Steven Byrnes commented on this blog, and I decided to reply in detail on this page.
The comment was on a post, Ignorance is Bliss.
I thank Dr. Byrnes for engaging in this discussion. Here is what he wrote:
Dear Abd, I’m a regular reader of your blog and I thank you for publicizing my comment in your post here. I also thank you for giving my blog a “10” in your blogroll on the right, I noticed that a long time ago and was flattered 🙂
The old saying has a truth to it: any publicity is good publicity. Bloggers support each other. I see that Steven put a lot of work into his examination of cold fusion, which is appreciated, even if I don’t think it is complete.
As you saw, yes I have extremely high confidence in the nonexistence of LENR (in the sense that I believe that the measurements of excess heat, helium-4, etc. are the result of experimental error), but as a careful scientist I will never say I’m *infinitely* confident about anything, not even the sun rising tomorrow.
Me too. I don’t claim to be a scientist (I’m certainly not “credentialed”), but I strongly appreciate the ideals of science, and much of the practice. Some of it sucks, but that is mostly a failure to live up to the ideals.
So I do continue to think carefully and seriously about what the implications would be if LENR exists (in the sense that most of the published LENR experimental results can be accepted at face value), and for the sake of argument, I’ll assume that LENR does exist for the remainder of this comment.
Yes. I will keep that in mind. However, I will separately address the first part, above, because you still wrote “supremely high confidence,” and only denied “infinitely high confidence.”
For example, parapsychology refers explicitly to the study of the paranormal, phenomena that appear to be outside of ordinary understanding. Parapsychology is not a belief in some specific explanation of these phenomena, yet a well-known review of the field, using Bayesian statistics to claim near-impossibility for “psi,” whatever that is, cited a Bayesian prior of 10-20 for the possibility of psi being real, using this in a calculation aimed at dismissing quite strong experimental evidence that something not understood was happening. He could have more honestly have said “I believe this is impossible. How could your “extremely high confidence” be distinguished, in a practical sense, from certainty? If we are sane, we always understand that we might be wrong about something, even if we believe it strongly enough to literally stand on it.
It is routine to begin with accepting experimental results at “face value.” This holds for actual results, real measurements, the “testimony” of the researchers. The interpretation of the results is another matter. Error in interpretation is extremely common. In the early days of cold fusion, it was commonly thought that there were two kinds of replications, positive and negative, and that these were in contradiction, i.e., one or the other must be wrong. That was ontologically naive, and what we now know, with reasonable certainty, is that the positive and negative results, when examined more carefully, actually and in the long run, confirm each other.
As an example, load below about 85%, you will not see LENR effects in the FP experiment. Those negative replications confirm that. However, 85% could be a necessary but insufficient condition for heat results. There are also “negative” results where high loading was obtained, which, again, shows that some other condition is necessary, and this has been narrowed to, most importantly, poorly-understood conditions in the material. Pure annealed palladium, for example, does not generate heat, until and unless it is repeatedly loaded, so if researchers give up quickly when they don’t see heat, all this does is to confirm the need for patience, in that approach.
When I told my daughter, who was then about nine, about Pons and Flieschmann experience, and the negative replications, she said, immediately, knowing almost nothing more, “Dad, they didn’t try hard enough!” I’d say she was right on. What replicators should be looking for is to reproduce the result, including errors, if any! Then it becomes possible to identify — or rule out — artifacts. Lewis thought he had done that with “failure to stir.” However, his cells were greatly different from FP cells, dimensionally, and later analysis is that the FP cells, tall and narrow, were quite adequately stirred from gas evolution, whereas the shorter, squatter Lewis cells would be much more vulnerable to this calorimetry artifact. The Lewis replication was rushed, with inadequate information, like many of the early negative replications.
It is still a difficult experiment, not the “battery with two electrodes in a jam jar” of many impressions.
Much “negative replication” looked only for clearly nuclear products, such as neutrons and tritium, and found none. Obviously, if the effect was not set up, that was an expected result, even if the FP Effect is real. Further, neutron levels, when found, were 1012 or so below expectation from reported heat, and tritium, when found, was often dismissed as “not commensurate” with the heat, which obviously indicates that it was not from d+d -> t + p, either alone or as 50% of the full d+d branching.
