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80) Secular Theology?

Ludwik Kowalski (July 14, 2003)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043



As I wrote in item 3, criticism of CF was mostly focused on a speculative hypothesis (nuclear origin of excess heat) and not on the essential experimental fact (existence of excess heat) and on the methodology used by scientists who discovered it. In the Preliminary CF Note (1989) Pons and Fleischmann wrote: "It is inconceivable that this [excess heat] could be due to anything but a nuclear process. . . It is evident that [chemical] reactions are only a small part of the overall reaction scheme and that other nuclear processes must by involved. . . . The bulk of the energy release is due to an hitherto unknown nuclear process." CF was declared to be pathological science (also in 1989) because reality of suspected nuclear processes has not yet been demonstrated. This is not very different from a situation in which critics rejected Galileo's findings because they conflicted with the existing view. The theory of circular orbiting was formulated (by I. Newton) long after Galileo's death.

According to (1), "to discard a well made observation is to violate modern protocol [accepted scientific methodology]. If widely practiced, such a course would quickly undo science. The most interesting and perplexing observations, though accurately measured, would have to be refused by the scientific community because their cause was obscure. Does this mean that any claim of observation must be accepted as worthy of scientific study? Certainly not. It means something quite different. It means that the controversy must center about the quality of the measurements and not about source or cause of the phenomenon. Karl Popper provides an escape from the difficulty of accepting into science an observation that went contrary to established theory. He asserts that science advances, not by proving theories correct or by defending them to the ends of the Earth, rather, by accepting (not adopting) experimental outcomes that contend with theory. His example was that the observation of a thousand white swans does not prove that all swans are white, but the observation of a single black swan undoes forever a theory that says all swans are white. . . . If conflicting data is prohibited from contention, then theories are no longer falsifible. Were it to enable such practice, science would evolve into secular theology."

Beaudette’s book has many interesting observations, and quotes, pertinent to this important subject. That is why I recommend it to all those who are interested in history of science, and in philosophical aspects of its methodology. Another thing that impressed me was Chapter 14 describing work of those scientists who confirmed the initial excess heat findings of Fleischmann and Pons. The ERAB report, resulting in the blacklisting of cold fusion, was published only seven months after the discovery of excess heat was announced. This was unfortunate; many projects described in Beaudette’s book, were far from being completed, or even conceived. What was the reason for not waiting another year or two before finishing the investigation? Was it a fear that producing a devastating report could become more difficult later because high caliber scientists started to be involved? Was it a rush to discredit the cold fusion field as soon as possible? Was it an attempt to protect science from charlatans? Was the ERAB panel trying to protect society from spending too much money on fraudulent projects? Such questions naturally come to mind in reading Chapter 14, especially about background and credentials of involved scientists.

Reference:
1) Charles G. Beaudette, "Excess Heat: Why Cold Fusion Research
Prevailed," Oak Grow Press, LLC, South Bristol, USA, 2000.

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