energy will sooner or later become available, for practical non-military applications.
The CF area, also known as Condensed Matter Nuclear Sciense (CMNS) and Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR), is highly controversial. Faced with climate change and pollution, societies need new sources of abundant clean energy, but neither their scientific leaders, whose obligation is to use tax money wisely, nor their scientific establishments, support research in the CF area. This neglected area of research, according to some experts, can lead to development of new inexpensive sources of safe nuclear energy. The probability of this is low but not negligible.
At the end of April 2016 several people on this CMNS list, to which I belong, suggested that the next Cold Fusion conference should be dedicated to theoretical topics only. Agreeing with these suggestions, on 4/30/2016, X1 wrote: “I would insist on one requirement. No math above algebra would be permitted. The theory must be described using simple logic applied to what has been observed. ... “ Criticizing this, suggestion, X2 wrote: "such [a requirement] is a recipe for failure.”
I agree that the level of theoretical sophistication should be determined by authors of presentations, not by conference organizers. Likewise, I am against the idea of having a conference devoted to theoretical topics only. In my post, addressing this issue, I wrote: "A CF conference would automatically focus on the CMNS theory after at least one set of our experimental data is offered as convincing, quantitative, and universally reproducible by nuclear scientists, for example at the level of +/- 30%.” Unfortunately, no one has offered a protocol for generation of such data..
Responding to me, X2 wrote: “Another recipe for failure!" Responding to him at once, I asked: " Why do you think that having 'at least one reproducible experimental
result,' as described above, would be a 'recipe for failure'? Is it not true that, in the fInal analysis, theoretical claims are either accepted or rejected on the basis of experimental data?" Then I added: "What is your interpretation of the often-repeated statement--theories guide but experiments decide"?
On May 1, 2016, X4 wrote: “Ludwik, X2 did not say this or anything like it. The recipe for failure (or at least delay) is for experiment to ignore theory (and theory to ignore experiment). The two go hand-in-hand according to scientific method. To delay discussion of theory until an experiment was 'universally reproducible by nuclear scientists' would impose intolerable delay, possible indefinite given your selected judges. We will far more easily arrive at that goal with help from our theory brothers and sisters. The purpose of this thread is to determine the best means to make this work in our small community.”
X4's first sentence above is incorrect. The short phrase--another recipe for failure--was not invented by me. But X4 is correct in saying that both theoretical and experimental topics are important. How can a scientist disagree?
Today is May 5, 2016. My questions to X2 remain unanswered. How can this be explained? This prestigious physicist is probably too busy with other things. But the debate about the kind of conference CF needs continues, under the thread "CMNS: Ruby's Proposal." Responding to Ruby Carat, I wrote: "Thank you for the interesting contribution. Your thought-provoking post made me think that all CF topics, theoretical and experimental, should be discussed at regular mainstream conferences, not at conferences devoted solely to CF topics. Existence of separate CF conferences created unnecessary and very harmful divisions.
We are first scientists and then specialists (in different areas, such as nuclear physics, chemistry, metallurgy, mass spectrometry, electromagnetism, QM. etc.) Our peer review journal, JCMNS, is probably not different from similar journals for other specialists. Each of us probably knows which mainstream conference would be the most suitable for his or her topic."
Yes, I know that editors of Nature, and similar journals, have routinely reject the so-called "pseudo-scientific" manuscripts. But that does not mean that CF researchers should stop submitting and sharing the letters of rejection with us. And who knows, perhaps the situation is no longer as bad as it was in the past.
Replying to this, X5 wrote: "This is a waste of time & effort. Submitting a paper is a lot of work. Any paper will be rejected without review. The rejection will be a 1-paragraph form letter. ... I have some contact with those journals. I know what they think, and what they say. They agree with Robert Park that cold fusion is junk science, lunacy, and criminal fraud. Their views have not changed one iota since 1989. Unfortunately, Defkalion and Rossi have strengthened their case."
Responding to X5' s post, I wrote: "Rejections of CF-related manuscripts by editors of peer review journals have been reported here in the past. But I am not aware of a single case of a conference-participation refusal encountered by a CF researcher. Please provide an example of such a closed-door policy, if you can."
No one replied to the above paragraph, posted several days ago. The tentative conclusion is simple; organizers of mainstream scientific conferences do not discriminate against CF researchers as often as editors of scientific journals do. Another tentative conclusion is that attempts to participate at mainstream conferences are very rare among CF researchers. How can such self-exclusion be explained?
Referring to the uniqueness of CF, X1, the author of recently published books about CF (available at a amazon.com ), wrote: "LENR is different from normal fields of science because the effect can not be initiated at will and at an unambiguous level [of intensity]. The result is always in some doubt. So, some caution is required and expected, but not outright rejection of the obvious. ... Even what is known is not acknowledged. I find that people will make statements that are in direct conflict with what has been observed and published. I can understand the problem because this field has grown too large for a person to master by casual study, especially when they do not bother to read my books and reviews. ... Facts and logic do not work in this field."
Such a statement, made by a veteran CF researcher, is shocking. He is admitting that, unlike in most other areas of science, experimental data in the LENR field are not yet reproducible, even when experiments are performed by recognized Ph.D. level experts, such as himself. Most CF experts I know are well aware of this kind of uniqueness. Mother Nature keeps the CF secrets much better than she has kept secrets in other fields such as magnetism, biology, etc.
