Conversations: Simon Derricutt 2

Continuing the conversation:

(Abd comments in indented italics.)

Simon Derricutt wrote:

Abd – my memory runs a bit different than most, I think. When I was designing digital circuits I found I needed to know far more than my brain could actually hold, and of course the half-life of knowledge in electronics design was somewhere around 18 months then. I needed to have a lot of books (and later on CDs) open at the same time to be able to check on precise details of any particular component. I thus learnt to hold only the important points and an index in my head, and I really only needed to be able to find the information quickly. These days I tend to only note the important points and rely on a search to find the source data.

Of course. Especially as we age, holding a lot of information as readily accessible becomes more and more difficult. However, key concept: it is still there if it has been seen. Then intuition functions to bring up associations with it. It’s crucial to recognize the fuzziness of all this. Intuition provides indications based on that massive association engine, the human brain. Then we verify and confirm (or correct), and each time we do that, our “understanding” — a fuzzy concept, generally — becomes deeper.

As such, I noted the fact of the cloud-chamber experiment, and that it was stated at the time that the Nickel was the obvious source (tracks have one end on the Nickel) and that it decayed over a couple of hours. I will need to search for that source again. Krivit mentions it in your link, but not in the detail I remember. As you say, though, Piantelli did keep secrets – maybe in the hope of achieving a working system first. Since cloud-chambers were used initially as a quantitative test, some of the disclaimers seem a bit odd.

I cited the apparent original publication. In addition, as I mentioned, Krivit has it. There are two photos, showing two tracks, both originating in the nickel. The cloud chamber examination was two months after the experiment, so they would not have, in a short time, been able to see the decay you remember. I think others have assumed that the cloud chamber examination was prompt, so maybe you read this elsewhere. One of the problems in the field is a lack of clean-up. I worked on a Wikiversity resource where that could happen, but there has been, so far, little interest and participation. Posts on this blog can be cleaned up, but that is going to require wider participation. “Journalists” like Krivit are interested in the flash, not so much in building reliable resoruces; Krivit will sometimes add a note about an error, leaving what was based on it prominent and obvious (and in error) while the correction is obscure.

Maybe I’ve spent too much time reading comments on the blogs, but the general impression I get there at least is that something dramatic is needed to reverse the rejection.

Yes, that opinion is common. As to too much time, the harm is only if you believe what you read as accurate; even when the general sense is sound, the details are often off. I’ve often been accused of nit-picking, but if you’ve got nits, you’ve got lice. In an academic environment, courtesy would be to thank people for corrections! There has been a search for the dramatic for about 27 years. As my trainer would say, “How’s it workin’ for ya?”

Instead of accepting what we had, and then using ordinarily scientific techniques to study it, to characterize it, to create data that can be subjected to statistical analysis, etc., too many kept changing their protocols, looking for something better than what Nature was revealing. This created a vast pile of essentially anecdotal evidence.

Miles went beyond that (and so did McKubre and SRI). There is a lost performative in much of the thinking of the cold fusion community: convincing to whom? Once there was the idea of a vast rejection cascade, the mass of “mainstream scientists,” who must be convinced, a paradox was set up: a rejection cascade means that a general consensus has formed of bogosity, and such a consensus requires truly extraordinary evidence to overturn, and “extraordinary evidence” has been misunderstood to mean some specific demonstration that simply can’t be explained any other way than by a nuclear reaction. Yet such demonstrations have existed for many years. The vast majority of them are not reliable, i.e., there is no specific protocol to follow that will generate the effect, that is both convincing and easily replicable. If it is not easy to replicate, and with the expectation of bogosity, who will bother?

Absolutely, a reliable high-heat experiment that could be reduced to a reliable kit, if it is inexpensive, would manage the revolution. Got one? You mention the Nanor and a possible price of $30,000. If that is a fair price, this thing is far, far too expensive for something reported to generate a few milliwatts. Few would buy it, if any, but IH might — and, in fact, I would not be surprised to find out that they have already arranged independent testing. They are working with Hagelstein and the connection between Hagelstein and Swartz is close enough that Hagelstein would not talk with me, because Swartz. He did not explain, but it was obvious.

