Pharyngula

This day in history

This is Easter, the day Christians everywhere set aside to celebrate the day they were hoaxed by a gang of Middle Eastern charlatans into believing a local mystic rose from the dead. Zeno finds that this year it’s also a day to remember another flop: the cold fusion debacle.

It’s been 19 years since Pons and Fleischmann announced their purported discovery of a mechanism for generating energy from a room-temperature fusion cell. Unlike the resurrection, I was actually there for that one. I was a post-doc at the University of Utah at that time, in the building right next door to where Pons and Fleischmann worked, and I attended the various events associated with the “discovery”.

Even then, there was reason to doubt: I remember being mystified that they’d chosen to announce it via press release rather than a scientific publication (a strategy that you’ll notice the Discovery Institute has expanded upon), and when I attended Pons lecture on the phenomenon, I was bothered by the lack of mechanism and the uncontrollable variability in the experiments — it was basically a laundry list of experiments done, some of which did nothing, some that got a trickle of excess energy output, and others that exploded. It was exciting and interesting, and we all hoped that this was real, but it wasn’t science yet.

And it still isn’t. I guess some people are still puttering away at it, but it’s still an inconsistent phenomenological collection of anecdotes.

If only Pons and Fleischmann had thought to make a religion of it, that wouldn’t be a problem.

Comments

  1. #1 inkadu
    March 23, 2008

    Heretic! Why do you hate cheap and safe energy??

  2. #2 BadMA
    March 23, 2008

    I guess some people are still puttering away at it, but it’s still an inconsistent phenomenological collection of anecdotes.

    Have there ever been any serious scientific papers released?

  3. #3 Michelle
    March 23, 2008

    Easter? I’m sorry, I celebrate Chocolate Day, also known as Cadbury Creme Eggs Day, not Easter.

    CHOCOLATE FOR EVERYONE!

    I think Chocolate is the best source of energy in the world.

  4. #4 Paul
    March 23, 2008

    And I suppose at some point, the “discovery” went through a bit of critical analysis and perhaps the scientists involved asked themselves, “what if we are wrong” after hearing criticism from peers- unlike Kreationism, or Christianity for that matter.

    The Apostle Paul

  5. #5 J
    March 23, 2008

    Why are you trying to suppress their academic freedom, like the rest of Big Science? Someone call Ben Stein!

  6. #7 SLC
    March 23, 2008

    The cold fusion enthusiastics still have Nobel Prize winning physicist Brian Josephson pulling for them.

  7. #8 Romeo Vitelli
    March 23, 2008

    Terry Pratchett has a perfect explanation for the cold fusion results: the universe depends on many experiments never being tried at all. The reason there are so many irreproducable experiments is because the universe shamefacedly alters the laws of physics to make them impossible after being caught off guard. It just took a little longer for cold fusion.

  8. #9 SLC
    March 23, 2008

    The cold fusion enthusiastics still have Nobel Prize winning physicist Brian Josephson pulling for them.

  9. #10 Romeo Vitelli
    March 23, 2008

    Terry Pratchett has a perfect explanation for the cold fusion results: the universe depends on many experiments never being tried at all. The reason there are so many irreproducable experiments is because the universe shamefacedly alters the laws of physics to make them impossible after being caught off guard. It just took a little longer for cold fusion.

  10. #11 raven
    March 23, 2008

    There is a large group of people, the Infinite Energy crowd that is convinced cold fusion is all but done. When Chinese made knockoffs are available at Walmart, then we will know for sure.

    There is an alternative fusion concept called Inertial Electrostatic Confinement that does work in the sense that it actually fuses nuclei and produces the predicted neutrons. Not at breakeven yet and only a plasma physicist could say if they ever will get there.

    Polywell
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The Polywell is a plasma confinement concept that combines elements of inertial electrostatic confinement and magnetic confinement fusion, intended ultimately to produce fusion power. The geometry is a polyhedral configuration of electromagnets, within which the magnetic fields confine a cloud of electrons. The “quasi-spherical” negative electric potential well created by the electrons is in turn used to accelerate and confine ions, which will then undergo nuclear fusion. It was developed by Robert Bussard under a US Navy research contract as an improvement of the Farnsworth-Hirsch fusor.

  11. #12 G. Tingey
    March 23, 2008

    Robert Bussard – as in “Bussard ramjet”?

  12. #13 Cat Faber
    March 23, 2008

    I remember being mystified that they’d chosen to announce it via press release rather than a scientific publication

    Cool! I was a grad student at UofU then, and attended the first presentation too.

    I had a friend who was a grad student in the Chemistry Department, and she told me that Pons and Fleichmann didn’t want a press release before publication but apparently one of the University publicity people insisted. This is all second-hand, though, so I don’t know for sure she was right.

  13. #14 Adrian
    March 23, 2008

    A very happy Zombie Jesus Day from me to everyone :)

  14. #15 raven
    March 23, 2008

    Robert Bussard – as in “Bussard ramjet”?

    Sure. How many Bussards are there in plasma physics?

    He just died a few months ago at age 79.

  15. #16 Marcus Ranum
    March 23, 2008

    It was a classic failure of science. Chemists out of their domain rushing to publish and – a sign of incipient crackpottery – not interested in even talking to the physicists about their results until after they were in line for their Nobel. A physicist friend of mine immediately commented “we’ll see. if they die of radiation then they may actually have something.”

    Sometimes your life’s work is to serve as an warning/example to others.

  16. #17 SteveM
    March 23, 2008

    Yes, that Bussard. The electroststic confinement does appear to be sound physics (at least to this humble EE) but utilizes a relatively obscure nuclear process that is actually more of a fission process than fusion, but even though the nuclei are lighter than iron, you do get released energy.

  17. #18 sharon
    March 23, 2008

    There is, of course, only one way to celebrate Easter weekend. With the right DVD and some chocolate.

    “He’s not the Messiah! He’s a very naughty boy!”

  18. #19 UhKsen
    March 23, 2008

    Happy [“this Sunday”] to everyone in [“this area”]!

