On Theory and Science Generally in Connection with the Fleischmann-Pons Experiment
This is an editorial from Infinite Energy, March/April 2013, p. 5, copied here for purposes of study and commentary. This article was cited to me as if it were in contradiction to certain ideas I have expressed. Reading it carefully, I find it is, for the most part, a confirmation of these ideas, and so I was motivated to study this here. Some of what Peter wrote in 2013 is being disregarded, not to mention by pseudoskeptics, but also by people within the community. He presents some cautions, which are commonly ignored.
I was encouraged to contribute to an editorial generally on the topic of theory in science, in connection with publication of a paper focused on some recent ideas that Ed Storms has put forth regarding a model for how excess heat works in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment. Such a project would compete for my time with other commitments, including teaching, research and family-related commitments; so I was reluctant to take it on. On the other hand I found myself tempted, since over the years I have been musing about theory, and also about science, as a result of having been involved in research on the Fleischmann-Pons experiment. As you can see from what follows, I ended up succumbing to temptation.
I have listened to Peter talk many times in person. He has a manner that is quite distinctive, and it’s a pleasure to remember the sound of his voice. He is dispassionate and thoughtful, and often quietly humorous.
Science as an imperfect human endeavor
In order to figure out the role of theory in science, probably we should start by figuring out what science is. Had you asked me years ago what science is, I would have replied with confidence. I would have rambled on at length about discovering how nature works, the scientific method, accumulation and systematization of scientific knowledge, about the benefits of science to mankind, and about those who do science. But alas, I wasn’t asked years ago.
[Cue laugh track.]
In this day and age, we might turn to Wikipedia as a resource to figure out what science is.
[Cue more laughter.] But he’s right, many might turn to Wikipedia, and even though I know very well how Wikipedia works and fails to work, I also use it every day. Wikipedia is unstable, often constantly changing. Rather arbitrarily, I picked the March 1, 2013 version by PhaseChanger for a permanent link. Science, as we will see, does depend on consensus, and in theory, Wikipedia also does, but, in practice, Wikipedia editors are anonymous, their real qualifications are generally unknown, and there is no responsible and reliable governance. So Wikipedia is even more vulnerable to information cascades and hidden factional dominance than the “scientific community,” which is poorly defined.
We see on the Wikipedia page pictures of an imposing collection of famous scientists, discussion of the history of science, the scientific method, philosophical issues, science and society, impact on public policy and the like. One comes away with the impression of science as something sensible with a long and respected lineage, as a rational enterprise involving many very smart people, lots of work and systematic accumulation and organization of knowledge—in essence an honorable endeavor that we might look up to and be proud of. This is very much the spirit in which I viewed science a quarter century ago.
Me too. I still am proud of science, but there is a dark side to nearly everything human.
I wanted to be part of this great and noble enterprise. It was good; it advanced humanity by providing understanding. I respected science and scientists greatly.
Mixed up on Wikipedia, and to some extent here in Peter’s article, is “understanding” as the goal, with “knowledge,” the root meaning. “Understanding” is transient and that we believe we understand something is probably a particular brain chemistry that responds to particular kinds of neural patterns and reactions. The real and practical value of science is in prediction, not some mere personal satisfaction, and that reaction is rooted in a sense of control and safety. The pursuit of that brain chemistry, which is probably addictive, may motivate many scientists (and people in general). Threaten a person’s sense that they understand reality, strong reactions will be common.
We can see the tension in the Wikipedia article. The lede defines science:
Science (from Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. In an older and closely related meaning (found, for example, in Aristotle), “science” refers to the body of reliable knowledge itself, of the type that can be logically and rationally explained (see History and philosophy below).
There are obviously two major kinds of knowledge: One is memory, a record of witnessing. The other is explanation. The difference is routinely understood at law: a witness will be asked to report what they witnessed, not how they interpreted it (except possibly as an explanatory detail; in general, interpretation is the province of “expert witnesses” who must be qualified before the court. Adversarial systems (as in the U.S.) create much confusion by not having the court choose experts to consult. Rather, each side hires its own experts, and some make a career out of testifying with some particular slant. Those differences of opinion are assessed by juries, subject to arguments from the plaintiff and defendant. It’s a place where the system can break down, though any system can break down. It’s better than some and worse than others.
Science, historically and practically (as we apply science in our lives), begins, not with explanations, but with observation and memory and, later in life, written records of observations. However, the human mind, it is well-known, tends to lose observational detail and instead will most strongly remember conclusions and impressions, especially those with some emotional impact.
So the foundation of science is the enormous body of experimental and other records. This is, however, often “systematized” through the explanations that developed, and the scientific method harnesses these to make the organization of knowledge more efficient through testing predictions and, over time, deprecating explanations that are less predictive, in favor of those more precise and comprehensive in prediction. This easily becomes confused with truth. As I will be repeating, however, the map is not the reality.
Today I still have great respect for science and for many scientists, probably much more respect than in days past. But my view is different today. Now I would describe science as very much a human endeavor; and as a human activity, science is imperfect. This is not intended as a criticism; instead I view it as a reflection that we as humans are imperfect. Which in a sense makes it much more amazing that we have managed to make as much progress as we have. The advances in our understanding of nature resulting from science generally might be seen as a much greater accomplishment in light of how imperfect humans sometimes are, especially in connection with science.
Yes. Peter has matured. He is no longer so outraged by the obvious.
The scientific method as an ideal
Often in talking with muggles (non-scientists in this context) about science, it seems first and foremost the discussion turns to the notion of the “scientific method,” which muggles have been exposed to and imagine is actually what scientists make use of when doing science. Ah, the wonderful idealization which is this scientific method! Once again, we turn to Wikipedia as our modern source for clarification of all things mysterious: the scientific method in summary involves the formulation of a question, a hypothesis, a prediction, a test and subsequent analysis. Without doubt, this method is effective for figuring out what is right and also what is wrong as to how nature works, and can be even more so when applied repeatedly on a given problem by many people over a long time.
The version of the Wikipedia article as edited by Crazynas: 22:30, 14 February 2013.
However, the scientific method, as it was conveyed to me (by Feynman at Cal Tech, 1961-63) requires something that runs in radical contradiction to how most people are socially conditioned, how they have been trained or have chosen to live. and actually live in practice. It requires a strenous attempt to prove one’s own ideas wrong, whereas normal socialization expects us to try to prove we are right. While most scientists understand this, actual practice can be wildly off, hence confirmation bias is common.
In years past I was an ardent supporter of this scientific method. Even more, I would probably have argued that pretty much any other approach would be guaranteed to produce unreliable results.
Well, less reliable.
At present I think of the scientific method as presented here more as an ideal, a method that one would like to use, and should definitely use if and when possible. Sadly, there are circumstances where it isn’t practical to make use of the scientific method. For example, to carry out a test it might require resources (such as funding, people, laboratories and so forth), and if the resources are not available then the test part of the method simply isn’t going to get done.
I disagree. It is always practical to use the method, provided that one understands that results may not be immediate. For example, one may design tests that may only later (maybe even much later) be performed. When an idea (hypothesis) has not been tested and shown to generate reliable predictions, the idea is properly not yet “scientific,” but rather proposed, awaiting confirmation. As well, it is, in some cases, possible to test an idea against a body of existing experimental evidence. This is less satisfactory than performing tests specifically designed with controls, but nevertheless can create progress, preliminary results to guide later work.
In the case Peter will be looking at, there was a rush to judgment, a political impulse to find quick answers, and the ideas that arose (experimental error, artifacts, etc.) were never well-tested. Rather, impressions were created and communicated widely, based on limited and inconclusive evidence, becoming the general “consensus” that Peter will talk about.
In practice, simple application of the scientific method isn’t enough. Consider the situation when several scientists contemplate the same question: They all have an excellent understanding of the various hypotheses put forth; there are no questions about the predictions; and they all do tests and subsequent analyses. This, for example, was the situation in the area of the Fleischmann-Pons experiment back in 1989. So, what happens when different scientists that do the tests get different answers?
Again, it’s necessary to distinguish between observation and interpretation. The answers only seemed different when viewed from within a very limited perspective. In fact, as we now can see it, there was a high consistency between the various experiments, including the so-called negative replications. Essentially, given condition X, Y was seen, at least occasionally. With condition X missing, Y was never seen. That is enough to conclude, first pass, a causal relationship between X and Y. X, of course, would be high deuterium loading, of at least about 90%. Y would be excess heat. There were also other necessary conditions for excess heat. But in 1989, few knew this and it was widely assumed that it was enough to put “two electrodes in a jam-jar” to show that the FP Heat Effect did not exist. And there was more, of course.
More succinctly, the tests did not get “different answers.” Reality is a single Answer. When reality is observed from more than one perspective or in different situations, it may look different. That does not make any of the observations wrong, merely incomplete, not the whole affair. What we actually observe is an aspect of reality, it is the reality of our experience, hence the training of scientists properly focuses on careful observation and careful reporting of what is actually observed.
You might think that the right thing to do might be to go back to do more tests. Unfortunately, the scientific method doesn’t tell you how many tests you need to do, or what to do when people get different answers. The scientific method doesn’t provide for a guarantee that resources will be made available to carry out more tests, or that anyone will still be listening if more tests happen to get done.
Right. However, there is a hidden assumption here, that one must find the “correct answers” by some deadline. Historically, pressure arose from the political conditions around the 1989 announcement, so corners were cut. It was clear that the tests that were done were inadequate and the 1989 DoE review included acknowledgement of that. There was never a definitive review showing that the FP measurements of heat were artifact. Of course, eventually, positive confirmations started to show up. By that time, though, a massive information cascade had developed, and most scientists were no longer paying any attention. I call it a Perfect Storm.
Consensus as a possible extension of the scientific method
I was astonished by the resolution to this that I saw take place. The important question on the table from my perspective was whether there exists an excess heat effect in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment. The leading hypotheses included: (1) yes, the effect was real; (2) no, the initial results were an artifact.
Peter is not mentioning a crucial aspect of this, the pressure developed by the “nuclear” claim. Had Pons and Fleischmann merely announced a heat anomaly, leaving the “nuclear” speculations or conclusions to others, preferably physicists, history might have been very different. A heat anomaly? So perhaps some chemistry isn’t understood! Let’s not run around like headless chickens, let’s first see if this anomaly can be confirmed! If not, we can forget about it, until it is.
Instead, because of the nuclear claim and some unfortunate aspects of how this was announced and published, there was a massive uproar, much premature attention, and, then, partly because Pons and Fleischmann had made some errors in reporting nuclear products, premature rejection, tossing out the baby with the bathwater.
Yes, scientifically, and after the initial smoke cleared, the reality of the heat was the basic scientific question. As Peter will make clear, and he is quite correct, “excess heat” does not mean that physics textbooks must be revised, it is not in contradiction to known physics, it merely shows that something isn’t understood. Exactly what remains unclear, until it is clarified. So, yes, the heat might be real, or there might be some error in interpretation of the experiments (which is another way of saying “artifact.”)
Predictions were made, which largely centered around the possibility that either excess heat would be seen, or that excess heat would not be seen. A very large number of tests were done. A few people saw excess heat, and most didn’t.
Now, this is fascinating, in fact. There is a consistency here, underneath apparent contradiction. Those who saw excess heat commonly failed to see it in most experiments. Obvious conclusion: generating the excess heat effect was not well-understood. There was another approach available, one usable under such chaotic conditions: correlations of conditions and effects. By the time a clear correlated nuclear product was known, research had slowed. To truly beat the problem, probably, collaboration was required, so that multiple experiments could be subject to common correlation study. That mostly did not happen.
With a correlation study, the “negative” results are part of the useful data. Actually essential. Instead, oversimplified conclusions were drawn from incomplete data.
A very large number of analyses were done, many of which focused on the experimental approach and calorimetry of Fleischmann and Pons. Some focused on nuclear measurements (the idea here was that if the energy was produced by nuclear reactions, then commensurate energetic particles should be present);
Peter is describing history, that “commensurate energetic particles should be present” was part of the inexplicit assumption that if there was a heat effect, it must be nuclear, and if it were nuclear, it must be d-d fusion, and if it were d-d fusion, and given the reported heat, there must be massive energetic particles. Fatal levels, actually. The search for neutrons, in particular, was mostly doomed from the start, useless. Whatever the FP Heat Effect is, it either produces no neutrons or very, very few. (At least not fast neutrons, as with hot fusion. WL Theory is a hoax, in my view, but it takes some sophistication to see that, so slow neutrons remain as possibly being involved, first-pass.)
What is remarkable is how obvious this was from the beginning, but many papers were written that ignored the obvious.
and some focused on the integrity and competence of Fleischmann and Pons. How was this resolved? For me the astonishment came when arguments were made that if members of the scientific community were to vote, that the overwhelming majority of the scientific community would conclude that there was no effect based on the tests.
That is not an argument, it is an observation based on extrapolation from experience. As Peter well knows, it is not based on a review of the tests. The only reviews actually done, especially the later ones, concluded that the effect is real. Even the DoE review in 2004, Peter was there, reported that half of the 18 panelists considered the evidence for excess heat “conclusive.” Now, if you don’t consider it “conclusive”, what do you think? Anywhere from impossible to possible! That was a “vote” from a very brief review, and I think only half the panel actually attended the physical meeting, and it was only one day. More definitive, and hopefully more considered, in science, is peer-reviewed review in mainstream journals. Those have been uniformly positive for a long time.
So what the conditions holding at the time Peter is writing about show is that “scientists” get their news from the newspaper — and from gossip — and put their pants on one leg at a time.
The “argument” would be that decisions on funding and access to academic resources should be based on such a vote. Normally, in science, one does not ask about general consensus among “scientists,” but among those actually working in a field, it is the “consensus of the informed” which is sought. Someone with a general science degree might have the tools to be able to understand papers, but that doesn’t mean that they actually read and study and understand them. I just critiqued a book review by a respected seismologist, actually a professor at a major university, who clearly knew practically nothing about LENR, but considered himself to be a decent spokesperson for the mainstream. There are many like him. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
I have no doubt whatsoever that a vote at that time (or now) would have gone poorly for Fleischmann and Pons.
