Return to the clickable list of items
64) Two kinds of excommunication
Ludwik Kowalski (May 24, 2003)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043
William Beatty, a subscriber to Phys-L (a discussion list of physics teachers) sent me personal comments on recently published < http://lenr-canr.org/AppealandSciAm.pdf > correspondence with editors of Scientific American. William added: feel free to use my message for anything you wish. I decided to show it below as an appendix. In my opinion the issue of cold fusion can be solved only by competent scientists who perform experiments and discuss their meaning. Political statements, like Williams comments, and like some of my own items, are significant in the context of the issue of science and society rather than in the context of validity of claims.
But science and society topics are profound and worth addressing. One of them attracted my attention recently; it was the excommunication of genetics by Stalinists. At first I simply wanted to compare two kinds of excommunication, that of cold fusion in the US and that of genetics in the Soviet Union. But then I started reading about mechanisms of control of science by ideologically motivated state apparatus. I think I will continue writing about this in the future. (Even cybernetics was at one time condemed in the Soviet Union as pseudo-science: psevdo-nauka na uslugakch americanskovo imperialisma). Here is a very interesting Internet reference (authored by a Russian researcher, Kirill Rossiyanov ):
I did not know that Stalin was personally involved in editing Lysenkos pseudo- scientific publications. By the way, those accusing geneticists of being pseudo- scientists (and class enemies) are now universally condemned as charlatans. Here is an intersting quote about genetics from the Soviet Encyclopedia (1950).:"...gene is mythical part of living structure which in reactionary theories like Mendelism-Veysmanism-Morganism determines heredity. Soviet scientists under leadership of Academician Lysenko proved scientifically that genes don't exist in nature."
Appendix (message from William Beatty):
[Correspondence with Scientific American is] VERY interesting. He [the current editor of the journal] seems to base his opinion of LENR only upon what others think; others who very probably have never read the papers. He should be basing his opinion on his own examination of *both* sides of the controversy... and yet he won't go and read the papers himself? Bizarre. Perhaps this a case of "my mind is made up, so don't bother me with evidence found later!" Or perhaps he's waiting for OTHER magazine editors to publish articles about the positive evidence before even questioning his own position. If so, it's bizarre for a journalist to have such an attitude, and triply bizarre for anyone associated with science.
Well, New Scientist had their short article out in March. Heh. Perhaps this just proves that New Scientist staff is incompetent? If so, then that's a classic example of the "experimenter's regress" problem. If we become certain that LENR doesn't exist, then when Schwinger and Storms and McCubre later present positive evidence for it, this is not evidence, instead it is "evidence." In other words, it just proves their own incompetence. Since we know that LENR is bogus, all the papers supporting the phenomenon are seen as powerful evidence of experimenter incompetence. In that case the reliability of the labs reporting a replication mean nothing. Since we know that LENR is bogus, then positive
replications are demonstrations that those labs are incompetent. Note that no amount of positive evidence can *ever* be convincing. A pre-existing conviction that LENR is bogus acts as a mental filter. All positive evidence is seen as corrupt, and then is rejected unread. This causes the negative evidence to build up and reinforce the initial judgement, but the positive evidence does not.
But where did such a pre-existing conviction come from? In science it's wrong to first adopt a viewpoint and then to use the selection of evidence in order to support that viewpoint. Politicians do it. The legal system is based on it. Science is totally different: a bend-over-backwards search for the truth rather than a defense of a an existing position during a debate. If one claims to be scientific, yet also adopts a position not based on evidence, then that is pseudoscience. It is a particular form of pseudoscience known widely as "Cargo Cult Science." One essential element is missing: the no-holds-barred search for truth.
This illustrates that it's enormously important for science workers to remain tenative and unprejudiced. If they fail to do this, then they'll start using self-persuasion tactics. To read only the material which supports their position, while at the same time refusing to read material written by opponents, that's a blatent example of self-persuasion in action. Mr. Rennie has apparently fallen into this trap. I could be mistaken though. Has he read the several books which support LENR? Or does he only read material which supports the anti-LENR position? If the latter, then he's involved with Cargo Cult Science.
Why would anyone ever adopt a firm position and start selecting evidence? One reason is ridicule. It's a known phenomenon in sociology. Once a person has ridiculed a particular concept, that person is trapped. They've surrendered their objectivity and their self-image is on the line. A huge conflict of interest arises because, if their ridicule was wrong, it's an embarrassing error of major proportion, and they've opened *themselves* up as a target for ridicule. Once such a conflict of interest exists, only an overwhelming amount of contrary evidence can ever sway them into reexamining their position. The practice of ridicule very often leads to a firmly closed mind, so scientists should avoid such behavior at all costs.
One major mistake he made: saying that he needs no justification for his position. Totally wrong. His position is not proper science; he's not reviewing both sides of the evidence while calmly revising his opinion when new evidence comes in. Instead he takes a stance of *active disbelief*, even hostility, then refuses to examine evidence which might damage this position. Strong levels of belief and disbelief BOTH require detailed justification. The only position which doesn't require justification is the scientific one: refusing to make judgements when evidence is lacking. He certainly hasn't refused to make judgements. Yes, it is up to the LENR researchers to present evidence, it is not up to the scientific community to disprove unsupported claims. But his position is nothing like that of a scientist. Instead he mysteriously "knows" that LENR is bogus, and when LENR researchers present evidence, he bad-mouths it and refuses to inspect it. I wish he had simply cleared up the mystery in his letters to Jed. On what is his judgement based? Perhaps he wants to hide his reasoning because it will fall apart in the light of day. Perhaps it's from the following. If we're to actively disbelieve the LENR papers, on what should we base our disbelief?