  19. #20 another
    March 23, 2008

    G. Tingey – #11:

    About a year before he died, Dr. Bussard gave a talk at Google discussing the development and the potential of this technology. Interesting stuff.

    Highlights:
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8301617273665558256

    The full 90+ minute talk:
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1996321846673788606

  20. #21 Carlie
    March 23, 2008

    Happy “Psych! I’m not really dead!” day to everyone.

  21. #22 CC
    March 23, 2008

    “Bad Science,” by Gary Taubes. Go. Read.

  22. #23 afterthought
    March 23, 2008

    I remember all the fuss, but the fusion in warm avian lipids still makes me smile after all these year.
    http://www.netfunny.com/rhf/jokes/91q1/warmfus.html

  23. #24 mayhempix
    March 23, 2008

    I was born on Easter Sunday.

    My birthday has yet to be on Easter Sunday since that first day.

    Rest assured that if my birthday coincides with Easter again,
    I will rise to the occasion.

  24. #25 Unstable Isotope
    March 23, 2008

    When I was in grad school, a man spoke to us about the cold fusion debacle – I think he wrote a book (I can’t remember his name, though). There wasn’t only mistakes made in the papers, there was outright fraud, IIRC. They changed the scale of a certain measurement to meet what they expected to see and left evidence to the contrary out. I don’t really know why the scientific community jumped on it with such vigor, wishful thinking I guess.

    Anti-science types like the IDers use these examples to “prove” that scientists are some kind of cult that don’t let outsiders in, when I think it proves just the opposite. If someone has evidence of a paradigm-busting phenomenom, there is a lot of interest even when it doesn’t quite pass the skeptic test.

    Scientists are human just like everyone else. I think with our habits of questioning and challenging, inherent in the scientific method, that we can catch people like this early.

  25. #26 Albatrossity
    March 23, 2008

    And, as if on cue, the Dishonesty Institute (or at least one of their minions) keeps chugging along on the crackpot science monorail. At UncommonDescent, thermodynamics expert DaveScot tells us about a speedboat powered by hydrogen and oxygen, which are obtained by electrolysis of water. Extremely efficient, blah, blah blah. Here’s the money shot, direct from Mr. SLoT violator hisself, re the inventor of this marvelous breakthrough technology – “He claimed that his workshop was vandalized twice, his prototypes and working models stolen, and he didn’t have time or motivation to tool up more of his inventions. But he described the appartus in some detail on the internet (which I could probably find a link to again if I tried googling for it).”

    Happy Easter!

  26. #27 Ted D
    March 23, 2008

    What? Who’s in estrus? What? *does his doddering old man impersonation*

  27. #28 MAJeff, OM
    March 23, 2008

    Happy March Madness!! Is anyone else having as much fun watching basketball? I didn’t enter any pool (otherwise I’d already be out money), but it’s been entertaining hoops. Beats that hideous, blood vengeance, cannibalism, torture and body theft story of the “Holy Week” any day.

    I used to do a big ol’ ham dinner–with bloody mary’s, screwdrivers, and mimosas–as and do a “welcome spring” brunch while everyone else celebrated the blood lust of their deity. Kitchen’s too small now….I should just go buy a ham for myself :)~

    ——-

    Went to hear the BSO perform Bach’s St. Matthew Passion under Haitink last night. Bostridge was an amazing Evangelist (Holy shit what an amazing role and performance), but the story sucked ass (and Bach’s Lutheranism–and anti-Semitism–was in full bore with some of the most exciting music in the piece.)

    Great music. Rotten story.

    Now time for more fun basketball…all while writing about the heterosexualization of marriage….and a salad for lunch (Oh, how I’ve fallen).

  28. #29 Zeno
    March 23, 2008

    @ #8: The cold fusion enthusiastics still have Nobel Prize winning physicist Brian Josephson pulling for them.

    Brian Josephson is into parapsychology, too. I guess you can be smart at physics and still be dumb about other stuff.

  29. #30 Michelle
    March 23, 2008

    @MAJeff: My chocolate pwns your silly basketball. >(

  30. #31 Marlon
    March 23, 2008

    It was developed by Robert Bussard under a US Navy research contract as an improvement of the Farnsworth-Hirsch fusor.

    Is that as in Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth?

  31. #32 Marlon
    March 23, 2008

    …and was that fusor thing before or after the smell-o-scope?

  32. #33 KC
    March 23, 2008

    Hey, I had no idea you were ever at the U!

    They remodled the labs where the NCFI got its start, oddly enough, and you really can’t find the ‘birth place of cold fusion’ anymore. Also, people are oddly reluctant to talk about it in the Chemistry Department. In the official department history, they commit only two or three sentences to the topic. I wonder why…

    But when they the NCFI out of their setup in research park, a couple of smart people grabbed memorabilia. There’s a gentlemen in the Chemistry department – I think Joel Harris – who grabbed up their giant banner that said ‘National Cold Fusion Institute.’

    That doesn’t, however, keep us great unwashed biologists from talking about it. Infrequently, when not complaining about how the most simple of experiments go oft awry, we’d crack a few jokes at the Chemistry Department’s expense over coffee hour. We’d like to think it’d never happen to us biologists… well, I guess Hwang sort of showed us differently, eh?

  33. #34 Iggy
    March 23, 2008

    Happy Festival of Ester, everyone! In honor of this pagan fertility celebration, unfairly appropriated by dark age liars for jeebus, I wish all your loins to be exactly as fruitful as you desire.

    >31 After the smell-o-scope, before the finglonger, iirc.