There was a vote in 2004, of a kind. The results were not “poor,” and show substantial progress over the 1989 review. However, yes, if one were to snag random scientists and pop the question, it might go “poorly.” But I’m not sure. I talk with a lot of scientists, in contexts not biased toward LENR, and there is more understanding out there than we might think. I really don’t know, and nobody has done the survey, nor is it particularly valuable. What matters everywhere is not the consensus of all people or all scientists, but all accepted as knowledgeable on the subject. One of the massive errors of 1989 and often repeated is that expertise on, say, nuclear physics, conveys expertise on LENR. But most of the work and the techniques are chemistry. Heat is most commonly a chemical phenomenon.
To actually review LENR fairly requires a multidisciplinary approach. Polling random scientists, garbage in, garbage out. Running reviews, with extensive discussion between those with experimental knowledge and others, hammering out real consensus instead of just knee-jerk opinion, that is what would be desirable. It’s happened here and there, simply not enough yet to make the kind of difference Peter and I would like to see.
The idea of a vote among scientists seems to be very democratic; in some countries leaders are selected and issues are resolved through the application of democracy. What to me was astonishing at the time was that this argument was used in connection with the question of the existence of an excess heat effect in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment.
And a legislature declared that pi was 22/7. Not a bad approximation, to be sure. What were they actually declaring? (So I looked this up. No, they did not declare that. “Common knowledge” is often quite distorted. And then, because Wikipedia is unreliable, I checked the Straight Dope, which is truly reliable, and if you doubt that, be prepared to be treated severely. I can tolerate dissent, but not heresy. Also snopes.com, likewise. Remarkably, Cecil Adams managed to write about cold fusion without making an idiot out of himself. “As the recent cold fusion fiasco makes clear, scientists are as prone to self-delusion as anybody else.” True, too true. Present company excepted, of course!
Our society does not use ordinary “democratic process” to make decisions on fact. Rather, this mostly happens with juries, in courts of law. Yes, there is a vote, but to gain a result on a serious matter (criminal, say), unanimity is required, after a hopefully thorough review of evidence and arguments.
In the years following I tried this approach out with students in the classroom. I would pose a technical question concerning some issue under discussion, and elicit an answer from the student. At issue would be the question as to whether the answer was right, or wrong. I proposed that we make use of a more modern version of the scientific method, which was to include voting in order to check the correctness of the result. If the students voted that the result was correct, then I would argue that we had made use of this augmentation of the scientific method in order to determine whether the result was correct or not. Of course, we would go on only when the result was actually correct.
Correct according to whom? Rather obviously, the professor. Appeal to authority. I would hope that the professor refrained from intervening unless it was absolutely necessary; rather, that he would recognize that the minority is, not uncommonly, right, but may not have expressed itself well enough, or the truth is more complex than one view or another, “right and wrong.” Consensus organizations exist where finding full consensus is considered desirable, actually misssion-critical. When a decision has massive consequences, perhaps paralyzing progress in science for a long time, perhaps “no agreement, but majority X,”with a defined process, is better than concluding that X is the truth and other ideas are wrong. In real organizations, with full discussion, consensus is much more accessible than most think. The key is “full discussion,” which often actually takes facilitation, from people who know how to guide participants toward agreements.
I love that Peter actually tried this. He’s living like a scientist, testing ideas.
In such a discussion, if a consensus appeared that the professor believed was wrong, then it’s a powerful teaching opportunity. How does the professor know it’s wrong? Is there experimental evidence of which the students were not aware, or failed to consider? Are there defective arguments being used, and if, so, how did it happen that the students agreed on them? Social pressures? Laziness? Or something missing in their education? Simply declaring the consensus “wrong,” would avoid the deeper education possible.
There is consensus process that works, that is far more likely to come up with deep conclusions than any individual, and there is so-called consensus that is a social majority bullying a minority. A crucial difference is respect and tolerance for differing points of view, instead of pushing particular points of view as “true,” and others as “false.”
The students understood that such a vote had nothing to do with verifying whether a result was correct or not. To figure out whether a result is correct, we can derive results, we can verify results mathematically, we can turn to unambiguous experimental results and we can do tests; but in general the correctness of a technical result in the hard sciences should probably not be determined from the result of this kind of vote.
Voting will occur in groups created to recommend courses of action. Courts will avoid attempts to decide “truth,” absent action proposed. One of the defects in the 2004 U.S. DoE review, as far as I know, was the lack of a specific, practical (within political reach) and actionable proposal. What has eventually come to me has been the creation of a “LENR desk” at the DoE, a specific person or small office with the task of maintaining knowledge of the state of research, with the job of making recommendations on research, i.e., identifying the kinds of fundamental questions to ask, tests to perform, to address what the 2004 panel unanimously agreed to recommend. That was apparently a genuine consensus, and obviously could lead to resolving all the other issues, but we didn’t focus on that, the CMNS community instead, chip on shoulder, focused on what was wrong with that review (and mistakes were made, for sure.)
Scientific method and the scientific community
I have argued that using the scientific method can be an effective way to clarify a technical issue. However, it could be argued that the scientific method should come with a warning, something to the effect that actually using it might be detrimental to your career and to your personal life. There are, of course, many examples that could be used for illustration. A colleague of mine recently related the story of Ignaz Semmelweis to me. Semmelweis (according to Wikipedia) earned a doctorate in medicine in 1844, and subsequently became interested in the question of why the mortality rate was so high at the obstetrical clinics at the Vienna General Hospital. He proposed a hypothesis that led to a testable prediction (that washing hands would improve the mortality rate), carried out the test and analyzed the result. In fact, the mortality rate did drop, and dropped by a large factor.
In this case Semmelweis made use of the scientific method to learn something important that saved lives. Probably you have figured out by now that his result was not immediately recognized or accepted by the medical and scientific communities, and the unfortunate consequences of his discovery to his career and personal life serve to underscore that science is very much an imperfect human enterprise. His career did not advance as it probably should have, or as he might have wished, following this important discovery. His personal life was negatively impacted.
This story is often told. I was a midwife, and trained midwives, and knew about Semmelweiss long ago. The Wikipedia article. A sentence from the Wikipedia article:
It has been contended that Semmelweis could have had an even greater impact if he had managed to communicate his findings more effectively and avoid antagonising the medical establishment, even given the opposition from entrenched viewpoints.
Semmelweiss became obsessed about his finding and the apparent rejection. In fact, there was substantial acceptance, but also widespread misunderstanding and denial. Semmelweiss was telling doctors that they were killing their patients and he was irate that they didn’t believe him.
How to accomplish that kind of information transfer remains tricky. It can still be the case that, at least for individuals, “standard of practice” can be deadly.
Semmelweiss literally lost his mind, and died when committed to a mental hospital, having been injured by a guard.
The scientific community is a social entity, and scientists within the scientific community have to interact from day to day with other members of the scientific community, as well as with those not in science. How a scientist navigates these treacherous waters can have an impact. For example, Fleischmann once described what happened to him following putting forth the claim of excess power in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment; he described the experience as one of being “extruded” out of the scientific community. From my own discussions with him, I suspect that he suffered from depression in his later years that resulted in part from the non-acceptance of his research.
Right. That, however, presents Fleischmann as a victim, along with all the other researchers “extruded.” However, he wasn’t rejected because he claimed excess heat. That simply isn’t what happened. The real story is substantially more complex. Bottom line, the depth of the rejection was related to the “nuclear claim,” made with only circumstantial evidence that depended entirely on his own expertise, together with an error in nuclear measurements, a first publication that called attention to the standard d+d reactions as if they were relevant, when they obviously were not, and then a series of decisions made, reactive to attack, that made it all worse. The secrecy, the failure to disclose difficulties promptly, the decision to withhold helium measurement results, the decision to avoid helium measurements for the future, the failure to honor the agreement in the Morrey collaboration, all amplified the impression of incompetence. He was not actually incompetent, certainly not as to electrochemistry! He was, however, human, dealing with a political situation outside his competence. However, his later debate with Morrison was based on an article that purported simplicity, but that was far from simple to understand. Fleischmann needed guidance, and didn’t have it, apparently. Or if he had sound guidance, he wasn’t listening to it.
If he was depressed later, I would ascribe that to a failure to recognize and acknowledge what he had done and not done to create the situation. Doing so would have given him power. Instead, mostly, he remained silent. (People will tell themselves “I did the best I could,” which is BS, typically, how could we possibly know that nothing better was possible? We may tell ourselves that it was all someone else’s fault, but that, then, assigns power to “someone else,” not to us. Power is created by “The buck stops here!”) But we now have his correspondence with Miles, and I have not studied it yet. What I know is that when we own and take full responsibility for whatever happened in our lives, we can them move on to much more than we might think possible.
Those who have worked on anomalies connected with the Fleischmann-Pons experience have a wide variety of experiences. For example, one friend became very interested in the experiments and decided to put time into this area of research. Almost immediately it became difficult to bring in research funding on any topic. From these experiences my friend consciously made the decision to back away from the field, after which it again became possible to get funding. Some others in the field have found it difficult to obtain resources to pursue research on the Fleischmann-Pons effect, and also difficult to publish.
Indeed. There are very many personal accounts. Too many are anonymous rumors, like this, which makes them less credible. I don’t doubt the general idea. Yes, I think many did make the decision to back away. I once had a conversation with a user on Wikipedia, who wanted his anonymity preserved, though he was taking a skeptical position on LENR. Why? Because, he claimed, if it were known that he was even willing to talk about LENR, it would damage his career as a scientist. That would have been in 2009 or so.
I would argue that instead of being an aberration of science (as many of my friends have told me), this is a part of science. The social aspects of science are important, and strongly impact what science is done and the careers and lives of scientists. I think that the excess heat effect in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment is important; however, we need to be aware of the associated social aspects. In a recent short course class on the topic I included slides with a warning, in an attempt to make sure that no one young and naive would remain unaware of the danger associated with cultivating an interest in the field. Working in this field can result in your career being destroyed.
Unfortunately, perhaps, the students may think you are joking. I would prefer to find and communicate ways to work in the field without such damage. There are hints in Peter’s essay, to possibilities. Definitely, anyone considering getting involved should know the risks, but also how, possibly, to handle them. Some activities in life are dangerous, but still worth doing.
It follows that the scientific method probably needs to be placed in context. Although the “question” to be addressed in the scientific method seems to be general, it is not. There is a filter implicit in connection with the scientific community, in that the question to be addressed through the use of the scientific method must be one either approved by, or likely to be approved by, the scientific community.
Peter is here beginning what he later calls the “outrageous parody.” If we take this as descriptive, there is a reality behind what he is writing. If a question is outside the boundaries being described, it’s at the edge of a cliff, or over it. Walking in such a place, with a naive sense of safety, is very dangerous. People die doing such, commonly. People aware of the danger still sometimes die, but not nearly so commonly.
The parody begins with his usage of “must.” There is no must, but there are natural consequences to working “outside the box.” Pons and Fleischmann knew that their work would be controversial, but somehow failed to treat it as the hot potato it was, if they mentioned “nuclear.” It’s ironic. Had they not mentioned they could have patented a method for producing heat, without the N word. If someone else had asked about “nuclear,” they could have said, “We don’t see adequate evidence to make such a claim. We don’t know what is causing the heat.”
And they could have continued with this profession of “inadequate evidence” until they had such evidence and it was bulletproof. It might only have taken a few years, maybe even less (i.e., to establish “nuclear.” Establishing a specific mechanism might still not have been accomplished, but … without the rejection cascade, we would probably know much more, and, I suspect, we’d have a lab rat, at least.
Otherwise, the associated endeavor will not be considered to be part of science, and whatever results come from the application of the scientific method are not going to be included in the canon of science.
Yes, again if descriptive, not prescriptive. This should be obvious: what is not understood and well-confirmed does not belong in the “canon.”
If one decides to focus on a question in this context that is outside of the body of questions of interest to the scientific community, then one must understand that this will lead to an exclusion from the scientific community.
Again, yes, but with a conditions In my training, they told us, “If they are not shooting at you, you are not doing anything worth wasting bullets on.”
The condition is that it may be possible to work in such a way as to not arouse this response. With LENR, the rejection cascade was established in full force long ago, and is persistent. However, there may be ways to phrase “the question of interest” to keep it well within what the scientific community as a whole will accept. Others may find support and funding such that they can disregard that problem. Certainly McKubre was successful, I see no sign that he suffered an impact to his career, indeed LENR became the major focus of that career.
But why do people go into science? If it’s to make money, some do better getting an MBA, or going into industry. There would naturally be few that would choose LENR out of the many career possibilities, but eventually, in any field, one can come up against entrenched and factional belief. Scientists are not trained to face these issues powerfully, and many are socially unskilled.
Also, if one attempts to apply the scientific method to a problem or area that is not approved, then the scientific community will not be supportive of the endeavor, and it will be problematic to find resources to carry out the scientific method.
Resources are controlled by whom? Has it ever been the case that scientists could expect support for whatever wild-hair idea they want to pursue? However, in fact, resources can be found for any reasonably interesting research. They may have strings attached. TANSTAAFL. One can set aside LENR, work in academia and go for tenure, and then do pretty much whatever, but … if more than very basic funding is needed, it may take special work to find it.
One of the suggestions for this community is to create structures to assess proposed projects, generating facilitated consensus, and to recommend funding for projects considered likely to produce value, and then to facilitate connecting sources of funding with such projects.
Funding does exist. In not very long after Peter wrote this essay, he did receive some support from Industrial Heat. Modest projects of value and interest can be funded. Major projects, that’s more difficult, but it’s happening.
A possible improvement of the scientific method
This leads us back to the question of what is science, and to further contemplation of the scientific method. From my experience over the past quarter century, I have come to view the question of what science is perhaps as the wrong question. The more important issue concerns the scientific community; you see, science is what the scientific community says science is.
It all depends on what “is” is. It also depends on the exact definition of the “scientific community,” and, further, on how the “scientific community” actually “says” something.
Lost as well, is the distinction between general opinion, expert opinion, majority opinion, and consensus. If there is a genuine and widespread consensus, it is, first, very unlikely (as a general rule) to be seriously useless. I would write “wrong,” but as will be seen, I’m siding with Peter in denying that right and wrong are measurable phenomena. However, utility can be measured, at least comparatively. Secondly, rejecting the consensus is highly dangerous, not just for career, but for sanity as well. You’d better have good cause! And be prepared for a difficult road ahead! Those who do this rarely do well, by any definition.