If a “believer” buys such a kit, tries it, and confirms heat, what then? The report would not be trusted, unless it was very unusual for a cold fusion report, and could be confirmed without buying another device. But if the kit comes with an NDA, this is useless (though a prohibition against dismantling it could be acceptable, if the heat levels are high enough).

This is the bottom line: Plan A does not require public support, it basically asks us to do nothing until the Home Depot product appears, or the like, a true, available, commercial product. So great. I can enjoy the weather or whatever, politics, how about carbohydrates in human diet?

Relying on Plan A is disempowering! It more or less assumes that nothing can be done, but someone (Rossi? Who?) will save us. If what Fleischmann thought was correct, i.e., that it would take a Manhattan-scale project to commercialize cold fusion, we might be waiting a long time. Who is going to invest billions without a solid science foundation?

Pointing out how accurately P+F could measure heat flows, or the correlation in Miles, just leaves the sceptics still sceptical.

Again, by being fuzzy about whom we would seek to convince, we leave ourselves up the creek without a paddle. First of all, if we care about science, we must be skeptics. It’s essential to the method. Secondly, it is not necessary to try to change the minds of skeptics. Behind this is an idea that they are wrong, and if you believe someone is wrong, you will almost certainly have damaged access to them. What can be done is to ask skeptics to review evidence, to suggest experimental tests, to help design good work. Some of us have many years of study of the field. When we see a skeptical objection, we may rush to correct errors. Far more powerful is the Socratic method, i.e., bring evidence before the skeptic, asking for review.

Most of the well-known skeptics cannot handle this. And trying to convince them is mostly a waste of time; what they write can be useful in exposing the array of proposed artifacts or errors. The goal of convincing skeptics leaves us out of the equation. Rather, we would properly be constantly looking to prove ourselves wrong. If we fail, maybe some skeptic can help us! I’ve been reviewing some old discussions, where Thomas Clarke was very active. To me, he appears to be a genuine skeptic, not a pseudoskeptic. We need more people like him…

It is not necessary to convince the mainstream. What is necessary is to convince editors at a mainstream publication that a foundational paper is worth publishing. That’s a specific group of people. While it is possible to create political pressure, that is not where to start, because any attempt to try to force someone to abandon their prejudices will create back-pressure, resistance. It is necessary to convince, for a given project, a single funding source, and such exist that are not attached to cold fusion being bogus.

What I saw, within a couple of years of beginning my study of LENR, is that there was little effort going into foundational science, and heat/helium was occasionally mentioned, often without the critical correlation information. The Miles work is apparently reliable. Without requiring a reliable heat-generating protocol, it is only necessary to have some heat, enough for significance, and then the ratio can be estimated.

This was most missed: Huizenga recognized the importance of Miles. Instead of imagining Huizenga with fangs, that demon who attempted to destroy cold fusion, we needed to underscore what he had done. By that time, the early 1990s, the rejection cascade was entrenched. But why wasn’t there more follow-up to Miles. I certainly don’t have the whole story, but much of it was politics, and specifically a strategic decision made by Pons and Fleischmann. For starters, the helium results they had seemed to negate their theory of a bulk reaction. The appearance is that they torpedoed the Morrey collaboration that could have established cold fusion, firmly, by 1990. Why? The only reliable result (the ratio of heat to heluim) in the field was largely ignored, and was still being ignored when I recognized it from reading Storms. I began conversations with him, and he agreed to write a paper on it.

He submitted the paper to Naturwissenschaften, and they came back and said that they would prefer a review of the field. He then wrote his 2010 review. I think it was a mistake (though easily understandable). A focused paper on heat/helium would have been far more powerful; instead that clear message was diluted by a mass of details, and the same thing had happened in the 2004 U.S. DoE review. Hagelstein et al through everything and the kitchen sink at the panel, apparently assuming that the weight of the papers — it was huge — would cause all skeptical objection to collapse, but the crucial information was buried in all that detail. Most of it was targeted to there being “something nuclear.”