  34. #35 Blake
    March 23, 2008

    I see a lot of fusor talk around here as being a potential energy source, but don’t forget that Todd Rider at MIT in 1995 all but killed any possibility of any form of farnsworth fusor ever producing net energy. The reason is that the plasma is in thermodynamic disequilibrium http://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/11412 . Fusors, unlike ‘cold fusion’ doubtless do create nuclear fusion reactions but they are fundamentally prohibited from ever reaching breakeven. (I don’t know what the one post above is talking about wrt fission, that’s clearly incorrect.) Also, I am will to bet a large sum that nothing whatsoever will come from Bussards magnetic only fusor. Bussard talks a good physics snow job and little else. His data purporting to see neutrons from his ‘pollywell’ device are a statistical joke. He can be forgiven though, as an otherwise honest scientist who got desperate to see his dream come true before he died. Real fusion reactors on the other hand, while none has reached breakeven yet, continue to inch ever closer and undeniably have made immense progress over the past several decades http://fti.neep.wisc.edu/neep602/LEC26/IMAGES/fig34.GIF . As someone who works on a laser driven inertial confinement fusion reactor, I can personally guarantee that you will see thermonuclear ignition and high gain occur in the lab within the next 3 years. Everything we’ve been doing the other laser labs around the country all but definitively show tha it will happen at the national ignition facility at LLNL when they switch on with 2MJ UV light on a cryogenic deuterium tritium target. It’s not a power plant but its a real start.

  35. #36 Nemo
    March 23, 2008

    The fusor is such a beautiful design. It’s a shame it doesn’t work.

  36. #37 Yvette
    March 23, 2008

    Want some irony about Easter? I am an atheist sitting in the library of an Orthodox Jewish Women’s college in NYC located next to the headquarters of Opus Dei in New York on Easter Sunday! Rich in irony!

    On another note, got to see Richard Dawkins last weekend at the Society for Ethical Culture. Excellent. The auditorium was SRO. THe questions after the speech were quite intelligent as well. Professor Dawkins is VERY witty and has a wry sense of humor.

    I also got a chance to watch the clip of PZ and Dawkins today regarding the “Expelled” controversey.

  37. #38 Donnie B.
    March 23, 2008

    @Blake,

    Wow, that really is progress. They used to say that practical fusion power was always twenty years away. Now it’s always only three years away!

    ;-)

    Seriously, I hope you’re right and I’m just an old cynic. We’re going to need something soon to replace the Jurassic swamps.

  38. #39 Bad
    March 23, 2008

    Unfortunately, as the Skeptic’s Guide mentioned, the late great Arthur C. Clarke was something of a booster for cold fusion, claiming that scientists were being cowardly and smallminded by not embracing the experiments.

    Just more reason why good science and good skepticism are a collective process: even the best of us need other people to check our weaknesses and topical naivety.

  39. #40 noodlesoup
    March 23, 2008

    Huh. That’s why so may stores were closed when I went out for coffee this morning.

  40. #41 Helena Constantine
    March 23, 2008

    Just so you aren’t confused, I follow the traditional religions of the Greeks and Romans (though I am able to seperate that conscious, existential decision from reason), I have a PhD in Classics, and the New Testament is one of my specializations.

    That understood, you really ought watch your use of strawmen in critcizing religion. The idea that there was some sort of fraud involved in the resurection (such as the apsotles stealing the body) is the explanation offered by Jews who read the Gospels in the first century, and which was enthusiasitically embraced by Romans (e.g., Celsus). The Gospels and Pauline letters were written by people who were not eye witnesses to the execution and putative resurrection; they are reporting a received mythological tradition, so it is naive to try to explain away ‘facts’ from the story becuase we know there is no such thing as a resurrection and makes no more sense than trying to figure out what really happenend in the Lord of the Rings since we know there is no such thing as a magic ring. You have to treat the Gospels under the category of myth, not under the category of inaacurate journalism or however you’re approaching it.

    Briefly you’re treating a mythological text as though it was a historical one, a confusion of genre.

  41. #42 ice9
    March 23, 2008

    Read this on Answers in Genesis today. I don’t know which part of the spectrum of crackpottery this comes from, or what lunatic notion it represents. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before:

    what explains the earth’s privileged location in the galaxy?

    What is the basis or purpose of this assertion? Does anybody know?

    ice

  42. #43 Carlie
    March 23, 2008

    Briefly you’re treating a mythological text as though it was a historical one, a confusion of genre.

    Which is exactly what almost every Christian denomination does.

  43. #44 Eric
    March 23, 2008

    The Passion of Zombie Jesus
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDENmSJIlMI

  44. #45 Avidor
    March 23, 2008

    Weirder than the Cold Fusion Hoax… the PRT Hoax…which has a cult-like folowing… Minnesota’s Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is an acolyte in the PRT Cult… so is Rep. Mark Olson.

    Of course the Discovery Institute promoted PRT.

  45. #46 Ed Darrell
    March 23, 2008

    As I’ve often noted, ID is sorta the biological equivalent of cold fusion, but without the hard research results backing it up, with a complete lack of theory, and with a lack of any plan for further research.

    But that’s being too hard on Pons and Fleischman (who don’t talk to each other these days, I’ve heard).

  46. #47 MAJeff, OM
    March 23, 2008

    @MAJeff: My chocolate pwns your silly basketball. >(

    Chocolate and basketball need not be an either/or situation. Indeed, should not be an either/or situation.

  47. #48 Alex Besogonov
    March 23, 2008

    Fusors, unlike ‘cold fusion’ doubtless do create nuclear fusion reactions but they are fundamentally prohibited from ever reaching breakeven. (I don’t know what the one post above is talking about wrt fission, that’s clearly incorrect.)

    Fusors are limited by the central mesh. If you try to scale the fusor – this mesh eventually melts.

    Polywell uses magnetically confined electrons in the center of the sphere instead of physical electrodes.

    Also, I am will to bet a large sum that nothing whatsoever will come from Bussards magnetic only fusor. Bussard talks a good physics snow job and little else. His data purporting to see neutrons from his ‘pollywell’ device are a statistical joke.

    Probably. However WB-7 (which is currently being built) will be the crucial experiment. It should unambiguously show the possibility (or impossibility) of large-scale IEC devices.