This is not intended as a truism; quite the contrary.
There are two ways of defining words. One is by the intention of the speaker, the other is by the effect on the audience. The speaker has authority over the first, but who has authority over the second? Words have effects regardless of what we want. But, in fact, as I have tested again and again, every day, we may declare possibilities, using words, and something happens. Often, miracles happen. But I don’t actually control the effect of a given word, normally, rather I use already-established effects (in my own experience and in what I observe with others). If I have some personal definition, but the word has a different effect on a listener, the word will create that effect, not what I “say it means,” or imagine is my intention.
So, from this point of view, and as to something that might be measurable, science is not what the scientific community says it is, but is the effect that the word has. The “saying” of the scientific community may or may not make a difference.
In these days the scientific community has become very powerful. It has an important voice in our society. It has a powerful impact on the lives and careers of individual scientists. It helps to decide what science gets done; it also helps to decide what science doesn’t get done. And importantly, in connection with this discussion, it decides what lies within the boundaries of science, and also it decides what is not science (if you have doubts about this, an experiment can help clarify the issue: pick any topic that is controversial in the sense under discussion; stand up to argue in the media that not only is the topic part of science, but that the controversial position constitutes good science, then wait a bit and then start taking measurements).
Measurements of what? Lost in this parody is that words are intended to communicate, and in communication the target matters. So “science” means one thing to one audience, and something else to another. I argue within the media just as Peter suggests, sometimes. I measure my readership and my upvotes. Results vary with the nature of the audience. With specific readers, the variance may be dramatic.
“Boundaries of science” here refers to a fuzzy abstraction. Yet the effect on an individual of crossing those boundaries can be strong, very real. It’s like any social condition.
What science includes, and perhaps more importantly does not include, has become extremely important; the only opinion that counts is that of the scientific community. This is a reflection of the increasing power of the scientific community.
Yet if the general community — or those with power and influence within it — decides that scientists are bourgeois counter-revolutionaries, they are screwed, except for those who conform to the vanguard of the proletariat. Off to the communal farm for re-education!
In light of this, perhaps this might be a good time to think about updating the scientific method; a more modern version might look something like the following:
So, yes, this is a parody, but I’m going to look at it as if it is descriptive of reality, under some conditions. It’s only an “outrageous parody” if proposed as prescriptive, normative.
1) The question: The process might start with a question like “why is the sky blue” (according to our source Wikipedia for this discussion), that involves some issue concerning the physical world. As remarked upon by Wikipedia, in many cases there already exists information relevant to the question (for example, you can look up in texts on classical electromagnetism to find the reason that the sky is blue). In the case of the Fleischmann-Pons effect, the scientific community has already studied the effect in sufficient detail with the result that it lies outside of science; so as with other areas determined to be outside of science, the scientific method cannot be used. We recognize in this that certain questions cannot be addressed using the scientific method.
If one wants to look at the blue sky question “scientifically,” it would begin backed up, for, before “why,” comes observation. Is the sky “blue”? What does that mean, exactly? Who measures the color of the sky? Is it blue from everywhere and in every part? What is the “sky,” indeed, where is it? Yes, we have a direction for it, “up,” but how far up? With data on all this, on the sky and its color, then we can look at causes, at “why” or “how.”
And the question, the way that Peter phrases it, is reductionist. How about this answer to “why is the sky blue”: “Because God likes blue, you dummy!” That’s a very different meaning for “why” than what is really “how,” i.e., how is light transformed in color by various processes? The “God” answer describes an intention. That answer is not “wrong,” but incomplete.
There is another answer to the question: “Because we say so!” This has far more truth to it than may meet the eye. “Blue” is a name for a series of reactions and responses that we, in English, lump together as if they were unitary, single. Other languages and cultures may associate things differently.
To be sure, however, when I look at the sky, my reaction is normally “blue,” unless its a sunset or sunrise sky, when sometimes that part of the sky has a different color. I also see something else in the sky, less commonly perceived.
2) The hypothesis: Largely we should follow the discussion in Wikipedia regarding the hypothesis regarding it as a conjecture. For example, from our textbooks we find that the sky is blue because large angle scattering from molecules is more efficient for shorter wavelength light. However, we understand that since certain conjectures lie outside of science, those would need to be discarded before continuing (otherwise any result that we obtain may not lie within science). For example, the hypothesis that excess heat is a real effect in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment is one that lies outside of science, whereas the hypothesis that excess heat is due to errors in calorimetry lies within science and is allowed.
Now, if we understand “science” as the “canon,” the body of accepted fact and explanations, then the first hypothesis is indeed, outside the canon, it is not an accepted fact, if the canon is taken most broadly, to indicate what is almost universally accepted. On the other hand, this hypothesis is supported by nearly all reviews in peer-reviewed mainstream journals since about 2005, so is it actually “outside of science”? It came one vote short of being a majority opinion in the 2004 DoE review, the closest event we have to a vote. The 18-expert panel was equally divided between “conclusive” and “not conclusive” on the heat question. (And if a more sophisticated question had been asked, it might have shown that a majority of the panel showed an allowance leaning toward reality, because “not conclusive” is not equivalent to “wrong.”) The alleged majority, Peter is assuming is “consensus,” would be agreement on “wrong,” but that was apparently not the case in 2004.
But the “inside-science” hypothesis is the more powerful one to test, and this is what is so ironic here. If we think that the excess heat is real, then our effort should be, as I learned the scientific method, to attempt to prove the null hypothesis, that it’s artifact. So how do we test that? Then, by comparison, how would we test the first hypothesis? So many papers I have seen in this field where a researcher set out to prove that the heat effect is real. That’s a setup for confirmation bias. No, the deeper scientific approach is a strong attempt to show that the heat effect is artifact. And, in fact, often it is! That is, not all reports of excess heat are showing actual excess heat.
But some do, apparently. How would we know the difference? There is a simple answer: correlation between conditions and effects, across many experiments with controls well-chosen to prove artifact, and failing to find artifact. All of these would be investigating a question, that by the terms here, is clearly within science, and, not only that, is useful research. Understanding possible artifacts is obviously useful and within science!
After all, if we can show that the heat effect is only artifactual, we can then stop the waste of countless hours of blind-alley investigations and millions of dollars in funding that could otherwise be devoted to Good Stuff, like enormous machines to demonstrate thermonuclear fusion, that provide jobs for many deserving particle physicists and other Good Scientists.
For that matter, we could avoid Peter Hagelstein wasting his time with this nonsense, when he could be doing something far more useful, like designing weapons of mass destruction.
3) Prediction: We would like to understand the consequence that follows from the hypothesis, once again following Wikipedia here. Regarding scattering of blue light by molecules, we might predict that the scattered light will be polarized, which we can test. However, it is important to make sure that what we predict lies within science. For example, a prediction that excess heat can be observed as a consequence of the existence of a new physical effect in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment would likely be outside of science, and cannot be put forth. A prediction that a calorimetric artifact can occur in connection with the experiment (as advocated by Lewis, Huizenga, Shanahan and also by the Wikipedia page on cold fusion) definitely lies within the boundaries of science.
I notice that to be testable, a specific explanation must be created, i.e., scattering of light by molecules. That, then (with what is known or believed about molecules and light scattering), allows a prediction, polarization, which can be tested. The FP hypothesis here is odd. A “new physical effect” is not a specific testable hypothesis. That an artifact can occur is obvious, and is not the issue. Rather, the general idea is that the excess heat reported is artifact, and then so many have proposed specific artifacts, such as Shanahan. These are testable. That a specific artifact is shown not to be occurring does not take an experimental result outside of accepted science, this would require showing this for all possible artifacts, which is impossible. Rather, something else happens when investigations are careful. Again, testing a specific proposed artifact is clearly, as stated, within science, and useful as explained above.
4) Test: One would think the most important part of the scientific method is to test the hypothesis and see how the world works. As such, this is the most problematic. Generally a test requires resources to carry out, so whether a test can be done or not depends on funding, lab facilities, people, time and on other issues. The scientific community aids here by helping to make sure that resources (which are always scarce) are not wasted testing things that do not need to be tested (such as excess heat in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment). Another important issue concerns who is doing the test; for example, in experiments on the Fleischmann-Pons experiment, tests have been discounted because the experimentalist involved was biased in thinking that a positive result could have been obtained.
To the extent that the rejection of the FP heat is a genuine consensus, of course funding will be scarce, but some research requires little or no funding. For example, literature studies.
“Need to be tested” is an opinion, and is individual or collective. It’s almost never a universal, and so, imagine that one has become aware of the heat/helium correlation and the status of research on this, and sees that, while the correlation appears solidly established, with multiple confirmed verifications, the ratio itself has only been measured twice with even rough precision, after possibly capturing all the helium. Now, demonstrating that the heat/helium ratio is artifact would have massive benefits, because heat/helium is the evidence that is most convincing to newcomers (like me).
So the idea occurs of using what is already known, repeating work that has already been done, but with increased precision and using the simple technique discovered to, apparently, capture all the helium. Yes, it’s expensive work. However, in fact, this was funded with a donation from a major donor, well-known, to the tune of $6 million, in 2014, to be matched by another $6 million in Texas state funds. All to prove that the heat/helium correlation is bogus, and like normal pathological science, disappears with increased precision! Right?
Had it been realized, this could have been done many years ago. Think of the millions of dollars that would have been saved! Why did it take a quarter century after the heat/helium correlation was discovered to set up a test of this with precision and the necessary controls?
Blaming that on the skeptics is delusion. This was us.
5) Analysis: Once again we defer to the discussion in Wikipedia concerning connecting the results of the experiment with the hypothesis and predictions. However, we probably need to generalize the notion of analysis in recognition of the accumulated experience within the scientific community. For example, if the test yields a result that is outside of science, then one would want to re-do the test enough times until a different result is obtained. If the test result stubbornly remains outside of acceptable science, then the best option is to regard the test as inconclusive (since a result that lies outside of science cannot be a conclusion resulting from the application of the method).
In reality, few results are totally conclusive. There is always some possible artifact left untested. Science (real science, and not merely the social-test science being proposed here) is served when all those experimental results are reported, and if it’s necessary to categorize them, fine. But if they are reported, later analysis, particularly when combined with other reports, can look more deeply. The version of science being described is obviously a fixed thing, not open to any change or modification, it’s dead, not living. Real science — and even the social-test science — does change, it merely can take much longer than some of us would like, because of social forces. Once again, the advice here if one wants to stay within accepted science is to frame the work as an attempt to confirm mainstream opinion through specific tests, perhaps with increased precision (which is often done to extend the accuracy of known constants). If someone tries to prove artifact in an FP type experiment, one of the signs of artifact would be that major variables and results would not correlate (such as heat and helium). Other variable pairs exist as well, the same. The results may be null (no heat found) and perhaps no helium found above background as well. Now, suppose one does this experiment twenty times. And most of these times, there is no heat and no helium. But,say, five times, there is heat, and the amount of heat correlates with helium. The more heat, the more helium. This is, again, simply an experimental finding. One may make mistakes in measuring heat and in measuring helium. If anodic reversal is used to release trapped helium, what is the ratio found between heat and helium? And how does this compare to other similar experiments?
When reviewing experimental findings, with decently-done work, the motivation of the workers is not terribly relevant. If they set out to show, and state this, that their goal was to show that heat/helium correlation was artifact, and they considered all reasonably possible artifacts, and failed to confirm any of them, in spite of diligent efforts, what effect would this have when reported?
And what happens, over time, when results like these accumulate? Does the “official consensus of bogosity” still stand?
In fact, as I’ve stated, that has not been a genuine scientific consensus for a long time, clearly it was dead by 2004, persisting only in pockets that each imagine they represent the mainstream. There is a persistence of delusion.
If ultimately the analysis step shows that the test result lies outside of science, then one must terminate the scientific method, in recognition that it is a logical impossibility that a result which lies outside of science can be the result of the application of the scientific method. It is helpful in this case to forget the question; it would be best (but not yet required) that documentation or evidence that the test was done be eliminated.
Ah, but a result outside of “science,” i.e., normal expectations, is simply an anomaly, it proves nothing. Anomalies show that something about the experiment is not understood, and that therefore there is something to be learned. The parody is here advising people how to avoid social disapproval, and if that is the main force driving them, then real science is not their interest at all. Rather, they are technologists, like robotic parrots. Useful for some purposes, not for others. If you knew this about them, would you hire them?
The analysis step created a problem for Pons and Fleischmann because they mixed up their own ideas and conclusions with their experimental facts, and announced conclusions that challenged the scientific status quo — and seriously — without having the very strong evidence needed to manage that. Once that context was established, later work was tarred with the same brush, too often. So the damage extended far beyond their own reputations.
6) Communication with others, peer review: When the process is sufficiently complete that a conclusion has been reached, it is important for the research to be reviewed by others, and possibly published so that others can make use of the results; yet again we must defer to Wikipedia on this discussion. However, we need to be mindful of certain issues in connection with this. If the results lie outside of science then there is really no point in sending it out for review; the scientific community is very helpful by restricting publication of such results, and one’s career can be in jeopardy if one’s colleagues become aware that the test was done. As it sometimes happens that the scientific community changes its view on what is outside of science, one strategy is to wait and publish later on (one can still get priority). If years pass and there are no changes, it would seem a reasonable strategy to find a much younger trusted colleague to arrange for posthumous publication.
Or wait until one has tenure. Basically, this is the real world: political considerations matter, and, in fact, it can be argued that they should matter. Instead of railing against the unfairness of it all, access to power requires learning how to use the system as it exists, not as we wish it were. Sometimes we may work for transformation of existing structurs (or creation of structure that has not yet existed), but this takes time, typically, and it also takes community and communication, cooperation, and coordination, around which much of the CMNS community lacks skill. Nevertheless, anyone and everyone can assist, once what is missing is distinguished.
Or we can continue to blame the skeptics for doing what comes naturally for them, while doing what comes naturally for us, i.e., blaming and complaining and doing nothing to transform the situation, not even investigating the possibilities, not looking for people to support, and not supporting those others.
7) Re-evaluation: In the event that this augmented version of the scientific method has been used, it may be that in spite of efforts to the contrary, results are published which end up outside of science (with the possibility of exclusion from scientific community to follow).
