Return to the clickable list of items
I have already written about rejections of cold fusion papers by editors (see item #88); this item describes my experience trying to publish a cold fusion review paper (item #152). What follows are dated entries and messages, as recorded during the Spring 2004 semester. I present them in the form of a diary; colors are used to identify e-mail messages. The editors of the following journals rejected the paper without sending it to referees and without offering any criticism:
1) Physics Today, USA 2) American Scientist, USA 3) Nature, UK 4) New Scientist, UK 5) The Physics Teacher, USA
153) Why was my review paper rejected?
Ludwik Kowalski (6/29/04)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043
What to think about this e-mail message (in green, below)? It refers to what was described in my unit #100; the rejection of my Letter to the Editor of Physics I considered the rejection final. That is why I am so surprised. And what a coincidence; I just finished working on a paper objectively summarizing the situation in the cold fusion field and I am looking for a place to publish it. What would be a better place for it than Physics Today? Should I consider the message from Dr. Hanna to be an indication that this might be possible? Why did she write to me after the issue was essentially over about half a year ago? I do not know how to answer this question. Here is a message I received today:
Dear Dr. Kowalski,
In August of 2003, you submitted a Letter to the Editor commenting on our previous rejection of a letter you'd sent to us last January. That earlier letter commented on the story, "New APS Ethics Guidelines Address Research, Misconduct and Professional Responsibilities."
Please accept my sincere apologies that we have taken so long to get back to you. We did give both of your letters careful consideration.
After that consideration, it was decided that we would share with you the reviewers' comments on your first letter. Those comments are contained in the attached MS Word file. Please let me know if you have any problem opening or viewing the file.
Also please note that your second letter was not accepted for publication. While we do appreciate and carefully review letters about how we are doing our job, we consider them to be internal business.
If you have further concerns about this matter, you may contact me via e-mail at email@example.com or telephone at 301 209-3041. My fax number is 301 209-0842.
Thank you for writing and for your interest in Physics Today.
Sincerely, Marty Hanna, Letters Editor, Physics Today, College Park, Maryland.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Here are the reviewers comments from the attached file.
Reviewers Comments on Ludwik Kowalskis Letter
Reviewer 1: I dont have a high opinion of this letter. The author is trying to use the ethics guidelines as a wedge to say that cold fusion scientists are doing real science and are being discriminated against by the science establishment. It is, at its base, a polite dance around the cold fusion conspiracy theory. He notes that the new work with cold fusion may not be fusion, but some other mystery that seems, despite all of the work, somehow beyond the understanding of the scientists. And even though it may not be fusion, or just a little bit fusion, the respected science journals discriminate against the work. I get the impression the author isnt a cold fusion scientist with an axe to grind, but it sounds like hes been to a few seminars with them. I recommend against publishing this as it does nothing but revive a conspiracy theory that is better off dead.
Reviewer 2: Reject. Im actually a bit ambivalent his concern as a teacher of students seems valid. If you want, get another opinion from our staff teacher.
Reviewer 3: Im comfortable with the reject but, like Reviewer 2, see some merit in the Letter. I believe it raises a legitimate discussion point: what is the physics communitys responsibility, if any, to sincere, competent workers who choose to explore fringe fields like cold fusion. Harold Birnbaum touched on this issue in his March 2002 article for us, when he noted his impression that nowadays, reviewers are less likely than previously to support a proposal that is not in accord with their own view. It could be argued that the question is an ethical one, so I find it reasonable that Kowalskis letter was inspired by Jim Dawsons ethical-guidelines report.
Kowalskis letter is not well focused, and as a result, Reviewers 1 and 2 and I each took something different from it. Kowalskis choice to limit his letter to cold fusion instead of addressing a larger picture was unfortunate, in my opinion. Reviewer 1 decided that the letter does nothing but revive a conspiracy theory that is better off dead. I think the letter hints at more, but Reviewer 1s take is certainly reasonable, given what the letter actually says. In brief, if I were the first to look at this letter, I would consider working with the author (and it would take some work) to try to get the letter I think the author intended. However, as an appeals judge, I see no reason to overturn the decision of the lower court.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Here is my immediate reply:
Dear Dr. Hanna:
I am very glad that you decided to share with me what reviewers wrote about the Letter to the Editor I wrote one year ago. Let me comment on what they wrote and then make a suggestion.
1) Yes, the first reviewer was correct that I was trying to use the ethics guidelines. Referring to me he wrote: it sounds like hes been to a few seminars with them [cold fusion scientist with an axe to grind]. This was not true when my letter was written; at that time I was mostly interested in moral aspects of the cold fusion episode. But I did go to a cold fusion seminar last August and participated in the 10th International Cold Fusion Conference. I went there as an open minded teacher and I learned a lot.