(Other work, including by tritium experts at BARC, found tritium well above background, and this work has never actually been impeached. When I was writing my heat-helium paper, and pointed out that the tritium work, being uncorrelated with heat, was less probative, I received an objection from one of the researchers at BARC. I explained that tritium was very good circumstantial evidence, but did not show that the heat was nuclear, though it could certainly show that “something nuclear” was happening. He accepted that. Historically, it is a tragedy that heat and tritium were not measured in most experiments, and it still happens that when I bring this up, a researcher will say, “But they were not ‘commensurate’.” And that is what certain reports actually say. “Tritium was found, but was not commensurate with heat.”
Now, how would we know what level is “commensurate”? Obviously, with a d-d fusion theory, which then expects so much tritium and so much heat, a particular ratio. Without a theory, we would not know, and what would remain interesting is the actual ratio. If heat and tritium are correlated, it becomes far less likely that both are artifact. Because it is very possible (I consider it likely) that tritium levels are correlated with the H/D ratio in the heavy water, that tritium is a result of reactions with H, possibly as secondary effects, not the main reaction and certainly not producing measurable heat, that ratio would need to be measured and reported, and because heavy water is hygroscopic, absorbing atmospheric water, that measurement needs to be checked after the experiment as well. I never saw an example of that being done.
Researchers were typically working with tight budgetary constraints, sometimes under difficult conditions. So a great deal of relatively obvious work has never been done, or if it was done, was not reported, for various “reasons.”
(And, collecting papers for creating better access here, I’m finding, in early conference proceedings, many findings that have been buried in obscurity. I also find lots of relative garbage, but anyone who actually did experimental work and reported it, I do not readily consider their work “garbage,” which, more properly, refers to way-premature or just plain silly theoretical work, or badly reported and misinterpreted conclusions from shallow experiments. All that is present in the corpus. So it’s trivially easy to find stuff to criticize.
(This blog has comment facilities, and it is possible here to comment on any paper in the history, such that commentary becomes visible and organized with the material. It’s rare that anyone actually does this, except me. We need far more of this.)
I’ll focus on some of the more important aspects of the proliferation / safety issue that I think you are missing or misunderstanding.
Perhaps, but much more likely, since I’ve been considering risk from LENR research for almost a decade, you are missing or misunderstanding why the problem of creating an explosion from LENR is so difficult, or missing a more detailed exploration of the implications. Since I have concluded that LENR is almost certainly real (but of unknown mechanism), I have to face that possibility with more reality; for you, it is an academic exercise, since, after all, you effectively believe it is not real.
First, let me be a bit more concrete about the explosion issue. Storms talks about a “nuclear active environment” (NAE)–some as-yet-unknown configuration of atoms and electrons that enables the LENR process.
Yes, he does. When I say “unknown mechanism,” I do not mean “completely unknown.” With varying degrees of probability, we know much about the mechanism, that is, it has certain traits.
When people look at the post-excess-heat palladium under the microscope, they say that there are little pits that look like microscopic explosions, and that show signs of high temperature.
These are sometimes observed. There are two kinds of structures observed: ordinary pits (which occur at surfaces when high-vacancy material is partially annealed, as I understand the material, and “volcanoes,” which appear to have been melted, with what appears to be flowed ejecta. The two are sometimes confused. If I’m correct, the apparently molten material in volcanoes is seen to be palladium, and the ejecting force could be vaporization. Volcanoes are quite rare, I understand, and one of the defects in cold fusion papers is that anecdotes are often given without an overall analysis of frequency. Hence, apparently, without having that understanding, you come to a premature conclusion:
So I think the default assumption should be that, during LENR, some small part of the electrode becomes an NAE, and it “blows up” with a microscopic “bang”, creating heat. Then a moment later some different microscopic part of the electrode randomly turns into an NAE and does the same thing, and so on. And a large number of microscopic “bangs” averages out to look like a steady creation of heat as measured by calorimetry.
The prime evidence for this idea would be the “sparkles” shown in a SPAWAR video where the cathode is shown with flashes of light speckled across it. However, that was IR imaging, and the surface does not show the density of “volcanoes” to support the idea of these “explosions” being routine. So you have created an idea of a phenomenon being common (many times per second) that is probably far below that in frequency. (I can’t be sure, at this point, because frequency or density has not been reported, but this could be on the order of one volcano per day.) However, for the purposes here, I will allow that LENR might on occasion reach temperatures higher than the melting point of palladium, or even vaporization temperature.