Remember, it is not “results” which are outside of science, ever! It is interpretations of them. So avoid unnecessary interpretation! Report verifiable facts! If they appear to imply some conclusion that is outside science, address this with high caution. Disclaim those conclusions, proclaim that while some conclusion might seem possible, that this is outside what is accepted and cannot be asserted without more evidence, and speculate on as many artifacts as one can imagine, even if total bullshit, and then seek funding to test them, to defend Science from being sullied by immature and premature conclusions.
Just report all the damn data and then let the community interpret it. Never get into a position of needing to defend your own interpretations, that will take you out of science, and not just the social-test science, but the real thing. Let someone else do that. Trust the future, it is really amazing what the future can do. It’s actually unlimited!
If this occurs, the simplest approach is simply a retraction of results (if the results lie outside of science, then they must be wrong, which means there must be an error—more than enough grounds for retraction).
The parody is now suggesting actually lying to avoid blame. Anyone who does that deserves to be totally ostracized from the scientific community! I will be making a “modest proposal” regarding this and other offenses. (Converting offenders into something useful.)
Retracting results should not be necessary if they have been carefully reported and if conclusions have been avoided, and if appropriate protective magic incantations have been uttered. (Such as, “We do not understand this result, but are publishing it for review and to seek explanations consistent with scientific consensus, blah blah.”) If one believes that one does understand the result, nevertheless, one is never obligated to incriminate oneself, and since, if one is sophisticated, one knows that some failure of understanding is always possible, it is honest to note that. Depending on context, one may be able to be more assertive without harm.
If the result supports someone who has been selected for career destruction, then a timely retraction may be well received by the scientific community. A researcher may wish to avoid standing up for a result that is outside of science (unless one is seeking near-term career change).
The actual damage I have seen is mostly from researchers standing for and reporting conclusions, not mere experimental facts. To really examine this would require a much deeper study. What should be known is that working on LENR in any way can sometimes have negative consequences for career. I would not recommend anyone go into the field unless they are aware of this, fully prepared to face it, and as well, willing to learn what it takes to minimize damage (to themselves and others). LENR is, face it, a very difficult field, not a slam dunk for anyone.
There are, of course, many examples in times past when a researcher was able to persuade other scientists of the validity of a contested result; one might naively be inspired from these examples to take up a cause because it is the right thing to do.
Bad Idea, actually. Naive. Again, under this is the idea that results are subject to “contest.” That’s actually rare. What really happens, long-term, is that harmonization is discovered, explanations that tie all the results together into a combination of explanations that support all of them. Certainly this happened with the original negative replications of the FPHE. The problem with those was not the results, but how the results were interpreted and used. I support much wider education on the distinction between fact and interpretation, because only among demagogues and fanatics does fact come into serious question. Normal people can actually agree on fact, with relative ease, with skilled facilitation. It’s interpretations which cause more difficulty. And then there is more process to deepen consensus.
But that was before modern delineation, before the existence of correct fundamental physical law and before the modern identification of areas lying outside of science.
“Correct.” Who has been using that term a lot lately? This is a parody, and the mindset being parodied is deeply regressive and outside of traditional science, and basically ignorant of the understanding of the great scientists of the last century, who didn’t think like this at all. But Peter knows that.
The reality here is that a “scientific establishment” has developed that, being more successful in many ways, also has more power, and institutions always act to preserve themselves and consolidate their power. But such power is, nevertheless, limited and vulnerable, and it may be subverted, if necessary. The scientific establishment is still dependent on the full society and its political institutions for support.
There are no examples of any researcher fighting for an area outside of science and winning in modern times. The conclusion that might be drawn is of course clear: modern boundaries are also correct; areas that are outside of science remain outside of science because the claims associated with them are simply wrong.
That was the position of the seismologist I mentioned. So a real scientist, credentialed, actually believed in “wrong” without having investigated, depending merely on rumor and general impressions. But what is “wrong”? Claims! Carefully reported, fact is never wrong. I may report that I measured a voltage as 1.03 V. That is what I saw on the meter. In reality, the meter’s calibration might be off. I might have had the scale set differently than I thought (I have a nice large analog meter, which allows errors like this). However, it is a fact that I reported what I did. Hence truly careful reporting attributes all the various assumptions that must be made, by assigning them to a person.
Claims are interpretations of evidence, not evidence itself. I claim, for example, that the preponderance of the evidence shows that the FP Heat Effect is the result of the conversion of deuterium to helium. I call that the “Conjecture.” It’s fully testable and well-enough described to be tested. It’s already been tested, and confirmed well enough that if this were an effective treatment for any disease, it would be ubiquitous, approved by authorities, but it can be tested — and is being tested — with increased precision.
That’s a claim. One can disagree with a claim. However, disagreeing with evidence is generally crazy. Evidence is evidence, consider this rule of evidence at law: Testimony is presumed true unless controverted. It is a fact that so-and-so testified to such-and-such, if the record shows that. It is a fact that certain experimental results were reported. We may then discuss and debate interpretations. We might claim that the lab was infected with some disease that caused everyone to report random data, but how likely is this? Rather, the evidence is what it is, and legitimate arguments are over interpretations. Have I mentioned that enough?
Such a modern generalization of the scientific method could be helpful in avoiding difficulties. For example, Semmelweis might have enjoyed a long and successful career by following this version of the scientific method, while getting credit for his discovery (perhaps posthumously). Had Fleischmann and Pons followed this version, they might conceivably have continued as well-respected members of the scientific community.
Semmelweiss was doomed, not because of his discover, but from how he then handled it, and his own demons. Fleischmann, toward the end of his life, acknowledged that it was probably a mistake to use the word “fusion” or “nuclear.” That was weak. Probably? (Actually, I should look up the actual comment, to get it right.). This was largely too late. That could have been recognized immediately, it could have been anticipated. Why wasn’t it? I don’t know. Fairly rapidly, the scientific world polarized around cold fusion, as if there were two competing political parties in a zero-sum game. There were some who attempted to foster communication, the example that comes to my mind is the late Nate Hoffman. Dieter Britz as well. There are others who don’t assume what might be called “hot” positions.
The take-home message is actually not subservience that would have saved these scientists, but respect and reliance on the full community. Not always easy, sometimes it can look really bad! But necessary.
Where delineation is not needed
It might be worth thinking a bit about boundaries in science, and perhaps it would be useful first to examine where boundaries are not needed. In 1989 a variety of arguments were put forth in connection with excess heat in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment, and one of the most powerful was that such an effect is not consistent with condensed matter physics, and also not consistent with nuclear physics. In essence, it is impossible based on existing theory in these fields.
Peter is here repeating a common trope. Is he still in the parody? There is nothing about “excess heat” that creates a conflict with either condensed matter physics or nuclear physics. There is no impossibility proof. Rather, what was considered impossible was d-d fusion at significant levels under those conditions. That position can be well-supported, though it’s still possible that some exception might exist. Just very unlikely. Most reasonable theories at this point rely on collective effects, not simple d-d fusion.
There is no question as to whether this is true or not (it is true);
If that statement is true, I’ve never seen evidence for it, never a clear explanation of how anomalous heat, i.e., heat not understood, is “impossible.” To know that we would need to be omniscient. Rather, it is specific nuclear explanations that may more legitimately be considered impossible.
but the implication that seems to follow is that excess heat in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment in a sense constitutes an attack on two important, established and mature areas of physics.
When it was framed as nuclear, and even more, when it was implied that it was d-d fusion, it was exactly such an attack. Pons and Fleischmann knew that there would be controversy, but how well did they understand that, and why did they go ahead and poke the establishment in the eye with that news conference? It was not legally necessary. They have blamed university legal, but I’m suspicious of that. Priority could have been established for patent purposes in a different way.
A further implication is that the scientific community needed to rally to defend two large areas firmly within the boundaries of science.
Some certainly saw it that way, saw “cold fusion” as an attack of pseudoscience and wishful thinking on real science. The name certainly didn’t help, because it placed the topic firmly within nuclear physics, when, in fact, it was originally an experimental result in electrochemistry.
One might think that this should have led to establishment of the boundary as to what is, and what isn’t, science in the vicinity of the part of science relevant to the Fleischmann-Pons experiment. I would like to argue that no such delineation is necessary for the defense of either science as a whole, or any particular area of science. Through the scientific method (and certainly not the outrageous parody proposed above) we have a powerful tool to tell what is true and what is not when it comes to questions of science.
The tool as I understand it is guidance for the individual, not necessarily a community. However, if a collection of individuals use it, are dedicated to using it, they may collectively use it and develop substantial power, because the tool actually has implications in every area of life, wherever we need to develop power (which includes the ability to predict the effects of actions). Peter may be misrepresenting the effectiveness of the method, it does not determine truth. It develops and tests models which predict behavior, so the models are more or less useful, not true or false. The model is not reality, the map is not the territory. When we forget this and believe that a model is “truth,” we are then trapped, because opposing the truth is morally reprehensible. Rather, it is always possible for a model to be improved; for a map to become more detailed and more clear; the only model that fully explains reality is reality itself. Nothing else has the necessary detail.
Chaos theory and quantum mechanics, together, demolished the idea that with accurate enough models we could predict the future, precisely.
Science is robust, especially modern science; and both condensed matter and nuclear physics have no need for anyone to rally to defend anything.
Yes. However, there are people with careers and organizations dependent on funding based on particular beliefs and approaches. Whether or not they “need” to be defended, they will defend themselves. That’s human!
If one views the Fleischmann-Pons experiment as an attack on any part of physics, then so be it.
One may do that, and it’s a personal choice, but it is essentially dumb, because nothing about the experiment attacks any part of physics, and how can an experiment attack a science? Only interpreters and interpretations can do that! What Pons and Fleischmann did was look where nobody had looked, at PdD above 90% loading. If looking at reality were an attack on existing science, “existing science” would deserve to die. But it isn’t such an attack, and this was a social phenomenon, a mass delusion, if you will.
A robust science should welcome such a challenge. If excess heat in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment shows up in the lab as a real effect, challenging both areas, then we should embrace the associated challenge. If either area is weak in some way, or has some error or flaw somehow that it cannot accommodate what nature does, then we should be eager to understand what nature is doing and to fix whatever is wrong.
It is, quite simply, unnecessary to go there. Until we have a far better understanding of the mechanism involved in the FP Heat Effect, it is no challenge at all to existing theory, other than a weak one, i.e., it is possible that something has not been understood. That is always possible and would have been possible without the FP experiment. Doesn’t mean that a lot of effort would be justified to investigate it.
However, some theories proposed to explain LENR do challenge existing physics, some more than others. Some don’t challenge it at all, other than possibly pointing to incomplete understanding in some areas. The one statement I remember from those physics lectures with Feynman in 1961-63 is that we didn’t have the math to calculate the solid state. Hence there has been reliance on approximations, and approximations can easily break down under some conditions. At this point, we don’t know enough about what is happening in the FP experiment (and other LENR experiments), to be able to clearly show any conflict with existing physics, and those who claim that major revisions are needed are blowing smoke, they don’t actually have a basis for that claim, and it continues to cause harm.
The situation becomes a little more fraught with the Conjecture, but, again, without a mechanism (and the Conjecture is mechanism-independent), there is no challenge. Huizenga wrote that the Miles result (heat/helium correlation within an order of magnitude of the deuterium conversion ratio) was astonishing, but thought it likely that this would not be confirmed (because no gammas). But gammas are only necessary for d+d -> 4He, not necessarily for all pathways. So this simply betrayed how widespread and easily accepted was the idea that the FP Heat Effect, if real, must be d-d fusion. After all, what else could it be? This demonstrates the massive problem with the thinking that was common in 1989 (and which still is, for many).
The current view within the scientific community is that these fields have things right, and if that is not reflected in measurements in the lab, then the problem is with those doing the experiments.
Probably! And “probably useful” is where funding is practical. Obtaining funding for research into improbable ideas is far more difficult, eh? (In reality, “improbable” is subjective, and the beauty of the world as it is, is that the full human community is diverse, and there is no single way of thinking, merely some that are more common than others. It is not necessary for everyone to be convinced that something is useful, but only one person, or a few, those with resources.)
Such a view prevailed in 1989, but now nearly a quarter century later, the situation in cold fusion labs is much clearer. There is excess heat, which can be a very big effect; it is reproducible in some labs;
That’s true, properly understood. In fact, reliability remains a problem in all labs. That is why correlation is so important, because for correlation it is not necessary to have a reliable effect, and reliable relationship is adequate. “It is reproducible” is a claim that, to be made safely under the more conservative rules proposed when swimming upstream, would require actual confirmation, of a specific protocol, this cannot be properly asserted by a single lab. And then, when we try to document this, we run into the problem that few actually replicate, they keep trying to “improve.” And so results are different and often the improvements have no effect or even demolish the results.
there are not [sic] commensurate energetic products; there are many replications; and there are other anomalies as well. Condensed matter physics and nuclear physics together are not sufficiently robust to account for these anomalies. No defense of these fields is required, since if some aspect of the associated theories is incomplete or can be broken, we would very much like to break it, so that we can focus on developing new theory that is more closely matched to experiment.
There is a commensurate product that may be energetic, but, as to significant levels, below the Hagelstein limit. By the way, Peter, thanks for that paper!
Theory and fundamental physical laws
From the discussion above, things are complicated when it comes to science; it should come as no surprise that things are similarly complicated when it comes to theory.
Creating theory with inadequate experimental data is even more complicated. It could be argued that it might be better to wait, but people like the exercise and are welcome to spend as much time as they like on puzzles. As to funding for theory, at this point, I would not recommend much! If the theoretical community can collaborate, maybe. Can they? What is needed is vigorous critique, because some theories propose preposterousnesses, but the practice in the field became, as Kim told me when I asked him about Takahashi theory, “I don’t comment on the work of others.” Whereas Takahashi looks to me like a more detailed statement of what Kim proposes in more general terms. And if that’s wrong, I’d like to know! This reserve is not normal in mature science, because scientists are all working together, at least in theory, building on each other’s work. And for funding, normally, there must be vetting and critique.
In fact, were I funding theory, I’d contract with theorists to generate critique of the theories of others and then create process for reviewing that. The point would be to stimulate wider consideration of all the ideas, and, as well, to find if there are areas of agreement. If not, where are the specific disagreements and can they be tested?