And people still argue that way. It’s fuzzy and unconvincing, except for someone who undertakes seriously independent study, and to do this objectively probably takes years.

But my Current Science paper often elicits positive responses from skeptics. Essentially, they agree that this is worth further investigation, and that is a huge breakthrough! It only takes a few to expand understanding of LENR.

The cold fusion community is very poorly organized. Suppose some graduate student’s thesis is rejected because it related to cold fusion. This actually happened (in 1990?). How quickly would we have pickets on-site? Is there a community consensus about the most important necessary investigations? Short Answer: No.

(But there is a relatively broad agreement that the heat/helium work is worth doing. To be sure, when I first started chatting up this idea, there was objection, basically on the level of “we already know this so it is a waste of time.” However, it was not — and is not — necessary to convince everyone. In the end, it is the funding source that must be convinced. Do we have professional fund-raisers involved? Not until Industrial Heat, AFAIK!)

The reason that Thermacore didn’t repeat their test was that they were not certain whether there was a chance of a fission-type explosion, and I presume Brian Ahern will run his test at a sufficient distance, just in case it isn’t a benign meltdown. You are right in some ways that it won’t help, but if it works it will change the atmosphere from a refusal to believe to an acceptance that there is a real effect.

There is a good chance that it will work. I predict that, unless other aspects of the context change, it will change only one aspect of LENR community opinion: the reputation of NiH will go up. It will have no impact, in itself, on mainstream opinion, unless there is far more there than a single meltdown (i.e., exact replication!). If there is major heat, then a Miles-class study might identify the ash. If Storms is correct, the major ash would be deuterium, tricky to measure, but with a lot of heat, it could be done.

Ideally, if Ahern cannot confirm LENR with the Thermacore experiment, perhaps he can identify artifact. That would be quite useful, and too little work of this kind has been done. We must stop thinking of “negative replications” as bad. The data is golden, it is only premature conclusions which create problems.

It may make possible the years of work then needed to explore the parameter space. This, I think, is the value of an “impressive” demonstration at this moment. I think “dramatic” may be a better description. I thus think Brian’s experiment is actually useful at this time, though earlier on it may have backfired by giving Rossi a peg to hang his story on.

It’s speculative, Simon. It’s Brian’s time to spend, and possibly his money. To progress, it is not necessary to convince everyone. Key, for me, is prioritizing what will then loosen up funding and support. A search for Massive Heat could be very, very expensive, much more expensive than fundamental research. However, the same group as is doing heat/helium also has a planned program with exploding wires, prior work having shown an ability to quickly test materials for LENR in this way. Color me skeptical, but … they do know what they are doing!

You are right that I’m hoping for something to convince scientists that there is something real to be investigated, and that thus there will be more tolerance of those that do investigate and less rejection of results that are against current theory. Back in 2011, when I was not convinced by Rossi, I spent around 3 months reading (thanks, Jed!) and ended up considering that the effect itself was real and worth investigation.

Most who engage in that long-term study come to that conclusion. Consider that half the 2004 U.S. DoE panel considered that the evidence for an anomalous heat effect was conclusive. Conclusive. That’s a big word! And that panel was unanimous in recommending research on fundamental issues. So, that being 13 years ago, what happened? Bottom line: we did not hire APCO. We sat around like victims, bemoaning that nobody would listen to us. Many of the old-timers are wallowing in despair. It’s embarrassing! My message has been, hey, guys, you won! How about starting to behave as if you did?

How about the generosity of victors?

Rossi’s control-system was crazy.

Well, depends on the purpose, doesn’t it? Given the massive appearance of at least some kind of fraud, his control system worked for him. It made no sense for a commercial system, but we don’t know exactly how the 1 MW plant control system worked. It had the potential of controlling cooling, which is what would be needed. I would imagine, as well, thermal plugs that would open at overtemperature to overcool, rapidly, a reactor, in case the normal control failed. The reactors have to have an insulating space, to allow the reactor temperature to be higher than the coolant temperature. A thermal plug could flood that space, it might destroy the reactor, maybe, but better than an explosion.