2) I am pleased that two of three reviewers did see some merit in the letter. That shows that a conspiracy, if it exists, is not widespread. And your decision to share the comments with me is a confirmation of this.
3) It happened that I just finished writing a paper about basic recent claims made by leading cold fusion scientists. It is not a paper defending these claims; it is a paper describing them, no matter what one is inclined to think. Scientifically literate readers should be aware of what has been going on in the cold fusion field since it was officially evaluated, in 1989, by a panel of US experts. Some of the new claims, such as turning Sr into Mo, or Cs into Pr, without stellar temperatures, are even more extraordinary than the claims made by Pons and Fleischmann. The strange thing is that authors of published alchemy reports seem to be reputable scientists associated with prestigious universities and laboratories. Is it a matter of fraud? Is it a matter of self-deception, or incompetence? My article does not try to answer these questions; its purpose is to present a summary of what has been recently reported without taking sides. Like many other science teachers, I am in no position to verify validity of hard-to-accept claims in a specialized laboratory. That is why, as suggested in the concluding section, a new evaluation of cold fusion claims, by an appointed panel of experts, is highly desirable.
4) Anticipating that my article would be rejected in the US I considered publishing it abroad. But I would very much prefer to publish it in our journal, Physics Today. What I write is likely to generate interesting discussion and comments. A copy of that paper is attached. Please pass this message to the Editor-in-Chief and let me know if the journal is willing to send it to reviewers. Sincerely yours, Ludwik Kowalski
P.S. Last year I spent my entire sabbatical collecting cold fusion documents, and reading them. I did this for myself and for others who are not familiar with recent cold fusion claims. Many readers of Physics Today will probably appreciate my summary. What kind of harm can possibly result from publishing it?
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
The manuscript that was attached can be seen in item #152 on this web site. The answer to my reply came two hours later, much faster than I expected. Here it is:
Dear Dr. Kowalski, Thank you so much for your feedback, and thank you for the article submission. Because the document you sent is beyond the limits of the Letters Department, I have forwarded it to our editorial staff for consideration as an article. Please send further inquiries about it to firstname.lastname@example.org, but expect that it could be several weeks before you hear from our editors. With gratitude and kind regards, Marty Hanna
Letters Editor, Physics Today, College Park, Maryland.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
What to think about all this? Why the apology, six month later? Will they give my paper a chance to be reviewed by unbiased people? I do not know how to answer these questions. I suspect that my registered letter to the Editor in Chief, mailed in September was finally read and acted upon. I can not locate the copy of what I wrote but I do remember complaining about not being able to see the comments made by reviewers. At the end of that letter I suggested that its content should be treated as a second Letter to the Editor. The Editor in Chief never replied to me. Perhaps he remembered my earlier complaints. What else could have triggered this new message from Dr. Hanna? If they publish my article I will be very happy, if they do not publish it then I will have another record of rejection. Such records are worth saving; I should be able to find an editor willing to accept my review. If not then the review will appear as an item on this web site. For the time being I will withhold this item; it is probably not right to make it available and try to publish it at the same time.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
During the weekend I discovered some imperfections in what has already been sent to Physics Today. Furthermore, Steven Jones, the only person who knows about my submission (because I asked him to comment on the submitted article, and to criticize it), sent me some comments. Because of this the article was revised and resubmitted today in the traditional way (via post office). Here is the letter I sent today with my printed article:
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University
Upper Montclair, NJ, 07055
February 17, 2004
Dr. Stephan G. Benka, Editor-in-Chief
Physics Today, American Institute of Physics
Suite 1NO1, 2 Huntington Quadrangle
Melville, NY, 11747-4502
Dear Dr. Benka:
Last Friday, replying to an e-mail message from Dr. M. Hanna, I at once submitted the electronic version of a paper entitled Recent cold fusion claims: are they valid? This paper, I hope, can be published in Physics Today. As I wrote to Dr. Hanna, it is not a paper defending cold fusion claims; it is a paper describing them, no matter what one is inclined to think. Scientifically literate readers are likely to appreciate my short summary of recent claims made by cold fusion researchers. Many physicists are probably not familiar with what has been going on in the area of cold fusion since it was formally evaluated in 1989.
Some of the new cold fusion claims, such as turning Sr into Mo, or Cs into Pr, without stellar temperatures, are even more extraordinary than the claims made by Pons and Fleischmann. The strange thing is that authors of such reports seem to be reputable scientists associated with prestigious universities and laboratories. Is it a matter of fraud? Is it a matter of self-deception, or incompetence? Is it a matter of progressive degeneration due to the isolation of the field from mainstream science? My article does not try to answer these questions; its purpose is to present a summary of what has been recently reported without taking sides. Like many other science teachers, I am in no position to verify validity of hard-to-accept claims in a specialized laboratory. That is why, as suggested in the concluding section, a new evaluation of cold fusion claims, by an appointed panel of experts, is highly desirable. I hope that this suggestion will generate an interesting discussion and comments.