Perhaps the place to begin in this discussion is with the fundamental physical laws, since in this case things are clearest. For the condensed matter part of the problem, a great deal can be understood by working with nonrelativistic electrons and nuclei as quantum mechanical particles, and Coulomb interactions. The associated fundamental laws were known in the late 1920s, and people routinely take advantage of them even now (after more than 80 years). Since so many experiments have followed, and so many calculations have been done, if something were wrong with this basic picture it would very probably have been noticed by now; consequently, I do not expect anomalies associated with Fleischmann-Pons experiments to change these fundamental nonrelativistic laws (in my view the anomalies are due to a funny kind of relativistic effect).
Nor do I expect that, for similar reasons. I don’t think it’s “relativistic,” but rather is more likely a collective effect (such as Takahashi’s TSC fusion or similar ideas). But this I know about Peter: it could be the theory du jour. He wrote the above in 2013. At the Short Course at ICCF-21, Peter described a theory, he had just developed the week before. To noobs. Is that a good idea? What do you think, Peter? How did the theory du jour come across at the DoE review in 2004?
Peter is thinking furiously, has been for years. He doesn’t stay stuck on a single approach. Maybe he will find something, maybe he already has. And maybe not. Without solid data, it’s damn hard to tell.
There are, of course, magnetic interactions, relativistic effects, couplings generally with the radiation field and higher-order effects; these do not fit into the fundamental simplistic picture from the late 1920s. We can account for them using quantum electrodynamics (QED), which came into existence between the late 1920s and about 1950. From the simplest possible perspective, the physical content of the theory associated with the construction includes a description of electrons and positrons (and their relativistic dynamics in free space), photons (and their relativistic dynamics in free space) and the simplest possible coupling between them. This basic construction is a reductionist’s dream, and everything more complicated (atoms, molecules, solids, lasers, transistors and so forth) can be thought of as a consequence of the fundamental construction of this theory. In the 60 years or more of experience with QED, there has accumulated pretty much only repeated successes and triumphs of the theory following many thousands of experiments and calculations, with no sign that there is anything wrong with it. Once again, I would not expect a consideration of the Fleischmann-Pons experiment to result in a revision of this QED construction; for example, if there were to be a revision, would we want to change the specification of the electron or photon, the interaction between them, relativity, or quantum mechanical principles? (The answer here should be none of the above.)
Again, he is here preaching to the choir. Can I get a witness?
We could make similar arguments in the case of nuclear physics. For the fundamental nonrelativistic laws, the description of nuclei as made up of neutrons and protons as quantum particles with potential interactions goes back to around 1930, but in this case there have been improvements over the years in the specification of the interaction potentials. Basic quantitative agreement between theory and experiment could be obtained for many problems with the potentials of the late 1950s; and subsequent improvements in the specification of the potentials have improved quantitative agreement between theory and experiment in this picture (but no fundamental change in how the theory works).
But neutrons and protons are compound particles, and new fundamental laws which describe component quarks and gluons, and the interaction between them, are captured in quantum chromodynamics (QCD); the associated field theory involves a reductionist construction similar to QED. This fundamental theory came into existence by the mid-1960s, and subsequent experience with it has produced a great many successes. I would not expect any change to result to QCD, or to the analogous (but somewhat less fundamental) field theory developed for neutrons and protons—quantum hadrodynamics, or QHD—as a result of research on the Fleischmann-Pons experiment.
Because nuclei can undergo beta decay, to be complete we should probably reference the discussion to the standard model, which includes QED, QCD and electro-weak interaction physics.
Yes. In my view it is, at this point, crazy to challenge standard physics without a necessity, and until there is much better data, there is no necessity.
In a sense then, the fundamental theory that is going to provide the foundation for the Fleischmann-Pons experiment is already known (and has been known for 40-60 years, depending on whether we think about QED, QCD or the standard model). Since these fundamental models do not include gravitational particles or forces, we know that they are incomplete, and physicists are currently putting in a great deal of effort on string theory and generalizations to unify the basic forces and particles. Why nature obeys quantum mechanics, and whether quantum mechanics can be derived from some more fundamental theory, are issues that some physicists are thinking about at present. So, unless the excess heat effect is mediated somehow by gravitational effects, unless it operates somehow outside of quantum mechanics, unless it somehow lies outside of relativity, or involves exotic physics such as dark matter, then we expect it to follow from the fundamental embodied by the standard model.
Agreed, as to what I expect.
I would not expect the resolution of anomalies in Fleischmann-Pons experiments to result in the overturn of quantum mechanics (there are some who have proposed exactly that); nor require a revision of QED (also argued for); nor any change in QCD or the standard model (as contemplated by some authors); nor involve gravitational effects (again, as has been proposed). Even though the excess heat effect by itself challenges the fields of condensed matter and nuclear physics, I expect no loss or negation of the accumulated science in either area; instead I think we will come to understand that there is some fine print associated with one of the theorems that we rely on which we hadn’t appreciated. I think both fields will be added to as a result of the research on anomalies, becoming even more robust in the process, and coming closer than they have been in the past.
Agreed, but I don’t see how the “excess heat effect by itself challenges the fields,” other than by presenting a mystery that is as yet unexplained. That is a kind of challenge, but not a claim that basic models are “wrong.” By itself, it does not contradict what is well-known, other than unsubstantiated assumptions and speculations. Yes, I look forward to the synthesis.
Theory, experiment and fundamental physical law
My view as a theorist generally is that experiment has to come first. If theory is in conflict with experiment (and if the experiment is correct), then a new theory is needed.
Yes, but caution is required, because “theory in conflict with experiment” is an interpretation, and defects can arise, not only the experiment, but also in the interpretations of the theory and the experiment and the comparison. What would be a better statement for me is that new interpretations are required. If the theory is otherwise well-established, revision of the theory is not a sane place to start. Normally.
Among those seeking theoretical explanations for the Fleischmann-Pons experiment there tends to be agreement on this point. However, there is less agreement concerning the implications. There have been proposals for theories which involve a revision of quantum mechanics, or that adopt a starting place which goes against the standard model. The associated argument is that since experiment comes first, theory has to accommodate the experimental results; and so we can forget about quantum mechanics, field theory and the fundamental laws (an argument I don’t agree with). From my perspective, we live at a time where the relevant fundamental physical laws are known; and so when we are revising theory in connection with the Fleischmann-Pons experiment, we do so only within a limited range that starts from fundamental physical law, and seek some feature of the subsequent development where something got missed.
This is the political reality: If we advance explanations of cold fusion that contradict existing physics, we create resistance, not only to the new theories, but to the underlying experimental basis for even thinking a theory is necessary. So the baby gets tossed with the bathwater. It causes damage. It increases pressure for the Garwin theory (“They must be doing something wrong.”)
If so, then what about those in the field that advocate for the overturn of fundamental physical law based on experimental results from the Fleischmann-Pons experiment? Certainly those who broadcast such views impact the credibility of the field in a very negative way, and it is the case that the credibility of the field is pretty low in the eyes of the scientific community and the public these days.
Yes. This is what I’ve been saying, to some substantial resistance. We are better off with no theory, with only what is clearly established by experimental results, a collection of phenomena, and, where possible, clear correlations, with only the simplest of “explanations” that cover what is known, not what is speculated or weakly inferred.
One can find many examples of critics in the early years (and also in recent times) who draw attention to suggestions from our community that large parts of existing physics must be overturned as a response to excess heat in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment. These clever critics have understood clearly how damaging such statements can be to the field, and have exploited the situation. An obvious solution might be to exclude those making the offending statements from this community, as has been recommended to me by senior people who understand just how much damage can be done by association with people who say things that are perceived as not credible. I am not able to explain in return that people who have experienced exclusion from the scientific community tend for some reason not to want to exclude others from their own community.
That’s understandable, to be sure. However, we need to clearly discriminate and distinguish between what is individual opinion and what is community consensus. We need to disavow as our consensus what is only individual opinion, particularly where that can cause harm as described, and it can. We need to establish mechanisms for speaking as a community, for developing genuine consensus, and for deciding what we will and will not allow and support. It can be done.
Some in the field argue that until the new effects are understood completely, all theory has to be on the table for possible revision. If one holds back some theory as protected or sacrosanct, then one will never find out what is wrong if the problems happen to be in a protected area. I used to agree with this, and doggedly kept all possibilities open when contemplating different theories and models. However, somewhere over the years it became clear that the associated theoretical parameter space was fully as large as the experimental parameter space; that a model for the anomalies is very much stronger when derived from more fundamental accepted theories; and that there are a great many potential opportunities for new models that build on top of the solid foundation provided by the fundamental theories. We know now that there are examples of models consistent with the fundamental laws that can be very relevant to experiment. It is not that I have more respect or more appreciation now for the fundamental laws than before; instead, it is that I simply view them differently. Rather than being restrictive telling me what can’t be done (as some of my colleagues think), I view the fundamental laws as exceptionally helpful and knowledgeable friends pointing the way toward fruitful areas likely to be most productive.
That’s well-stated, and a stand that may take you far, Peter. Until we have far better understanding and clear experimental evidence to back it, all theories might in some sense be “on the table,” but there may be a pile of them that won’t get much attention, and others that will naturally receive more. The street-light effect is actually a guide to more efficient search: do look first where the light is good. And especially test and look first at ideas that create clearly testable predictions, rather than vaguer ideas and “explanations.” Tests create valuable data even if the theory is itself useless. “Useless” is not a final judgment, because what is not useful today might be modified and become useful tomorrow.
In recent years I have found myself engaged in discussions concerning particular theoretical models, some of which would go very much against the fundamental laws. There would be spirited arguments in which it became clear that others held dear the right to challenge anything (including quantum mechanics, QED, the standard model and more) in the pursuit of the holy grail which is the theoretical resolution of experiments showing anomalies. The picture that comes to mind is that of a prospector determined to head out into an area known to be totally devoid of gold for generations, where modern high resolution maps are available for free to anyone who wants to look to see where the gold isn’t. The displeasure and frustration that results has more than once ended up producing assertions that I was personally responsible for the lack of progress in solving the theoretical problem.
Hey, Peter, good news! You are personally responsible, so there is hope!
Personally, I like the idea of mystery, mysteries are fun, and that’s the Lomax theory: The mechanism of cold fusion is a mystery! I look forward to the day when I become wrong, but I don’t know if I’ll see that in my lifetime. I kind of doubt it, but it doesn’t really matter. We were able to use fire, long, long before we had “explanations.”
Theory and experiment
We might think of the scientific method as involving two fundamental parts of science: experiment and theory. Theory comes into play ideally as providing input for the hypothesis and prediction part of the method, while experiment comes into play providing the test against nature to see whether the ideas are correct.
Forgotten, too often, is pre-theory exploration and observation. Science developed out of a large body of observation. The method is designed to test models, but before accurate models are developed, there is normally much observation that creates familiarity and sets up intuition. Theory does not spring up with no foundation in observation, and is best developed with one familiar with experimental evidence, which only partially includes controlled studies, which develop correlations between variables.
My experimentalist colleagues have emphasized the importance of theory to me in connection with Fleischmann-Pons studies; they have said (a great many times) that experimental parameter space is essentially infinitely large (and each experiment takes time, effort, money and sweat), so that theory is absolutely essential to provide some guidance to make the experimenting more efficient.
No wonder there has been a slow pace! It’s an inverse vicious circle: theorists need data to develop and vet theories, and experimentalists believe they need theories to generate data. Yes, the parameter space can be thought of as enormous, but sane exploration does not attempt to document all of it at once; rather, experimentation can begin with confirmation of what has already been observed and exploring the edges, with the development of OOPs and other observation of the effects of controlled variables. It can simply measure what has been observed before with increased precision. It can repeat experiments many times to develop data on reliability.
If so, then has there been any input from the theorists? After all, the picture of the experimentalists toiling late into the night forever exploring an infinitely large parameter space is one that is particularly depressing (you see, some of my friends are experimentalists…).
As it turns out, there has been guidance from the theorists—lots of guidance. I can cite as one example input from Douglas Morrison (a theorist from CERN and a critic), who suggested that tests should be done where elaborate calorimetric measurements should be carried out at the same time as elaborate neutron, gamma, charged particle and tritium measurements. Morrison held firmly to a picture in which nuclear energy is produced with commensurate energetic products; since there are no commensurate energetic particles produced in connection with the excess power, Morrison was able to reject all positive results systematically.
Ah, Peter, you are simply coat-racking a complaint about Morrison onto this. Morrison had an obvious case of head-wedged syndrome. By the time Morrison would have been demanding this, it was known that helium was the main product, so the sane demand would have been accurate calorimetry combined with accurate helium measurement, at least, with both, as accurate as possible. Morrison’s idea was good, looking for correlations, but he was demanding products that simply are not produced. There was no law of physics behind his picture of “energetic products,” merely ordinary and common behavior, not necessarily universal, and it depended on assuming that the reaction was d+d fusion. Again, this was all a result of claiming “nuclear” based only on heat evidence. Bad Idea.
“Commensurate” depended on a theory of a fuel/product relationship, otherwise there is no way of knowing what ratio to expect. Rejecting helium as a product based on no gammas depended on assumptions of d+d -> 4He, which, it can be strongly argued, must produce a gamma. Yes, maybe a way can be found around that. But we can start with something much simpler. I write about “conversion of deuterium to helium,” advisedly, not “interaction of deuterons to form helium,” because the former is broader. The latter may theoretically include collective effects, but in practice, the image it creates is standard fusion. (Notice, “deuterons” refers to the ionized nuclei, generally, whereas “deuterium” is the element, including the molecular form. I state Takahashi theory as involving two deuterium molecules, instead of four deuterons, to emphasize that the electrons are included in the collapse, and it’s a lot easier to consider two molecules coming together like that, than four independent deuterons. Language matters!
The headache I had with this approach is that the initial experimental claim was for an excess heat effect that occurs without commensurate energetic nuclear radiation. Morrison’s starting place was that nuclear energy generation must occur with commensurate energetic nuclear radiation, and would have been perfectly happy to accept the calorimetric energy as real with a corresponding observation of commensurate energetic nuclear radiation.
