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62) Scientific American and cold fusion
Ludwik Kowalski (May 22, 2003)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043
A letter to the editor of Scientific American was sent Edmund Storms in November of 2002. That letter has not been published. Today I downloaded the unpublished reply, (available at http://www.lenr-canr.org) and the correspondence it triggered. The extracted pieces can be used by those of us who discuss the issues of science and society while teaching physics. What follows are: Storms letter to the editor, the unpublished reply of the editor, quotes from other correspondence, and my short comments.
Dear Sir: Your analysis in the December issue about why science is neither respected nor understood by the general public I found to be very much to the point. Those occasions when science accepts claims that are later found to be false clearly give science a black mark. Unfortunately, in an effort to avoid such embarrassment, science also rejects claims that are later found to be true. I ask you, which is the greater threat to science and mankind, accepting a claim that can have no possible benefit or rejecting a claim that can have great benefit?
I could offer many examples of how good ideas have been rejected in the past, but I would like you to consider one very important claim that now has almost universal rejection, yet is supported by a growing body of data. As a scientist, I was trained to judge the reality of nature from good data based on replicated experiments. Yet, I find that the scientific community increasingly bases what is real on the opinions of a few respected journals and academics using theoretical arguments, regardless what is being discovered by other scientists operating in the real world. How is the general public expected to respect science when it does not follow its own stated rules of evidence?
The discovery I would like to use as an example of this double standard is what is called LENR or low energy nuclear reactions. This has also been given the very inaccurate name of cold fusion, a name that now causes rejection and ridicule. This ridicule comes from people who have no understanding about what is now known, yet their opinions are accepted as fact. Is this the way science is supposed to operate?
If you wish to be true to your stated wish to make science more respected, I suggest you educate yourself about this important phenomenon by reading information available at www.lenr-canr.org. There you will find over a thousand publications that support the reality of such anomalous nuclear reactions, as well as several reviews in full text that answer important questions raised by skeptics in the past. Serious scientists rejected "cold fusion" in the past for good reason. These reasons no longer apply. If science cannot correct a past rejection, then what good is the scientific method? Can anyone respect a scientist who cannot change his/her mind after being presented with better data? Respectfully, Edmund Storms, Ph.D.
A Response from the Editor of Scientific American, John Rennie:
Dear Dr. Storms: Thank you for your email proposing that Scientific American reevaluate the status of LENR-CANR research and consider publishing an article on the subject. As you suggested, I did look over a number of the offerings at www.lenr-canr.org. Unfortunately, I still don't see evidence in those papers, or in the mainstream physics literature, that LENR-CANR has achieved any significantly new level of credibility in the eyes of the general physics community. The site does point to a large number of publications that ostensibly offer evidence of the phenomenon, but sheer numbers of papers is not sufficiently compelling--as I'm sure you know, even the creationists can point to thousands of "publications" and "scientists" seemingly supporting their position.
I noticed that the LENR-CANR site, on its page appealing to readers to "help spread the word" about the phenomenon, described Scientific American as having "gone far out on a limb opposing cold fusion. They, along with the leaders of the American Physical Society and the Department of Energy, have made their institutions into bastions of opposition to cold fusion." We at SciAm don't feel that we've gone out on a limb in criticizing cold fusion harshly in the past. As for our being a bastion of opposition to it, I don't think we have an intractably committed position. If LENR-CANR can be demonstrated satisfactorily for acceptance by the physics mainstream, we would be more than happy to publish more favorable articles about it. Your problem starts with establishing more credibility in their eyes, not ours.
Sincerely, John Rennie
Referring to the above, Jed Rothwell (the manager of the lenr-canr web site) wrote: Rennie has dismissed 2,000 papers, including research from laboratories such Los Alamos, the Naval Research Laboratory and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, mainly by equating these papers with creationism. Waving your hand and saying that "X is like creationism" does not make X resemble creationism. Cold fusion is an experimental finding, which is completely unlike creationism, or actual evolutionary theory, for that matter. It is not based on theory or an interpretation of the fossil record, but rather on long-established laboratory instruments and procedures in calorimetry, mass spectroscopy and so on. The only way to disprove cold fusion is to find technical errors in the techniques that are applied by specific cold fusion researchers.
Only highly trained scientists using expensive equipment are in a position to validate cold fusion claims. We read their papers and form our own opinion. This fact should be recognized; the situation was very different one hundred years ago. Neither editors of Scientific American, nor we, physics teachers, can perform experiments with sophisticated mass spectrometers in ultra-clean labs. In this new situation the role of a journal like Scientific American becomes even more important than in the past. I have no idea why Storms letter was not published. The author is a recognized authority in nuclear chemistry, a research veteran from Los Alamos, one of the best nuclear technology laboratories in the world. Why was he silenced by John Rennie?
Responding to Jed Rothwell the editor of Scientific American wrote the people you need to convince about the scientific credibility of cold fusion aren't journalists. They're professional physicists who review submissions for respectable technical journals. If you can convince mainstream scientists that LENR-CANR is real and significant, magazines like Scientific American will drop into line. In other words, he is saying that Scientific American is not a technical journal; its decision to silence a high caliber scientists was bureaucratic rather than scientific. I can understand this. But I do not think that Storms letter would do any harm to the general public. On the contrary, it would promote interest in science.
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