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114) Another Debate Among Teachers?

Ludwik Kowalski (October 31, 2003)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043



This morning (10/31/2003) I posted a message about cold fusion on the Phys-L discussion list. The immediate reply from Teacher 2, who often speaks for AAPT (American Association of Physics Teachers), made me think that other messages might follow. But they did not. It shows that many of us think that Phys-L is not an appropriate place to continue arguing about claims made by cold fusion researchers. There are two good reasons for this: (a) most of us are not trained is electrochemistry, highly accurate calorimetry, sophisticated nuclear detectors, mass spectrometry, surface chemistry, etc., b) it is a political issue often driven by emotions rather than by rules of scientific methodology.

Instead of responding on Phys-L list I will try to do this here. I will start by quoting both messages (hiding the identity authors) and by asking for comments to be sent to me in private. Your comments might enrich this item. Please write to me about evolving attitudes toward cold fusion. Samples of representative “voices from teachers” are worth collecting and preserving; future historians of science might benefit from their existence. Next year I plan to attend the 11th International Cold Fusion conference (in Marseilles, France) and this item might become an interesting poster presentation. I would also like to know how many people found my cold fusion web site worth visiting. It was created for you, and for your students. Should I continue using it to share what I learn and think about cold fusion?

Teacher #1 (myself):
My short summary of three recent papers of Steven Jones has been posted as item #113 at:

http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/cf/

Steven Jones was one of three scientists whose work resulted in the "cold fusion" controversy, 13 years ago. Unlike Fleischmann and Pons, he is a physicist. Pons left the field while Fleischmann and Jones are still very active. Which Nobel Prize might they share, in physics or in chemistry? Physics. Is this possible? I think so.

But at this stage I would not recommend them (if I were entitled to suggest nominees). Instead I would argue that the second national evaluation of the entire "cold fusion" field is needed in view of recent findings. We, teachers, could play a role in asking for the second evaluation, as exemplified by my letter to the editor of our journal. Click below to see that letter.

http://ojps.aip.org/journals/doc/PHTEAH-home/letters/jun2003.pdf

My hope was that others will support the appeal (in responding to what I wrote) and that this will be noticed by NSF, NAS and AIP leaders. A letter to the editor, inspired by Jones' papers, for example, can have a significant impact. [Other research papers, presented at the Cold Fusion conference last August, are also downloadable from the same web site as Jones's papers. To get them go to http://www.lenr-canr.org , click on the ICCF10 and scroll down to the list of downloadable papers.]

Something will happen if many physics teachers write that they are confused by the present situation. We (and our students) have access to many good papers but our establishment keeps repeating old arguments that the entire field is "pseudo-science." Somebody should appoint a panel of experts to evaluate findings reported in the last ten years.

A letter to the editor of our journal, The Physics Teacher, can be submitted via e-mail. The editor is Dr. Karl. C. Mamola. The address is: < tpt@appstate.edu >

Teacher #2:
Ludwik, I disagree. TPT is not a research physics journal, and letters to the editor of TPT will not advance your agenda of reopening the issue of cold fusion. Such letters will actually alienate TPT readers like myself to your cause. Replicable research published in peer-reviewed physics research journals is required. Claims of conspiracy without results further discredits your cause.

Teacher #3: (in a message e-mailed to me in private):
In general I am supportive of cold fusion. However, I do not discuss the issue with others since I have found that most people, both pro and con, have more religious views on the subject than scientific. Anyway, that has been my experience, and that is my preference.

Teacher #1:
I am responding to Teacher 2 here (not posting it on Phys-L) because nobody else responded publicly. That is right; cold fusion papers should be published in peer-reviewed papers. TPT is not an appropriate place to argue either for or against the validity of claims made by experts. But it is an appropriate place, I think, to ask for help; most of us are not equipped for specialized research. Papers from high caliber scientists are available to us, and to our students; somebody has to help us to evaluate them objectively. I no longer know what to say when a student asks about cold fusion. A position paper published by an appointed panel of experts would help us to deal with a controversial scientific topic. What is wrong with expressing this opinion in TPT? By the way, my earlier attempt to ask for help on pages of Physics Today (in a letter to the editor) was rejected.

We need to know why claims made by cold fusion researchers should be labeled as not scientific; that seems to be the official policy of AIP. Do our leaders think that recent cold fusion claims result from a large-scale self-delusion involving hundreds of Ph.D. scientists? Do they think that it is a matter of international conspiracy to deceive? Do they think that fraudulent data are used to promote hidden agendas? If they do then they should try to convince us that such accusations are valid. They should support the initiative to appoint a new panel of experts. That panel, like the one appointed 13 years ago, would evaluate recent data and prepare us for dealing with recent claims. Who is against this and why?

