Return to the clickable list of items

70) To petition AAPT?

Ludwik Kowalski, <kowalskiL@mail.montclair.edu>
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07055 (5/31/2003)



Cold fusion was mentioned in a message I received two days ago. The author of the extracted quote (see below) is a physics teacher; he often posts messages on our Internet discussion list, Phys-L.

> We have several list members who are genuinely and probably
> appropriately interested in issues considered by some as "fringe
> science"-- cold fusion comes immediately to my mind. I think we
> can and should entertain some of this inquiry, while recognizing
> that it isn't mainstream and likely is a blind alley. We all have room
> for growth by examining blind alleys. Certainly our students will
> encounter these fields and we need to know something of them
> as physics educators ourselves.

I think that this is a typical attitude toward cold fusion among physics teachers. The “room for growth” aspect is worth emphasizing; one can learn a lot via debates about variuous claims But let us face it, most of us are not equipped with sophisticated instruments, and with the expertise needed to use them properly. We know that only experimental data can show whether or not cold fusion claims are valid but we cannot collect such data in our laboratories. That is why a second official evaluation of cold fusion claims is needed at this time. To help students we must be helped by the scientific establishment.

The report from the first evaluation, initiated by the Department of Energy, and conducted by a panel of appointed experts, was released in November 1989, only nine months after the discovery of cold fusion was announced. It was based on what was known at that time. What should teachers think about new experimental data, such as accumulation of helium in cold fusion cells, or highly unusual isotopic ratios among heavier byproducts of cold fusion reactions? Several groups of researchers (from Japan, Russia, Italy and US) published articles about these phenomena. Are the authors of these publications incompetent? Are experimental data published by them fraudulent? Why are they often compared to voodoo scientists? Unable to answer such questions by ourselves we teachers expect to be guided by experts.

Many of us are familiar with convincing arguments that cold fusion could not possibly be dominated by the same nuclear reactions those occuring in hot plasma fusion. That conclusion, as far as I know, has been accepted by all scientists, including those from the cold fusion community. After criticizing the circumstances under which the discovery of excess heat was prematurely announced, and after emphasizing the need for controllable and reproducible data, the old report ended with the following: “However, there remain unresolved issues which may have interesting implications. [We are], therefore, sympathetic toward modest support for carefully focused and cooperative experiments within the present funding system. “ I find the last sentence very significant; it indicates a desire to examine the outcome of better experiments, if they become available in the future. This was fourteen years ago; new experimental data are now available and they should be evaluated. (I already wrote about this in item 21 at html://blake.montclair.edu/~kowalskil/cf )

Would it be appropriate to formulate a petition asking the American Association of Physics Teachers (to which most of us belong) to initiate a second evaluation of cold fusion? Should I draft a petition and start circulating it on Phys-L? I have no experience with something like this. My note to The Physics Teacher, asking for a reevaluation of cold fusion, was rejected. My letter to the editor of Physics Today, asking for the same thing, was ignored. Will my letter to the editor of The Physics Teacher, submitted several weeks ago, also be ignored? I do not know what else I can do. Who would suffer from another formal evaluation of cold fusion claims? Why is the scientific establishment unresponsive?

Here is what I wrote in a recent Phys-L thread: “We must accept data coming from real reproducible experiments, no matter how many theories they disagree with. But so-called ‘gedanken experiments’ are very different in that respect; we accept their conclusions only when these conclusions do not conflict with accepted theories.” Cold fusion experiments are real, their results should not be rejected on the basis of desagreements with existing theories. Confirming that 4He is produced in a hydrogen cell, for example, would be highly significant, even if the reproducibility were as low as 10%. The same would be true for highly unnatural isotopic ratios. If it were up to me I would focus on these two claims; they were made by several groups of recognized scientists and, if confirmed, would open new avenues of officially supported research. Lack of 100% reproducibility is always an indication that some important parameters are not yet under control and that additional work is needed.

To see what Schwinger (who shared Nobel Prize with Feynman) wrote on the subject of irreproducibility of cold fusion experiments see item 33 on my list. Very good descriptions of the current status of cold fusion, by three top scientists, can be found in item 24. If what you are reading now is printed on paper then you might not know that my cold fusion items are available over the Internet. The address is:

http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/cf

Return to the clickable list of items