  48. #49 Andreas Johansson
    March 23, 2008

    @41: I would guess they’re refering to the so-called “Galactic Habitable Zone” (GHZ). Very briefly, the idea is that a habitable solar system most be far away from the galactic centre to avoid the violent goins on there, but close enough that the abundance of heavier elements (lithium and up), which falls with increasing distance from the centre, is high enough to allow the formation of Earth-like planets.

    Their question is thus essentially anthropic – why do we live in a place where we can live?

  49. #50 Steven
    March 23, 2008

    HAPPY ZOMBIE AWARENESS DAY!

    Don’t let any more zombies create a religion that will try and dominate humanity. Remember, aim for the head.

  50. #51 Lyle G
    March 23, 2008

    The Farnsworth in question is Philo, The television pioneer. There are attempts to use the Farnsworth fusor(or something derived from it)to fission lithium and boron with protons, producing high energy alpha particles.

  51. #52 MAJeff, OM
    March 23, 2008

    HAPPY DAY BEFORE CHOCOLATE SALES DAY!

  52. #53 SteveM
    March 23, 2008

    My comment about this being actually fission instead fusion referred to this reaction:

    p + 11B ? 3 4He + 8.7 MeV

    Seems to me that yes you momentarily fuse the proton into the Boron, but ultimately you are “splitting” the Boron into 3 Helium nuclei by firing a proton into it just like you split Uranium by firing a neutron into it.

  53. #54 tex
    March 23, 2008

    When you buy the chocolate rabbits on sale tomorrow, be sure to get the little boy bunnies. They have just a little more chocolate than the girl bunnies.

  54. #55 Fire Ant
    March 23, 2008

    Funny the cold fusion “media circus” is mentioned here. I’ve always thought that this process is a great example how science really works. If cold fusion were presented by a religion or organized religion, no member of the flock would question the outcome or results, and many folks would make money off of just the investment potential. Since science demands results that can be replicated, cold fusion was dismantled by the process. So much for the “big science conspiracy” that ID folks like to spread around. If there were such a cabal, all of science would be profiting from false claims, like any faith healer does……

  55. #56 Nomen Nescio
    March 23, 2008

    You have to treat the Gospels under the category of myth, […]

    that’s nice. now, while you try convincing the christians of that, i’ll be way over here, pointedly not holding my breath.

  56. #57 MandyDax
    March 23, 2008

    It’s like a cat macro: Strong force is strong. :P

    Happy Sunday, PZ! I semi-outed myself at work.

    Coworker says, “Happy Easter; do you have any plans?”

    I reply, “It’s just another Sunday for me, but with more chocolate.” XD

  57. #58 Daryl Cobranchi
    March 23, 2008

    I was at the UofU, too. Chem Dept in the basement right next door to Pons’ labs. It was a very crazy time. Armed guards patrolling the hallway checking IDs for everyone who went down to the basement. And one night when they were generating hordes of neutrons (*snort*) I was spirited away to Pons’ home to be interviewed by the CIA who were (supposedly) very interested in the work for potential weaponization. Alas, the CIA never showed up.

  58. #59 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 23, 2008

    That area is still cold.

    undeniably have made immense progress

    While it isn’t fair to compare a working technology with a developing one, that is still the very best diagram one could wish for. Go fusion!

    They used to say that practical fusion power was always twenty years away.

    But AFAIU when they started to firm up a realistic plan they found out that a “fast track” (enough investment) for the conventional research track means the first actual power plant is 45 years away from producing energy due to the need for a technological demo plant in between.

    Without a concurrent fast track project, the time needed seems to be roughly double that, i.e. a century away. (Which is why competitive inertial fusion research is, um, hot!)

    Seems to me that yes you momentarily fuse the proton into the Boron, but ultimately you are “splitting” the Boron into 3 Helium nuclei by firing a proton into it

    The dividing line in behavior between fusion or fission goes between the nuclei with the largest binding energies, iron (and nickel). Fusion releases energy for lighter nuclei, fission absorbs energy.

    This is why fusion is used to describe the above reaction, and I note that the link actually explicitly lists it.

  59. #60 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 23, 2008

    That area is still cold.

    undeniably have made immense progress

    While it isn’t fair to compare a working technology with a developing one, that is still the very best diagram one could wish for. Go fusion!

    They used to say that practical fusion power was always twenty years away.

    But AFAIU when they started to firm up a realistic plan they found out that a “fast track” (enough investment) for the conventional research track means the first actual power plant is 45 years away from producing energy due to the need for a technological demo plant in between.

    Without a concurrent fast track project, the time needed seems to be roughly double that, i.e. a century away. (Which is why competitive inertial fusion research is, um, hot!)

    Seems to me that yes you momentarily fuse the proton into the Boron, but ultimately you are “splitting” the Boron into 3 Helium nuclei by firing a proton into it

    The dividing line in behavior between fusion or fission goes between the nuclei with the largest binding energies, iron (and nickel). Fusion releases energy for lighter nuclei, fission absorbs energy.

    This is why fusion is used to describe the above reaction, and I note that the link actually explicitly lists it.

  60. #61 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 23, 2008

    I would guess they’re refering to the so-called “Galactic Habitable Zone” (GHZ).

    And if it is based on likewise academically cold creationist astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez book they also throw in that Earth is presumably nicely located vs science observations. In that way they can decrease the probability for chance in the religious anthropic argument.

    [The religious anthropic argument misuses a priori probability to make implications for the real interesting a posteriori likelihood of an anthropic principle. I.e. Earth looks unique (religious probability for life) until you realise there are probably (and now verifiably) many other planet systems out there (in principle observable likelihood for life).]

    I suspect that you can throw away most of GG’s probable presumptions.

    Yes, we have a large moon that makes it possible to see solar and lunar eclipses. But marginally so, and a closer moon from capture would have been both better located and more representative than our uniquely dry and comparatively dull moon from impact.

    Yes, we are reasonably far away from the galactic center to see more of the disc, but why not compare with a globular cluster out of the plane instead?

    And so on and so forth.