So the real challenge for Morrison was the heat/helium correlation. There was a debate between Morrison and Fleischmann and Pons, in the pages of Physics Letters A, and I have begun to cover it on this page. F&P could have blown the Morrison arguments out of the water with helium evidence, but, as far as we know, they never collected that evidence in those boil-off experiments, with allegedly high heat production. Why didn’t they? In the answer to that is much explanation for the continuance of the rejection cascade. In their article, they maintained the idea of a nuclear explanation, without providing any evidence for it other than their own calorimetry. They did design a simple test (boil-off-time), but complicated it with unnecessarily complex explanations. I did not understand that “simplicity” until I had read the article several times. Nor did Morrison, obviously.
However, somewhere in all of this it seems that Fleischmann and Pons’ excess heat effect (in which the initial claim was for a large energy effect without commensurate energetic nuclear products) was implicitly discarded at the beginning of the discussion.
Yes, obviously. What I wonder is why someone who believes that a claim is impossible would spend so much effort arguing about it. But I think we know why.
Morrison also held in high regard the high-energy physics community (he had somewhat less respect for electrochemist experimentalists who reported positive results); so he argued that the experiment needed to be done by competent physicists, such as the group at the pre-eminent Japanese KEK high energy physics lab. Year after year the KEK group reported negative results, and year after year Morrison would single out this group publicly in support of his contention that when competent experimentalists did the experiment, no excess heat was observed. This was true until the KEK group reported a positive result, which was rejected by Morrison (energetic products were not measured in amounts commensurate with the energy produced); coincidentally, the KEK effort was subsequently terminated (this presumably was unrelated to the results obtained in their experiments).
That’s hilarious. Did KEK measure helium? Helium is a nuclear product. Conversion of deuterium to helium has a known Q and if the heat matches that Q, in a situation where the fuel is likely deuterium, it is direct evidence that nuclear energy is being converted to heat without energetic radiation, unless the radiation is fully absorbed within the device, entirely converted to heat.
Isagawa (1992). Isagawa (1995). Isagawa (1998). Yes, from the 1998 report, “Helium was observed, but no decisive conclusion could be drawn due to incompleteness of the then used detecting system.” It looks like they made extensive efforts to measure helium, but never nailed it. As they did find significant excess heat, that could have been very useful.
There have been an enormous number of theoretical proposals. Each theorist in the field has largely followed his own approach (with notable exceptions where some theorists have followed Preparata’s ideas, and others have followed Takahashi’s), and the majority of experimentalists have put forth conjectures as well. There are more than 1000 papers that are either theoretical, or combined experimental and theoretical with a nontrivial theoretical component. Individual theorists have put forth multiple proposals (in my own case, the number is up close to 300 approaches, models, sub-models and variants at this point, not all of which have been published or described in public). At ICCF conferences, more theoretical papers are generally submitted than experimental papers. In essence, there is enough theoretical input (some helpful, and some less so) to keep the experimentalists busy until well into the next millennium.
This was 2013, after he’d been at it for 24 years, so it’s not really the “theory du jour,” as I often quip, but more like the “theory du mois.”
You might argue there is an easy solution to this problem: simply sort the wheat from the chaff! Just take the strong theoretical proposals and focus on them, and put aside the ones that are weak. If you were to address this challenge to the theorists, the result can be predicted; pretty much all theorists would point to their own proposals as by far the strongest in the field, and recommend that all others be shelved.
Obvious, then, we don’t ask them about their own theories, but about those of others. And if two theorists cannot be found to support a particular theory for further investigation, then nobody is ready. Shelve them all, until some level of consensus emerges. Forget theory except for the very simplest organizing principles.
If you address the same challenge to the experimentalists, you would likely find that some of the experimentalists would point to their own conjectures as most promising, and dismiss most of the others; other experimentalist would object to taking any of the theories off the table. If we were to consider a vote on this, probably there is more support for the Widom and Larsen proposal at present than any of the others, due in part to the spirited advocacy of Krivit at New Energy Times; in Italy Preparata’s approach looms large, even at this time; and the ideas of Takahashi and of Kim have wide support within the community. I note that objections are known for these models, and for most others as well.
Yes. Fortunately, theory has only a minor impact on the necessary experimental work. Most theories are not well enough developed to be of much use in designing experiments and at present the research priority is strongly toward developing and characterizing reliability and reproducibility. However, if an idea from theory is easy to test, that might see more rapid response.
I have just watched a Hagelstein video from last year it’s excellent and begins with a hilarious summary of the history of cold fusion, and Peter is hot on the trail and has been developing what might be called “minor hits” in creating theoretical predictions, and in particular, phonon frequencies. I knew about his prediction of effective THz beat frequencies in the dual laser stimulation work of Dennis Letts, but I was not aware of how Peter was using this as a general guide, nor of other results he has seen, venturing into experiment himself.
Widom and Larsen attracted a lot of attention for the reasons given, and the promulgated myth that it doesn’t involve new physics, but has produced no results that benefited from it. Basically, no new physics — if one ignores quantitative issues — but no useful understanding, either.
To make progress
Given this situation, how might progress be made? In connection with the very large number of theoretical ideas put forth to date, some obvious things come to mind. There is an enormous body of existing experimental results that could be used already to check models against experiment.
Yes. But who is going to do this?
We know that excess heat production in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment in one mode is sensitive to loading, to current density, to temperature, probably to magnetic field and that 4He has been identified in the gas phase as a product correlated with energy.
Again, yes. As an example of work to do, magnetic field effects have been shown, apparently, with permanent magnets, but not studying the effect as the field is varied. Given the wide variability in the experiments, the simple work reported so far is not satisfactory.
It would be possible in principle to work with any particular model in order to check consistency with these basic observations. In the case of excess heat in the NiH experiments, there is less to test against, but one can find many things to test against in the papers of the Piantelli group, and in the studies of Miley and coworkers. Perhaps the biggest issue for a particular model is the absence of commensurate energetic products, and in my view the majority of the 1000 or so theoretical papers out there have problems of consistency with experiment in this area.
As a general rule, there is a great deal of work to be done to confirm and strengthen (or discredit!) existing findings. There are many results of interest in the almost thirty year history of the field that could benefit from replication, and replication work is the most likely to produce results of value at this time, if they are repeated with controlled variation to expand the useful data available.
As an example screaming for confirmation, Storms found that excess heat was maintained even after electrolysis was turned off, as loading declined, if he simply maintained cell temperature with a heater, showing, on the face of it, that temperature was a critical variable, even more than loading, once the reaction conditions are established. (Storms’ theory ascribes the formation of nuclear active environment to the effect of repeated loading on palladium, hence the appearance that loading is a major necessity.) This is of high interest and great practical import, but, to my knowledge, has not been confirmed.
There are issues which require experimental clarification. For example, the issue of the Q-value in connection with the correlation of 4He with excess energy for PdD experiments
remains a major headache for theorists (and for the field in general), and needs to be clarified.
Measurement of the Q with increased precision is an obvious and major priority, with high value both as a confirmation of heat, and a nuclear product, but also because it sets constraints on the major reaction taking place. Existing evidence indicates that, in PdD experiments, almost all that is happening is the conversion of deuterium to helium and heat, everything else reported (tritium, etc.) is a detail. But a more precise ratio will nail this, or suggest the existence of other reactions.
As well, a search should be maintained as practical for other correlations. Often, because a product was not “commensurate” with heat (from some theory of reaction), and even though the product was detected, the levels found and correlations with heat were not reported. A product may be correlated without being “commensurate,” and it might also be correlated with other conditions, such as the level of protium in PdD experiments.
The analogous issue of 3He production in connection with NiH and PdH is at present
essentially unexplored, and requires experimental input as a way for theory to be better grounded in reality. I personally think that the collimated X-rays in the Karabut
experiment are very important and need to be understood in connection with energy exchange, and an understanding of it would impact how we view excess heat experiments (but I note that other theorists would not agree).
What matters really is what is found by experiment. What is actually found, what is correlated, what are the effects of variables?
As a purely practical matter, rather than requiring a complete and global solution to all issues (an approach advocated, for example, by Storms), I would think that focusing on a single theoretical issue or statement that is accessible to experiment will be most advantageous in moving things forward on the theoretical front.
I strongly agree. If we can explain one aspect of the effect, we may be able, then, to explain others. It is not necessary to explain everything. Explanations start with correlations that then imply causal connections. Correlation is not causation, not intrinsically, but causation generally produces correlation. We may be dealing with more than one effect, indeed, that could explain some of the difficulties in the field.
Now there are a very large number of theoretical proposals, a very large number of experiments (and as yet relatively little connection between experiment and theory for the most part); but aside from the existence of an excess heat effect, there is very little that our community agrees on. What is needed is the proverbial theoretical flag in the ground. We would like to associate a theoretical interpretation with an experimental result in a way that is unambiguous, and which is agreed upon by the community.
I am suggesting starting with the Conjecture, not with mechanism. The Conjecture is not an attempt to foreclose on all other possibilities. But the evidence at this point is preponderant that helium is the only major product in the FP experiment. It is the general nature of the community, born as it was of defiant necessity, that we are not likely to agree on everything, so the priority I suggest is finding what we do agree upon, not as to conclusions, but to approach. I have found that, as an example, sincere skeptics agree as to the value of measuring the heat/helium ratio on PdD experiments with increased precision. So that is an agreement that is possible, without requiring a conclusion (i.e., that the ratio is some particular value, or even that it will be constant. The actual data will then guide and suggest further exploration.
(and a side effect of the technique suggested for releasing all the helium, anodic reversal, which dissolves the palladium surface, is that it could also provide a depth profile, which then provides possible information on NAE location and birth energy of the helium).
Historically there has been little effort focused in this way. Sadly, there are precious few resources now, and we have been losing people who have been in the field for a long time (and who have experience); the prospects for significant new experimentation is not good. There seems to be little in the way of transfer of what has been learned from the old guard to the new generation, and only recently has there seemed to be the beginnings of a new generation in the field at all.
There are not [sic] simple solutions to the issues discussed above. It is the case that the scientific method provides us with a reliable tool to clarify what is right from what is wrong in our understanding of how nature works. But it is also the case that scientists would generally prefer not to be excluded from the scientific community, and this sets up a fundamental conflict between the use of the scientific method and issues connected with social aspects involving the scientific community. In a controversial area (such as excess heat in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment), it almost seems that you can do research, or you can remain a part of the scientific community; pick one.
There is evidence that this Hobson’s choice is real. However, as I’ve been pointing out for years, the field was complicated by premature claims, creating a strong bias in response. It really shouldn’t matter, for abstract science, what mistakes were made almost thirty years ago. But it does matter, because of persistence of vision. So anyone who chooses to work in the field, I suggest, should be fully aware of how what they publish will appear. Special caution is required. One of the devices I’m suggesting is relatively simple: back off from conclusions and leave conclusions to the community. Do not attach to them. Let conclusions come from elsewhere, and support them only with great caution. This allows the use of the scientific method, because tests of theories can still be performed, being framed to appear within science.
As argued above, the scientific method provides a powerful tool to figure out how nature works, but the scientific method provides no guarantee that resources will be available to apply it to any particular question; or that the results obtained using the scientific method will be recognized or accepted by other scientists; or that a scientist’s career will not be destroyed subsequently as a result of making use of the scientific method and coming up with a result that lies outside of the boundaries of science. Our drawing attention to the issue here should be viewed akin to reporting a measurement; we have data that can be used to see that this is so, but in this case I will defer to others on the question of what to do about it.
Peter here mixes “results” with conclusions about them. Evidence for harm to career from results is thinner than harm from conclusions that appeared premature or wrong.
“What to do about it,” is generic to problem-solving: first become aware of the problem. More powerfully, avoid allowing conclusions to affect the gathering of information, other than carefully and provisionally.
The degree to which fundamental theories provide a correct description of nature (within their domains), we are able to understand what is possible and what is not.
Only within narrow domains. “What is possible” cannot apply to the unknown, it is always possible that something is unknown. We can certainly be surprised by some result, where we may think some domain has been thoroughly explored. But the domain of highly loaded PdD was terra incognita, PdD had only been explored up to about 70%, and it appears to have been believed that that was a limit, at least at atmospheric pressure. McKubre realized immediately that Pons and Fleischmann must have created loading above that value, as I understand the story, but this was not documented in the original paper (and when did this become known?). Hence replication efforts were largely doomed, what became, later, known as a basic requirement for the effect to occur, was often not even measured, and when measured, was low compared to what was needed.
In the event that the theories are taken to be correct absolutely, experimentation would no longer be needed in areas where the outcome can be computed (enough experiments have already been done); physics in the associated domain could evolve to a purely mathematical science, and experimental physics could join the engineering sciences. Excess heat in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment is viewed by many as being inconsistent with fundamental physical law, which implies that inasmuch as relevant fundamental physical law is held to be correct, there is no need to look at any of the positive experimental results (since they must be wrong); nor is there any need for further experimentation to clarify the situation.
He is continuing the parody. “Viewed as inconsistent” arose as a reaction to premature claims. The original FP paper led readers to look, first, at d-d fusion and to reactions that clearly were not happening at high levels, if at all. The title of the paper encouraged this, as well: “Electrochemically induced nuclear fusion of deuterium.” Interpreted within that framework, the anomalous heat appeared impossible. To move beyond this, it was necessary to disentangle the results from the nuclear claim. That, eventually, evidence was found supporting “deuterium fusion” — which is not equivalent to “d-d fusion,” — does not negate this. It was not enough that they were “right.” That a guess is lucky does not make a premature claim acceptable. (Pons and Fleischmann were operating on a speculation that was probably false, the effect is not due to the high density of deuterium in PdD, but high loading probably created other conditions in the lattice that then catalyzed a new form of reaction. Problems with the speculation were also apparent to skeptical physicists, and they capitalized on it.)
From my perspective experimentation remains a critical part of the scientific method,
This should be obvious. We do not know that a theory is testable unless we test it, and, for the long term, that it remains testable. Experimentation to test accepted theory is routine in science education. If it cannot be tested it is “pseudoscientific.” Why it cannot be tested is irrelevant. So the criteria for science that the parody set up destroys “science” as being science. The question becomes how to confront and handle the social issue. What I expect from training is that this starts with distinguishing what actually happened, setting aside the understandable reactions that it was all “unfair,” which commonly confuse us. (“Unfair” is not a “truth.” It’s a reaction.) The guidance I have suggests that if we take responsibility for the situation, we gain power; when we blame it on others, we are claiming that we are powerless, and it should be no surprise that we then have little or no power.
and we also have great respect for the fundamental physical laws; the headache in connection with the Fleischmann-Pons experiment is not that it goes against fundamental physical law, but instead that there has been a lack of understanding in how to go from the fundamental physical laws to a model that accounts for experiment.
