Commentary: Details matter

Kirk Shanahan is the last critic of LENR to be published on the topic in a peer-reviewed journal. Jed Rothwell is a long-standing supporter of LENR, an editor of scientific papers and translator from Japanese.

A post on lenr-forum from THHuxley looks at conflict between Jed Rothwell and Kirk Shanahan and draws conclusions about LENR. First of all, the participants:

THHuxley is an anonymous contributor with the second-highest number of posts on lenr-forum, remarkable for a user who only began posting in April, 2016, AlainCo, who is an administrator, from the earliest days of LF in 2014, and who puts up many links to other sites. THH’s profile is hidden, so to see contributions, a search must be used. Find THHuxley on the Members page, then click on “posts.” This reveals that THH is, in fact, Thomas Clarke, who was allegedly driven away from LF by harassment, but who never left. Clarke is a longer-term critic of LENR who developed a persona on LF of a moderate skeptic. Longer-term, he was clearly a pseudoskeptic, he is almost certainly tomclarke who wrote extensively on talk-polywell. The following is from 2012 part of a post dismissing Andrea Rossi as a “joker”:

That said, the interesting thing is why so many folks get excited about his claims. I think this is largely because he is personally (others have claimed) very convincing, certainly appears honest, and has been clever in getting some technical people on his side. There will always be enough of technical people willing to suspend critical judgement (or maybe who never exercise critical judgement) when presented with promises of miracles.

That of course is the problem with LENR. It promises miracles, and so those interested in it will often be seekers after miracles. Not always the best scientists. Not helped by a few Nobel prize winners in different fields also attracted by miracles. (Rather like famous physicists turning highly and weirdly mystical in their retirement, a common phenomenon).

That was standard pseudoskeptical cant. Did Clarke change his stripes? Maybe. However, to understand the LF discussion, the background should be understood. These are human beings, not abstract concepts. Further, contrary to common belief, the practice of science is very much about people and personal reputation. Anonymous authorship is generally not allowed in the journals. Science depends, heavily, on the reliability of researchers, and when that respect is lost, that courtesy, the process of science is damaged.

Jed Rothwell is a long-time supporter of LENR. He is the librarian of lenr-canr.org. He is fluent in Japanese and has translated much from Japanese, as well as assisting Japanese scientists in preparing papers in English. He is is a philanthropist who has long supported cold fusion research with his own money; he is not a “scientist” as such, but definitely an advocate, and he has been at this for a long time. Here is a comment of his from 1995 on Hoffman’s book. One can see then that he was unhappy with Hoffman refusing to declare that the heat was real, as if this were a definite fact, to be accepted. The rejection cascade, which was part of the “scientific fiasco of the century” — Huizenga’s description — angered many. One can see more of this in the review and discussion of Hoffman in Fusion Technology, September, 1996. George Miley was the editor of the journal, and his own “Comment” is worth reading. Storms shows up to criticize Hoffman. What is particularly remarkable is Hoffman’s response. Hoffman expected that “both sides” might not like his book, but he was astonished that the most strenuous attacks came from the “pro-cold fusion” side, not the mainstream. That’s remarkable because Hoffman clearly accepted that some LENR effects were likely real, and that the research was important and should continue. Jed has long participated in on-line discussions, and commonly expresses very strong opinions.

Kirk Shanahan is the last-standing published scientific skeptic on cold fusion (and that was a 2010 Letter, not a more formal paper, but was extraordinarily long for a Letter). However, not so easily visible is that he was a long-time internet critic of cold fusion before anything was published.  I have studied and have encouraged the study of Shanahan, see Wikiversity — and this Wikiversity page on a Shanahan discussion on LF. One of the problems in the field, as to public discussion, is those who comment extensively, but want someone else to do real work. Pseudoskeptics will say that cold fusion researchers (or “advocates”) should do this or that, all of which could be quite expensive and/or time-consuming, but do not themselves invest in research. In this case, a review of LF comments was suggested. The one suggesting it was THH. He did not create what he thought might be valuable. Instead, he continued to criticize the participants. I agreed that it could be valuable, for some, which is why I created that Wikiversity page. Mostly studies like this are valuable for those who do them.

