My ideal is better than your reality

Much criticism is based on this comparison between real-world expression and the critic’s ideas, which, of course, may be revised, ad hoc.

This extends far outside science. Our ideas of perfect morality may be, for example, compared with the real behavior of (some) formal members of a religion, as if this demonstrates the superiority of our religion (or our ideals) over the other.

Because there was only one major and relatively deep critique of the Fleischmann-Pons calorimetry, published in a mainstream journal, one debate where there was original publication, critique (by D.R.O. Morrison), and author response, last year I began a page hierarchy to study the debate. The original as-published documents are behind a pay-wall, so I used copies from lenr-canr.org, that were based on a copy of the Morrison critique from sci.physics.fusion, an internet newsgroup, an obsolete form similar to a mailing list.

I first observed the issue of paper integrity in that the FP paper was not identical to the lenr-canr.org copy, which is likely a copy supplied to that library by an author. That is routine for lenr-canr copies of journal-published papers, for copyright reasons. The changes seemed quite minor (I will check this again more thoroughly). But for no decent reason, I did not check the Morrison critique against the later as-published version, and because that as-published version is not widely available, I preferred to use a version that anyone could check against my copy.

And that was an error. I was then distracted by other business, and as continued participation in the review did not appear, I did not return to my study of the debate until yesterday. I started by completing the adding of URLs for references, and then began going over the Morrison paper. It was full of errors or non sequiturs, immature argument, etc. And I started to wonder how this had gotten past peer review. Journals do not necessarily review critiques as strongly as original papers, and I have seen blatant errors in such critiques. Ordinarily, it is left to the authors to correct such errors. In one case where a blatant error was left standing (the Shanahan review in the Journal of Environmental Monitoring), the error was so ridiculously bad that the authors and others responding completely missed it, instead focusing on Shanahan’s conclusion from his seriously defective analysis. Argument from conclusion, naughty, naughty!)

The Morrison document from the newsgroup had this at the top:
5th DRAFT – Scientific Comments Welcomed.

There were no serious responses to that post, threaded with it. (There were other responses that can be found with some searching, made more complicated by some very poor Google archiving practices, what they did when they took over the newsgroups. I will cover other responses (some of it is interesting) elsewhere.

What Morrison was doing was, in part, to be commended, he was putting his work out there for critique before final submission. However, by this time, the scientific community had become highly polarized, and serious discussion, what might be called collaborative critique, good scientific process, was often missing. It still is, too often. Morrison’s critique would be useful, even if “wrong” in this way or that, because what Morrison wrote would be what many would think, but not necessarily write.

I came back to this issue because I noticed a mention of my study on lenr-forum.com. The remainder of this post is a detailed response to that.

THHuxleynew wrote:

JedRothwell wrote:

Let me explain in more detail. THHuxley has been given two sources of information:

1. Peer-reviewed papers in mainstream journals written by distinguished experts. Claims that have been independently replicated. Methods grounded in rock-solid 18th and 19th century physics, such as the heat of vaporization of water, or methods of ensuring that a chemical retort is working correctly. In many cases the proof of the claims can be seen with the naked eye, in the videos. For example, you can see that the input power is insufficient to boil the water, and you can see that only the cathode is hot, which means the boiling cannot be from input electricity. THH does not need to take anyone’s word for these things. He can also boil salted water himself in a test tube to confirm other aspects of it.

2. Comments by an anonymous internet troll that range from physically impossible blather to outright denial of facts that were well established by 1790.

THH believes the latter. This shows an appalling lack of judgement. His credibility is zero.

Jed, my credibility will be what it is.

Years ago, Jed wrote some really good commentary. It has sometimes degenerated. Jed has points to make, but mixes them with heavy ad hominem argument, and in this sequence he repeats, as if fact, what never actually happened, and he’s been confronted on it, and simply continues to repeat his belief about what others supposedly believe. In this case, he is referring to comments in the thread by Ascoli65. This user, who does indeed appear to be anonymous, presents fact and argument, citing evidence. It is not an issue of belief. If THH were to cite Ascoli65 as an authority, there would be a problem. (Fact and evidence, as well as arguments, can be cherry-picked. An anonymous expert is, in a way, either a moron or an oxymoron.) But he does not cite him as such. I will elsewhere examine the Ascoli posts, because they relate to the PF-Morrison debate. Here, I will focus on what THH wrote.

For readers here, I’ll give a summary of why the key paper [Jed] often cites does not convince me as it does Jed. Many may find the detailed references here useful, so they can decide for themselves. it is hard work, but interesting.