Boilers are dangerous, as Jed has been pointing out. A 1 MW plant would be very, very dangerous, making one without having years of experience, bad idea. Rossi’s whole 1 MW plan was grandiose, and obviously so. It was not good business, at all. Unless the goal were fraud!

Mitch Swartz did run LENR 101 courses at MIT, and demonstrated the system running. Yes, it was proprietary and he wanted to make money from solving it, but in the course of that he’s also produced students who believe LENR is real because they’ve seen it, and thus there’s a better chance of one of them getting a good theory that is crazy enough to be true. That’s the advantage of the newly-minted physicists where they haven’t been told something is impossible.

I’ve heard Mitchell speak. He is quite different from, say, McKubre, or Hagelstein, for that matter. Both are cautious. Swartz is flamboyant and dramatic, he has a story about how horrible the U.S. Patent Office is. The actual history deviates a bit from how he tells it. It is not clear what the audience was for those courses, many came from outside. Someone who “believes LENR is real because they’ve seen it,” though, is, from those demonstrations, inadequately cautions and would be unable to handle community pressure, because, as McKubre has said, watching excess heat is like watching paint dry. At the level of heat involved with those demonstrations, there really is almost nothing to see, and then one must trust the analysis of the demonstrator.

It is not difficult to overcome the “impossible” meme. The simplest way is to ask what it is that is impossible. Imaginary conversation, using Nate Hoffman’s Old Metallurgist and Young Scientist:

OM: You say that cold fusion is impossible. What does that mean?

YS: Fusion at room temperature is impossible!

OM: Why?

YS: The coulomb barrier.

OM: The coulomb barrier must be overcome for the nuclei to get close enough to fuse. Is that it?

YS: Yes. To get close enough, an incoming nucleus must have enough energy to climb that barrier.

OM: Yes. Easy to understand. Now, what about muon-catalyzed fusion?

[Watch as eyes betray internal confusion, unless they have extensive experience with this process.]

YS: That’s not the same! There are no muons present!

OM: How do you know?

YS: Well, they would have been reported!

OM: Yes, I’d think so. But you just said LENR was impossible at low temperatures! Was that accurate?

YS: Obviously I had forgotten about muon-catalyzed fusion.

OM: Okay, we are now talking about possibilities, not realities as such. It is possible that there is some form of catalysis other than with muons?

YS: I can’t imagine it.

OM: Right! However, can you say that it is impossible?

If, at this point, they insist that something unknown is impossible, see if there is something else useful to talk about, because they are absolutely nailed to a pseudoscientific claim, unverifiable. Humiliating them by rubbing their nose in it will not make any friends. However, many scientists at this point would acknowledge possibility, but might still assert improbability, with a fairly good argument:

YS: If this existed, we would have seen evidence for it already.

And at that point, one takes them through the existing evidence. If they start wanting to see proof, tell them that proof is for fanatics, that science runs on the preponderance of the evidence, and begins when we start to actually look at evidence rather than simply shoving ideas and beliefs around.

Mills is not claiming LENR because his theory says it isn’t, and if LENR is shown to happen then his patents are only worth the paper they are written on. I think that some of his measurements (maybe a lot of them) are probably good but that the explanation is not right. I suspect he’s got part of the puzzle.

Frankly, I have only expectation from having watched Mills for years, and I know that such expectations can be different from reality. I’m not considering investing in BLP, so I don’t have any need to know at all. I know that LENR is real, heat/helium nails it, as to any reasonable preponderance of the evidence. So research into a reality is useful, regardless of whatever happens with Mills and hydrino theory.

One of the hazards of coming to accept the reality of LENR in the face of what appears as scientific consensus is that we become, then, more vulnerable to unreasonable acceptance of other wild claims. However, this is the thing about apparent consensus. It is usually right, or at least partially right. We tend to focus on the exceptions, which certainly exist. However, social mechanisms do not need to always be right, it is enough if they, overall, increase survival efficiency. Then we have faculties for dealing with exceptions, but most people are not trained in them. It can take training!

I’m maybe not the best person in persuasion, since I just present what I think is true and why. As such, when I’m explaining something against what they believe, it requires them to think about things. Maybe that’s why my Free Work idea has languished for a while….