Yes. And this is to be expected if the anomaly is unexpected and requires a complex condition that is difficult to understand, and especially that, even if imagined, it is difficult to calculate adequately. This all becomes doubly difficult if the effect is, again, difficult to reliably demonstrate. Physicists are not accustomed to that in something appearing as simple as “cold fusion in a jam jar.” I can imagine high distaste for attempting to deal with the mess created on the surface of an electrolytic cathode. There might be more sympathy for gas-loading. Physicists, of course, want the even simpler conditions of a plasma, where two-body analysis is more likely to be accurate. Sorry. Nature has something else in mind.
Experimentation provides a route (even in the presence of such strong fundamental theory) to understand what nature does.
Right. Actually, the role of simple report gets lost in the blizzard of “knowledge.” We become so accustomed to being able to explain most anything that we then become unable to recognize an anomaly when it punches us in the nose. The FPHE was probably seen before, Mizuno has a credible report. But he did not realize the significance. Even when he was, later, investigating the FPHE, he had a massive heat after death event, and it was like he was in a fog. It’s a remarkable story. It can be very difficult to see anomalies, and they may be much more common than we realize.
An anomaly does *not* negate known physics, because all that “anomaly” means is that we don’t understand something. While it is theoretically possible — and should always remain possible — that accepted laws are inaccurate (a clearer term than “wrong”) it is just as likely, or even more likely, that we simply don’t understand what we are looking at, and that an explanation may be possible within existing physics. And Peter has made a strong point that this is where we should first look. Not at wild ideas that break what is already understood quite well. I will repeat this, it is a variation on “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” which gets a lot of abuse.
If an anomaly is found, before investing in new physics to explain it, the first order of business is to establish that the anomaly is not just an appearance from a misunderstood experiment, i.e., that it is not artifact. Only if this is established — and confirmed — is, then, major effort justified in attempting to explain it, with existing physics. As part of the experimentation involved, it is possible that clear evidence will arise that does, indeed, require new physics, but before that will become a conversation accepted as legitimate, the anomaly must be (1) clearly verified and confirmed, no longer within reasonable question, and (2) shown to be unexplainable with existing physics, where existing physics, applied to the conditions discovered to be operating in the effect, is inaccurate in prediction, and the failure to explain is persistent, possibly for a long time! Only then will new territory open up, supported by at least a major fraction of the mainstream.
In my view there should be no issue with experimentation that questions the correctness of both fundamental, and less fundamental, physical law, since our science is robust and will only become more robust when subject to continued tests.
The words I would use are “that tests the continued accuracy of known laws.” It is totally normal and expected that work continues to find ever-more precise measurements of basic constants. The world is vast, and it is possible that basic physics is tested by experiment somewhere in the world, and sane pedagogy will not reject such experimentation merely because the results appear wrong. Rather, if a student gets the “wrong answers,” there is an educational opportunity. Normally — after all, we are talking about well-established basic physics — something was not understood about the experiment. And if we create the idea that there are “correct results,” we would encourage students to fudge and cherry-pick results to get those “correct answers.” No, we want them to design clear tests and make accurate measurements, and to separate the process of measuring and recording from expectation.
The worst sin in science is fudging results to create a match to expectation. So it should be discouraged to, in the experimental process, review results for “correctness.” There is an analytical stage where this would be done, i.e., results would be compared with predictions from established theory. When results don’t match theory, and are outside of normal experimental error, then, obviously, one would carefully review the whole process. Pons and Fleischmann knew that “existing theory” used the Born-Oppenheimer approximation, which, as applied, predicted unmeasurable fusion rate for deuterium in palladium. But precisely because they knew it was an approximation, they decided to look. The Approximation was not a law, it was a calculation heuristic, and they thought, with everyone else, that it was probably good enough that they would be unable to measure the deviation. But they decided to look.
Collectively, if we allow it, that looking can and will look at almost everything. “Looking” is fundamental to science, even more fundamental than testing theories. What do we see? I look at the sky and see “sprites.” Small white objects darting about. Obviously, energy beings! (That’s been believed by some. Actually, they are living things!)
But what are they? What is known is fascinating, to me, and unexpected. Most people don’t see them, but, in fact, I’m pretty sure that most people could see them if they look, but because they are unexpected, they are not noticed, we learned not to see them as children, because they distract from what we need to see in the sky, that large raptor or a rock flying at us.
So some kid notices them and tells his teacher, who tells him, “It’s your imagination, there is nothing there!” And so one more kid gets crushed by social expectations.
But what happens if an experimental result is reported that seems to go against relevant fundamental physical law?
(1) Believe the result is the result. I.e., that measurements were made and accurately reported.
(2) Question the interpretation, because it is very likely flawed. That is far more likely than “relevant fundamental physical law” being flawed.
Obviously, as well, errors can be made in measurement, and what we call “measurement” is often a kind of interpretation. Example: “measurement” of excess heat is commonly an interpretation of the actual measurements, which are commonly of temperature and input power. I am always suspicious of LENR claims where “anomalous heat” is plotted as a primary claim, rather than explicitly as an interpretation of the primary data, which, ideally, should be presented first. Consider this: an experiment, within a constant-temperature environment, is heated with a supplemental heater, to maintain a constant elevated temperature, and the power necessary for that is calibrated for the exact conditions, insofar as possible. This is used with an electrolysis experiment, looking for anomalous heat. There is also “input power” (to the electrolysis). So the report plots, against time, the difference between the steady-state supplemental heating power and the actual power to maintain temperature, less the other input power. This would be a relatively direct display of excess power, and that this power is also inferred (as a product of current and voltage) would be a minor quibble. But when excess power is a more complex calculation, presenting it as if it were measured is problematic.
Since the fundamental physical laws have emerged as a consequence of previous experimentation, such a new experimental result might be viewed as going against the earlier accumulated body of experiment. But the argument is much stronger in the case of fundamental theory, because in this case one has the additional component of being able to say why the outlying experimental result is incorrect. In this case reasons are needed if we are to disregard the experimental result. I note that due to the great respect we have for experimental results generally in connection with the scientific method, the notion that we should disregard particular experimental results should not be considered lightly.
Right. However, logically, unidentified experimental error always has a certain level of possibility. This is routinely handled, and one of the major methods is confirmation. Cold fusion presented a special problem: first, a large number of confirmation attempts that failed, and then reasonable suspicion of the file-drawer effect having an impact. This is why the reporting of full experimental series, as distinct from just the “best results” is so important. This is why encouraging full reporting, including of “negative results” could be helpful. From a pure scientific point of view, results are not “positive” or “negative,” but are far more complex data sets.
Reasons that you might be persuaded to disregard an experimental result include: a lack of confirmation in other experiments; a lack of support in theory; an experiment carried out improperly; or perhaps the experimentalists involved are not credible. In the case of the Fleischmann-Pons experiment, many experiments were performed early on (based on an incomplete understanding of the experimental requirements) that did not obtain the same result; a great deal of effort was made to argue (incorrectly, as we are beginning to understand) that the experimental result is inconsistent with theory (and hence lies outside of science); it was argued that the calorimetry was not done properly; and a great deal of effort has been put into destroying the credibility of Fleischmann and Pons (as well as the credibility of other experimentalists who claimed to see the what Fleischmann and Pons saw).
The argument that results were inconsistent with established theory was defective from the beginning. There were clear sociological pathologies, and pseudoskeptical argument became common. This was recognizable even if an observer believed that cold fusion was not real. That is, to be sure, an observer who is able to assess arguments even if the observer agrees with the conclusions from the argument. Too many will support an argument because they agree with the conclusion. Just because a conclusion is sound does not make all the arguments advanced for it correct, but this is, again, common and very unscientific thinking. Ultimately the established rejection cascade came to be supported in continued existence by the repetition of alleged facts that either never were fact, or that became obsolete. “Nobody could replicate” is often repeated, even tough it is blatantly false. This was complicated, though, by the vast proliferation of protocols such that exact replication was relatively rare.
There was little or no discipline in the field. Perhaps we might notice that there is little profit or glory in replication. That kind of work, if I understand correctly, is often done by graduate students. Because the results were chaotic and unreliable, there was a constant effort to “improve” them, instead of studying the precise reliability of a particular protocol, with single-variable controls in repeated experiments.
Whether it is right, or whether it is wrong, to destroy the career of a scientist who has applied the scientific method and obtained a result thought by others to be incorrect, is not a question of science.
Correct. It’s a moral and social issue. If we want real science, science that is living, that can deepen and grow, we need protect intellectual freedom, and avoid “punishing” simple error — or what appears to be error. Scientists must be free to make mistakes. There is one kind of error that warrants heavy sanctions, and that is falsifying data. The Parkhomov fabrication of data in one of his reports might seem harmless — because that data probably just relatively flat — but he was, I find obvious, concealing fact, that he was recording data using a floating notebook computer to record his data, and the battery went low. However, given that it would have been easier and harmless, we might think, to just show the data he had with a note explaining the gap, I think he wanted to conceal the fact, and why? I have a suggestion: it would reveal that he needed to run this way because of heavy noise caused by the proximity of chopped power to his heater coil, immediately adjacent to the thermocouple. And that heavy noise could be causing problems! Concealing relevant fact is almost as offensive as falsifying data.
There are no scientific instruments capable of measuring whether what people do is right or wrong; we cannot construct a test within the scientific method capable of telling us whether what we do is right or wrong; hence we can agree that this question very much lies outside of science.
I will certainly agree, and it’s a point I often make, but it is also often derided.
It is a fact that the careers of Fleischmann and Pons were destroyed (in part because their results appeared not to be in agreement with theory), and the sense I get from discussions with colleagues not in the field is that this was appropriate (or at the very least expected).
However, this was complicated, not as simple as “results not in agreement with theory.” I’d say that anyone who reads the fuller accounts of what happened in 1989-1990 is likely to notice far more than that problem. For example, a common bete noir among cold fusion supporters is Robert Park. Park describes how he came to be so strongly skeptical: it was that F&P promised to reveal helium test results, and then they were never released.
The Morrey collaboration was a large-scale, many-laboratory effort to study helium in FP cathodes. Pons, we have testimony, violated a clear agreement, refusing to turn over the coding of the blinded cathodes, when Morrey gave him the helium results. There were legal threats if Morrey et al published, from Pons. Before that, the experimental cathode provided for testing was punk, with low excess heat, whereas the test had been designed, with the controls, to use a cathode with far higher generated energy. (Three cathodes were ion-implanted to simulate palladium loaded with helium from the reaction, at a level expected from the energy allegedly released.) The “as-received” cathode was heavily contaminated with implanted helium, may have been mixed up by Johnson-Matthey. And all this was never squarely faced by Pons and Fleischmann, and even though it was known by the mid-1990s that helium was the major product, and F&P were generating substantial heat — they claim — in France, there is no record of helium measurements from them.
It’s a mess. Yes, we know that they were right, they found an previously “unknown nuclear reaction.”But how they conducted themselves was clearly outside of scientific norms. (As with others, in the other direction or on the other side, by the way, there are many lessons for the future in this “scientific fiasco of the century,” once we fully examine it.
I am generally not familiar with voices being raised outside of our community suggesting that there might have been anything wrong with this.
Few outside of “our community” — the community of interest in LENR — are aware of it, just as few are aware of the evidence for the reality of the Anomalous Heat Effect and its nuclear nature. Fewer still have any concept of what might be done about this, so when others do become aware, little or nothing happens. Nevertheless, it is becoming more possible to write about this. I have written about LENR on Quora, and it’s reasonably popular. In fact, I ran into one of the early negative replicators, and I blogged about it. He appeared completely unaware that there was a problem with his conclusions, that there had been any developments. The actual paper was fine, a standard negative replication.
Were we to pursue the use of this kind of delineation in science, we very quickly enter into rather dark territory: for example, how many careers should be destroyed in order to achieve whatever goal is proposed as justification? Who decides on behalf of the scientific community which researchers should have their careers destroyed? Should we recognize the successes achieved in the destruction of careers by giving out awards and monetary compensation? Should we arrange for associated outplacement and mental health services for the newly delineated? And what happens if a mistake is made? Should the scientific community issue an apology (and what happens if the researcher is no longer with us when it is recognized that a mistake was made)? We are sure that careers get destroyed as part of delineation in science, but on the question of what to do about this observation we defer to others.
There is no collective, deliberative process behind the “destruction of careers.” This is an information cascade, there is no specific responsible party. Most believe that they are simply accepting and believing what everyone else believes, excepting, of course, those die-hard fanatics. There is a potential ally here, who thoroughly understands information cascades, Gary Taubes. I have established good communication with him, and am waiting for confirmation from the excess helium work in Texas before rattling his cage again. Cold fusion is not the only alleged Bad Science to be afflicted, and Taubes has actually exposed much more, including Bad Science that became an alleged consensus, on the rule of fat in human nutrition and with relationship to cardiovascular disease and obesity.
There are analogies. Racism is an information cascade, for the most part. Many racist policies existed without any formal deliberative process to create them. Waking up white is an excellent book, I highly recommend it. So what could be done about racism? It’s the same question, actually. The general answer is what has become a mantra for Mike McKubre and myself: communicate, cooperate, collaborate. And, by the way, correlate. As Peter may have noticed, remarkable findings without correlations are, not useless, but ineffective in transforming reaction to the unexpected. Correlation provides meat for the theory hamburger. Correlation can be quantified, it can be analyzed statistically.
Arguments were put forth by critics in 1989 that excess heat in the Fleischmann-Pons effect was impossible based on theory, in connection with the delineation process. At the time these arguments were widely accepted—an acceptance that persists generally even today.
Information cascades are instinctive processes that developed in human society for survival reasons, like all such common phenomena. They operate through affiliation and other emotional responses, and are amygdala-mediated. The lizard brain. It is designed for quick response, not for depth. When we see a flash of orange and white in the jungle, we may have a fraction of a second to act, we have no time to sit back and analyze what it might be.