Abd collation of the debate with references to all source materials

Jed, responding to this, provides links to his copies, thus redundant to what is in my “collation.” That collation was incomplete, though, and never progressed — so far — to genuine critique. Seeing this, I started to complete it and discovered the problem. The paper presented as the Morrison critique was a very different version, and the debate in the journal is of greater historical importance. My biggest issue with the Fleischmann paper is that, in spite of pointing to and being named for “simplicity,” it was not presented with simplicity, but with complications, many of them. By this time, it was essential for the future of cold fusion to simplify and clarify, and for more general readers, not experts. That paper never impressed me particularly because the conditions of boil-off were a freaking complicated mess. In fact, that was all finessed, but who noticed? Not very many, and certainly not Morrison! To understand what P&F did took me years of experience with the field, and then very careful re-reading of the paper.

Key paper published in Physics Letters A, 176 (1993) 118-129 : Calorimetry of the PD-D2O System: from Simplicity via Complications to Simplicity ,

“Via complications.” How about setting aside the complications, which were history, and simply presenting the simplicity, first and foremost? What happens in these debates is that someone like Rothwell, who is aware of a huge body of evidence, thinks the issues are simple. And they are. But they don’t appear that way to me when I look at the paper. I first notice a forest of equations, and F&P use unfamiliar symbols. That’s fine for students, dedicated to learning, but not for general readers. This was not presented in an electrochemistry journal, but a physics journal (and allowing the subject field to become “nuclear physics” was one of the most significant errors of F&P.) To understand the original F&P calorimetry was difficult for electrochemists, it’s still somewhat controversial, even among people who fully accept “cold fusion.” It takes study, and once a topic has been tagged as “fringe,” few will invest what it takes to truly understand, and those few often are motivated as “debunkers,” so their understanding is very likely to be warped.

I may publish extensive excerpts from these papers, particularly the Morrison critique, which I can legally do for purposes of critique. I can see that the actual text may be important. The original from Physics A is Britz Morr1994, and the entire, very extensive Britz collection is available on googledrive to researchers, ask.

Reply from Morrison, published Physics Letters A 185, 28 February, 1994, 498-502.

And what Jed pointed to in his reply to THH was not that reply, but his copy taken from the newsgroup.

Reply to reply from Fleischman et al: Letters A 187, 18 April 1994 276-280.

No internet troll here! And peer reviewed arguments on both sides of the issue, arguing different things.

These are not necessarily “peer reviewed arguments on both sides.” Only the original Fleischmann paper would have been clearly reviewed. The the Morrison critique was “accepted.” And it was not quite the mess that had previously been submitted to the newsgroup.

The first point is that scientists with peer-reviewed arguments are therefore sometimes wrong. Morrison and Fleischmann et al differ markedly, they cannot both be right.

That is an assumption stated as if truth. It is quite possible for both to be right, each within their own universe. Reality may be seen from various points of view, and honestly reporting one’s point of view is not wrong, even if what is seen from that point of view is misleading or incomplete. All this can be teased out and clarified with a genuine consensus-seeking discussion, but such discussion is rare, far too rare for what humanity needs now. Jed and THH here both fall into black-and-white thinking.

My first concern is not what is “right,” but what was actually done and stated. The Physics A article was actually published, I’m confident in that. I have a copy, and while there are minor differences between it and the copy presented as equivalent by Jed, they are indeed minor differences. There is such and such text in it. The same with the Morrison critique. It was actually issued on sci.physics.fusion. It was actually submitted to Physics A and published there. However, the significance of peer review is unclear and assumed. As I have mentioned, reviews of Letters and the like is sometimes shallow, and likewise the author responses may not be as vetted by reviewers and editors as the original paper.

The second point is that reading a sequence like this: original, reply, reply to reply is very informative.

Yes, I expected it to be, which is why I began the study. My intention has long been to do the same with Shanahan’s critiques. This is crucial to understand: to someone like Jed, to publish “wrong” criticism is tantamount to attacking the future of humanity. If cold fusion is real, and if it can be made practical, we could be losing a trillion dollars per year (lost opportunity cost). That has a real meaning in human life, what is a life worth?

Yet this is also what I see: what Morrison wrote, what Shanahan writes with a bit more depth, is what many will think. The Richard Garwin Theory of Cold Fusion (“They must be making a mistake!|) has legs. Many think that, but very few have actually done anything more than react to impressions. What, after all, is “cold fusion”? Without a definition, many confidently declare it is “impossible.” But what is impossible? It is impossible to calculate reaction rates without knowing specific conditions.

To develop broad consensus — which we need — requires that all significant points of view be expressed, including stupid, ignorant ones. Then they can be examined and we can decide what to keep on the table, and what to set aside — by agreement!