After sending the electronic version of my paper, I discovered a clerical mistake; three references appearing in the text were not listed at the end of the article. And not being sure that subscripts and superscripts would be printed properly by all printers I am sending the paper version of the article with additional minor corrections. Note that references have been renumbered to account for insertions. Please use the paper version of my article instead of the version e-mailed last week. Needless to say, I will be glad to react to suggestions made by your reviewers.
Sincerely yours, Ludwik Kowalski, Ph.D.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
I still do not know what to think about this episode. What prompted Physics Today to contact me half a year after my letter to the editor was definitively rejected? Will the editor in-chief answer me? What is the chance that my article will be sent to unbiased referees? What is the chance that the reviewers will recommend the acceptance? I have no idea. The second physicist who knows about todays submission (beside Steven Jones) is my Ph.D. thesis adviser, Pierre Radvanyi. He did tell me, when we met in Paris last summer, that Cold Fusion is not worth spending time on. But I could not resist sending him the paper. Will he, whose second specialty is history of nuclear physics, say that I am wasting time? We will see. If the paper is published in Physics Today then one can be reasonably certain that a discussion about the second formal evaluation of cold fusion will develop, in the form of letters to the editor. And who knows, such discussion can lead to some changes of attitude about cold fusion topics. That would be the end of my present mission. After retiring next June I plan to become a cold fusion researcher. The goal will be to look for unexplained charged particles emitted from Steves Ti foils using track detectors. (like Oriani, Lipson and Karabut).
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
I finally received the answer from the editor of Physics Today. Dear Dr. Kowalski: We received your article submission titled, "Recent Cold Fusion Claims: Are They Valid?," and appreciate your sending it to Physics Today. After reviewing it, however, we have concluded that it does not meet our editorial needs. Thank you for your interest in Physics Today. Sincerely, Stephen G. Benka Editor-in-Chief.
That is it. Not a single word about the content of the article. How can the phrase does not meet our editorial needs be interpreted? Why was the article not sent to reviewers? They do publish many field summaries each year. Why was my summary not given the same chance to be reviewed by experts? Was I writing about sociology, poetry, business or something else unconnected to physics? Are recent cold fusion claims described in the article already widely known to most physicists? Was my description of these claims erroneous? Was the article rejected because of its style, its limited scope, or its disregard for ethical standards?
Do I have right, as a member of AAPT, ask for an explanation of the rejection? Is the editor of Physics Today expected to briefly justify his decision to reject a paper? I do not know. Perhaps somebody will provide me with answers to such questions. For the time being I submitted the same paper to American Scientist, by e-mail. Will it be rejected in the same way or will they have the decency to send the article to unbiased reviewers? We will see.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
As indicated above, I might be able to perform cold fusion experiments myself. Suppose the results agree with a claim I am trying to verify? Will they, guardians of the gates, allow me to publish an article describing such results? In another field of science a claim of a discovery, made by a qualified investigator, would be published in a scientific journal. But in the field of cold fusion one should expect a rejection by a mainstream journal. That is what happened after Steven Jones submitted his highly convincing paper to Physical Review. Fortunately that paper is available over the Internet. I would not know about that paper if I hadnt attended the cold fusion conference last fall. Even if the smoking gun is found it is difficult to publish the result in a mainstream journal. That is sad; that is discouraging. That is why I would not advise a young researcher to work in the area of cold fusion. The field might die from absence of support and lack of natural continuity.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
DRAFT OF A REPLY (THAT WAS NOT SENT)
Dear Dr. Benka:
I received your message and, naturally, I accept your decision not to publish my paper. I would appreciate, however, some explanation. I spent an entire sabbatical year gathering the material and learning what is summarized in the rejected paper. Please let me know on what basis my paper was rejected. How does it differ from dozens of review papers that our journal publishes each year? Was it a matter of style? Was it a matter of not describing new findings correctly? Was it because I am primarily a physics teacher and not a research scientist? I am not going to argue with you. Please let me know why my manuscript was rejected.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
I am sending the rejected manuscript to another journal -- American Scientist.
Before describing the correspondence with American Scientist let me digress and write about some interesting events. Perhaps these events have something to do with the fact that reviewers comments (on my Letter to the Editor) were shared with me after six months. Below are extracts from an e-mail message received today.
