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90) My talk at the 10th International Cold Fusion Conference

Ludwik Kowalski (August 10, 2003)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043


The 10th International Cold Fusion Conference (ICCF-10, Boston) begins in two weeks. It is time start describing it. I am a nominal coauthor of a speculative theoretical paper presentation. The real author is Engvild, Kjeld Christensen; he is from Risoe National Laboratory in Denmark. Knowing that I am going to the conference he asked me to submit the poster as a coauthor. It was one day before the deadline. My own presentation, also submitted as a poster, was turned into a 25 minute talk. Instead of repeating what is in the poster (voices from Phys-L about cold fusion) I decided to share personal reflections based on what I learned about cold fusion. The view of an outsider, I suppose, may of some interest to researchers.

[#1] A preliminary comment on irreproducibility
Physics teachers know that electrostatic demos are highly irreproducible.

This must have been frustrating before the surface effects of humidity were recognized.

[#2] Another preliminary comment
Suppose that four probes were deposited on our planet by creatures living somewhere else in the universe. Conditions on their planet are totally different from ours. The probes landed in the same spot but several days apart. The first showed a wind of 50 mi/hr blowing north, the second and the third showed no significant wind while the fourth showed a wind of 30 mi/hr blowing to the west. Should the investigators conclude that the idea of moving air, formulated after the first reading, is erroneous? Certainly not. They should keep experimenting.

[#3] Last preliminary observation
Cold fusion is highly controversial. What should a confused physics teacher do?
(a) Avoid the topic because authorities declared cold fusion to be non scientific 13 years ago?
(b) Risk his or her reputation and discuss the issues?
(c) Play it safe and support official pronouncements?
Those invited to look into Galileo’s telescope were in a similar situation.

[#4] I am Ludwik Kowalski,
a physics teacher from Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043

The synopsis of this talk is available on my web site devoted to cold fusion.
To see it click on item #90 at http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/cf/

[#5] Why am I here?
(a) I am interested in cold fusion. (b) I want to meet active researchers. (c) Are cold fusion phenomena real or not? I want to know the truth. Finding the truth is very difficult for an outsider. Let me show you a letter from a student -->

[#6] A letter from a student:
Dear Mr. Kowalski,
Help! My name is Maggie Johnson and I am a sophomore at Saratoga High School.  In my chemistry class, I am doing a project on Cold Fusion.  I was looking on the Internet for web sites on Cold Fusion, and I came across links to your Cold Fusion items.  I was wondering if you could give me some advice or information?. . .

[#7] How to answer such requests?
A year ago I would reply that cold fusion is pseudoscience. But I am no longer comfortable with this kind of reply.

[#8] Why am I not comfortable?
My first opinion about cold fusion was based on Huizenga’s famous ERAB report. I knew the author personally and I respected him. His criticism of cold fusion was convincing because it was based on the “straw man,” that is, on the idea that cold fusion is a thermonuclear reaction between two colliding hydrogen ions. Did he create this straw man or was it done for him by the unfortunate name “cold fusion?” Was he aware that he was fighting a straw man? I do not know.

[#9] Old arguments.
Those who criticize cold fusion today, Park in the US and Kruglyakov in Russia, essentially repeat Huizenga’s arguments. What was convincing in 1989 is no longer convincing today. (a) Why do they ignore generation of helium? (b) Why do they ignore more sophisticated calorimetry? (c) Why do they ignore unnatural isotopic ratios? (d) Why are they not here learning about such findings?

[#10] I am still questioning.
After becoming aware of the “straw man” aspect of critical arguments I started questioning my own position. I am still not convinced that cold fusion is real but I no longer say that it is voodoo science. My reply to Maggie was limited to giving her references: Mallowe and Beaudette. I kept reading and learning.

[#11] Sharing what I know.
I decided to share what I learned about CF with other teachers. I did this on my web site: , http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/cf/ Feel free to explore my short essays and to share them with others.

[#12] Why am I still puzzled?
(a) I am not able to perform experiments in school. This is likely to be typical.
(b) How comes that hundreds of sophisticated research scientists, trying to convince skeptics, have not developed a 100% reliable demo in 13 years? This is very indicative; windows of opportunity did exist in several countries.

[#13] What kind of evidence would convince a teacher?
(a) Not calorimetry in an electrolytic cell, unless the excess heat is very large (both in absolute value and percentage wise). Only experts can interpret very small effects.
(b) Induced radioactivity measurable with a Geiger counter, or with a gamma rays spectrometer, or with CR39? Oh yes, we are ready to test for radioactivity.
(c) Reduced radioactivity? Not very convincing; how can one be sure that the effect is not due to redistribution of materials within a cell? It can also be due to a removal of a layer of filtering material. Only experts can answer such questions.
(d) Isotopic abnormalities? Oh yes! This would be very convincing if sophisticated equipment were available in our schools.

[#14] How do we become convinced?
(a) Students learn from teachers and textbooks.
(b) Teachers learn from textbooks and journals.
(c) Scientists learn by performing experiments in the areas of their expertise.
(d) Bureaucrats follow administrative directives.
Which of these methods convinced you that neutrons and protons are made from quarks and gluons? Most likely you accepted a published consensus reached by experts.