This process requires a functioning community. Often the community is dysfunctional, stuck, polarized, and not really communicating, just, more-or-less, tossing words back and forth at each other, with some serious emotional reactions underneath it all. Human, to be sure, but we will die if we don’t address this. Sooner or later, and with old habits, maybe sooner rather than later.

Each document, read on its own, seems convincing to [someone] not expert. However, by comparing the arguments in the documents one can see which points are answered, which ignored, which evaded.

“Evaded” is more judgmental than “ignored.” I’m highly recommending dropping the reactivity. If a point was not answered, then it has been raised and not answered. It is not a proof of malfeasance. It is an issue of concern. THH is best-known for writing a critique of the Lugano Report. The scientists who wrote that have never responded with any depth. It’s a scandal. In my book, if I write something that is misleading, I am obligated, as an issue of integrity, to correct it. Whatever is on this blog can be corrected. For full integrity, it won’t just be quietly changed, but the correction will be announced, so that it does not continue to mislead.

It is possible to correct those old usnet newsgroup posts, i.e., to add comments to them. There is also hypothes.is that can be used to comment on any available web page (including what is behind pay walls, if one has access, one can annotate). But nobody expects it. Complete garbage is routinely posted on, say, lenr-forum.com, and it just sits there for years, waiting for Google hits, and so there is often no creation of accessible collective knowledge.

And the detailed examination necessary to find consensus in difficult subjects is often rejected as “too many words,” and “TLDR.”

It is not necessary for everyone to read everything, but it is necessary for a few to examine issues carefully.

You need enough math to follow the equations, first year university physics or maths would do. You need enough general knowledge to follow the arguments and then do additional research where needed.

Have fun!

What I’m suggesting — and doing — is to document the process. Otherwise we may end up with some personal understanding (you will, if you do what THH has suggested!), but what matters for real science, the kind that lasts, that makes a difference for the future, is collective understanding, clearly communicated. Humanity is now generating an enormous volume of fact and commentary, and organization and access are crucial for our future.

I will also point out that what THH suggests can bypass and ignore the “simplicity.” There was, in fact, a simple message in this and the later Pons and Fleischmann work, but it’s easy to miss, getting bogged down in the equations and then in the worry that there might be something wrong there.

The really good news, I’m happy to report, is that simply reading abstracts, setting aside “understanding,” creates familiarity, and familiarity is how children learn. I am studying SAVs this way, and SAVs may be the future of LENR. It’s quite controversial in the field. Compiling this page has made it far clearer to me, and this just might make a difference.

THH

PS – Shanahan is a published scientist, whose views (on that merit) should be considered as potentially valuable. Calling him an internet troll may or may not be accurate, but does not do justice to his historic (peer-reviewed published) addition to this debate. Shanahan’s views are however well after the interchanges above. it is worth fully reading the original material, and then considering Shanahan’s contribution.

This was an error on THH’s part. Jed was clearly not referring to Shanahan. Some of Shanahan’s earlier work was peer-reviewed, possibly, perhaps not the later work which is what is most discussed. There is a debate with Storms in a journal. The JEM Letter is embarrassing, and Shanahan often focuses on an error the scientists made (I agree that it was an error, but it was also largely irrelevant).

I agree with value of such study. Now, who has done it? Where are the overall reviews, which is what we expect to see with long-continued controversies? All the mainstream peer-reviewed reviews on LENR, since, say, 2004, (over 20 I found) have been positive. Is that meaningful? And who decides?

Are those who think that the “scientific consensus” is that LENR was rejected long ago — and there are obviously many — basing this on actual scientific process? As Gary Taubes and others have pointed out on another issue (the role of fat and carbohydrates with diet and health), a “consensus” can arise that completely bypasses the normal processes of science, that is not based on solid research, but on knee-jerk opinion, speculation, and politics.

PPS – I realise I’ve laid out the source material on which I base my current views, but not given the views! Maybe later…

Maybe on coldfusioncommunity.net. THH has author privileges here, but has only very rarely used them. Instead, he argues with legions on lenr-forum, creating reams of mostly-useless material. On the other hand, maybe someday someone will discover that brilliant post on this or that. Don’t count on it! Reading over sci.physics.fusion, buried in mountains of ignorant garbage, are a few clear comments, still worth reading, particularly if the goal is to understand how people were thinking.

PPPS – it is somewhat ironic Jed quoting mainstream distinguished scientist status and peer-reviewed journals, as a positive. I’d agree with him, though set less store by it than he does. But the LENR field as a whole claim that mainstream science has bad judgement and cannot be trusted. Specifically that the mainstream view of LENR, held by very many distinguished scientists, is wrong.

“LENR field as a whole” is an imagination, and cannot make claims. Many individuals do what THH describes, but this is a straw man argument. I have become a major voice in the field, and my ontology does not allow “wrong” as a reality.