Ya think? Simon, there is a whole ontology and body of practice for dealing with transformation. Your idea is reasonably common among smart people, smart but untrained. It is disempowering, as you may realize.

If you present what you think is true, your presentation will be, frankly, half-assed. The first step is not our expression of “truth,” because that’s a fantasy, not reality. The first step is listening! In my training, convincing someone of something is actually rejected as a goal. One of my program leaders called it “slimy.” The goal is to present opportunities for a person to make a choice, hopefully an informed choice. Believing that we know what is right for others (“the truth”) is arrogant! However, you do have your experience to share, as it may be appropriate, and you will know far better what is appropriate if you have “listened with loud ears.” 

Open doors and widows [sic]? A nice mind-picture.

Thanks. Words can do that. Widows also open, but in a different way.

AFAIK we still don’t have an exact solution for a 3-body gravitational problem except in cases of 3-way symmetry. There are now so many quasi-particles around that a solution for solid-state has to be a numerical approximation, and maybe even then we don’t have enough variables tagged.

Bottom line, and it’s quite simple: what we don’t know is huge. In the training, a circle is drawn, the “circle of all knowledge.” Then there is a small wedge drawn, a pie slice. “What we know that we know.” And then another slice, next to it, “What we know that we don’t know.” And then the rest of the circle (most of it) is labelled with DKDK. What we don’t know that we don’t know, and it is then said that this is where transformation comes from.

Then the training proceeds to demonstrate this, in many ways, and in extended training, it is not uncommon to see what would appear as miracles, unreasonable results arise anyway, etc. At no point is one asked to “believe in” anything. That is not how it works.

“The point is not at all to convince the person that cold fusion is actually happening, only perhaps that (1) it is not impossible, (2) there is evidence for it, (3) the idea is testable, and (4) tests are under way, fully funded.”
That’s a good plan.

Thanks. I thought so, and so did others, who encouraged me.

At the time, I noted the LR115 but I think you also had CR39 available if required. Long time ago, so I said CR39 now as the better-known sensor material that I could remember. Still, I couldn’t see the point of replicating the experiment myself just to be able to say I’d done it.

Nobody has replicated the SPAWAR neutron findings, so there is another purpose. I only have a little CR-39, quite old, that was given to me. It requires development at higher temperatures with more concentrated NaOH, it’s more dangerous. Yes, it’s better known, but LR-115 tracks are crystal clear, because a full track is clear, bright, against a red background. It’s a thin detector layer, much more precise, and then stacking is possible. I’ve thought about experimenting with the basic CR-39 material to make my own detector layers and perhaps color them. Again, this is something that could be done at home. Basically the material can be dissolved, I think it is in MEK, and then that can be evaporated. One would simply want good ventilation, MEK fumes are not safe.

One advantage of CR-39 is apparently a broader detection range for particle energies. LR-115 has a narrower range. (If a particle’s energy is higher, the energy deposited per unit length goes down, until high energy particles leave no track. In my images of alpha tracks, they are a long cone, and the fat end is where the particle was almost stopped.)

For Rossi’s systems to self-loop, there would need to be a heat-to-electricity conversion in order to supply the high-grade heat needed. A Sterling engine would do this better than a steam engine. The claimed COP was big-enough to do this. Controlled (and rapid) cooling would be needed as well, but nothing too difficult to design.

There is a much easier way for self-loop, that does not require electrical conversion, if it is acceptable to have powered start-up, and that is taking the fuel into self-sustain, but controlled cooling above self-sustain temperature, but below the point of damage. I.e., if the reactor is below self-sustain temperature, cooling is off, the reactor is heated to start, presumably electrically, though gas-fired would certainly be possible. As it reaches self-sustain temperature, and passes it, no more heating should be needed, input power would go to zero (except for control systems, of course, and those should not use much power, it is only imagining that it’s needed to heat the reactor that leads to much higher power needs).

