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203) Proto-science is not pseudo-science

Ludwik Kowalski (2/24/05)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043


Irreproducibility, as we know, is typical in the field of cold fusion. I like to compare the situation with irreproducibility that was probably frustrating investigators of electrostatic phenomena before the role of humidity was recognized. Other comparisons are often mentioned, for example, the effect of impurities on performance of early transistors (before it was recognized that 99.99% purity of raw material might not be sufficient.) Failures probably resulted from hidden uncontrollable factors, such as sneezes, or from not washing hands.

Nuclear phenomena triggered but chemical activities remain irreproducible, as far as I know. Unfortunately, those who investigate such phenomena are often treated as pseudo-scientists or even can artists. This is regretable; existing controversies would have been solved more rapidly if “cold fusion” was treated as any other field of study. But let’s face it, a field of research is not scientific unless at least something is 100% reproducible, or unless the irreproducibility is understood. Far from being pseudo-scientific the field is active and, as far as I know, its major player are well qualified and honest. Therefore it deserves to be labeled as “proto-science.”

The basic idea in the field of CF, as mentioned above, is that “a chemical process can trigger a nuclear process.” That controversial idea conflicts with everything we learn from existing textbooks. Yes, excess heat is an important technological issue. But the major controversy is not about the heat, it is about its nuclear origin. Numerous cold fusion claims have been made but the progress is slow because research is not coordinated. If it was up to me I would ask scientists to select one or two irreproducible phenomena and focus on them. But that is not what is happening. Instead of seeing many scientists studying a selected cold fusion phenomenon, such as emission of alpha particles, or large shifts of isotopic ratios, I see that each researcher does something different.

Excellent instruments to study nuclear particles, and isotopic ratios, already exist in numerous laboratories, all over the world. Therefore controversial claims in these areas would quickly be recognized as either valid or not valid if a research-supporting agency, for example, NSF, or CERN, promoted the idea of focusing on one or two claims. How much would it cost to perform ten or twenty reliable measurements of isotopic ratios (using cathodes supplied by CF scientists) in several independent laboratories? Probably not longer than one month, including preparations and testing of ion sources. Likewise, emission of charged particles, reported by many investigators (Jones, Lipson, Karabut, Oriani, etc.), could be quickly confirmed or not confirmed by scientists from several laboratories. To study Oriani effects (see item #192), for example, a single Si detector, or a dE-E setup of two such detectors (in a sealed container with a thin window), would be placed above the electrolyte, in the electrolyte and below the cathode. Showers of particles leaving tracks in CR-39 detectors should be easily observable by electronic means. Track detectors show cummulative effects, electronic detectors should allow observations of particles at the time of emission.

This approach, to solving a controversy, would be more natural than counting how many appointed panel members “voted” for or against various claims. The recent DOE panel report makes no reference to experiments. I still do not know why the names of panel experts were removed from their individual repotrs (see item #196).

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