Further, “held by many distinguished scientists” has been very incautiously stated. Who? When? And were they expert in LENR? If a physicist, say, has an opinion about global warming, not based on research in the field, is that significant?

Morrison displays,in his critique, no serious understanding of calorimetry, nor of what Pons and Fleischmann had actually done. He’s sure, like many, that “cold fusion” is impossible, so he proceeds, as a non-expert, to figure out what could be wrong. There were many other “distinguished scientists,” including physicists, who, instead of jumping into the easy “impossible,” tried to figure out how it could be happening. This was an interesting exercise, but largely useless! None of the theories so developed have yet proven to be useful. That something might be possible does not indicate that it actually happens with any observable frequency.

The basic issues were, in fact, what was shown by experimental evidence, what possible artifacts existed, and what was confirmed as distinct from isolated report. Is there anomalous heat? That was the beginning. If there is anomalous heat, what is the cause? “Cause” can be quite elusive, however, so genuine study begins with correlations.

Again, in the early days, one of the biggest mysteries — often considered in contradiction to “heat” — was the lack of a nuclear  product. That was remedied in 1991 by Miles, and I consider the heat/helium correlation to be a done deal, and this finesses the arguments about calorimetry, with the remaining issue being the exact ratio, but what we have so far is a decent indication that the source of the energy released is the conversion of deuterium to helium, and that is independent of mechanism (but we can call that conversion “fusion” even if it does not involve “d+d,” which is what everyone thought it would have to be in 1989, so the impossibility arguments, the strongest, were based on that assumption. It’s a very well-known reaction! Whatever is happening, this was clear very early on, is not “d+d.”

There are other “nuclear effects,” erratic, generally uncorrelated but wide enough (especially tritium) to create (or confirm) major suspicion that nuclear reactions are indeed happening outside of the expected realm.  It was an error to connect these with the FP Heat Effect, which *mostly* does not produce any other observable effect than heat and helium. The same mechanism might be responsible, or not. We don’t know. Tritium is commonly confirmed at levels roughly six orders of magnitude below the “d+d fusion” expectation. And it’s inconsistent, some experiments do it, some don’t, and nobody really understands what makes the difference. But read the damn papers! Some scientists consider the tritium evidence the strongest found for LENR.

The 2004 U.S. DoE review shows that the proposition of anomalous heat in metal deuterides had, in a relatively shallow review (what can be communicated with a pile of papers that many will not read, and a one-day meeting?), support from many experts. (Half of the eighteen were reported as considering as “conclusive” evidence for “anomalous heat”.  And if half think it is conclusive, what is the majority opinion as to what is “likely” or “possible”?) But it was not stated that way.

It is not “wrong” to be skeptical and to explore ideas of artifact and error. However, is skepticism “knowledge”?

Is that opinion of “many distinguished scientists” based on “science”? Or is it something else? To state anything conclusive about this, we would need to collect and analyze those opinions. Did anyone ask the 18 experts on the 2004 panel if they had read all the papers? The 2004 process totally sucked. It’s obvious that many misunderstood the evidence they had been presented, because the comments, which we have, show serious errors on basic issues, such that a clear correlation, interpreted with the error, became an anti-correlation. No wonder they considered the evidence for “nuclear” weaker!

I keep finding more work to do. So there were 130 papers listed as references for the 2004 DoE panel. There is an (incomplete) list of them on lenr-canr.org. It is possible to make all of those papers available. Lenr-canr.org doesn’t do that because of how they operate, they only host a paper with explicit author permission, and what they host is often not as-published (though it may be very similar). We can do much better than that.

For starters, from what I just did with SAV, I found extremely valuable, I can create a page with all the abstracts! Jed, for papers not in his database, simply put “not found” instead of linking to the original publication (which will almost always have an abstract).

Reading those abstracts created familiarity and when I read individual papers, now, they fit into that background. And then ideas start coming up, avenues to pursue that maybe nobody has ever followed. So, even if nobody else ever uses these resources, I benefited from compiling them. As it is now, if someone wants to become familiar with the SAV concept and implications, the SAV/Abstracts page was designed to be readable on a smartphone. It links to copies of the papers where they are available (and it will be updated as I obtain copies.)

In a sane process, there would have been more time, first of all, and there would have been back-and-forth, discussion where objections were raised an answered, etc. For our part, the cold fusion community badly managed this review, there was no clear goal, and no clear strategy for reaching it.

Does it matter enough to do this deeper study? It’s enough work, at the moment, to study the Fleischmann/Pons and Morrison debate. The internet is full of opinions about this. What is the reality?

Does anyone care?

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Author: Abd ulRahman Lomax

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

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