Shanahan’s Folly, in Color

Well, a little color. As covered in It was an itsy-bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot error, Kirk Shanahan digitised a chart from page 87 of Storms, The Science of Low Energy Nuclear Reaction, even though the data was on the next page in Table 7. Ah, well, you do what you need to do.

So, today, I loaded the data in to a spreadsheet, and here it is, ODS, and if you need another format, ask. The first plot shows all the data, and looks like the Storms plot, but with a little extra and without the 23.8 MeV/He line; that is equivalent to about 2.6 x 10^11 He atoms/watt-sec.

What is this showing? Without getting into all the details for the Miles experiment, what is plotted is measured anomalous power (excess heat) for a collection interval vs the calculated helium atoms per watt-second. With the Miles data, the measurement background of 0.51 x 10^14 atoms per 500 ml (the collection volume) is subtracted from the measured helium. We can see an obvious outlier, and that was at the lowest measured excess power (20 mW), where we would expect error to loom larger. While there is obvious and substantial scatter in the Miles data, it is useful to keep in mind that any correlation at all was considered a major discovery in 1991, when this was announced, and that the reported ratio was within an order of magnitude of the theoretical d-d fusion -> helium yield was considered amazing (by Huizenga, of all people). (Miles’ earliest announcement had order-of-magnitude helium results, later, his helium measurements were improved).

To get a better idea, I eliminated the obvious outlier (as Storms does in calculating the average on his next page). That produces this chart:

What we can see is how the Bush and Lagowski data fits into this as having improved precision.

One basic problem in interpreting these results is that it is possible that the retention ratio varies with cathode surface conditions, and that could vary even within a single experiment. (i.e., we should understand that though ten results from Miles are presented, there were not ten separate experiments. These were distinct collection intervals, power being measured during a collection interval, with collection ceasing when 500 ml has been collected.

(I am writing this from memory, and corrections will be appreciated). We know that surface conditions change as a cathode is conditioned by loading and deloading, and this is poorly controlled. Electrolysis is messy.)

What is measured here is helium in the outgas, not total helium production, so even perfect measurement might still show substantial variation. Hence the goal becomes to measure all the helium, and there are only two experiments where that may have been done, SRI M4 and Apicella et al Laser-3; these are the only known experiments where anodic erosion was used (by reversing electrolytic polarity), and the amount of helium found in both of them moved up to within experimental error of 100% of the theoretical value (23.8 MeV/4He or 2.6 x 10^11 4He/watt-sec.)

As can be seen in the charts, scatter does lessen as the measured quantities increase.

Author: Abd ulRahman Lomax


11 thoughts on “Shanahan’s Folly, in Color”

  1. You wrote: “These were distinct collection intervals, power being measured during a collection interval, with collection ceasing when 500 ml has been collected.”

    Here are the procedures:

    The collection flask was attached to the cell. Then the cell and collection flasks were flushed with boil-off nitrogen for at least 10 minutes.

    The flask was left attached to the cell for at least 2 days. During that time, the effluent gas from electrolysis amounted to ~40 times the 500 ml volume of the flask. In other words, many times more than 500 ml was collected. Most of it left the flask.

    The effluent gas leaving the flask went through a bubbler to keep air from coming into the cell. This creates a little back-pressure in the cell, so that any leaks will go out, not in.

    In other words, the cell was “self-flushing,” first with nitrogen, then O2 and D2 gas, plus a minute amount of He. This self-flushing technique is an important way to reduce contamination. If you were to simply collect the first 500 ml of effluent gas, it would contain many other gasses that were in the flask and cell head space to start with.

    See the diagrams here:

    1. Beside the question wether He4 presence and He4/Heat correlation is “proven”, the question is wether there is enough doubt it might be true (and enough scientific and economic interest) to invest time and money in the domain.

      That there is no single billion invested, given the intriguing results, even if you find them not totally perfectly undeniably absolutely really truly proven, shows we are in the psychiatric , not scientific domain.

      Precaution principle have a much more practical opposite, a principle of investigation, that when something may be true given some incomplete data, and this may have big consequence, you have to investigate.

      We invest billions in gravity waves, in hot fusion, in darkmater, with no expected benefit in 30 years, and not even a milion/y in cold fusion, in emdrive.
      this is not prudence or rationality, this is fear. fear of ridicule.

      1. Thanks, Alain. An obsession with “proof” is characteristic of both “believers” and “pseudoskeptics”. A skeptic demanding proof has lost scientific skepticism, which seeks evidence (either way), not “proof.” If one does not see sufficient evidence to merit the work of investigation, the genuine skeptic simply sets the matter aside. “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” is a basic skeptical principle.

        The history of cold fusion is a remarkable study in the sociology of science, and sociologists have given it high attention.

  2. You wrote: “Thus He4 much higher than expected might be viewed as equipment leaks (allowing ambient in) and such results not included. Ambient He4 can be arbitrarily high locally in a lab environment due to temporally and spatially variable use of He elsewhere in the lab.”