However, the overall value is questionable. Kirk Shanahan’s critique has long ago been considered by cold fusion researchers, and has been rejected six ways till Sunday. Outsiders may argue or think that they are wrong, but these people have invested their lives, and what they choose to consider is up to them.  I have spent a lot of time with his critiques, attempting to understand them, posing questions and reading and researching his answers. The entire issue is largely moot, from my point of view, because genuine scientific decisions on LENR are not being made by Shanahan, nor in reliance on him, nor through internet discussions. The heat issue is essentially resolved, from the point of view of those who have been charged to independently investigate, and most of the criticism is thus obsolete. Nice idea, perhaps, the best that skeptics could come up with, and it’s dead, except in the minds of some who will discuss forever on the internet. The heat issue is most clearly resolved through the heat/helium correlation, which Shanahan attempted — and failed — to impeach in his Letter. He was dead wrong about correlation, he misread the chart he digitized and what he showed actually indicated strong correlation, not low correlation as he claimed. When I first discovered this, I wrote Shanahan before publishing it, as a courtesty, and his response was pure ad-hominem, hostile and dismissive. Eventually, on some forum, he admitted there was an error, but then he invented another, also based on math errors. It’s obvious: this is a man who is convinced and obsessed by what he believes, which mostly is that he was right, nobody understands him, and nearly everyone else is wrong. This is ultimately boring.

I’m also involved, of course, so:

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax is Wikipedia user Abd, “community banned” on Wikipedia.

The real story of that is that I gave up on Wikipedia and “due process,” which was a colossal time-waster, and useless when a faction has formed and is operating behind the scenes, involving administrators. I went very far, most users who run into the obstacles give up much sooner.

As a Wikipedia editor, dedicated to the declared purposes and policies of Wikipedia, I confronted an abusive blacklisting of lenr-canr.org. This was ultimately confirmed as abusive, but the entire effort on Wikipedia was largely useless, because the sanctions against the administrator were subsequently ignored, not enforced, because …. the faction. I was attacked, from then on, everything I did was viewed with a hostile eye by administrators. They shoot the messenger. I was “topic-banned” by an administrator whom I had criticized — for other reasons. I took that to the Arbitration Committee and they removed his tools. But they also topic banned me. Why? No particular reason. But I was obviously disruptive, so they had to figure out something to say!

In any case, on Wikipedia is where I first met Shanahan, who was also a Wikipedia user. I attempted to preserve his work, it had been deleted by an administrator so I requested that it be userfied into my filespace, where it could be worked on. Shanahan had zero gratitude, and later, when I was banned, he supported it and continued to blame me for the condition of the cold fusion article, though, in fact, I had done little, my editing there was very conservative. Shanahan did not  understand Wikipedia process and policy. My discussions there with him could be read in the history of his Talk page; access to this has been made difficult by an inappropriate archiving system that has not been maintained.

So, here, THH points to a comment by Jed Rothwell, worth quoting:

By the way, here is the most famous example of shooting a skeptical fish in a barrel. This is the debate between Morrison (who was roughly as stupid as a flounder) and Fleischmann. It would be hilarious if it were not so consequential. These are the best arguments the skeptics were ever able to muster. It is hard to believe but this was eventually peer reviewed and published verbatim. This demonstrates that idiotic ideas will fly through peer-review as long as they are opposed to cold fusion. There have been no other peer-reviewed critiques of cold fusion except Shanahan’s, which are even worse.

http://lenr-canr.org/acrobat/Fleischmanreplytothe.pdf

This is from a discussion in the LF Playground. It is not a serious scientific discussion. This is Jed expressing his unvarnished opinion, as he might express it sitting in a bar, and often on-line forum discussions are like that. Jed is more or less correct in the factual arguments, in my opinion, but it took me years of study to come to the point where I could agree. Jed is, ah, “colorful” in his judgments. This is about Jed, not about the field. The scientists don’t write like this, at least I’ve not seen it. Above, I point to a page with some 1996 commentary from Storms. By this time, may arguments had already been extensively expressed and those in the field were faced with the same arguments being repeated over and over, and if the objections were addressed, new arguments were invented, it was endless. So, here, my opinion, Storms over-reacted to Hoffman. Hoffman was not actually promoting some view as “truth.” He was examining the situation, and it was his examination which got me started in the field. I recommend Hoffman for historical value, the book can be bought on Amazon, used, for about $10.

So THH then refers to Shanahan’s response:

Jed wrote: “These are the best arguments the skeptics were ever able to muster.”

Hardly…

And: “There have been no other peer-reviewed critiques of cold fusion except Shanahan’s, which are even worse.”

…which illustrates Jed’s abysmal level of technical knowledge.

