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88) Rejections of cold fusion publications
Ludwik Kowalski (August 5, 2003)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043
On November 30, 2002 a nuclear scientist, E. Storms (1) sent a letter to the editor of Scientific American. Here is the content of that letter (2).
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 of 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.
Why was this letter not published in Scientific American? To understand it one must be familiar with the highly unusual polarization of the scientific community on the issue of LENR that occurred after 1989. In my opinion, claims made by prominent scientists should be presented to the general public, even when such claims are questioned by other prominent scientists. Scientific American has been doing this for over one hundred years. But the current editor of that journal, John Rennie, decided not to publish the letter. Here is the reply:
Dear Dr. Storms:
Thank you for your e-mail 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 Scientific American 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.
The editor of Scientific American responded:
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 scientist 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. I can see the dilemma of the editor. He thinks that it is not his job to evaluate experimental findings; his own scientific background is likely to be different from what is needed. The editor would not publish an article on a LENR-CANR phenomenon unless it had been validated in purely scientific journals. But editors of leading scientific journals in the US also reject LENR-CANR papers. Let me illustrate this. In 2001 E. Storms wrote a review of the entire field (4) and tried to publish it in four journals: Physical Review, Review of Modern Physics, Chemical Review and Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry. He was not successful. The disappointed author wrote:
The editor of the first journal said the Phys. Rev. does not publish reviews, although this is not true if the subject is to their liking. The editor of the second journal rejected the paper with the comment Cold fusion is a classic example of pathological science. I will certainly not publish articles supporting its disproven claims. Three of four reviewers of the third journal rejected the paper because they did not think cold fusion is real and could not trust me to be unbiased in arguing this belief. The fourth journal rejected it because the subject was not appropriate for the journal. Submission was done in series, with a new journal chosen after a rejection.
What is my own position on the situation in the cold fusion field? I used to say that the field is pseudoscientific. This was based on what I read from books, such as (6), and articles published shortly after the discovery of excess heat was announced by Fleischmann and Pons. But I am no longer comfortable with this position; recent reviews of the field, and numerous publications, seem to be very scientific to me. But I am still not convinced that the phenomena are real. Being an outsider I am waiting for a new evaluation of cold fusion phenomena by a competent panel of appointed scientists. I am also waiting for a single 100% reproducible demonstration of a nuclear effect resulting from a chemical process. Most physics teachers, like myself, are not equipped to conduct sophisticated research; that is why leaders of our scientific establishment (scientists at APS, editors of major scientific journals and administrators of research granting agencies, such as NSF) should support calls for a new evaluation of the controversial field. My own call for a new evaluation, expressed in a letter to the editor of Physics Today, has not been published. That letter was prompted by the APS ethical guidelines article published in Physics Today. I wrote:
....As a physics teacher I am confused by the situation. What should we tell students when they ask about the discovery of Fleischmann and Pons? Most teachers have no time and no means to validate claims made in the area of cold fusion, and need guidance. An objective summary of what has been done in that field, in the last ten years, would help us to describe it correctly. The issue is not only scientific; it is a topic of general interest. Most educated people know about the cold fusion episode and opinions about it are divided. Some say it was a fiasco while others say it was an important discovery. How should teachers address this topic in the context of public affairs between science and society, or in the context of discussing institutional support for new ideas and innovations?
After waiting several months I asked the editor about the status of my letter. The reply was: So far, I have a split decision on the possible publication of your letter. I expect soon to have a tie-breaking input from a third reviewer. I will let you know as soon as I have a firm decision. Thank you for your patience. I was encouraged. But several days later I was informed about the rejection of my letter. On July 3, 2003, the editor, Dr. Hanna, wrote: Our decision, after some valuable discussion, is not to publish your letter. Thank you for writing and for your interest in Physics Today. Curious about the rejection arguments I asked for the copies of reviewers reports. Here is the reply to that request:
Thank you for your inquiry. Please let me explain. I know that scientists who submit articles to peer-reviewed scientific journals expect reviewers to give them a critique of their letters. Physics Today is not, in the strictest sense, a peer-reviewed scientific journal; it is, instead, a special-interest magazine for physicists. Generally, my reviewers are staff writers and editors (all physicists) who may give me little more than thumbs up or thumbs down on a letter. As a rule, we do not give out the specific comments of the reviewers, because we consider them to be internal business. Thank you for your inquiry. I hope my explanation has helped.
Likewise, my short note about the new situation in the LENR-CANR field was rejected by The Physics Teacher. The editor, Karl Mamola, wrote 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. In the light of the referees comments and of our own careful reexamination of the manuscript, we believe that TPT readers would not be able to make sufficient use of the paper to warrant its publication. While we are not able to use the manuscript you submitted, we appreciate having had the opportunity to read it and we are grateful for your continued interest in The Physics Teacher.
The second referee wrote:
I must recommend against publication of this paper in The Physics Teacher. Despite the claim of helping us teachers, the paper seems actually to be an attempt to have a serious journal endorse cold fusion as a research field to be taken seriously. The pages of The Physics Teacher are not the appropriate place to make such arguments. . . . Even if there were some validity to the now 14 years worth of attempts at cold fusion (I havent heard of any), TPT is about the last place in the world for this to be published.
I do not know why a person not familiar with new findings, such as abnormal isotopic ratios and commensurable accumulation of helium, was chosen to referee my note. How should rejections of LENR-CANR publications be interpreted? They reflect the situation in which, as observed by a friend (5), biasing prevents people from being objective readers of the book of nature. This, however, does not refer to the editor of Scientific American; I consider him to be a journalist with s scientific background. Only scientists read and interpret the book of nature. The friend wrote: If we become certain that LENR doesn't exist, then when Schwinger and Storms and McCubre later present positive evidence for it . . . it just proves their incompetence. 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 preexisting conviction acts as a mental filter.
But where did such a preexisting 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.
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.
I find these observations interesting; ridiculing political opponents is commonly used to avoid real issues. Robert Park and Edward Kruglyakov also use this trick in writing about cold fusion. They lean on arguments that were convincing in 1993 but not convincing in the context of recent findings. People like Park and Kruglyakov are spokesmen for the bureaucratic component of mainstream science. The editors of many journals find it safe not to be in conflict bureaucrats. It is significant, for example, that John Rennies wrote: I did not see evidence . . . of the level of credibility; he did not write: I do not see evidence supporting the existence of cold fusion phenomena. Why would anybody look at the LENR-CANR web site for the evidence of credibility? It is a site to look for the evidence of existence of cold fusion. Instead of ridiculing cold fusion its opponents should have a web site criticizing new findings in that field.
Such site would be very useful to those who are not able to read the book of nature in sophisticated laboratories.
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?
P.S. Let me end with a positive indication. This morning I was informed that my letter to the editor of The Physics Teacher has been published (6).
1) Edmund Storms is a radiochemist who worked on important projects at Los Alamos National Laboratory for thirty-four years. He is a recognized authority in the field of material science, as reflected in several books, and in over seventy research publications. His accomplishments, and his scientific biography, are described at <http://home.netcom.com/~storms2/index.html>
2) E-mail received from Dr. Storms (2003)
3) E-mail received from Dr. Storms (2003)
4) E. Storms, Cold Fusion: An Objective Assessment. The entire paper
can be downloaded from the http:/www.lenr-canr.org web site.
5) William Beatty reflections are presented in the appendix of item #64 at my
web site; http://blake.montclair.edu/~kowalskil/cf/
6) Ludwik Kowalski, The Physics Teacher, vol 41, June 2003 (see my item #97)
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