Once the information cascade is in place, people — scientists are people, have you noticed? — are aware of the consequences of deviating from the “consensus.” They won’t do it unless faced with not only strong evidence, but also necessity. Depending on the specific personality, they might not even allow themselves to think outside the box. After all, Joe, their friend who became a believer in cold fusion, that obvious nonsense, used to be sane, so there is obviously something about cold fusion that is dangerous, like a dangerous drug. And, of course, Tom Darden joked about this. “Cold fusion addiction.” It’s a thing.
There is, associated with cold fusion, a conspiracy theory. I see people succumb to it. It is very tempting to accept an organizing principle, for that impulse is even behind interest in science. To be sure, “just because you are paranoid does not mean that they are not out to get you.”
What people may learn to do is to recognize an “amygdala hijack.” This very common phenomenon shuts down the normal operation of the cerebral cortex. The first reaction most have, to learning about this, is to think that a “hijack” is wrong. We shouldn’t do that! We should always think clearly, right?
I linked to a video that explains why it is absolutely necessary to respect this primitive brain operation. It’s designed to save our lives! However, it is an emergency response. Respecting it does not require being dominated by it, other than momentarily. We can make a fast assessment: “Do I have time to think about this? Yes, I’m afraid of ‘cold fusion addiction.’ But if I think about cold fusion, will I actually become unable to think clearly?” And most normal people will become curious, seeing no demons, anywhere close, about to take over their mind. Some won’t. Some will remain dominated by fear, a fear so deeply rooted that it is not even recognized as fear.
How can we communicate with such people. Well, how do porcupines make love?
We will avoid sudden movements. We will focus on what is comfortable and familiar. We will avoid anything likely to arouse more fear. And if this is a physicist, want to make him or her afraid? Tell them that everything they know is wrong, that textbooks must be revised, because you have proof (absolute proof, I tell you!) that the anomalous heat called “cold fusion” is real and that therefore basic physics is complete bullshit.
That original idea of contradiction, a leap from something not understood (an “anomaly”), to “everything we know is wrong,” was utterly unnecessary, and it was caused by premature conclusions, on all sides. Yet once those fears are aroused. . . .
It is possible to talk someone down. It takes skill, and if you think the issue is scientific fact, you will probably not be able to manage it. The issue is a frightened human being, possibly reacting to fear by becoming highly controlling.
Someone telling us that there is no danger, that it is just their imagination, will not be trusted, that is also instinctive. Even if it is just their imagination.
Most parents, though, know how to do this with a frightened child. Some, unfortunately, lack the skill, possibly because their parents lacked it. It can be learned.
From my perspective the arguments put forth by critics that the excess heat effect is inconsistent with the laws of physics fall short in at least one important aspect: what is concluded is now in disagreement with a very large number of experiments. And if somehow that were not sufficient, the associated technical arguments which have been given are badly broken.
Yes, but you may be leaping ahead, before first leading the audience to recognize the original error. You are correct, but not addressing the fear directly and the cause of it. Those “technical arguments” are what they think, they have nodded their heads in agreement for many years. You are telling them that they are wrong. And if you want to set up communication failure, tell people at the outset that they are wrong. And, we often don’t realize this, but even thinking that can so color our communication that people react to what is behind what we say, not just to what we say.
But wait, what if I think they are wrong? The advice here is to recognize that idea as amygdala-mediated, an emotional response to our own imagination of how the other is thinking. As one of my friends would put it, we may need to eat our own dog food before feeding it to others.
So my stand is that the skeptics were not “wrong.” Rather, the thinking was incomplete, and that’s actually totally obvious. It also isn’t a moral defect, because our thinking is, necessarily and forever, incomplete.
In dealing with amygdala hijack in one of my children, I saw strong evidence that the amygdala is programmable with language, and any healthy mother knows how to do it. The child has fallen and has a busted lip, it’s bleeding profusely, and the child is frightened and in pain. The mother realizes she is afraid that there will be scars. Does she tell the child she is afraid? Does she blame the child because he was careless? No, she’s a mother! She tells the child, “Yes, it hurts. We are on the way to the doctor and they will fix it, and you are going to be fine, here, let me give you a kiss!”
But wait, she doesn’t actually know that the child will be fine! Is she lying? No, she is creating reality by declaring it. “Fine” is like “right” and “wrong,” it is not factual, it’s a reaction, so her statement is a prediction, not a fact. And it happens to be a prediction that can create what is predicted.
I use this constantly, in my own life. Declare possibilities as if they are real and already exist! We don’t do this, because of two common reasons. We don’t want to be wrong, which is Bad, right? And we are afraid of being disappointed. I just heard this one yesterday, a woman justified to her friend her constant recitation of how nothing was going to work and bad things will happen, saying that she “is thinking the worst.” Why does she do that? So that she won’t be disappointed!
What she is creating in her life, constant fear and stress, is far worse than mere disappointment, which is transient at worst, unless we really were crazy in belief in some fantasy. Underneath most life advice is the ancient recognition of attachment as causing suffering.
So the stockbroker in 1929, even though it’s a beautiful day and he could have a fantastic lunch and we never do know what is going to happen tomorrow, jumps out the window because he thought he was rich, but wasn’t, because the market collapsed.
The sunset that day was just as beautiful as ever. Life still had endless possibilities, and, yes, one can be poor and happy, but this person would only be poor if they remained stuck in old ways that, at least for a while, weren’t working any more. People can even go to prison and be happy. (I was a prison chaplain, and human beings are amazingly flexible, once we accept present reality, what is actually happening.)
In my view the new effects are a consequence of working in a regime that we hadn’t noticed before, where some fine print associated with the rotation from the relativistic problem to the nonrelativistic problem causes it not to be as helpful as what we have grown used to.
Well, that’s Peter’s explanation, five years ago. There are other ways to say more or less the same thing. “Collective effects” is one. Notice that Widom and Larsen get away with this, as long as their specifics aren’t so seriously questioned. The goal I generally have is to deconstruct the “impossible” argument, not by claiming experimental proof, because there is, for someone not very familiar with the evidence, a long series of possible experimental errors and artifacts that can be plausibly asserted, and “they must be making some mistake” is actually plausible, it happens. Researchers do make mistakes. And, in fact, Pons and Fleischmann made mistakes. I just listened to a really excellent talk by Peter, which convinced me that there might be something to his theoretical approach, in which he pointed out an error, in Fleischmann’s electrochemistry. Horrors! Unthinkable! Saint Fleischmann? Impossible!
This is part of how we recover from that “scientific fiasco of the century”: letting go of attachment, developing tolerance of ideas different from our own, distinguishing between reality (what actually happened) and interpretation and reaction, and opening up communication with people with whom we might have disagreements, and listening well!
If so, we can keep what we know about condensed matter physics and nuclear physics unchanged in their applicable regimes, and make use of rather obvious generalizations in the new regime. Experimental results in the case of the Fleischmann-Pons experiment will likely be seen (retrospectively) as in agreement with (improved) theory.
Right. That is the future and it will happen (and it is already happening in places and in part). Meanwhile, we aren’t there yet, as to the full mainstream, the possibility has not been actualized, but we can, based entirely on the historical record, show that there is no necessary contradiction with known physics, there is merely something not yet explained. The rejection was of an immature and vague explanation: “fusion! nuclear!” with these words triggering a host of immediate reactions, all quite predictable, by the way.
I just read from Miles that Fleischmann later claimed that he and Pons were “against” holding that press conference. Sorry! This was self-justifying rationalization, chatter. They may well have argued against it, but, in the end, the record does not show anyone holding guns to their heads to force them to say what they said. They clearly knew, well before this, that this would be highly controversial, but were driven by their own demons to barge ahead instead of creating something different and more effective. (We all have these demons, but we usually don’t recognize them, we think that their voices are just us thinking. And they are, but I learned years ago, dealing with my own demons, that they lie to us. Once we back up from attachment to believing that what we think is right, it’s actually easy to recognize. This is behind most addiction, and people who are dealing with addition, up close and personally, come to know these things.)
Even though there may not be simple answers to some of the issues considered in this editorial, some very simple statements can be made. Excess heat in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment is a real effect.
I do say that, and frequently, but I don’t necessarily start there. Rather, where I will start depends on the audience. Before I will slap them in the face with that particular trout, I will explore the evidence, what is actually found, how it has been confirmed, and how researchers are proceeding to strengthen this, and how very smart money is betting on this, with cash and reputable scientists involved. For some audiences, I prefer to let the reader decide on “real,” and to engage them with the question. How do we know what is “real”?
Do we use theory or experimental testing? It is actually an ancient question, where the answer was, often, “It’s up to the authorities.” Such as the Church. Or, “up to me, because I’m an expert.” Or “up to my friends, because they are experts and they wouldn’t lie.”
What I’ve found, in many discussions, is that genuine skeptics actually support that effort. What happens when precision is increased in the measurement of the heat/helium ratio in the FP experiment? Classic to “pathological science,” the effect disappears when measured with increased precision.
That was used against cold fusion by applying it to the chaotic excess heat experiments, where it was really inappropriate, because, if I’m correct, precision of calorimetry did not correlate with “positive” or “negative” reports. Correlation generates numbers that can then be compared.
But that’s difficult to study retrospectively, because papers are so different in approach, and this was the problem with uncorrelated heat. Nevertheless, that’s an idea for a research paper, looking at precision vs excess heat calculated. I haven’t seen one.
There are big implications for science, and for society. Without resources science in this area will not advance. With the continued destruction of the careers of those who venture to work in the area, progress will be slow, and there will be no continuity of effort.
While it is true that resources are needed for advance, I caution against the idea that we don’t have the resources. We do. We often, though, don’t know how to access them, and when we believe that they don’t exist, we are extremely unlikely to connect with them. The problem of harm to career is generic to any challenge to a broad consensus. I would recommend to anyone thinking of working in the field that they also recognize the need for personal training. It’s available, and far less expensive than a college education. Otherwise they will be babes in the woods. Scientists often go into science because of wanting to escape from the social jungle, imagining it to be a safe place, where truth matters more than popularity. So it’s not surprising to find major naivete on this among scientists.
I’ve been trained. That doesn’t mean that I don’t make mistakes, I do, plenty of them. But I also learn from them. Mistakes are, in fact, the fastest way to learn, and not realizing this, we may bend over backwards to avoid them. The trick is to recognize and let go of attachment to being right. That, in many ways, suppresses our ability to learn rapidly, and it also suppresses intuition, because intuition, by definition, is not rationally circumscribed and thus “safe.”
I’ll end with one of my favorite Feynman stories, I heard this from him, but it’s also in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (pp 144-146). It is about the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant (a later name), a crucial part of the Manhattan Project. This version I have copied from this page.
How do you look at a plant that ain’t built yet? I don’t know. Well, Lieutenant Zumwalt, who was always coming around with me because I had to have an escort everywhere, takes me into this room where there are these two engineers and a loooooong table cover, a stack of large, long blueprints representing the various floors of the proposed plant.
I took mechanical drawing when I was in school, but I am not good at reading blueprints. So they start to explain it to me, because they think I am a genius. Now, one of the things they had to avoid in the plant was accumulation. So they had problems like when there’s an evaporator working, which is trying to accumulate the stuff, if the valve gets stuck or something like that and too much stuff accumulates, it’ll explode. So they explained to me that this plant is designed so that if any one valve gets stuck nothing will happen. It needs at least two valves everywhere.
Then they explain how it works. The carbon tetrachloride comes in here, the uranium nitrate from here comes in here, it goes up and down, it goes up through the floor, comes up through the pipes, coming up from the second floor, bluuuuurp – going through the stack of blueprints, down-up-down-up, talking very fast, explaining the very, very complicated chemical plant.
I’m completely dazed. Worse, I don’t know what the symbols on the blueprint mean! There is some kind of a thing that at first I think is a window. It’s a square with a little cross in the middle, all over the damn place. I think it’s a window, but no, it can’t be a window, because it isn’t always at the edge. I want to ask them what it is.
You must have been in a situation like this when you didn’t ask them right away. Right away it would have been OK. But now they’ve been talking a little bit too long. You hesitated too long. If you ask them now they’ll say, “What are you wasting my time all this time for?”
I don’t know what to do. (You are not going to believe this story, but I swear it’s absolutely true – it’s such sensational luck.) I thought, what am I going to do? I got an idea. Maybe it’s a valve? So, in order to find out whether it’s a valve or not, I take my finger and I put it down on one of the mysterious little crosses in the middle of one of the blueprints on page number 3, and I say, “What happens if this valve gets stuck?” figuring they’re going to say, “That’s not a valve, sir, that’s a window.”
So one looks at the other and says, “Well, if that valve gets stuck — ” and he goes up and down on the blueprint, up and down, the other guy up and down, back and forth, back and forth, and they both look at each other and they tchk, tchk, tchk, and they turn around to me and they open their mouths like astonished fish and say, “You’re absolutely right, sir.”
So they rolled up the blueprints and away they went and we walked out. And Mr. Zumwalt, who had been following me all the way through, said, “You’re a genius. I got the idea you were a genius when you went through the plant once and you could tell them about evaporator C-21 in building 90-207 the next morning, “ he says, “but what you have just done is so fantastic I want to know how, how do you do that?”
I told him you try to find out whether it’s a valve or not.
In the version I recall, he mentioned that there were a million valves in the system, and that, when they later checked more thoroughly, the one he had pointed to was the only one not backed up. I take “million” as meaning “a lot,” not necessarily as an accurate number. From the Wikipedia article: “When it was built in 1944, the four-story K-25 gaseous diffusion plant was the world’s largest building, comprising over 1,640,000 square feet (152,000 m2) of floor space and a volume of 97,500,000 cubic feet (2,760,000 m3).”
Why do I tell this story? Life is full of mysteries, but rather than his “lucky guess” being considered purely coincidental, from which we would learn nothing, I would rather give it a name. This was intuition. Feynman was receiving vast quantities of information during that session, and what might have been normal analytical thinking (which filters) was interrupted by his puzzlement. So that information was going into his mind subconsciously. I’ve seen this happen again and again. We do something with no particular reason that turns out to be practically a miracle. But this does not require any woo, simply the possibility that conscious thought is quite limited compared to what the human brain actually can do, under some conditions. Feynman, as a child, developed habits that fully fostered intuition. He was curious, and an iconoclast. There are many, many other stories. I have always said, for many years, that I learned to think from Feynman. And then I learned how not to think.