42) Four Points of View
Ludwik Kowalski (February 9, 2003)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ
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1) In criticizing somebody who made an unreasonable theoretical claim about capacitors (on the Phys-L list) a physics teacher wrote:
> . . . It became transparently obvious pretty early on that you have
> little or no interest in being educated and almost no ability to
> listen to what others are saying. You seem to have developed an
> impermeable shield to criticism that allows you to discount it as
> misguided when patiently offered and malevolent when it (inevitably)
> becomes more blunt. This is a characteristic trait, as Bob mentioned
> in an earlier post, of practitioners of pseudoscience.. . . In any event,
> you shouldn't expect anyone to show the least interest in a theory
> that predicts something VERY different unless you come armed
> with some convincing and reproducible experimental evidence and
> can show how your theory squares with the current well-verified
> predictions in most every other situation. . .
A message addressed to a cold fusion researcher would also emphasize the need for reproducible experimental evidence. But that evidence would be used to validate experiments rather than to validate a theory. Why? Because no acceptable theory dealing with chemically activated nuclear reactions emerged. One of the blunders of Fleischmann and Pons was to name the strange phenomenon cold fusion. The nuclear fusion theory exists but it seem to have nothing to do with (presumably discovered) new kind of nuclear reactions.
2) In a private message to me an active cold fusion researcher wrote:
> . . . Today a new physical phenomenon must to be based on a
> theoretical model. I am trying to develop a model focusing on a
> possible mechanism of a nuclear reaction trigger. It is a new
> area of science -- physics of optically active solid media in the
> energy range of 1 - 2 keV. But experimental data are hard to get.
Who can deny that a theoretical model is desirable? Who can deny that a researcher armed with a model is likely to be more effective than those who are not? But saying that experimental facts can not be taken seriously unless they are described by a theoretical model is an exaggeration. Most experimentalists are not well equipped to develop sophisticated theoretical models. Physics is an experimental science. To me this implies that, in the final analysis, experiments are validated by other experiments, not by theories.
3) This brings me back to a Phys-L list message posted on December 14, 2002. My slightly edited reply to the anonymous friend was in capital letters.
As you state repeatedly, the whole atmosphere around CF has been filled with poisonous material, some valid and some emotional. One must be very careful, on entry into such an atmosphere, to be protected by a useful theoretical proposal or at least a plausible explanation that can be subjected to experimental tests. On the basic level there are two obvious questions:(1) How could hydrogen atoms fuse at such a low temperature?(2) If they do fuse, how is the energy released (if not in gamma rays, then how) i.e. what reaction occurred?
If one has no proposed answer or proposed experiment to get an answer, then one is in a state of massive weakness. Your message seems to be that there is new evidence for an interesting mystery, and the early workers were not fairly treated. The author of such a message will be classified as an apologist or defender, no matter how he qualifies such words. If, however, he has a plausible proposal, it could possibly be different. I infer that the major skepticism in the mainstream nuclear science community stems from the silence on the basic two questions above. Such skepticism seems to me to be justified until something reasonable is proposed or, better yet, demonstrated. Until then, essentially all responses will be "impurities or errors".
BOTH QUESTIONS CAN ONLY BE ASKED IF A CLAIM IS MADE THAT FUSION TAKES PLACE. IT WAS FOOLISH TO MAKE SUCH A CLAIM IN 1989 AND IT IS FOOLISH TO MAKE IT TODAY. THAT IS WHY NAMING THE EFFECT "COLD FUSION" WAS HIGHLY INAPPROPRIATE.
THE CLAIMS, AS FAR AS I CAN TELL, ARE:
A) EXCESSIVE (UNACCOUNTABLE) HEAT IS GENERATED IN SOME EXPERIMENTS. B) SOME NUCLEAR PROCESSES ARE TAKING PLACE WHEN EXCESS HEAT IS GENERATED.