    That is incorrect. First, he did include results in which ambient air was deliberately leaked in, plus one test where the cell broke in transit. Second these samples with ambient air showed many orders of magnitude more helium than any of tests in which helium was excluded. Miles showed that it is not possible to leak in the small amounts of helium detected in the tests. There is no valve, crack, degraded rubber or other physical mechanism that would leak in such small amounts. Any leak would swamp the sample with helium. For example, if you were touch the inside surface of flask where it is connected to the mass spectrometer, the helium from your fingerprint would far exceed the amount from the cold fusion experiment. (Miles told me that when warned me not to touch one of his flasks.)

    In other words, a leak is not arbitrarily high, and more important it cannot be arbitrarily low. You cannot leak in such small amounts, except perhaps by letting the helium gradually penetrate through glass. This would take several years, as Miles showed.

    Miles discusses these issues in detail, so I suggest you read his papers before commenting.

    1. Thanks for that. I do remember reading about this investigation by Miles. It is and always must be unconvincing. Why? Because he is trying to prove the absence of some low-level leakage effect in the active systems. All he can do is prove the absence of low-level leakage effects in non-working control system. The two are different.

      Now you might say after such elimination that a leakage mechanism was unlikely. But you could never say it was impossible. Perhaps there is some transient or otherwise unconsidered way in which the active systems have leaks. To deal with this issue you need more careful scrutiny of data and conditions, but best is to eliminate leakage as a mechanism for introducing He.

      The general principle here is that to get bomb-proof results you need more than exquisitely careful analysis. You need a simple system, or a system which is made simple through the care with which it is controlled. The more potential errors have to be ruled out by argument and assumption, the weaker the evidence. There in nothing about these results intrinsic to the experiment that prevents simpler and safer collection.

      Ironically, we have here again a similarity with LENR. Skeptics cannot prove the absence of LENR because any negative experiment may be wrong conditions. Similarly Miles cannot prove the absence of low-level leaks. Any negative experiments may be wrong conditions.

      1. You wrote: “Now you might say after such elimination that a leakage mechanism was unlikely. But you could never say it was impossible.”

        Oh Yes, I Can. There is no mechanism that would allow such a thing, and no experiment has ever shown such a thing. Admitting such tiny amounts of helium from the atmosphere with such an astounding level of control into a cell is many orders of magnitude beyond the ability of today’s instruments. As I said, the only way you could do it is to let the helium permeate through glass for several years.

        It is simply NOT POSSIBLE to introduce such tiny amounts of helium into a cell such that they appear in a fixed ratio to the heat, even to within a factor of 10. The values will be all over the place with any real world method. If you say this is possible, you should describe the type of instrument and experiment that would allow it. You will become famous if you know a way to control materials with this kind of precision. It would make microfabrication of integrated circuits look crude in comparison.

        Skeptical hand waving does not get a free pass. You don’t get to say “I think X is possible” without at least outlining how it would be possible.

        Certainly it is not possible to accomplish this with the Swagelok equipment used in these experiments. Swagelok stuff is superb but it does not magically function something like 10 orders of magnitude better than advertised. It is not like you can turn a knob and introduce helium at these rates, in just the right ratios. You can’t do it on purpose or by accident. You would have to have some machine costing millions of dollars to control helium with this kind of precision. (Or an alpha emitter, obviously – which is what a cold fusion experiment is.)

        You cannot just wave your hands and declare that something can be done when every experts says it cannot. Miles worked with experts at the top three helium labs in the U.S. I spoke with those people. I read what they wrote. I am telling you what they say.

        That goes for tritium as well, by the way. For it to leak into cells at the speed and volume it appears, it would have to be in such high concentration in the laboratory air, the radiation alarms would go off and the lab would be permanently abandoned, according to Storms and the Reactor Safety Div. people at BARC.

        You do realize, I hope, that other people have done this experiment starting with helium concentration above atmosphere, and others have measured a helium build-up to above the level of atmosphere. So these are moot points.

        1. To put it another way, it is the ratio of the helium to heat that rules out a leak. Any leak is a random process. It will produce random levels of helium not correlated with heat. Controlling a leak in a way that makes it correlate to the heat cannot be done on purpose, or by accident, with any known technique. As far as the experts know. You sure can’t do it with off-the-shelf Swagelok equipment. The Swagelok people would love to hear from you if you can!

          The ratio is what makes this such compelling evidence. That is what Abd emphasizes, quite correctly. It is more compelling than the tritium for that reason.

          1. Jed – these two comments are maybe the most important so far, in that they show the level of sensitivity of the Helium measurements in a way that I had not before appreciated.

            I was always aware of the possibility of leaks as an error source, but didn’t have the experience to quantify it. Thanks for the explanations that make it obvious that leaks cannot explain the correlation.