It has been argued that such high temperatures could not be reached if the NAE is destroyed. This, in my opinion, neglects the environment and heat flow. It could occur that a configuration of reactions could heat some location surrounded by active sites. We do not know how the heat from LENR is distributed, and most radiation would deposit the energy over a region (not necessarily in the immediate NAE). We do not know if NAE is repeatedly active, or if reaction rate is limited to the rate of formation of new NAE. We do not know how long NAE must exist before it can catalyze a reaction. However, there are certain basic limits.
Obviously, the fuel must reach the NAE. In this environment, that requires diffusion, which takes time. Further, local loading will vary (and the variation will increase with temperature), so the idea that perhaps there is a strict loading requirement runs into the problem that there is no control able to establish this. Loading will normally vary from site to site.
However, if we create Fukai material that is loaded to the theoretical maximum, that would be relatively uniform. There is substantial evidence that NiH can be nuclear-active. Fukai material has been made, with nickel, loaded with hydrogen at 5 GPa, and this was then heated to 800 C., and the Fukai phase Pd3VacH4 was formed, over about three hours. The press was not vaporized. Nor, in fact, was any sign of fusion observed. Something else is needed. This experiment has not been done with PdD. I’m recommending against that, at this point, unless the quantities are drastically reduced and one is prepared to damage the press. There are more cautious ways to approach the possibility.
So then the concern is that it is possible to set up conditions such that no part of the electrode is NAE, and then suddenly, much or all of the electrode is NAE.
There is something missing. It must not only be NAE, it must be loaded with fuel. I can imagine making tons of NAE, literally. But if it is NAE, and it is loaded with fuel, at some point the loading will reach an active level and the material will start to heat. If it heats to 890 C (Pd), the NAE will be annealed out. If it reaches the melting point of palladium, the NAE will be immediately destroyed. I suggest that there is no way to load the palladium to fully-active levels (fast fusion, perhaps) while keeping it intact.
And if there is, we will recognize that, because long before that becomes practical, the danger will be understood, unless this is done by some isolated or secret researcher, working for an insane government, probably. To protect against this risk, we must understand cold fusion, or we will be defenseless if it is invented.
In that situation, instead of the “pitter-patter” of a series of microscopic “bangs”, there’s one great big huge “bang”, as the LENR process happens everywhere at once in a macroscopic volume.
Yeah, I already understood the idea, I thought of it years ago. Like much of what I come up with, it’s obvious if one gives the matter some consideration.
To address your “600C” statement more specifically, yes a condensed-matter environment is *stable* only at low temperatures, but if the reaction happens in a sufficiently fast and simultaneous way, it may already be over before the atoms have yet had time to move into a different configuration.
The problem is that “fast and simultaneous” is not likely to characterize a process that depends on the diffusion of hydrogen isotopes in metals, and where the energy is released stochastically. We are almost certainly looking at fusion through tunneling, which is stochastic. Yes, it is possible to imagine the materials coming so close, or with such charge shielding, that fusion is fast enough to be used in the way described, but getting to that condition is the problem.
Takahashi calculates that the 4D TSC will collapse in a femtosecond and fuse in another. That could be fast enough, I suspect, but the collapsed BEC will be highly vulnerable to being broken up if there is substantial radiation from other fusions, and the fusions will happen at variable times. To get to an almost-ready state all through a volume inside a metal would require very even and very precisely controlled loading, but loading will vary, unless the temperature is very low. Cold fusion rate increases with temperature, that’s a well-known effect. My explanation of this, if we follow 4D TSC theory, is that the trap that confines the two molecules so that BEC formation at room temperature is possible (if rare) requires energy for them to enter.
I said “suddenly” above, and you object that we’ve never seen anything like that in numerous experiments over the years. But remember the most important fact about the NAE: we don’t know what it is!
The argument here appears to be that we should be afraid of something that has never been seen, merely because it’s unknown, but that we can, by imagining something unknown, invent a way that it could happen. There are plenty of scenarios I can imagine that end with the extinction of all life on Earth, and this one strikes me as far less likely than many of them.
Let’s say I publish a theory explaining how LENR works, which implies a recipe for determining exactly what configurations of matter do or don’t act as NAE. My theory is published in newspapers and endorsed by all the most eminent nuclear physicists.
Yes. I would expect some die-hards, there is a tail to the rejection cascade. Even when evidence becomes overwhelming, a few may soldier on. But so what? The immediate scenario presented is likely.