Eugene Mallove [who died tragically last spring] wrote:
1) The U.S. Department of Energy has made a startling reversal of its past refusal to evaluate with a fresh look the large body of experimental evidence that now supports highly anomalous non-chemical magnitude excess heat phenomena in some hydrogen systems, plus associated nuclear anomalies.
2) The confirmation of the DoE review came first in a draft article by Physics Today science journalist Toni Feder. This draft was circulated to several LENR scientists, critics, and others who gave input to Ms. Feder. New Energy Foundation provided input to Ms. Feder and welcomed receipt of the draft article from her. The article is to appear in Physics Today's April 2004 issue, which should be out by the first week of April.
3) The first popular journal to publish the news of the impending DoE review is, however, the UK-based New Scientist. In its March 20, 2004 issue, which was received in the mail today (3/20) at New Energy Foundation here in Concord, New Hampshire, freelance journalist Ben Daviss reports in a short article in the Upfront: News in perspective section (p.6), that James Decker, deputy director of the DoE's Office of Science, has pledged to review evidence from the past 15 years of research in the controversial field. Daviss also writes, The study could be completed by January 2005 and might open up the possibility of funding for cold fusion research
If Feders article is ready to appear in Physics Today then why didnt the editor in chief (Dr. Benka) write to me that an article devoted to the same topic had already been accepted, when he rejected my article nine days ago? Instead he wrote After reviewing it [your article], however, we have concluded that it does not meet our editorial needs. How can I argue with this? The editor in chief probably has the right to review an article internally instead of sending it to outside experts. An article which has nothing to do with physics could be handled in such way. But my article was devoted to physics only; I deliberately avoided social and historical issues. Somehow I suspect that what Mallowe wrote is not true. On the other hand, why would Eugene put his reputation at stake without being certain? Heres what I found about Toni Feder over the Internet: She is on the Editorial Staff of Physics Today. Was she among those who decided to reject my paper two weeks ago? She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Department of Physics, Duke University, Ph.D. 1993.
Message sent to an editor of American Scientist (3/23/2004)
Dear Dr. Schoolmaker: Did you receive my manuscript, entitled Recent cold fusion claims: are they valid? It was e-mailed to you on March 12, 2004. I did not expect to be writing this message on the 15th anniversary of the famous cold fusion press release in Utah. That release occurred on March 23, 1989. Shouldn't this be a reason for publishing my review paper? I hope so. But there is another reason as well. According to the last issue of the UK-based New Scientist (March 20, 2004, page 6) the DOE decided to evaluate new research in the area of cold fusion. The text of that announcement is pasted below. This event, if officially confirmed, will naturally renew interest in cold fusion among many readers. Please note that my paper focuses only on scientific aspects of cold fusion. I deliberately avoided references to social aspects, which are interesting but highly controversial. I would be willing to add a paragraph or two devoted to social aspects of cold fusion, if you find this to be desirable. Sincerely yours, Ludwik Kowalski
After waiting more than a week for a confirmation that my submitted paper was received I e-mailed another message to the editor Of American Scientist: In that message I wrote:
. . . Scientifically literate readers are likely to appreciate my short summary of recent claims made by cold fusion researchers. Many readers are probably not familiar with what has been going on in the area of cold fusion since it was formally evaluated in 1989. Some of the new cold fusion claims, such as turning Sr into Mo, or Cs into Pr, without stellar temperatures, are even more extraordinary than the claims made by Pons and Fleischmann. The strange thing is that authors of such reports seem to be reputable scientists associated with prestigious universities and laboratories. Is it a matter of fraud? Is it a matter of self-deception, or incompetence? Is it a matter of progressive degeneration due to the isolation of the field from mainstream science? My article does not try to answer these questions; its purpose is to present a summary of what has been recently reported without taking sides. Like many other science teachers, I am in no position to verify validity of hard-to-accept claims in a specialized laboratory. That is why, as suggested in the concluding section, a new evaluation of cold fusion claims, by an appointed panel of experts, is highly desirable. I hope that this suggestion will generate an interesting discussion and comments. Sincerely yours, Ludwik Kowalski, Ph.D.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
After being ignored again I simply called American Scientist and obtained permission to contact the editor in chief Rosalind Reid. I sent her the paper; here is the reply:
Dear Dr. Kowalski:
Yes, we've received your original manuscript and the follow-up. I'm afraid we're not always able to acknowledge receipt immediately. I try to give a prospective author an idea of whether we'll be able to consider a manuscript, and sometimes it takes a little time to determine that. We have certain basic criteria for submissions. When a submission does not meet those criteria, I prefer to say that it cannot be considered rather than simply acknowledge receipt.
In the case of this submission, I'm unsure. We publish feature-length articles and commentaries based on original published research. The authors of American Scientist articles are the people who have done the work and therefore are in a position to survey their own field. I don't actually have evidence (in the form of cited publications or a c.v.) that you have done original research on the topic you propose to write about.