1. We all know that only Pons and Fleichman presented positive results, and none of the attempted replications produced any similar effects. (Wrong, as shown by the briefest inspection of the long list of research papers.)
2. The rest of the scientific community knows that LENR doesn't exist. That many smart people can't possibly be wrong. This includes the editors of other major journals. (Bad move. This is like reviewing a book by talking to lots of other people who never read it either. T. Gold at Cornell calls this "the sharpening of opinion in a field, leading to the apperance that the problem is solved." Where is the large group of experts who have actually read any of the positive results? Do they even know that the papers exist? R. Feynman had harsh words to say about this sort of pseudoscience, re. the parable of the Emperor's Nose.)
3. Nobody offered a mechanism whereby fusion can occur at such low energy. (Bad reasoning. Galileo's whispered response shows the great flaw in the above thinking: "and yet it moves." Galileo didn't propose a mechanism. Science doesn't insist on knowing mechanisms before accepting evidence! What if this wasn't the case? This would mean that the scientific community of the time should rightly have turned their backs on Galileo, only to embrace the heliocentric viewpoint after Newton proposed a mechanism fifty years later. No! Observations don't magically become real only after a theory is later developed to explain them.)
4. Pons and Fleichman spent all that money, yet where's the fusion- powered home furnace? (Bad reasoning. Here's an analogy to illustrate. What if the scientific community had ridicule Becquerel's crazy claim that mysterious rays were emitted by a common mineral called pitchblende? Ridicule was a danger, since he's proposing an instance of a perpetual motion machine. Fortunately his claim was trivial to reproduce. But imagine what might have happened if it wasn't. In that case, should his colleagues reject evidence on the grounds that nobody is unable to build a uranium- powered furnace in 1910 or 1920? Obviously not. We shouldn't reject LENR claims while while requiring that all new phenomena be easy to harness and engineer. And also note that Bequerel committed a high crime: he proposed no airtight theory nor identified a sensible mechanism when reporting his evidence. His evidence triggered a decades-long search for a mechanism. The LENR papers did not. Ask yourself why, then go out and find a solid answer.)
6. Only crackpots come out in support of LENR. (Wrong. Before his death, Julian Schwinger was a supporter on the theory side. SRI and NRL reproduced the phenomenon and recommended that studies continue. So did one of the country's top electrochemists J. O. Bockris. And on the public information side, Sir Arthur C. Clarke has come out as a major supporter. Ah. But because of "experimenter regress", if we decide that LENR is bogus, this just means that these people are all fools. #6 above is circular reasoning: only crackpots support LENR because anyone who supports LENR is defined as being a crackpot.)
7. If LENR is real, then Alchemy really exists! We'd have to rewrite everything we know about chemistry in the everyday world! (Alchemy is blasphemy, and LENR supporters are heretics? In science, ever it was thus: most revolutionary discoveries were blasphemy. Continental drift is the poster child for this. The above isn't an argument against LENR, instead it's a complaint that LENR, if real, will trigger the next major scientific revolution. Yes, we all knew this.)
8. Pons and Fleichman saw neutrons. Then they didn't. And the neutron output was vastly too low to explain the excess heat as having nuclear origin. Then they saw gammas at one energy. When someone showed that the energy was wrong for that sort of reaction, their next paper showed the curves moved to the right place. Doesn't this prove their incompetence? (Maybe, but maybe also it demonstrates the pressures and rushed publication of the times, and demonstrates a trial and error process of discovery which always exists but is usually hidden behind a polished research paper. Only their initial results, the thermal results, stood the test of time, and it was only later that other 'nuclear ash' such as He4 and Tritium were measured and found.)
9. Major labs showed that LENR doesn't exist. That's what led to the ERAB report which condemned the whole affair. (Yes, but this falls into the "experimenter's regress" problem: if we know that LENR is real, then when major labs cannot replicate yet a few individuals succeed, then perhaps it means that the major labs didn't call up Pons/Fleichman and ask about the various techniques needed for success. Yet if LENR *is* bogus, then it means that the major labs did perform the experiment correctly after all, and anyone announcing a successful replication has made a major error. Which position is right? We cannot know, since we would first have to know in advance if LENR is real! In other words, in order to properly judge evidence, in order to know if LENR is real, we have to first know whether LENR is real. That's the experimenters' regress.)
10. The Japanese poured huge amounts of money into LENR research. Then they gave up. If LENR is so real, why didn't a well-funded program demonstrate this? (Good question. It had better not be rhetorical. Why did the Japanese effort fail? I'm not familiar with the issue myself. There could be many answers, so we'd better investigate and not simply take it as proof that LENR is bogus. Perhaps the project was bogged down by politics? Strapped with the sort of active hostile disbelief so prevalent in the USA? Bad luck in using palladium from sources later proved to contain unknown contaminants? Refusal to contact Pons/Fleichman or other successful experimenters to find out the needed techniques? Or perhaps it was a competent demonstration that LENR doesn't exist. Further info is needed. )
11. If LENR is real, where is all the evidence in support of this position? ( It's at http://lenr-canr.org Ah, but anyone who finds positive evicence for LENR has simply revealed themselves to be a crackpot? By definition, that website contains papers written by crackpots with scientific credentials? So it would seem, but only if we adopt the initial bias that LENR is bogus. )
OK, so far I see no reason for adopting a stance of active and hostile disbelief. Perhaps Mr. Rennie will wish to submit some info which will cause me to take his position. Jed's article is now in a public place. In my opinion it looks pretty bad that Mr. Rennie can't instantly give clear and convincing reasons why he has made such a firm judgement that LENR is nothing but a mistake. If he reads this, perhaps he can replace my above list with something sound.
Return to the clickable list of items