49) AFTER MY COLD FUSION NOTE WAS REJECTED
BY THE PHYSICS TEACHER
Ludwik Kowalski (4/3/03)
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043
Return to the clickable list of itemsMy cold fusion note, submitted to The Physics Teacher, was evaluated by two referees. Their recommendation was not to publish it. The editor wrote to me: Our editorial staff has completed its review of your manuscript On Reproducibility of Data in Cold Fusion Experiments. The process included consultation with two of our referees. I regret to inform you of our decision not to publish the paper. The first referee offered only brief comments: I dont think The Physics Teacher is the right journal for this paper. Most readers of this journal are in no position to judge these rather esoteric matters. Indeed, most teachers wouldnt know what the fuss is all about.
ON REPRODUCIBILITY OF DATA
IN COLD FUSION EXPERIMENTS
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043
Those who followed the discovery made by Fleischmann and Pons (1) are likely to remember that the number of teams confirming cold fusion was about the same as the number of teams not able to confirm it. The claim was that palladium loaded with deuterium ions generates thermal energy which can not possibly be attributed to chemical processes. According to (2,3,4) the reproducibility of the effect is much better today than it used to be. But that does not mean that the experiment is easy.
Here is how the situation was described by experts (3). "Most scientists hold the view that anomalous effects in deuterated metals can be explained by experimental errors. Some scientists go so far as attributing positive results to self-deception and even fraud and consign this phenomenon to the realms of Langmuir's 'Pathological Science.' Due to the lack of experimental reproducibility, this field remains practically defenseless against such attacks. To our knowledge, no laboratory can provide detailed experimental instructions to another laboratory and guarantee the reproducibility of the excess heat effect. Nevertheless, considerable knowledge has been gained concerning experimental conditions that favor the excess heat effect. . . Our experiments indicate that the lack of reproducibility is due largely to unknown and uncontrolled variables contained within the palladium stock.
. . .[Our results] have been used to support both sides of the scientific controversy regarding anomalous effects in deuterated metals. Our first set of experiments conducted over a 6-month period (25 March - 7 September 1989) produced no significant evidence for any excess enthalpy produced. . . [Other groups] also reported no evidence for excess heat, thus greatly impacting the general scientific opinion regarding this field. All three [of these] groups discontinued their experiments after only a few months of investigation. We continued to investigate other palladium samples and eventually observed significant evidence for excess enthalpy from the use of Johnson-Matthey palladium rods. In retrospect, it would be impossible for any research group to adequately investigate the multitude of variables involved with this field in only a few months. These variables range from the palladium metallurgy to the D2O purity, the type of electrolyte and its concentration, the electrochemical cell, the electrode arrangement, the type of calorimeter, proper scaling of the experiments, the handling of metals, the current densities used, the duration of the experiments, the loading of deuterium into the palladium, the use of additives, and so on."
This was written in 1996, seven years after the field of cold fusion was declared a scientific fiasco (5,6). I strongly recommend (2,3,4) to those who would like to build an electrolytic setup demonstrating the reality of excess heat. It is clear to me that naming the unknown phenomenon "cold fusion" was most unfortunate. The new (awkward) name is "LENR-CANR," where LENR stands for "low energy nuclear reactions" and CANR stands for "chemically assisted nuclear reactions." Yes, I know that LENR has already been chosen for something else and that CANR contradicts everything we know about atoms and nuclei. On the other hand I believe that those who now routinely observe excess heat are experienced and honest scientists. The term AE (anomalous energy) is also used, instead of cold fusion, when the emphasis is on excess energy. Personally, I prefer to retain the original CF abbreviation interpreted as "cold furor" (7)." In any case the discovery of CF was not a passing episode; several hundred people have been working in the area since the big excitement of 1989.
Up to now the field, far from being a fiasco (6), still can not be called scientific because highly trained scientists have often been unable to reproduce each other's experiments, even qualitatively. But due to persistent efforts of many dedicated researchers the CF field is becoming scientific. According to (4), "excess power levels below 20% are routine [but considerable skill is required] while values above 100 % are rare. The highest reported excess power is 1500% using palladium deutride made in a fused-salt electrolytic cell at 450 oC." Theoretical models will probably be developed as soon as basic facts are finally recognized. Practical applications are possible but it is probably too early to speculate about them. On the other hand, I think that discussing CF with students is highly appropriate, especially in the contexts of the methodology, history and sociology of science.
The early history of CF is outlined in (6), and in other books (7,8,9,10,11,12). According to (6), the year during which the discovery of CF was announced was like a soap opera. "Confirmations, retractions, new positive claims and null results were the order of the day " partly due to the very unconventional form of the announcement -- via a press release, rather than publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Furthermore, many important details were not initially available to those who wanted to conduct similar experiments, most likely on the advice of lawyers handling patent applications.