(And then Shanahan repeats his own old claims, and does look at the Morrison-Fleischmann discussion. I’m not looking at that now.) THH writes:

Reading these posts is revealing. It shows why LENR advocates such as Jed have some work to do before being taken seriously. I remember following an earlier and longer incarnation of this argument (also on here). I could not easily conclude what was correct because both sides presented their arguments and dismissed or ignored those of opponents.

And this comment is revealing to me, in turn. THH is judging a large community, “LENR advocates,” by the behavior of one member on the “Playground” — a forum set up for flame wars, designed to not come to any conclusions, when, in fact, the vast majority of the LENR community, and especially the scientists, don’t comment on internet fora at all. These are scientists, and are being taken seriously, by people who don’t just take, they give. Rothwell is a writer and editor, and participates in private discussions among researchers, but he is also, as I mentioned, highly opinionated and expresses it. He is not dispassionate, he is acerbic, and there are years of experience behind this. Expecting something else is simply foolish. Jed has invested much of his life into LENR, he cares about it.

Lenr-forum is not set up to facilitate consensus, the structure does not work for that. It could be made so through moderation work, but there is no moderator willing to do that work, instead, there is only occasional deletion and occasional editing out of incivility — often relatively harmless incivility, whereas the kind of tit-for-tat seen here is left, and much worse is left, including attacks on individuals for their religion and alleged culture and claims of being “paid shills.”

THH is expecting arguments in lenr-forum discussions to reveal “what was correct.” That’s ontologically naive, for starters, but to develop knowledge of LENR will, at the present time, require doing a great deal of personal work. THH wrote a paper on the Lugano report, it took him a lot of time. Did it convince “Planet Rossi”? Was he acerbic and vituperative? (No. He was serious and apparently careful.) What behavior by Jed Rothwell will convince dedicated and committed cold fusion skeptics like Shanahan? Or THH? I suggest that until and unless he rolls up his sleeves and does the work himself of investigating the claims, on all sides, he won’t know, precisely because someone like Kirk will create a farrago of arguments that will confuse. To know if these arguments are sound or not will take work!

Instead, THH will judge ad hominem, by looking at personal behavior. This is very normal, but it won’t give him the resolution he wants. In comments on his post, there is

Jed wrote:
“No, his arguments are not plausible.”That blanket statement is what I find unhelpful.
However, “not plausible” is a blanket summary, born from years of conversations. Overall, Shanahan presents a series of arguments. He identifies a possible source of error in some experiments, but if you look more extensively at what he’s written, he finds something wrong with nearly every finding. Behind much of this is his hypothesis that unexpected recombination occurs, at the cathode, in electrochemical experiments. Even though this is an anomaly, it clearly doesn’t exist under most circumstances, and is considered “not plausible” by he presents this hypothesis as an alternative to LENR, because, he believes, one impossibility is just as good as another. If LENR is impossible, then something else that might be possible is a better proposal. He then goes to extraordinary lengths to discredit all LENR findings, it’s obvious: he is attempting to prove everyone in the field wrong. He is not dispassionate, he is highly attached, having argued this way for perhaps twenty years.His operating hypothesis has been misnamed. If he wants to communicate with electrochemists, calling unexpected recombination a “calibration constant shift” will set any electrochemist on edge, and he won’t be understood. Then he complains that he hasn’t been understood. Yes, with some forms of calorimetry, shifting the location of heat generation can cause mismeasurement of heat. It is not actually a calibration constant shift, as electrochemists understand the term. Rather, with some forms of calorimetry, such a change may introduce error. With some forms, not. Shanahan then shifts his arguments, attempting to find something else wrong.

Shanahan has never accepted an invitation to develop definitive coverage of his theory. In any case, there was a recent discussion on the CMNS list where Shanahan came up. It was stated and asked:

… a point of clarification: Kirk Shanahan’s thesis is not that there is a permanent adjustment of a calibration constant that one would be able to control for or detect at the conclusion of a calorimetry experiment, but instead that there is a dynamic adjustment of experimental conditions which defeat the calibration of the calorimeter for the period of time in which putative excess heat is seen.  Conditions which then settle back to the usual ones once excess heat goes away.  Another way of putting this is that Kirk does not dispute the raw data reported in cold fusion calorimetry in which excess heat has been observed, or that there is an unusual phenomenon going on; his contention is just that the phenomenon can be interpreted as something other than excess heat.

Is Kirk correct in any of this, and/or would it be worthwhile to invest time in investigating his conjecture?  I very much doubt it, but this is not for me to say.