If you would like to publish a short commentary, we do have a department with different criteria, called "Macroscope." This is where we publish short essays conveying a scientist's point of view on a matter of personal or professional interest to scientists and engineers. The maximum word count is 1,500. If you would like us to consider publishing your piece in a short form, please let me know, and I'll share it with my colleagues and let you know the response. Sincerely, Rosalind Reid Editor, American Scientist
Responding to the above I wrote:
Dear Dr. Reid: Thank you for your prompt reply. I understand your hesitation. Protecting readers of American Scientist from people who are not qualified to write about science should be one of your tasks. To help you decide here is a little summary about myself.
I am an experimental nuclear physicist (Ph.D., 1963) with a large number of publications (mostly as coauthor) in that field. The attached abbreviated list of publications, spanning four decades, makes it clear that my teaching commitment has not prevented me from active participation in nuclear physics research. Like most scientists, I accepted the 1989 verdict about cold fusion. And you are correct, I have no publications about cold fusion. My new interest in this field was triggered in October 2002. I attended a nuclear conference in New Mexico and heard several scientists talking about cold fusion research. It was the beginning of my sabbatical year. I changed my anticipated literature research project and focused on cold fusion instead. The paper I submitted is the product of that work.
As you can see, my submitted paper focuses on experimental aspects of nuclear research. I think I am qualified to write about that. Several months ago I got involved in a project headed by Steven Jones. (As you might remember, he was one of the three scientists involved in the famous 1989 controversy.) Our work is in progress and we plan to publish results before the end of this year; most likely at the 12th International Conference on Cold Fusion in Marseilles, France. So I can now say that I am participating in cold fusion research. The goal is to confirm the emission of 3 MeV protons from the activated TiDx foil by using a detector which is very different from that used at BYU. I am sure that Steven Jones will be able to confirm our collaboration. You can contact him at <email@example.com>.
I hope your hesitation will not prevent you from sending my article to competent and unbiased reviewers. Please let me know what your decision will be. Meanwhile I would like to follow your suggestion about writing a short commentary on the anticipated review of cold fusion by the DOE; see the attached file. Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely yours, Ludwik Kowalski
Two files were attached one containing a list of selected publications and another containing the following short note to be considered. I hope that at least this note will be published. Here is its content:
SEEK NOT THE GOLDEN EGG, SEEK THE GOOSE
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ, 07043
According to a recent article in The New York Times (3/25/2004) the US Department of Energy (DOE) is going to review the field of cold fusion this year. This is a significant event; the controversial field of cold fusion (CF) has often been called pseudoscience. If it were up to me I would suggest that the panel of DOE scientists focus on essential scientific questions and not on practical applications which are far away, at best. Promising too much, and too early, was one of the mistakes made fifteen years ago. In my opinion the six most important scientific questions are:
1) Are unexpected neutrons, protons, tritons and alphaI think that a positive answer to even one of these six questions should be sufficient to justify an official declaration that cold fusion, in light of recent data, should be treated as a legitimate area of research. The normal peer review mechanisms will then be used to separate valid claims from wishful thinking.
particles emitted (at low rates) in some CF experiments?
2) Is generation of heat, in some CF experiments,
linearly correlated with the accumulation of 4He at the rate
of 24 MeV per atom of 4He?
3) Have highly unusual isotopic ratios been observed
among the elements found in some CF systems?
4) Have radioactive isotopes been produced in some
5) Has transmutation of elements occurred in some
6) Are the ways of validating scientific findings in the areas of
CF research consistent with accepted methodologies in
other areas of science?
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
3/31/04 (Submitting paper to Scientific American):
Dear Dr. Rennie: I am sure that you are aware of the DOE move to review the cold fusion field, as reported in The New York Times (3/25/04). Attached is a review article which, I hope, can be published in Scientific American. The title is Recent cold fusion claims: are they valid? It is not a paper defending cold fusion claims; it is a paper describing them, no matter what one is inclined to think. Scientifically literate readers are likely to appreciate my short summary of recent claims made by cold fusion researchers.
Some of these claims, such as turning Sr into Mo, or Cs into Pr, without stellar temperatures, are even more extraordinary than the claims made by Pons and Fleischmann. The strange thing is that authors of such reports seem to be reputable scientists associated with prestigious universities and laboratories. Is it a matter of fraud? Is it a matter of self-deception, or incompetence? Is it a matter of progressive degeneration due to the isolation of the field from mainstream science? My article does not try to answer these questions; its purpose is to present a summary of what has been recently reported without taking sides. The subject is interesting no matter what the final verdict of the second DOE evaluation will be.
