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.