The Rossi claim that he needs to keep the reactor temperature low, because of the risk of runaway, indicates that there is a self-sustain temperature that Rossi is staying short of. With good insulation, heat generated remains and increases the reactor temperature. Obviously, if cooling remains constant, at self-sustain, the reactor would run away, because control through heating would be lost at this temperature. So, obviously, one needs tightly controlled cooling. I thought of an array of mirrors that would reflect heat back at the reactor, but that could be rotated to let heat through. However, pressurized water cooling could be simple. At any time the cooling can be increased to take the reactor below self-sustain and it would shut down. If necessary, the water could be — with suitable venting! — brought into contact with the reactor chamber itself, very rapidly cooling it through flash boiling.

Basically, if the fuel exists that would behave as needed, engineering a self-powered reactor should not be difficult. The problems are with reliability of the reaction itself. If there is a fuel that would work, for how long would it work? For “proof” purposes, it needs to work long enough to generate enough energy to be well beyond the possibility of chemistry. That is not necessary for science, though it would obviously be desirable.

For IH, once I understood that they didn’t necessarily believe Rossi but were instead forcing him to reveal what he had, their strategy made sense.

Right. What they did was allow the possibility of it being real. If they had “believed” that it was fraud, 

IIRC, Miles’ experiment took around a year to do. As such, I didn’t really expect it to be replicated even with the prospect of better accuracy since there has been a lot of thinking since.

Well, the difficult thing is getting the reaction to happen at all. The actual heat/helium measurements were not so time-consuming. I don’t expect exact replication of Miles, as such. Miles has already been confirmed in a more general sense, i.e., electrolytic PdD. Remarkably, a Miles outlier, his PdCe cathode, shows that there may be unknown sensitivities. I hope that PdCe is eventually tried and that, if anodic etching does not release helium expected from the heat, that the cell is thoroughly analyzed. However, I would not suggest any altered cathodes for initial work. The point is to build up data that can be correlated across many samples. Exactly what they do will depend on the methods and equipment available. Miles had a sampling protocol, samples were sent off blind. 

For Larsen, W-L theory predicts things that aren’t seen in the experiments, with neutron-activation being the big problem.

It’s nice to know there are some grad-students on the job. It has seemed that for the most part the experiments are by old people who thus can’t be sacked for having heretical ideas. Plan B looks pretty good. We may not see the flowering of it in our lifetime, but there’s always the chance of a lucky breakthrough from one of those grad-students who has an inspired guess and is allowed to test it out, since the field is real science.

I would not advise that, frankly. However, this would be between the grad student and their advisor. The grad student’s career is on the line. I wouldn’t want to base that on a guess. On the other hand, if there is valuable information that would be gained by testing the guess, maybe. By the way, searching for the Grand Artifact imagined to be behind cold fusion reports could be valuable work.

Discussions like this are good at exposing what I don’t know. Useful but a bit public. As far as possible, though, I don’t base my opinions on belief but on data, so if I find out new data my opinions may change. Alternatively, finding out that what I thought was good data may not be (as in Piantelli’s cloud-chamber) can also change opinion. That’s maybe the benefit of that post-it wall, in that such variations in how sure we are about some data can be graded and moved around as needed.

Simon is welcome to write me privately. The Piantelli cloud-chamber data is interesting but simply not conclusive.

Conversations: Simon Derricutt

This comment by Simon Derricutt is worth review in detail. So, below, my comments are in indented italics.

In reply to Abd ulRahman Lomax.

Abd – I suspect the Journal of Scientific Consensus exists as Wikipedia. Generally, Wikipedia is pretty good at stating what is generally-agreed, and where there’s disagreement there will be a lot of editing going on as the factions try to get their view to be the one that’s visible.

Ah, favorite topic! We then cover many issues. Continue reading “Conversations: Simon Derricutt”

On Observation, Experiment, Theory, Trust and Belief

A discussion on lenr-forum led me to this musing. Eddington was quoted there.

“Never trust an experimental result until it has been confirmed by theory.”.

This led me to look at a 1978 New York times article, For a Nobel Math Prize, by Paul R. Chernoff, a mathematician, of course.

Continue reading “On Observation, Experiment, Theory, Trust and Belief”