Like many other science teachers, I am in no position to verify validity of hard-to-accept claims in a specialized laboratory. That is why, as suggested in the concluding section, a new evaluation of cold fusion claims, by an appointed panel of experts, is highly desirable. In writing this I was not aware of the pending DOE investigation.
I deliberately avoided references to social aspects, which are interesting but highly controversial. I am a physics teacher at Montclair State University. Studying cold fusion was my 2003/2004 sabbatical project, which resulted in the attached manuscript Sincerely yours, Ludwik Kowalski, Ph.D. Professor of Physics, Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ
[The answer came much later than I expected (6/14/04). here it is:]
Dr. Kowalski: Thank you for your offer to contribute to SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. After much consideration, I regret to say that the piece you propose is not suited to our somewhat limited editorial needs. We appreciate your interest in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. Regards, Jacob Lasky Editorial Administrator. Did Dr Rennie, to whom my first message was addressed, retire?]
After giving up on Scientific American and tried to publish my paper in Nature. Instead of sending the article to them I decided to follow the presubmission path. The most impressive part of the path was that the negative reply came about ten hours later. The process of presubmission consists of filling two text boxes on their web site. The first box was for the letter about my article; I wrote essentially the same as what I wrote to the editor of Scientific American (see above). The second box was for the first paragraph of my paper, and for the references used in it. I wrote:
Cold fusion (CF), presumably discovered 15 years ago, is any process in which a nuclear reaction is produced without relying on traditional means, such as particle accelerators, neutron sources or stellar temperatures. In 1989, several months after the discovery was announced (through a press release at the University of Utah) a panel of scientists, appointed by the US Department of Energy (DOE), examined the evidence supporting the CF claims. That evidence was declared insufficient. But, as summarized in (1) 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.
CF became highly controversial and only several hundred researchers continued working on it, world-wide. Most scientists still think that cold fusion is pseudoscience. On that basis editors of many journals refuse to publish papers devoted to CF research. Only a small fraction of scientists is familiar with recent progress in that area. The purpose of this article is to objectively summarize recent findings (2) and to supply references with which I am familiar. The article was triggered by the reported initiative of DOE to review (3,4) cold fusion research. I will focus on four cold fusion claims which are, in my opinion, the most important. As a nuclear physicist, and a physics teacher, I examined some of CF publications and attended one cold fusion conference (5).
1. Huizenga, J. Cold Fusion: the Scientific Fiasco of the Century. Oxford
University Press, 2nd edition, Oxford, 1993.
2. Cold fusion papers are usually published at specialized scientific
conferences. Many of them are downloadable from the library at
3. Daviss, B. "No Cold Shoulder." New Scientist, March 20, 2004, p 6.
4. Feder, T. DOE Warms to Cold Fusion, Physics Today, April 2004, page 27.
5. The Tenth International Conference on Cold Fusion was held in Cambridge,
Massachusetts 24 - 29 August 2003. Conference proceedings, in the form of
Pdf files, can be downloaded from http://www.lenr-canr.org/iccf10/iccf10.htm
The reply was short and clear;
Thank you for your inquiry about submitting your paper entitled Cold fusion 15 years later to Nature. I regret that the paper that you describe seems unlikely to prove suitable for publication in Nature, and we accordingly suggest that you pursue publication elsewhere. I am sorry that we cannot respond more positively on this occasion. Yours sincerely Dr Karen Southwell, Senior Editor. I was aware, from browsing their web site, that the rate of acceptance in Nature is about 1 out of 10. On that basis I should have expected a rejection.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Corresponding with Brian D. Josephson [a Nobel laureate]
Cavendish Lab, Cambridge CB3 0HE, U.K.
Dear Dr. Brian Josephson
I am one of many to whom the Physics Today article (about cold fusion) was distributed today by Eugene Mallove. At first I thought it was an April Fools joke. Seeing your name on the list of e-mail destinations reminded me that you wrote about negative aspects of the cold fusion situation in the past. May I suggest that you write a Letter to the Editor of Physics Today with comments on the upcoming DOE evaluation. Considering your reputation that letter may become important. Please write what, in your opinion, the task of a new panel should be.
And here is his reply:
Dear Ludwik, Thanks for your e-mail. Steve Krevit and Nadine Winocur, editors of New Energy Times, have sent in a very good letter to PT, and I don't think there's very much worth adding to the combination of that and the original article, so probably I should leave it at that. But it was a good idea of yours! Actually New Scientist reported the situation last week (i.e. in March!), and those in the know had heard about the PT article before then. Brian J.
In a subsequent message Josephson added: . . . Nothing's impossible in this domain -- Nature often does not publish letters from me. Anyway, I've sent in an endorsement of the other letter which I mentioned. Hmm, a paper from a Nobel laureate being rejected? This is hard to believe.