  61. #62 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 23, 2008

    I would guess they’re refering to the so-called “Galactic Habitable Zone” (GHZ).

    And if it is based on likewise academically cold creationist astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez book they also throw in that Earth is presumably nicely located vs science observations. In that way they can decrease the probability for chance in the religious anthropic argument.

    [The religious anthropic argument misuses a priori probability to make implications for the real interesting a posteriori likelihood of an anthropic principle. I.e. Earth looks unique (religious probability for life) until you realise there are probably (and now verifiably) many other planet systems out there (in principle observable likelihood for life).]

    I suspect that you can throw away most of GG’s probable presumptions.

    Yes, we have a large moon that makes it possible to see solar and lunar eclipses. But marginally so, and a closer moon from capture would have been both better located and more representative than our uniquely dry and comparatively dull moon from impact.

    Yes, we are reasonably far away from the galactic center to see more of the disc, but why not compare with a globular cluster out of the plane instead?

    And so on and so forth.

  62. #63 Michelle
    March 23, 2008

    @MAjeff: Man, I’m canadian. I’m sorry, but it’s Chocolate and HOCKEY in my world, baby. :P

  63. #64 GunOfSod
    March 23, 2008

    Fusion power is only 10 years away!!

  64. #65 NJDave
    March 23, 2008

    I take issue with the “hoaxed by a gang of Middle Eastern charlatans” characterization. Wouldn’t “bronze age charlatans” be both more precise and less geo-judgmental?

  65. #66 SteveM
    March 23, 2008

    The dividing line in behavior between fusion or fission goes between the nuclei with the largest binding energies, iron (and nickel). Fusion releases energy for lighter nuclei, fission absorbs energy.

    You left out a “generally” in that statement. Yes, in general fission of elements lighter than iron absorbs energy, but there are some, like the one I presented earlier, that releases energy.

    “…nuclear fusion is the process by which multiple atomic particles join together to form a heavier nucleus.” [from the Wiki page you linked to]

    Exactly how does Boron producing Helium qualify as fusion?

  66. #67 Epikt
    March 23, 2008

    Bad:

    Unfortunately, as the Skeptic’s Guide mentioned, the late great Arthur C. Clarke was something of a booster for cold fusion, claiming that scientists were being cowardly and smallminded by not embracing the experiments.

    It wasn’t a question of not embracing the experiments. Many of us hoped cold fusion was real, but couldn’t see a plausible mechanism, and the energy magnitudes seemed wildly wrong. Still, we were willing to give P&F the benefit of the doubt. However, I don’t recall anybody being able to consistently replicate the results, and eventually P&F became defensive and secretive, which is never a good sign.

  67. #68 AgnosticTheocrat
    March 23, 2008

    And lo, so it was that Zombie-Jesus rose from his grave and terrorized the countryside for 3 days.

  68. #69 Mez
    March 23, 2008

    NJDave #63. They may have been harking back to & hoping for the return of the good ol’ Bronze Age days, but Imperial Rome was pretty much Iron Age tech, and up-to-date communications systems were used to travel & to spread the word.

  69. #70 reader
    March 24, 2008

    Cat Faber: for the best version of the cold fusion story, read the book “Bad Science” by Gary Taubes. I think that this is who Unstable Isotope is referring to in his comment above. (Either Taubes or Robert Park, who wrote “Voodoo Science”.)

  70. #71 Stephen
    March 24, 2008

    @#13: yes, while Pons and Fleischmann screwed up royally, much of the blame for them doing so in quite such a public fashion lies with the UoU.

    @#63: you need to brush up on your history. Only about the first quarter of the Old Testament is situated in the bronze age.

    @#68: “Too hot to handle” by Frank Close is also pretty good.

  71. #72 archie FCD
    March 24, 2008

    @ tex #54 – unless the girl bunnies have had implants – – -

  72. #73 Donnie B.
    March 24, 2008

    @NJDave, who wrote: I take issue with the “hoaxed by a gang of Middle Eastern charlatans” characterization. Wouldn’t “bronze age charlatans” be both more precise and less geo-judgmental?

    It would be less geo-judgmental, but more temporo-judgmental.

  73. #74 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 24, 2008

    You left out a “generally” in that statement.

    Hmm. I thought those exceptions were breeder reactions in nucleosynthesis. And AFAIU the link implies that as well.

    But sure, I could have qualified this more than just giving a perhaps obscure reference.

    Exactly how does Boron producing Helium qualify as fusion?

    I’m not sure I see the problem; can you point out what specifically doesn’t match the details of the analysis in the link?

  74. #75 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 24, 2008

    You left out a “generally” in that statement.

    Hmm. I thought those exceptions were breeder reactions in nucleosynthesis. And AFAIU the link implies that as well.

    But sure, I could have qualified this more than just giving a perhaps obscure reference.

    Exactly how does Boron producing Helium qualify as fusion?

    I’m not sure I see the problem; can you point out what specifically doesn’t match the details of the analysis in the link?

  75. #76 SteveM
    March 24, 2008

    Torbjörn, I admit I am not a nuclear physicist and I am eager to learn by expressing my misconceptions and being corrected. The Wikipedia article you referred to describes the general trend of nuclear binding energy as generally increasing from Hydrogen up to Iron and Nickel, then decreasing again through the heavier elements. It notes that He4 is exceptional in having higher binding energy than Lithium. The article goes on to describe various fusion reactions but does not specifically discuss the p + 11B ? 3 4He + 8.7 MeV reaction other than to tabulate it.
    But on the face of it, we have an element “splitting” into 3 lighter elements. To me this looks like a fission reaction, regardless that it is on the “fusion side” of iron. It seems to me, that this is possible due to the anomalously high binding energy of the He4 nucleus and so allows this exception to the general rule that fissioning elements lighter than iron absorbs energy. Am I mistaken in this analysis?

  76. #77 Jed Rothwell
    March 24, 2008

    Your description of cold fusion is completely wrong.