Does it mean that the CF field is pseudo-scientific? Some scientists say yes, other scientists say no. The ongoing feud among them is unprecedented. Most CF believers, including myself, think that conducting CF research is economically justified, despite the unexpected difficulties. The cost of CF research is likely to be negligible in comparison with expected benefits,
One thing is undeniable; the world is still waiting for the first reproducible-on-demand demonstration of nuclear-generated heat resulting from a chemical process. No progress is possible when reported experimental data are not published and not independently tested in other laboratories.
Considering potential CF benefits, and relatively low costs of research in this area, the DOE (US Department of Energy) should have helped to resolve the controversy, one way or another, in a well-equipped national laboratory. The "no" answer is as important as the "yes " answer, in my opinion. Why is CF research allowed to stagnate, by those who are responsible for effective use of tax money? This science-and-society question is worth thinking about.
On May 3,2016, X6 wrote: "A theory is pretty much a product of the human imagination, so there is no way of knowing which theory is correct except by testing predictions and seeing how well the theory fits the data. Any theory can be disproved at any time, no matter how well established it is, whereas (at least in principle) a replicated experiment is never shown wrong.
I like the idea that experiment and theory go hand in hand, a sort of virtuous circle. Experimental results suggest theories. And theory makes predictions that experiments should justify.
But something has gone wrong [in our CF field], pathologically wrong. After more than a quarter of a century experimentalists seem to be obsessed with excess heat, proving F & P [were ] right and not answering scientific questions at all. Conversely theoreticians very rarely spell out how their models should be tested - presumably for fear that they may be proved wrong. I would love to organize a workshop on the lines that Ruby suggests. But I'm not certain, given the pathology stated above, that the result would be so constructive.
At the 11th 'Anomalies' Workshop in Toulouse last October, I made a short speech noting that none of the theoretical presentations had actually defined any precise nuclear reactions nor made any suggestions to test their theories. Of course I don't want to tar all theoreticians with the same brush, ... Jed, you have suggested, and I think quite rightly, that many different theories can be helpful. So maybe we can find some common predictions of different theories? Instead of testing just one theory at a time, we could save resources and test multiple theories? For example Widom / Larsen, Godes, Fisher, Bazhutov all predict radioactive products as a result of neutron addition to natural isotopes. (Maybe others too?)
That being the case can we devise an experiment to test this? Well of course we can! If we can make the predicted radioactive products we can establish beyond doubt that there is a nuclear phenomenon. It may not be the main reaction, that doesn't matter. The important thing is that radioactivity is a far more sensitive probe than excess heat. ... "
Responding to the above, X7 wrote: "You commented that you had 'made a short speech noting that none of the theoretical presentations had actually defined any precise nuclear reactions nor made any suggestions to test their theories.'
Perhaps not at the Workshop, however, I have made predictions in a couple of my papers and in this forum, based on the proposed femto-H atom model, that suggest radioactivity only on startup of the CF reactions and how it is suppressed later. After the initial activation of the few transmutation products that are not brought to ground-state by the deep-orbit electron(s), the high flux of femto-atoms is sufficient to combine with and 'drain' the excess energy in relatively long-lived (multi-ps) radionuclides, created by the CF process. ... The deep-orbit electrons provide a 'fast' pathway between the excited nucleons and the lattice that dissipates the excess energy before the nuclides can gamma decay. ...
I believed that the 'weakness' in my model (and the reason for its not being accepted) was the negative papers, for over 50 year, denying the possibility of the deep-orbit electrons. Jean-Luc and I have spent over a year rigorously eliminating the objections to the deep-orbit solutions of the relativistic Klein-Gordon and Dirac equations (foundational to the acceptance of QM in predicting the accepted atomic-electron levels)."
Let me finish this essay by showing two very recent posts. Responding to one of the messages posted by X1 (who is a CF specialist), X2 (who is QM specialist), wrote: "You don't seem to understand that QM is thermodynamics. X1 also doesn't seem to understand that the chemical bond is explained in detail by QM, 'chemistry is QM'. But the maths of QM can also explain (and calculate in detail) all sorts of things that can't be properly accounted for without maths, e.g. superconductivity, the band structure of semiconductors ... ."
More generally, I perceive a strong tendency here to downplay the importance of theory in these discussions. Let me remind people that there are many situations where theory has been in advance of experiment, predictions being made in advance of any indication of the predicted phenomenon from experiment. (e.g. gravational red-shift, tunnelling supercurrents). Also, a mathematical analysis may be able to show that some handwaving proposals can't do the job so can be dismissed."
Responding to the above, X1 wrote: "Yes, I know this ability is claimed, but in the real world, other tools are used more effectively. In the case of LENR, QM has yet to reveal anything of value. I prefer to use the tools that get the job done rather than what is claimed to do the job. I agree, theory is essential to effective experimental design and effective interpretation of what is observed. Normally, math can make no such analysis because the math is always modified to fit the behavior generally by the choice of the many possible variables. Perhaps in the ideal world of physics, math might produce a proof. But in the complex work of chemistry and materials science, I see math being used to expand what is alway known and expected. I see math being used in conflict with what is known and with the second law, such as in the W-L theory. If the math actually revealed anything of value about LENR, I would have a different opinion. In fact, I want QM to be used more effectively rather than as a fig leaf for imagined behaviors."
Let me add one more statement. Responding to X1, X7 wrote: " You state: 'In the case of LENR, QM has yet to reveal anything of value.' That is because you discount any model but your own, particularly one based on mathematics."