Michael McKubre then responded (and I obtained permission to quote him)

The short answer is No. The potential error source that you describe (better than Kirk Shanahan ever did) was anticipated in all modes of calorimetry that I ever used and was both designed and tested to be non-operational at the (small) fraction of 1% level. The logical answer is that excess power is observed only in a rather well defined set of conditions that (presumably) have nothing to do with Kirk’s heat-source-movement hypothesis (although he has never elaborated a mechanism).

In a longer answer calorimeters are susceptible to several possible error types. The one you describe might be covered under the category of “heat source position dependence”. Since most (but not all) calorimeters depend critically on the measurement of a temperature difference, if a source moves closer to (or a greater fraction of the generated heat becomes better expressed in) the “high temperature” sensor then the calorimeter will sense greater ∂T and interpret this as excess heat. Closed cell electrochemistry has several heat sources: anode; cathode; electrolyte; recombiner. One possible way for Kirk’s postulated error to manifest would be the case where the anode became partially passivated (increased resistance) so that a greater fraction of I*Vcell was expressed at the anode. Since the anode is (typically) closer to the cell outer wall, in some modes of calorimetry more of this heat would be lost to the ambient (and thus go unmeasured) and the calibrated calorimeter would register an apparent endotherm where none was actually present. This also applies to an increase in electrolyte resistance (a volumetric but well mixed heat source well coupled to the cell wall). Logically and conversely an increase in (central) cathode impedance or decrease in cell electrolyte resistance would tend to register an anomalous exothermic response (actually “exo-temperate” to coin a term).

Since anodes tend to passivate (and cathodes do not), and electrolyte resistance tends to rise with time, neither effect has ever been seen (to my knowledge) as anomalous excess heat (or anomalous endotherms for that matter). More importantly, and something I could not effectively communicate to Kirk, some forms of calorimetry in which robust excess heat signals have been seen, are sensibly immune to this effect. Seebeck Calorimeters integrate the temperature difference at (heat leaving across) the boundary – ideally in 4π geometry. Possible (small) errors might occur if the boundary is not 4π (it never can be completely) and because the Seebeck coefficient is itself temperature dependent. All Seebeck Calorimetrists worth their salt test this effect and/or minimize it by design. Ed Storms stirs the air inside his calorimetric enclosure so that hotspots do not occur at the boundary. Isoperibolic calorimeters with “heat sheaths” (as used by Huggins and Energetics and at SRI) effectively do the same. By converting the ∂T from a point to an area measurement position sensitivity becomes greatly reduced.

Mass flow calorimeters of good design are doubly insensitive to the “Shanahan effect”. In our mass flow system all electrochemical heat sources (and recombiner) were enveloped in the flowing calorimetric fluid so that all heat was picked up in the flow equally and independently of position. For our “better” measurements ~99.3% of the input power was convected out in the flow stream so that at most a 0.7% error could occur if the heat conductive paths changed (and this was most unlikely). Based on measurements that I have made myself I know that the “Shanahan effect” cannot have any import to the SRI results. It therefore cannot explain “all excess” and doubt that it can explain any result so far seriously published.

Now, of course, one could simply dismiss McKubre as a “believer.” however, one would then be dismissing someone who was an expert electrochemist, who, through SRI, was retained by EPRI and by various governmental agencies to investigate LENR, someone who spent 25 years of his career on this, who was responsible to SRI and to SRI’s clients for his scientific expertise and probity.

Basically, if THH wants better, he’ll have to create it. Very simple, it’s merely work. Create the documents that he suggested and examine all the issues, in detail. If’ done this to a degree, he could do it more thoroughly. I’m not doing it because of exactly what has been hinted above: it may not be worth the effect, it’s a dead letter, a possibility that did not pan out, regurgitated argument over a position that lost, in the journals and in real-world decision-making.

Following the previous long debate the matter was not clearly resolved. My best understanding at that time was that his ideas certainly (in the sense of being a plausible mechanism) applied to some cells, possibly applied to others. As for physical plausibility I rate that medium, but note the irony in anyone advocating LENR and then dismissing other hypotheses is physically implausible. Just as the arguments for LENR are subtle and complex, so the arguments for Kirk’s mechanism also are. They should (like LENR) be treated with some skepticism, but not dismissed. And in any case Kirk has two bites at this cherry. He can claim an error mechanism not considered, if it in principle fits the evidence, without providing exact physical details. Only fair, since the competing LENR mechanism has no exact physical details.