Letter to The Editor of Physics Today. (Responding to Ferders article that was sent to me over the internet by Mallowe):
Dear Dr. Hanna: Assuming the Toni Feders article distributed yesterday over the Internet was not an April Fools joke, I am sending you my reaction to it. Please publish it as a Letter to the Editor of Physics Today. Respectfully yours, Ludwik Kowalski
Here is the content my letter:
Cold fusion; science or pseudoscience?
I agree with Toni Feder (Physics Today, April 2004, page 27) that skepticism about the credibility and reproducibility of cold fusion remains widespread. As a physics teacher who is not certain how students questions about cold fusion should be answered, I welcome the upcoming DOE investigation of recent claims in this controversial area. Here are questions which I would like to see answered by the appointed investigators: a) Is it true that unexpected emission of neutrons, protons, tritons and alpha particles (at low rate) has been observed in several cold fusion experiments? b) Is it true that accumulation of 4He, at the rate of about one atom per 24 MeV of excess heat, has been confirmed by many scientists, as reported by McKubre? c) Is it true that highly abnormal isotopic ratios have been found in some cold fusion setups? d) Is there any indication that leading cold fusion scientists are incompetent in the areas they investigate? e) Is there any indication that their data are fraudulent? f) Is the research methodology used by them different from the methodology used in other areas of physical science?
Answers to these questions will help me decide what to think about cold fusion and what to tell students about it. Speculations about practical applications of new findings, in my opinion, should be de-emphasized at this time. They will emerge naturally when basic scientific claims are recognized as valid, and when cold fusion researchers are no longer treated as if they were con artists and charlatans. The chilling effect, mentioned by Randall Heckman, prevents young scientists from entering the area of cold fusion research. I agree with Allen Bard that being able to reproduce experimental results is not "good enough;" it is only a prelimanary step. But is it not true that poor reproducibility was the central point of criticism when cold fusion was first investigated fifteen years ago?
The editor wrote:
Dear Dr. Kowalski: Your letter has not yet gone to reviewers. There are quite a few in the queue ahead of it, and my reviewers are staff editors who are all busy in current assignments to get Physics Today's May issue out the door. I'll be happy to include your definition of cold fusion in the folder with your letter as it travels through the review process. That process should begin later this week. Thank you for your patience. Kind regards, Marty Hanna Letters Editor, Physics Today.
My immediate reply was:
Dear Dr. Hanna: Thank you for giving my letter to the editor a chance. I also hope that Feder's article will result in a lively discussion. If I had to write my letter again I would insert the opening sentence: "Cold fusion is any process in which a nuclear reaction is produced without relying on traditional means, such as particle accelerators, neutrons, cosmic rays, alpha particles or stellar temperatures." It is probably too late to introduce this change; I do not want to delay the letter.
Feel free to use my definition in any way you wish. I think that either you, or Tony Feder, should define cold fusion before the discussion begins. Unfortunately the term "cold fusion" means different things to different people. It is certainly premature to define cold fusion as a practically unlimited energy resource. But that is what most people say when asked to describe CF. I suspect that many disagreements about CF would disappear if its definition were accepted by all antagonists.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Frustrated that my timely review of the Cold Fusion field is being delayed I decided to send it to another UK journal, New Scientist. I wrote:
Dear Editors: I have a 3048 word article entitled Cold fusion 15 years later which has just been rejected by a research-oriented journal. I would be happy to rewrite it (preferably with one of your science journalists as coauthor) for your readers. Below are three short descriptions of it: one for the general public; one for scientists; and one showing what I wrote to editors of the journal that rejected my review. I would be glad to e-mail you the article if you are interested.
Let me add that I am a physics professor and a researcher with many nuclear science publications. The paper I wrote is a summary of my 2002/2003 sabbatical project. I attended the 2003 International Cold Fusion Conference and have two photos which may be worth adding. Both Martin Fleischmann and Steven Jones (whose CF research triggered the 1989 controversy) gave me signed permission to publish the photos.
Description for general readers
Cold fusion (CF) has been a highly controversial area in science due to: the way in which the discovery was initially announced (via a press release in 1989), difficulties reproducing critical CF experiments, and the highly unusual nature of CF claims. The article describes four such claims and provides references for additional learning. The US Department of Energy (DOE) will soon review the CF field. Are CF claims valid? If they are then practical applications might be developed on the basis of new discoveries. The article focuses on basic science and not on potential applications.
