Widom-Larsen

DRAFT undergoing revision.

first revision 7/12/2018: corrected comment about Widom activity, moved DARPA report to its own subpage, and added responses, including a reported replication failure, to the Cirillo et al paper.

A discussion on a private mailing list led me to take a new look at Widom-Larsen theory.

This is long. I intend to refactor it and boil it down. There is a lot of material available. This also examines the role of Steve Krivit in promoting W-L theory and generally attacking the cold fusion community (and “cold fusion” only means the heat effect popularly called that, and does not indicate any specific reaction.) What I call the “cold fusion community” is the LENR or CMNS community, which, setting aside a few fanatics, is not divided into factions as Krivit promotes.

I have, in the past, called W-L theory a “hoax.” That has sometimes been misinterpreted. The theory itself is not a hoax, it appears to have been a serious attempt to “explain” LENR phenomena. However, there is a common idea about it, that it does not contradict existing physics, often combined with an idea that “cold fusion” is in such contradiction, which is true only for some interpretations of “cold fusion.” The simplest, that it is a popular name for a set of experimental results displaying a heat anomaly, doesn’t present any actual contradiction. That the heat is from “d-d fusion,” a common idea again (especially among skeptics!), does present some serious issues. But there are many possible paths and understandings of “fusion.”

No, the hoax is that W-L theory only involves accepted physics.

Explanation of Widom-Larsen theory

The subpage covers the explanation on New Energy Times, and my commentary on it.

Reactions of physicists

So Krivit has many pages on the reactions of physicists and others, covered on Reactions.

The most recent one I see is this:

Larsen Uncovers Favorable Defense Department Evaluation of Widom-Larsen LENR Theory

So this,  June 6, 2017, was from Larsen, framed by Larsen. As we will be seeing, that W-L theory has been “successful” in terms of being accepted as possible, in many circles, is reasonably true, or at least was true, but has a problem. Who are these people, and what do they know about the specific physics, and most to the point, what do they know about the very large body of evidence for LENR? One may easily imagine that LENR evidence is a certain way, if one is not familiar with it.

This “favorable report” was actually old, from 2010. I cover this report on a subpage: Toton-Ullrich DARPA report. While the report presents W-L theory as it was apparently explained to them by Widom and/or Larsen, including comments that reflect their political point of view, the report ends with this:

The Widom-Larsen theory has done little to unify or focus the LENR research community
• If anything, it appears to have increased the resolve of the strongforce D-D fusion advocates to circle the wagons

(No specific references are made to a “strongforce D-D fusion” theory. Ordinary D-D fusion has long been understood as Not Happening in LENR. Most theories (like W-L theory) now focus on collective effects. This concept of an ideological battle has been promoted by Krivit and, I think, Larsen.)

• LENR is an area of research at the TRL-1 level but the community is already jockeying for position to achieve a competitive TRL-8 position, which further impedes the normal scientific process

Depending on definitions, the research is largely at TRL-1, yes, but in some areas perhaps up to TRL-3. Nobody is close to TRL-8. This report was in 2010, and Rossi was privately demonstrating his devices to government officials. Then, Rossi wasn’t claiming TRL-8, though possibly close, and later he clearly claimed to have market-ready products. He was lying. Yes, there is secrecy and there are non-disclosure agreements, McKubre has been pointing out for the last couple of years how this impedes the normal scientific process. Notice that in the history of Lattice Energy, Larsen invoked “proprietary” to avoid disclosing information about the state of verification of their alleged technology, which was, we can now be reasonably confident, vaporware.

• Without a theory to guide the research, LENR will remain in a perpetual cook-and-look mode, which produces some tantalizing results to spur venture capital investments but does little to advance the science

While a functional theory would certainly be useful, W-L theory does not qualify. A premature theory, largely ad-hoc, as W-L theory is, could mislead research. Such theories can best be used to brainstorm new effects to measure, but at this point the most urgent research need is to verify what has already been found, with increased precision and demonstrated reliability (i.e., real error bars, from real data, from extensive series of tests.)

• DTRA needs to be careful not to get embroiled in the politics of LENR and serve as an honest broker
 Exploit some common ground, e.g., materials and diagnostics
 Force a show-down between Widom-Larsen and Cold Fusion advocates
 Form an expert review panel to guide DTRA-funded LENR research

Great idea. They did not take advantage of the opportunity to do just that, as far as we know. If they did, good for them! The story that there is a battle between W-L theory and “cold fusion advocates” is purely a W-L advocacy story, as is the claim that W-L theory does not conflict with known physics, which the report authors did not critically examine. it is not clear that they read any of the critical literature.

Critiques of W-L theory

Steve Krivit mentions some of the critiques on his blog, but suppresses their visibility. Some, in spite of being published under peer review, he completely ignores.

The subpage, Critiques,  covers

Hagelstein and Chaudhary (2008)

Hagelstein (2013)

Ciuci et al (2012)

Cirillo et al (2012) (experimental neutron finding cited as support of W-L theory)

Faccini et al (2013), critique of Cirillo and replication failure and further response to Widom

Tennefors (2013)

Email critiques from 2007, including two written with explicit “off the record” requests, which Krivit published anyway, claiming that they had not obtained permission first for an off-the-record comment, and that he had explicitly warned them, which he had not. Krivit interprets language however it suits him, and his action might as well have been designed to discourage scientists in the field from talking frankly with him . . . which is the result he obtained.

Vysotskii (2012 and 2014)

Storms (2007 and 2010) and the Krivit comment published by Naturwissenschaften, Storms’ reply, and Krivit’s continued reply on his blog.

Maniani et al (2014)