    The cold fusion effect was replicated at high signal to noise ratios by researchers at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at China Lake, Amoco, SRI, Texas A&M, Los Alamos, Mitsubishi Res. Center, BARC Bombay, Tsinghua U. and over 200 other world-class laboratories. These replications were published in roughly a thousand peer-reviewed papers in mainstream journals such as J. Electroanal. Chem., Naturwissenschaften and Jap. J. Applied Physics (Japan’s most prestigious physics journal).

    I suggest you review the scientific literature on cold fusion before commenting on this research. Please do not repeat unfounded and ignorant statements from the Internet and the popular press. You can find a bibliography of 3,000 papers and over 600 full text reprints of scientific papers, including papers from all of the institutions listed above, at our web site:

    http://lenr-canr.org

    – Jed Rothwell
    Librarian, LENR-CANR.org

  77. #78 Blake
    March 24, 2008

    Lol, it’s over Jed. Accept it. It’s been over for more than a decade now. No one respects the claims of cold fusion researchers at all, no matter what you’ve decided to rebrand it of late “low energy nuclear reactions”, rofl. You may cling to conspiracy theories and Galileo complexes all you like, but the rest of us have long since moved on.

    SteveM, you are in fact correct. I was wrong about my comment wrt fission. I forgot that there is an inversion in the curve of binding energy at Li6 due to He4’s anomalously high value http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Binding_energy_curve_-_common_isotopes.svg . Indeed, it is fission which results in a release of energy when going from Li6 to He4 due to the higher stability of the latter nuclei.

  78. #79 Jed Rothwell
    March 24, 2008

    You wrote:

    “Lol, it’s over Jed. Accept it. It’s been over for more than a decade now.”

    More than a decade. The dispute ended in 1991, after the effect was replicated by over 100 laboratories. There have no credible peer-reviewed papers describing errors in these papers, so the findings stand.

    “No one respects the claims of cold fusion researchers at all, no matter what . . .”

    Whether people “respect” results or not is irrelevant. Science is not a popularity contest. Replicated, high-sigma experiments are the only standard of truth. Even if all of these experiments are forgotten in the future, facts are facts, and opinions do not count.

    In any case, you are wrong. Many people respect the cold fusion scientists. A public opinion poll in Japan showed that about half of professional scientists and engineers think the findings are correct, and the U.S. DoE review panel was also split roughly 50-50. Furthermore, DARPA, the Navy, the Italian Nat. Nuclear labs and many other governments and corporations continue to find the research, and as Nature reported recently, the government of India will soon revive its research, which was very successful.

    – Jed Rothwell

  79. #80 Jed Rothwell
    March 24, 2008

    Thanks to the hazards of voice input, I wrote:

    “DARPA . . . continues to find the research . . .”

    That’s supposed to be FUND.

    Cold fusion experiments cost anywhere from $100,000 to $20 million, and they can only be done by experts in well-equipped labs, so they require funding.

    Also, it was “Nature India” that reported on revival of research in India. This journal’s website is linked to “Nature” magazine in UK so perhaps it is the same thing. I wouldn’t know. See:

    http://www.nature.com/nindia/2008/080117/full/nindia.2008.77.html

    http://lenr-canr.org/Collections/BARC.htm

    http://lenr-canr.org/acrobat/JayaramanKcoldfusion.pdf

    – Jed Rothwell

  80. #81 Donnie B.
    March 24, 2008

    Well, Jed, if that’s the case, where’s my too-cheap-to-meter power source? Is “Mr. Fusion” just around the corner, or is this phenomenon impractical for energy production? If the latter, does it have any other proposed utility? Does it explain any outstanding anomalies in nuclear theory?

    Just wondering.

  81. #82 Jed Rothwell
    March 24, 2008

    Donnie B. wrote:

    “Well, Jed, if that’s the case, where’s my too-cheap-to-meter power source?”

    This will take considerably more research. Experts in solid state physics at the NRL recently estimated that it will cost roughly $200 to $500 million to make cold fusion practical. This is based on their experience developing similar devices such as the Ageis radar system. They expressed confidence that they can solve the remaining problems.

    Martin Fleischmann and John Bockris, who have decades of experience developing industrial applications of this nature made similar estimates in the early 1990s.

    “Is ‘Mr. Fusion’ just around the corner, or is this phenomenon impractical for energy production?”

    The phenomenon cannot be controlled at present. The reaction often stops, and in some cases it has gone out of control and the cell has exploded. If it can be controlled, it should be practical because the power density and temperature of some cathodes has reached the level of a fission reactor core, in sustained reactions. This was achieved circa 1992.

    “Does it explain any outstanding anomalies in nuclear theory?”

    I do not know enough about nuclear theory to comment.

    – Jed Rothwell

  82. #83 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 24, 2008

    @ SteveM:

    we have an element “splitting” into 3 lighter elements.

    SteveM, I’m not a nuclear physicist either. I happen to agree with your admirable intention, so I would appreciate all help with our confusions.

    Okay, now I see that you are getting at. But I’m not sure I agree with the term usage as Blake.

    The p of plain old hydrogen is an element with Z=1. So here we have two low Z elements that are combined, where the products are heavier than the lightest of the combined elements. (The Z=0 neutron in fission isn’t an element.) The hydrogen is “fused” when making the heavier product.

    However one likes that, the later used practical definition revolves around energy release vs involved elements, so “It must be exothermic: This may be obvious, but it limits the reactants to the low Z (number of protons) side of the curve of binding energy” seems to be consistent with it. This is also consistent with my old text book on nuclear physics (“Introduction to nuclear physics”, Harald Enge).

    This places p + B and similar reactions firmly within fusion, as well as the CNO and other low Z catalytic reactions. The result is less mess with exceptions during descriptions of nucleosynthesis and technological fusion, so I can be happy with that.

    I can of course also be happy with calling it fission as well. The physics is the same. :-P I’ve just never heard that description before.

    @ Jed:

    A pile of papers on a subject is not a good measure of scientific or technological vitality in a subject. It is the current work that says if it is vital science.