YES, THE ONLY WAY TO VALIDATE SUCH CLAIMS IS TO PERFORM EXPERIMENTS. IF IT WERE UP TO ME I WOULD ASK PHYSICISTS TO FOCUS ON A SINGLE ASPECT OF THE SECOND CLAIM, FOR EXAMPLE, EMISSION OF ALPHA PARTICLES. INSTRUMENTS FOR CONTRADICTING OR CONFIRMING EMISSION OF ~14 MEV ALPHA PARTICLES AND ~3 MEV PROTONS (PRESUMABLY OBSERVED BY MANY) ARE WIDELY AVAILABLE. IN OTHER WORDS, THEY WOULD BE ASKED TO VERIFY WHAT IS EASY, AND WHAT COULD BECOME A HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT INDICATOR OF SOMETHING NEW AND INTERESTING. CONFIRMATIONS WOULD START THE USUAL PROCESS OF GOING FROM KNOWN TO UNKNOWN, FROM SIMPLE TO MORE COMPLEX, FROM EXPERIMENTAL FACTS TO THEORIES, ETC.
A LACK OF CONFIRMATION WOULD INDICATE THAT THOSE WHO MADE CLAIMS WERE WRONG. I WOULD THEN ASK PHYSICISTS TO FOCUS ON ANOTHER, PRESUMABLY OFTEN OBSERVED, "NUCLEAR SIGNATURE" AND TRY TO VALIDATE OR CONTRADICT IT. THREE FAILURES TO CONFIRM WOULD PROBABLY BE SUFFICIENT TO SAY THAT EXCESS HEAT, IF ANY, HAS NO NUCLEAR ORIGIN. TROUBLES BEGAN WHEN CHEMISTS, UNFAMILIAR WITH NUCLEAR PHYSICS, STARTED TO MAKE PRONOUNCEMENTS ABOUT IT, AND WHEN PHYSICISTS, UNFAMILIAR WITH CHEMISTRY, ENTERED THE COMPLEX FIELD OF ELECTROCHEMISTRY.
I visited the anonymous friend recently and we talked about cold fusion again. I described a hypothetical scenario in which a totally unexplained phenomenon is observed. Thorium nitrate (radioactive salt) is dissolved in pure water inside a sealed metallic container. The container plus solution are initially radioactive, as measured by a Geiger counter, or by a sophisticated Ge(Li) gamma ray spectrometer. But it is no longer radioactive after the experiment. A scientist who performed the experiment wants to publish the observation in a scientific journal. If you were the editor of that journal, I asked, would you allow the submitted paper to be published? The answer was no I would not publish it.
Then I said, suppose that the researcher takes you to his lab and performs the experiment in front of you. He then offers you a chance to set up a similar experiment from scratch and to perform it by yourself, perhaps using your own instruments with your own assistants. You do all this and you are convinced that this incredible claim seems to be real. Would you now allow the paper to be published? His answer was negative; he believes that experimental evidence, no matter how strong, should not be published, unless some kind of simple theory is provided. The issue of conservation of mass and energy must be addressed by the author.
I said that mainstream science publications, for example, in astronomy, are often purely experimental. Experimentalist discover facts, theoretically inclined scientists try to explain them in terms of what is already known or to develop new models of reality. Why should a cold fusion publication be treated differently in that respect? I also reminded him about Pierre Curies 1903 paper about the unexplained heat coming out of radium. It was a purely experimental paper; the only theoretical comment was that it must be something totally new. Yes, answered my friend, but this was one hundred years ago. What was acceptable then is no longer acceptable in nuclear science today.
Yes, the first discovery of excess heat was made exactly one hundred years ago. It would be nice if more recent excess heat claims were given a chance to be examined in 2003.
4) Let me end this item with an interesting observation made a biochemist, in a private conversation, Trying to publish something in a scientific journal means convincing the editor, and reviewers, that the expressed ideas fit the existing paradigm. That is why those who discover unexpected things often encounter difficulties in trying to publish articles. But trying to patent an invention is just the opposite. The patent bureau wants ideas which are really new; something based on what is already known is not acceptable.
This is an interesting observation, except for one thing. Is it true that a special order has been given, by the US government to the Patent Office, not to accept patents based on cold fusion ideas? I heard about this from two people. I also heard that the legal situation changed very recently; cold fusion patents rejected in the past are ordered to be reevaluated. I would appreciate it if somebody familiar with patent issues (in the area of cold fusion) could describe the situation briefly. Please e-mail this description to me <email@example.com>and I will append it as an item on my web site.
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