I noted the irony in 2010 or 2011, when Kirk complained that the editors of JEM did not allow him further response to the scientists who responded to his Letter. Kirk is left outside, sputtering. However, my impression at this point is that THH has not read Shanahan and the arguments carefully. Kirk’s original CCS(H) (he objects to H, Hypothesis, but it is one) had a level of plausibility in some contexts, but not in others, and if one looks at his full set of arguments, it can be seen much more clearly what he has been doing. Most writers who know the field have lost patience with him, because, indeed, the discussions go nowhere. If progress is made, as, for example, when errors in Kirk’s analysis — math errors! — are pointed out, Kirk bails, stops discussing for a time, then comes back as if nothing happened. Am I correct about this? How would one know?

Here, THH raises the personalities and appears to blame Jed’s attitude for an imagined failure of “cold fusion advocates” to be “taken seriously.” I do agree that the reactivity of some researchers damaged the reputation of cold fusion, and that this had some level of effect. However, Shanahan is not really relevant any more. What Jed thinks about Kirk is not going to matter in any decision-making that counts. Rather, if someone is considering investing millions of dollars in cold fusion, which I’d call “being taken seriously,” they might look over internet discussions, but they will be doing much more reading of papers and discussing the matter with the likes of, say, Michael McKubre and Robert Duncan and Vittorio Violante at ENEA. In fact, that obviously happened, and that is how the Texax Tech collaboration was funded.

Author: Abd ulRahman Lomax

See http://coldfusioncommunity.net/biography-abd-ul-rahman-lomax/

2 thoughts on “Commentary: Details matter”

  1. https://www.lenr-forum.com/forum/index.php/Thread/4725-Details-matter/?postID=43625#post43625

    THH responds to Jed, in particular. He takes a position that is superficially reasonable, he could seem to be avoiding the personal certainty that is characteristic of pseudoskepticism, but, in fact, is expressing *conclusions* without being clear about it. He is dismissing or ignoring massive work that was done to confirm/disconfirm the FP results. Basically, he does not understand what is behind Jed’s personal certainty. He does not show any understanding of why electrochemists dismiss Shanahan’s theories.

    This became clearer to me after seeing his personal history. I had frequently called THH a “genuine skeptic.” I am now less certain of that. To be able to assess Shanahan’s arguments, THH would need to do much more research, and it might take some years. He appears to be looking to be convinced by forum debate, but such debate cannot normally convey what is needed to assess the field of LENR. It only creates shallow appearances, shadows. Genuine scientists, the most knowledgeable, do not participate in such debates, except rarely. When they do, they are attacked by trolls, who may be given equal attention by pseudoskeptics, and especially ones who are themselves anonymous and therefore not personally responsible. Nothing invested, nothing risked, only time wasted.

  2. this post received attention on lenr-forum.com from Zeus46. To him, the important thing is the “doxxing” of THH above. It has been effectively forbidden on lenr-forum to mention the real name of THH, and the story has been that THH was driven away by Sifferkoll, now isn’t that a shame?

    Sifferkoll is a serious troll, tenacious, but he does have a real name and is open about it. The whole subject of trolling in online fora merits its own post. Supposedly, according to Zeus46, I “dismissed” THH, above, as a pseudoskeptic. I do not dismiss pseudoskeptics as such, I discuss with them and have for years. I will stand by the judgement of the older comments of THH, they were pseudoskeptical, but I explicity allowed that he may have changed his position. Nevertheless, in scientific debate identities matter, the common idea, that it is only the content that is to be judged, completely misses this. Science depends heavily on trustworthy testimony as to results, and trust is about the person.

    When THH in the subject thread here began discussing the character of Jed and Kirk, he opened the door to his own. I don’t think anything above about THH claims that he was wrong, as such, though I disagreed with his possible extension of the effect of Jed’s behavior to all “cold fusion advocates.” The lenr-forum Playground is not a scientific forum.

    And if THH does want to maintain anonymity, he would need to actually change his lenr-forum identity, not just have the name changed, leaving the history visible. As it was, the THH profile — hidden — was like a red flag. “Something is being hidden here.” It’s funny — people speculated about it but did not look in the obvious place. apparently, and it was a forbidden topic. If you want people to discuss something — perhaps privately — forbid them. It works almost every time.

    If Zeus46 cares about THH’s anonymity, referring to this blog, as he did, would not be the way to help. No, Zeus46 is a troll, that was obvious.

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