The essence of the discovery, as described in (1), can be summarized as follows. Heavy water was decomposed in an electrolytic cell whose cathode (negative electrode) was palladium and whose anode (positive electrode) was platinum. The amount of energy entering the system was found to be smaller than the amount of energy exiting the system. The law of conservation of energy requires that a process of some kind must be responsible for the anomalous energy. The hypothesis put forth by Fleischmann and Pons was that the AE was generated via fusion of atomic nuclei. The only reason to advance that hypothesis was the realization that the generated heat was too large to be attributed to a chemical process. This, however, antagonized scientists familiar with nuclear fusion; how could they accept an ad hoc hypothesis contradicting accepted concepts?
But there was an additional, equally good, reason for rejecting the hypothesis. Fusion of deuterons (atomic nuclei of deuterium) is known to produce neutrons, protons, tritons and, very rarely, 4He. Assuming that the fusion hypothesis was correct, scientists quickly calculated the amount of byproducts from the reported magnitude of AE. The actual amount found was much lower than what was expected; the discrepancy was at least ten orders of magnitude. This did not prevent Fleischmann and Pons from saying: "it is evident that nuclear processes must be involved." I think that linking an experimental discovery with a hard-to-accept
conclusion (and calling it evidence) was a tactical error. Another tactical error was saying that the discovery was ready for practical exploitation.
The panel of scientists appointed by the US Department of Energy correctly concluded, in their Executive Summary (5), that "the experimental results on excess heat from calorimetric cells reported to date do not present convincing evidence that useful sources of energy will result from the phenomena attributed to cold fusion. In addition, the Panel concludes that experiments reported to date do not present convincing evidence to associate the reported anomalous heat with a nuclear process. The Panel also concludes that some observations attributed to cold fusion are not yet invalidated."
There would have been no need for the first two Panel conclusions if Fleischmann and Pons had not made those tactical errors. And the third conclusion was not at all negative; how can a discovery of a totally new, and difficult to observe, phenomenon be validated in less than one year? In other words, the CF field was criticized for its two marginal claims; its main claim -- the discovery of unexplained heat -- was not challenged. The field was nearly discredited by two premature claims. The last sentence of the Executive Summary stated that the Panel was "sympathetic toward modest support for carefully focused and cooperative experiments within the present funding system." As a teacher who, until very recently, was not paying attention to developments taking place in the area of CF I would welcome its revaluation. Dedicated scientists working in that area would probably also welcome the initiative. The reevaluation might lead to the end of the isolation in which they found themselves after the Panel Report to the United States Department of Energy was published. And it will help us teachers.
1) M. Fleischmann, B.S.Pons and M. Hawkins,
J. Electroanal. Chem., 261, 301, 1989.
2) Edmund Storms, 2001, "Cold fusion: an objective
assessment," downloaded from the Internet site:
The author a researcher from LANL (Los Alamos
3) M.H. Miles et al., 1996, "Anomalous effects in deuterated
systems," downloaded from the Internet site:
The authors are from Naval Air Warfare Center,
Weapons Division, China Lake, CA.
4) E. Storms, M.H. 1995, "How to Produce the Pons-Fleischman
Effect" downloaded from the Internet site:
The author a researcher from LANL (Los Alamos
5) "Cold Fusion Research. A Report of the Energy Research
Advisory Board to the United States Department of Energy,"
J. Huizenga and N. Ramsey, Co-chairman, November 1989.
The report can be downloaded from the Internet site:
6) J.R. Huizenga, "Cold Fusion: The Scientific Fiasco of the Century,"
Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, Oxford, 1993.
7) E.F. Mallove, "Fire from Ice: Searching for Truth Behind the Cold
Fusion Furor," John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1991.
8) F. Close, "Too Hot to Handle: the Race for Cold Fusion," Princeton
University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1991.
9) F.D. Peat, "Cold Fusion", Contemporary Books, Chicago, 1989.
10) G. Taubes, "Bad Science: the Short Life and Weird Times of Cold
Fusion," Random House, New York, 1993.
11) T. Mizuno, "Nuclear Transmutations: The Reality of Cold Fusion,"
Oak Grow Press, Concord, NH, 1998.
12) C. Beaudette, "Excess Heat. Why Cold Fusion Research Prevailed."
Oak Grow Press, Concord, NH, 2000.
Comments on what the second referee wrote
I was wrong to write the discovery of unexplained heat, was not challenged. Many scientists were not able to reproduce the experiment described by Fleischmann and Pond. Given a chance I would correct the unfortunate assertion. The reviewer also wrote: the author dismisses the observation that those neutrons were not observed as somehow being merely a tactical error on the part of Fleischmann and Pons. Yes, neutrons were never observed in the amount commensurable with the amount of heat. This supports the view that the reaction (claimed to take place) was not thermonuclear fusion, as we know it. Instead of saying that something unusual is taking place Fleischmann and Pons said it is nuclear fusion. That is what I meant by tactical error. The biggest mistake, however, was to announce the discovery prematurely.
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