            1. In my oh-so-sharp hindsight, it was an error to include the Case data as an appendix to the report to the 2004 U.S. DoE panel. The data given was incomplete. I had to read that appendix a number of times to understand it, and needed to read other reports of the same work, and even then, to directly ask McKubre. So it was no surprise that it was not understood by the panel and the summarizing bureaucrat (and some reviewers explicitly got it wrong, and then the bureaucrat compounded the error). There was no back-and-forth process that would have corrected the error, a clear demonstration of how Hagelstein was not a lawyer! This was a setup to fail to accomplish any important goal, but … Peter is a scientist, not a lawyer or politician. Wrong person for the job, that’s all. (Peter apparently believed that beggars can’t be choosers and so accepted a process that was obviously defective, instead of realizing that a postponed but deeper review would be superior to a defective one. That review, given the conditions, was stunning progress, all things considered. But it didn’t look that way!

              In any case, why was the Case data there? Because it is the only result that clearly shows release of helium over time. It shows the build-up of helium as it approached ambient levels and then went beyond them. The helium behavior does not resemble leakage, which would approach ambient asymptotically. There is no sign of slowing of the rise as ambient is approached. There is another anomaly, that helium levels declined after a time. Leakage out? That would indicate leakage in, perhaps (except for the level problem). But more likely, some process with the carbon-based substrate was absorbing helium; I’ve talked with McKubre about this and one of his regrets was that they did not analyze the leftover material, looking for helium. Those are errors that won’t be repeated. If they didn’t have the funding to do more, saving the material in a helium-tight container would have been in order, until the funding could be found. But they did have their own mass spectrometer…. Still, there are many difficulties and details. From what I know of the full Case data — which was not presented — the actual results were more impressive, so why was that partial report given?

              My answer: it seemed like a good idea at the time…. (that growth correlated with heat … and they did not show most of the heat data (really, it is only shown for one cell). That report did not pass peer review, if I’m correct, and it shows.) It was an informal and incomplete report. It needed critique and good editing.

  3. So, we could note the known possible selection and correlation mechanisms here. Thus He4 much higher than expected might be viewed as equipment leaks (allowing ambient in) and such results not included. Ambient He4 can be arbitrarily high locally in a lab environment due to temporally and spatially variable use of He elsewhere in the lab. In fact any sane experimental equipment check would include leakage, and rejection of high leakage equipment before experiments start would give an upper bound on He4 ratio for variable-time experiments where excess heat is bounded.

    Low He4 results might be similarly eliminated as an error in measurement (though that should not be and we’d need to look at the methodologies in detail to discover this).

    Finally where excess heat correlates with experiment time, leakage or outgassing, which also correlates with time, will be nicely correlated with excess heat. This data should be annotated according to whether the points have same or different experiment times to elucidate this.

    These are all mundane mechanisms that could give rise to this graph. I’d hope they could be explicitly considered and ruled out because not applicable. Otherwise the scatter in the data indicates that such mechanisms are plausible. Note that different mechanisms might apply to different data series – the data indicates a lack of inter-series homogeneity, so we need to look at everything.

    1. THH, you have not mentioned something, the tight relationship between the Miles result and the Bush and Lagowski result. I will probably pull other tests into the plot, or into a histogram (which would be better, because the x-axis of “power” is confusing and not terribly relevant. Ideally, there would also be error bars. There is a reason why I didn’t do this for my paper! (The studies are often missing the data that would allow me to present apples and apples.) Storms has a histogram, but his selection criteria are not so clear. In the end, my conclusion has been that while the evidence is strong (it’s much stronger than you see, that is apparent to me), there is much room for improvement, and many appearances that can suppress understanding. I showed both the full data from Storms (and full data from Miles was used for studying correlation, but Storms is looking for the ratio, not for correlation as such) and also with the flyer omitted. That flyer has very simple and obvious explanation, coming from the background noise, most likely. We would expect flyers in a ratio at the low end of sensitivity. Full data is needed for correlation studies — only predetermined criteria would be allowed to exclude data — but not for the determination of a ratio; there, obvious fliers may be eliminated without much fuss. In this case, eliminating that single flyer, the lowest power value from Miles, tightens greatly the agreement between the two different studies.

      (A better study for finding a reliable ratio would weight results by the ratio precision, considering the precision of the two measurements. I’m sure there is standard process for this! I am not experienced at this kind of evaluation, I merely have a big mouth.)

      I can show more. The finding of roughly 60% of the d->He fusion ratio is common, and then the two measurements with anodic erosion are frosting on that cake: the ratio moves to 100% in both cases. THH, if you don’t see that as a stunning result, well, I hope you are having fun with electrical engineering.

      Shanahan raised the issue about time. I did go over that back then, but there is not much time variation. I’ll need to go back over that older discussion. Higher XP may correlate with shorter time, because XP is well-known to be correlated with current density, and if there is higher current density, there would be faster evolution of gases, and what determines the time is how long it takes to accumulate 500 ml of gas, using a bubbler. (That’s Miles, I don’t know what B&L used).

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