What happens next? I’ll tell you what happens: Millions of scientists and engineers around the world will immediately start combing through the database of all known materials and all known processing techniques, searching for NAEs that are easier to create and easier to control than Fukai-phase PdD (or whatever it is).
That Pd may not be difficult to control. Nobody has tried. There is now suspicion that the FP heat effect, and some other LENR effects, were caused by adventitious creation of Fukai-phase material. It’s plausible. There are possible ways to create such material other than using a diamond-anvil press (which is obvious if adventitious creation occurred at far lower pressures). The Fukai phases are the actual stable phases of PdD, and so they can accumulate. As well, when deloaded, Fukai material remains metastable, and can be stored and accumulated. I can imagine many years of productive research to be done.
(I define “productive research” as research that increases knowledge, not that necessarily creates some practical energy production. That’s a secondary goal, often down the line. In the game I propose, the goal is not “cheap energy,” but knowledge, and knowledge includes all results, not just “positive” ones. I’ve been arguing this before the LENR community for years, decrying the habit of only publishing “positive results,” and I’ve been gratified to see the publication of “negative results.” Certainly JCMNS has been publishing some of them, and there are major Conference presentations that can be called “negative.” In science, my opinion, it’s all good.
The point here is that if explosive LENR is possible, it will be found. I agree.
So no, I’m not particularly worried about palladium deuteride electrochemical cells.
Electrochemistry is useful for convenient generation of deuterium to load metal hydrides, and the electrolysis encourages loading at low system pressures. However, the future of LENR is far more likely with gas-loading, and with nickel and hydrogen. That’s the recent Japanese work that led the Spectrum article. That work is generally following Takahashi theory, but I have not seen any specific results that seriously prefer the theory. NiH is a long term possibility.
Deuterium fusion is more energetic per reaction, if I’m correct, and it is possible that an explosive device might need to use deuterium. If so, it’s relatively easy to control deuterium. It’s already difficult to obtain, I bought my kilogram from Canada, and they are no longer selling to Americans, and amateurs in this field often report difficulty obtaining deuterium. But there are ways around this, and a player seriously determined to use deuterium could make it from ordinary water. It’s simply a lot of work.
I’m worried about this worldwide decades-long systematic search, and the possibility that this search will turn up a “next-generation NAE” that can be created in large volume and high yield and low cost, and which can be flipped on and off in a controllable way.
The problem is much more difficult than you realize, I suspect. “Large volume” can be done. Most LENR research has avoided this for obvious reasons. (If the reaction is difficult to control, if we don’t know the precise conditions, then we may accidentally create too much activity for the set-up to handle, and that is what Pons and Fleischmann did in 1984 or 1985. They got a meltdown.
“Low cost” can also possibly be done (with nickel and hydrogen, perhaps). The Japanese are using materials that, in production, could be relatively cheap. As it is, they are processing them so much that I don’t think they are cheap. Right now, Fukai material, the pure stuff, can only be made in diamond-anvil presses, so it’s expensive, I expect. But a way around that may be found, and, in fact, if the material turns out to be very useful, I’d predict it. I can think of ways to possibly mass-produce it. With nickel, cheap. With palladium, well, palladium is expensive. Processing would increase the cost, but one might not need much. I once figured out how much it would cost to make a water heater with the Arata effect, as reported. I came up with $100,000 for a home water heater, just for the palladium. Obviously, not practical. It would be a very attractive target for theft.
If the reaction is triggered by laser stimulation, which is possible and has been done, it could be controlled, but only at a modest level, and only at the surface. How would you stimulate every site at once, in a solid? Maybe with phonons, I suppose, but this starts to be something not doable with “car parts.” Letts used tunable dual lasers, far from cheap, to create THz beat frequencies.
More likely this is what will be found: a material that is quite nuclear active, that when loaded with a hydrogen isotope, will fuse it, assuming other conditions are adequate. Now, how do we make this happen quickly in a material, so fast that the material doesn’t have time to melt and so all the proto-fusions can pop at once?
Imagine that palladium can be made that is super-NAE. It is an array of special environments that, with a certain presence of deuterium (so many atoms or molecules per site), generates fusion. It is not impossible that Fukai delta phase is such a material. It has not been tried.
In order to be used for explosion, the reaction must be immediate. If it is stochastic, unless the half-life is very short, it cannot made to happen simultaneously in all available sites.