[#15] Strategy for success?
(a) Convince science teachers by offering a reliable demo. Even a 70% reproducible demo would be useful.
(b) Convince experts with abnormal isotopic ratios. Convince experts with excess heat and with generation of ‘ashes.’
(c) Demonstrate to general public that your most active opponents use ‘straw man tactics’ and that they ignore recent findings.
(d) Do not make unrealistic promises to general public. Keep making your papers available over the Internet.
(e) Openly criticize voodoo science.
(f) Publicize unfair practices of editors, and other bureaucrats.

[#16] Deplorable practice
Cold fusion papers are often published in journals which also publish papers dealing with antigravity, hydrinos, quantum healing devices, practical energy from zero point fluctuations etc. etc. Your papers are mostly experimental, they are not based on speculative extrapolations or on wishful thinking. But a reader may be left with such impression. The idea of having an electronic journal devoted only to cold fusion topics is very good, IMHO.

[#17] A new appointed panel to investigate cold fusion?
Most teachers are waiting for a consensus on cold fusion. They would welcome an official evaluation of new cold fusion findings. NSF first, DOE later! In other words, the primary focus should be on scientific findings and not on possible practical benefits. The evaluation should not be rushed, as the ERAB report was in 1989.

[#18] Trying to publish
Two times I failed to publish an appeal for the second evaluation of the cold fusion field. It was something like this: Can a nuclear process be triggered by a chemical process? The answer, based on what we know about nuclear phenomena, is negative. On the other hand many experiments seem to indicate the opposite. These experiments were performed many years after the first evaluation of “cold fusion” was made by our Department of Energy. As a teacher I would very much appreciate a second evaluation of the field by a panel of competent investigators.

[#19] Rejections
But my calls for the evaluation of new cold fusion claims were defeated by journal editors, and by their referees. I am referring to my jornals: Physics Today and The Physics Teacher.

[#20] From the rejection letter:
The first referee offered only brief comments: ‘I don’t 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 wouldn’t know what the fuss is all about.’ The second referee’s comments are attached [see below]. 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.”

[#21] The second referee wrote:
“I must recommend against publication of this paper in The Physics Teacher. Despite the claim of ‘helping 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. . . .
[#22] The second referee continues:
. . . Even if there were some validity to the now 14 years’ worth of attempts at cold fusion (I haven’t heard of any), TPT is about the last place in the world for this to be published.” Why was this individual chosen to be a referee? S/he is not aware of progress made since the discovery of CF was announced in 1989.

[#23] From the Editor of Physics Today:
“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.”

[#24] What is next?
Sending my letter to referees was seen as an indication of objectivity. But two days later I was informed that Physics Today will not publish my letter. I asked for the comments made by referees.

[#25] From the Editor of Physics Today
“. . . 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.

[#26] Predicting reconciliation
In my opinion, reconciliation between cold fusion and mainstream science is possible. But can this be achieved by a loose collection of individuals working on separate experiments? Those who ridicule you rely on a bureaucratic structure. Try to bypass them.

[#27] Reason for optimism?
“The scientific process is self-corrective. This unique attribute sets science apart from most other activities. The scientific process may on some occasions move slowly, sometimes even along a circuitous path. The significant characteristic of the scientific method, however, is that in the end it can be relied upon to sort out the valid experimental results from background noise and error.” Who wrote this? Your critic, John Huizenga.

[#28] From the 1989 ERAB report
The Panel recommends against the establishment of special programs or research centers to develop cold fusion. However, there remain unresolved issues which may have interesting implications. The Panel is, therefore, sympathetic toward modest support for carefully focused and cooperative experiments within the present funding system.”

[29] What will the history verdict be?
(a) Sooner or later, perhaps in 50 years, the cold fusion puzzle will be resolved.
(Like the “puzzle of cybernetics,” or the “puzzle of genetics,” both in USSR.)

(b) There are only two possibilities: cold fusion phenomena are real or they are not real. But this will not be the end of the story. The social aspects of scientific progress should be addressed.

[#31] If confirmed
If the reality of cold fusion is confirmed then causes of its condemnation by the scientific establishment must be studied. How to make sure that a bureaucratic barrier is never again used to slow down research?

[#32] If not confirmed
On the other hand, if cold fusion is shown to be fictitious then the long-lasting self-delusion, involving hundreds of recognized scientists in several countries, must be explained. How do we know that such self-delusion does not happen more often than we think? In any case, Cold fusion has been a significant event in the history of science; it will not be forgotten. It will be like the opposition to Galileo, several centuries ago.

#[33] What is “an impossible phenomenon?”
(a) A phenomenon not accountable by our current conceptual model (theory).
(b) A phenomenon that does not exist in the real world (it is a product of imagination).
Do not confuse these two meanings in a debate.

[#34] Nobel laureates
J. Schwinger and E. Teller, Nobel laureates, are often mentioned in cold fusion debates. But I did not know about a very critical review of R. Park’s “Voodoo Science” book by another laureate, B. Josephson at:
http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/ ~bdj10/articles/park.html

[#35] THANKS FOR LISTENING

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

kowalskil@mail.montclair.edu

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