    I actually don’t know much of current work, as it seems to have disappeared under the radar, supporting Blake’s description. Your own description of “revival” and no progress in 15 years seems to concur.

  83. #84 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 24, 2008

    @ SteveM:

    we have an element “splitting” into 3 lighter elements.

    SteveM, I’m not a nuclear physicist either. I happen to agree with your admirable intention, so I would appreciate all help with our confusions.

    Okay, now I see that you are getting at. But I’m not sure I agree with the term usage as Blake.

    The p of plain old hydrogen is an element with Z=1. So here we have two low Z elements that are combined, where the products are heavier than the lightest of the combined elements. (The Z=0 neutron in fission isn’t an element.) The hydrogen is “fused” when making the heavier product.

    However one likes that, the later used practical definition revolves around energy release vs involved elements, so “It must be exothermic: This may be obvious, but it limits the reactants to the low Z (number of protons) side of the curve of binding energy” seems to be consistent with it. This is also consistent with my old text book on nuclear physics (“Introduction to nuclear physics”, Harald Enge).

    This places p + B and similar reactions firmly within fusion, as well as the CNO and other low Z catalytic reactions. The result is less mess with exceptions during descriptions of nucleosynthesis and technological fusion, so I can be happy with that.

    I can of course also be happy with calling it fission as well. The physics is the same. :-P I’ve just never heard that description before.

    @ Jed:

    A pile of papers on a subject is not a good measure of scientific or technological vitality in a subject. It is the current work that says if it is vital science.

    I actually don’t know much of current work, as it seems to have disappeared under the radar, supporting Blake’s description. Your own description of “revival” and no progress in 15 years seems to concur.

  84. #85 paulh
    March 25, 2008

    For a really amusing take on cold fusion – read Jasper Fforde’s “The Fourth Bear

  85. #86 Jed Rothwell
    March 25, 2008

    Torbjörn Larsson wrote:

    “A pile of papers on a subject is not a good measure of scientific or technological vitality in a subject.”

    I did not say the field is vital. I said the effect has been widely replicated at high signal to noise ratios. The “pile of papers” proves that. Opponents have only published a handful of papers that try to show errors in this body of work, and in my opinion these papers have no merit. We have most of them at LENR-CANR, so you can read them and judge this yourself. See Morrison and Jones, for example.

    There is enormous opposition to the research by academic rivals, and this has blocked funding, so the pace of progress has been slower than we might wish. Also, the researchers were all old, senior scientists when this began, because junior scientists could not get funded. Most of the researchers are now retired or dead.

    “It is the current work that says if it is vital science.”

    Countless discoveries throughout history had languished because of academic opposition, sometimes for years, sometimes for decades. Well known examples include aviation, continental drift and semiconductors from the 1920s to 1948. Other research, such as Mendel’s genetics, languished unnoticed for decades. You seem to be suggesting that these subjects were not “vital” during the decades they were ignored. This makes no sense. An experiment is either valid or invalid. The criteria have nothing to do with how many people have read the results, how many understand or agree, or how much funding the research attracts.

    Mendel was right all along, even though he was ignored. Cold fusion is real beyond any rational doubt, according the traditional standards of science, which are replication and peer-review. Many people want to substitute a new-age standard: a sort of popularity contest, where we count the number of journalists and bloggers who agree the subject is real. I prefer methods such as calorimetry, mass spectroscopy, x-ray film and tritium counts of 10E8 above background, but I am an old fogy. I think cold fusion is real and will remain real even if it is forgotten.

    “I actually don’t know much of current work, as it seems to have disappeared under the radar, supporting Blake’s description. Your own description of “revival” and no progress in 15 years seems to concur.”

    I never described a revival, but only survival and stubborn progress despite opposition and lack of funding. Researchers in Italy, Israel and Japan can now reproduce the effect nearly 100% of the time. That is impressive, and far ahead of where things stood in 2000. As the researchers often say: ‘if you understand how difficult it is you will be impressed by how much progress we have made.’

    – Jed Rothwell

  86. #87 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 25, 2008

    @ Jed:

    Essentially you are giving me a conspiracy theory on academic suppression (“enormous opposition”). Sorry, but that is unlikely. As they use to say, if it works against expectations it will be a Nobel, so there is no way global suppression works in science.

    But thanks, now I don’t need to review all those papers myself. :-P

  87. #88 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 25, 2008

    @ Jed:

    Essentially you are giving me a conspiracy theory on academic suppression (“enormous opposition”). Sorry, but that is unlikely. As they use to say, if it works against expectations it will be a Nobel, so there is no way global suppression works in science.

    But thanks, now I don’t need to review all those papers myself. :-P

  88. #89 Jed Rothwell
    March 26, 2008

    Torbjörn Larsson wrote:

    “Essentially you are giving me a conspiracy theory on academic suppression (“enormous opposition”).”

    That is nonsense. There is no conspiracy whatever. I personally know most of the leading people who oppose cold fusion, and they could not conspire their way out of a paper bag.

    What we have is plain, old-fashioned academic politics. It happens all the time. For example, see the book Charles H. Townes, “How the Laser Happened­” (Oxford University press, 1999) Townes discovered the maser and laser, and won a Nobel prize for the discovery. Quotes:

    “One day after we had been at it for about two years, Rabi and Kusch, the former and current chairmen of the department­ both of them Nobel laureates for work with atomic and molecular beams, and both with a lot of weight behind their opinions­ came into my office and sat down. They were worried. Their research depended on support from the same source as did mine. “Look,” they said, “you should stop the work you are doing. It isn’t going to work. You know it’s not going to work. We know it’s not going to work. You’re wasting money. Just stop!”

    The problem was that I was still an outsider to the field of molecular beams, as they saw it. . . . I simply told them that I thought it had a reasonable chance and that I would continue. I was then indeed thankful that I had come to Columbia with tenure. (p. 65)

    Before — and even after — the maser worked, our description of its performance met with disbelief from highly respected physicists, even though no new physical principles were really involved. Their objections went much deeper than those that had led Rabi and Kusch to try to kill the project in its cradle . . .