Description for scientists
Cold fusion is defined as any process in which a nuclear reaction is produced without relying on traditional means, such as particle accelerators, neutron sources, stellar temperatures, cosmic rays or alpha particles. This article is a review of recent papers describes four cold fusion processes: a) emission of nuclear particles, such as neutrons and protons, b) generation of excess heat of nuclear origin, c) accumulation of reaction products with highly unusual isotopic ratios, and d) nuclear transmutation of elements. The purpose is to explain cold fusion and to provide references. The article was prompted by the pending review of the field in the US.
Description for editors
I am sure that you are aware of the DOE move to review the cold fusion field. This event prompted me to submit a review article which, I hope, can be published. It is not an article defending cold fusion claims; it is an article describing the most important cold fusion reports objectively. Some of the claims, such as turning Sr into Mo, or Cs into Pr, without stellar temperatures, are even more extraordinary than the 1989 claims made by Pons and Fleischmann. The strange thing is that authors of described reports seem to be reputable scientists associated with prestigious universities and laboratories. Is it a matter of fraud? Is it a matter of self-deception, or incompetence? Is it a matter of progressive degeneration due to the isolation of the field from mainstream science? My article, containing 37 references, does not try to answer these questions; its purpose is to present a summary of what has been reported in the last ten years, without taking sides. The subject is interesting no matter what the final verdict of the second DOE review will be.
Neither Scientific American nor New Scientist confirmed that my submitted paper was received. I have no indication from Physics Today that my letter to the editor will be published. Should I ask for the confirmation of this? No, I will wait another two or three weeks. Also no words from American Scientist (about the Golden Egg piece that they said will be considered). Facing this situation I submitted the article (slightly modified) to The Physics Teacher today. Here was the letter to Dr. Mamola to which the manuscript was attached.
Dear Dr. Mamola: As you probably remember, the manuscript on Cold Fusion that I submitted about two years ago was rejected by your reviewers. My letter to the editor, however, was published last summer. I was pleased by this. The topic, as you know (see the "DOE WARMS to Cold Fusion" article in last April issue of Physics Today), is likely to be of great interest in the near future. With this in mind I wrote a new article on Cold Fusion and I hope that you will be able to publish it next fall. As you will see, I am simply describing controversial claims, I am not defending them. An extensive list of references is provided for those teachers who might wish to familiarize themselves with recent papers. The length is 3302 words, including 37 references. If necessary I can shorten the article, and reduce the list of references. But I prefer not to do this because I believe that everything is important.
I think I already wrote to you that my renewed interested in Cold Fusion was triggered by an accidental encounter, and that my 2001/2003 sabbatical year was devoted to literature research in that field. I am still undecided about validity of cold fusion claims but I think that they should be known to physics teachers. Unfortunately, most of them are, as I was before September 2001, not familiar with experimental data gathered in the last ten years. The pending evaluation of the field by the DOE is likely to be publicized in the media and lead to student interest and questions. Hopefully, my paper will help teachers deal with the renewed interest in the "forbidden field." The manuscript, in MS Word format, is attached.
The following confirmation from the journal arrived in less than two hours.
The Physics Teacher magazine acknowledges receipt of your manuscript "Cold Fusion 15 Years Later" on 5/3/04. Your manuscript has been assigned the number: 420502. Our editorial office will appreciate it if you refer to this number in any future correspondence regarding the submission. After the editor has reviewed your manuscript, we will contact you with his comments and/or recommendation. Thank you for your interest in TPT.
More that a month later I received the following rejection: Dear Professor Kowalski: We have reviewed your manuscript Cold Fusion 15 Years Later in the light of the recent Physics Today article DOE Warms to Cold Fusion. While a paper in TPT on this subject may be warranted, we do not believe there is any great urgency to publish one immediately. After all, according to the Physics Today piece, DOE Deputy Director Decker says that their review of cold fusion will begin in the next month or so [that was back in April] and it wont take a long time - its a matter of weeks or months. We believe that it would be premature to publish a cold fusion paper in TPT before the results of the DOE review are announced. Were we to do so, a follow-up piece would almost certainly be required later, regardless of how that review turns out, and we dont feel that two papers on the subject are warranted. We will consider your paper again (along with any revisions induced by the DOE report) after the report is made public.
My immediate reply was: Dear Dr. Mamola: Was my manuscript examined by referees? I would very much like to see what they had to say about its content. Thanks in advance.
I am still waiting for referees comments. What should I do? I will wait a little longer and then post the review article as item #152 on my web site. How many people will read it? i do not know. I will also turn this summary into a poster for the next Cold Fusion Conference. The fight for a better climate in the area of Cold Fusion is going to continue. Will the pending DOE review end the unhealthy feud about cold fusion? Will it result in elimination of administrative barriers (such as rejection of articles without the peer review process)? What motivates defenders of the status quo? Who benefits from it? Yes these questions belong to the realm of social sciences. But that does not mean they should remain unanswered.
Return to the clickable list of items