By the way, what did teacher 2 mean by “claims of conspiracy without results?” And why did he say that I have an “agenda of reopening the issue of cold fusion?” I think that the 1989 ERAB report was valid; the evidence for unusual nuclear processes did not exist when that report was released. I see no need to argue about this. What I want to see is a critical examination of claims based on experimental data gathered in the last ten years. Need for such evaluation has been anticipated in the first report. How else should interpret the following quotes?: At this time “the Panel recommends against the establishment of special programs or research centers to develop cold fusion. However, there remain unresolved issues which may have interesting implications. The Panel is, therefore, sympathetic toward modest support for carefully focused and cooperative experiments within the present funding system.” What is wrong with addressing the unresolved issues on the basis of new findings. And here is another quote. “The significant characteristic of the scientific method, however, is that in the end it can be relied upon to sort out the valid experimental results from background noise and error.” Who wrote this? John Huizenga, the chairman of the 1989 ERAB. I had a privilege of knowing John personally, and to learn from what he wrote about mechanisms of nuclear reactions.

Teacher 1 (myself):
Yesterday (November 7, 2003) I wrote:

> Such comments might help me to turn the item #114 into a compilation of
> interesting quotes. Please write about your evolving attitudes toward cold
> fusion. Samples of representative "voices from teachers" are worth collecting;
> future historians of science might benefit from their existence. Next year I plan
> to attend the 11th International Cold Fusion conference (in Marseilles, France)
> and item #114 might become an interesting poster presentation.

1) If you want your authorship to be known then please indicate so in your message to me. Otherwise you will be Teacher 5, Teacher 6, etc.; as in the poster I showed at the 10th conference. That poster, by the way, will appear in the book form (usual conference proceedings) at some times next year. They are working on it.

2) Feel free to focus on any aspect of cold fusion, either scientific or social. But try to be brief; emphasize what you think is original, new or highly significant.

3) Connections with teaching (questions students ask, projects they work on, comment they make, etc.) would be highly valuable. Also short descriptions of discussions you had with other teachers or parents (in the last ten years or so), etc.

4) No matter what the final verdict (perhaps in 50 yeas or so) cold fusion will be viewed as a strange event in the history of science, something comparable with what happened in Europe at Galileo's time. Help to document this event in the way that might be of some interest to future generations.

P.S.
5) Let me share an episode with you. The 10th conference had an open evening for the public. Not too many people came. One high school student asked: "what and where should I study if I want to become a cold fusion scientist?" In trying to answer I said something like this. "Do not focus on this right now. Learn physics, chemistry and mathematics; this will be useful to you no matter what you decide in four or five years. Cold fusion does not exist as a study track. Perhaps it is in the same stage at which aviation was 100 years ago. Or it may turn out to be a false alarm. Nothing would prevent you from being a cold fusion scientist if you decide to do so after establishing yourself in another technical or scientific field. Keep your eyes open and learn things which prepare you to be good in any field.

6) And here is something else. A conference organizer told me that he personally invited Robert Park, the APS spokesman and the author of the 2000 "Voodoo Science"
book, to come to the conference. The author had a "time conflict" excuse. A golden opportunity of learning about what is going on, or arguing that it does not make any sense, was missed. How does this differ from cases in which people refused to look at Galileo's telescope?

7) The conference was at a short walking distance from MIT. All professors (including experts in thermonuclear technology) were invited but they did not show up. What does this illustrate? But the conference chairman, Peter Hagelstein, was the MIT professor. He has been doing cold fusion research since 1989, mostly on the theoretical side.

Teacher 4:
Ludwik, I've read through about four of the links, including "what physics teachers think of CF" and the very first one, "Introducing cold fusion to students". I have to say it seems like a topic that really puts the Scientific method to the test, or perhaps the scientists! It seems like the debate revolves around whether or not the experimental discovery is worth considering, or if it was itself a fraud... I don't have time to read them all, but it's a very interesting archive. The clickable list of items is a bit daunting. You might wish to organize your webpage into a table, with links in each cell organized by sub topic, like "What is cold fusion?", "My articles regarding the subject", etc. It would make for an easier reading experience. ;)

Teacher 5:
I found your site last night and find it quite interesting. I am especially interested in the bits and pieces you have about the use of nano-particles. I read the comments made by Charles Kelly and have a few questions. First, I would consider myself to be a skeptic of "cold" fusion in that I am not convinced that it is real. However, at the same time, I have never been convinced that it has been disproved either. . . .

Teacher 6:
Recognizing the complexity of physical phenomena on solid surfaces Wolfgang Pauli once said that “surfaces are the invention of the devil.” Would he also say that “cold fusion is a diabolic science?” Cold fusion researchers are excommunicated as practitioners of forbidden cults. Terms like “pseudoscience” and “voodoo science” refer to heretical activities. The establishment, like the Inquisition, tries to protect true science from such influences. Fortunately for CF researchers, the methods used against heretics today are not as brutal as they were five centuries ago.

Pauli is famous, among other things, for the discovery of a mystery particle called a neutrino. His investigation, as in the case of cold fusion, started when calorimetric measurements revealed an abnormality; heat generated in beta decay was produced at a rate much lower than expected. Instead of accepting the idea that energy is perhaps not conserved in beta decay, as suggested by others, Pauli postulated, on a purely theoretical basis, that beta decay is a three-body process. The third particle involved in the decay, the neutrino, is a carrier of missing energy. Experimental validation of this postulate occurred ten years later. In cold fusion the rate at which heat is generated was found to be higher than expected. What kind of processes are responsible for this? That is a big question. Scientists trying to answer it are not treated fairly, in my humble opinion.

Teacher 7:

Teacher 8:

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