    Llewelyn H. Thomas, a noted Columbia theorist, told me that the maser flatly could not, due to basic physics principles, provide a pure frequency with the performance I predicted. So certain was he that he more or less refused to listen to my explanations. After it did work, he just stopped talking to me. . . .

    “Sorry, but that is unlikely. As they use to say, if it works against expectations it will be a Nobel, so there is no way global suppression works in science.”

    Suppression in science happens all the time. You are naive if you think otherwise. Nobel laureate Julian Schwinger described the suppression of his own work in cold fusion:

    “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.”

    http://lenr-canr.org/acrobat/SchwingerJcoldfusiona.pdf

    “But thanks, now I don’t need to review all those papers myself. :-P”

    I see. You prefer to ridicule and attack important research without actually knowing anything about it. You have just demonstrated how academic suppression works. It is never a conspiracy. It is always unthinking people such as you, who jump to conclusions and attack honest researchers out of spite, or just for the fun of it.

    – Jed Rothwell

  89. #90 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 27, 2008

    @ Jed:

    That is nonsense. There is no conspiracy whatever.

    A conspiracy theory in the form of a deceptive plot in academic politics.

    You have just demonstrated how academic suppression works.

    Not really. It is an important quality to be able to judge papers quickly in research. This is to be expected, and it is also to be expected that sometimes good results slip under the radar.

    What I did was different. On the web it is instead an important quality to be able to judge areas or posts quickly. There are many crackpots respectively kooks out there compared with the competitive environment of research.

  90. #91 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 27, 2008

    @ Jed:

    That is nonsense. There is no conspiracy whatever.

    A conspiracy theory in the form of a deceptive plot in academic politics.

    You have just demonstrated how academic suppression works.

    Not really. It is an important quality to be able to judge papers quickly in research. This is to be expected, and it is also to be expected that sometimes good results slip under the radar.

    What I did was different. On the web it is instead an important quality to be able to judge areas or posts quickly. There are many crackpots respectively kooks out there compared with the competitive environment of research.

  91. #92 Jed Rothwell
    March 27, 2008

    Torbjörn Larsson wrote:

    “A conspiracy theory in the form of a deceptive plot in academic politics.”

    There is no deceptive plot. The people who oppose cold fusion sincerely believe that it is fraud and lunacy. They have often said in the Washington Post, the New Scientist and elsewhere. The people who attacked Townes’ research were equally sincere. But they were wrong.

    It is not a conspiracy because it is not organized, surreptitious or deceptive (insincere). What we have here is a large group of people who have read nothing about cold fusion and who know nothing about it, yet who spout off about it, and claim it is wrong.

    (Regarding Townes, you wrote “As they use to say, if it works against expectations it will be a Nobel.” It was a Nobel, eventually, but as Townes said there was hysterical opposition for many years. This was the case with many other Nobel-class breakthroughs. A breakthrough is often attacked and suppressed at first, and later celebrated.)

    “‘You have just demonstrated how academic suppression works.’

    Not really. It is an important quality to be able to judge papers quickly in research. This is to be expected, and it is also to be expected that sometimes good results slip under the radar.”

    I do not think you should judge papers “quickly.” Cold fusion is an important subject, and I think you should take the time to read the papers carefully, or if you do not have time, you should reserve judgment and not try to reach a conclusion. I see no benefit to snap judgments. If anything, this will cause good results to slip under the radar. When you and thousands of other people do this, and you go on to publish snide ridicule about how the researchers are probably “crackpots,” the result is de facto suppression.

    “What I did was different. On the web it is instead an important quality to be able to judge areas or posts quickly. There are many crackpots respectively kooks out there compared with the competitive environment of research.”

    Please note that I began by saying that cold fusion replications have been published by “the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at China Lake, Amoco, SRI, Texas A&M, Los Alamos . . .” and others. I am sure you realize these institutions are not hotbeds of “crackpots” and “kooks.” I said that these papers are published in mainstream, peer-reviewed journals. You can easily confirm this. The journal papers in the LENR-CANR library can be found in academic libraries at places like Los Alamos, Georgia Tech and China Lake. (That is where we got them.) In short, you have no reason to think that I am reporting crackpot papers. You certainly should not jump to that conclusion without reading any papers!

    In any textbook about science you will read that a claim is true if it is supported by replicated, peer-reviewed, high-sigma experimental evidence. This is the gold standard of proof — in fact it is the only standard. Textbooks also say you must evaluate claims carefully, objectively and with an open mind. By ALL of the traditional standards of science, cold fusion is real. When people trash these standards and they publish ridicule and unfounded accusations that professional scientists are “crackpots” and “kooks,” and when they dismiss papers they have not even bothered to read, they violate academic ethics, and they contribute to the suppression of new ideas — all new ideas, cold fusion included.

    – Jed Rothwell

  92. #93 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 27, 2008

    There is no deceptive plot. The people who oppose cold fusion sincerely believe that it is fraud and lunacy.

    Well then, if you accept that “academic politics” are non-deceptive, your argument isn’t with me but with those science practices which I seemingly adhere to well (but from another agenda entirely). I must point out that in either case it is still an unlikely explanation, see my earlier comments.

    And since we now have covered every angle of this topic, I’m satisfied with giving you any last words.

  93. #94 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 27, 2008

    There is no deceptive plot. The people who oppose cold fusion sincerely believe that it is fraud and lunacy.

    Well then, if you accept that “academic politics” are non-deceptive, your argument isn’t with me but with those science practices which I seemingly adhere to well (but from another agenda entirely). I must point out that in either case it is still an unlikely explanation, see my earlier comments.

    And since we now have covered every angle of this topic, I’m satisfied with giving you any last words.

  94. #95 KitemanSA
    October 14, 2008

    @62: “Fusion power is only 10 years away!!”

    Nonsense! Fusion power is only 8 minutes away! ;)

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