The laser stimulation that worked was in the THz region, which is very low-penetration. So this can only affect the surface. (The known FP reaction is only at the surface, it does not occur in the bulk. It is possible that this is because Fukai material, adventitiously formed, only forms at the surface, so Fukai material, if it works, could be far more powerful, that’s possible.
There are probably thousands of deuterides, and countless ways to prepare and manipulate them.
The parameter space is vast, agreed.
What is the probability that a “better” NAE will be discovered, when we know what to look for? I think the probability is quite high.
So then we get to your comment about the landmine: “What we want to do is find it, so that we don’t step on it and so that nobody else does, either.”
You don’t seem to appreciate something about the dynamics of dangerous information, which is that not only (1) it would be horrible beyond imagination to disseminate a recipe for a bathtub nuclear weapon made from car parts,
Premises not accepted.
You have gone from speculating that such explosive technology might be possible, to imagining the development and dissemination of a “recipe,” like a book on “How to Build Your Own Nuclear Weapon from Materials Available at Home Depot, for Fun and Profit”. I would agree that this would be unethical, to say the least.
However, we are already afflicted with people who will do this. They are called “teenagers,” especially boys. Something about testosterone, apparently. Obviously, not every teenager could or would contemplate this, but some are so angry with life that they will create as much destruction as they can manage.
I remember being about 16, and talking with my friends about “If we were angry with the world, and wanted to kill as many people as possible, how would we do it?” I was not angry with the world, but one of the motivations behind teenage behavior is a desire to feel powerful.
What I thought of was pretty obvious, so obvious that US intelligence also thought of it, and then the incoming Bush administration dropped the idea. Learn to fly a plane (one of my friends was a pilot at that age), and then hijack a fueled airliner and crash it into the Rose Bowl when it was full of people. A lot more damage than the World Trade Center, actually.
We are already exposed to many such dangers, and we need to work on creating a world that doesn’t make people so angry! There will always be a few, but such could be detected.
There is a cost to the protection, loss of privacy. Something has to give. A government strong enough to prevent such events is also very dangerous, so the real problem (on which I have spent as much time as cold fusion) is governance, or, stated with maximum generality, how we can, as humanity, communicate, cooperate, and coordinate, on a large scale. It’s coming, it is — I hope — inevitable, but the question is whether or not we will first destroy ourselves or, in effect, the planet.
And all this requires knowledge, not ignorance.
but also (2) disseminating this same recipe *except redacting the very last step of it* is barely any less bad!
I suggest that this young physicist accumulate some life, including a deeper ontology. “Bad” is not a reality, it is a fantasy, a story, and we invent such stories as shorthand or to attempt to control behavior. It is a poor method for doing that. It only works for fast-response situations, that’s why it evolved, I assume.
Why? Because someone else, sooner or later, will figure out and then publish the redacted last step, either because they’re oblivious to the danger, or out of a misplaced belief in scientific openness / techno-utopia, or even because they’re anarchists or military or whatever. So what do you do? Redact the last *two* steps of the recipe?? Same issue, it just takes a bit longer.
No, that is not what I would find inspiring. Rather, if such a the possibility becomes clear, government must be involved, and for a danger like this, world government or at least major multinational cooperation. If the possibility is real, then protection must be real. The details would depend on the recipe. Suppose that the most difficult to obtain part is a gasoline engine (just picking a car part, not necessarily the most likely). Collectively, we can give up gasoline engines or control their usage. One of the dangerous aspects of present life is the increasing possibility of full surveillance. Is that Good or Bad?
Mostly, here in the U.S., we think of it as Bad, because we don’t trust governments. However, it could also make a difference between survival and extinction. These are choices which we will face as a people, or we will not survive, and we may not survive in any case. Is that Good or Bad?
Trick question. It is neither Good nor Bad, those are fantasies. Humanity will eventually become extinct, and what we are will, if it survives, become something else.
And everyone will die, that part is obvious. So the issue worth focusing on is not avoiding all risk of dying (for ourselves and others), nor the risk of suffering, which the Buddha pointed out, cogently, is intrinsic to existence, but how to live well, with the time we have.
Let’s think more concretely about the futility of the “find the landmine without stepping on it” plan. Let’s say the explanation of LENR has been published, as in the story I wrote above, and you are a grad student, one of the many people searching for the “next-generation NAE”, and hey, you found it!
That could be a real possibility, and I’m not even a graduate student. I am working with people who have labs, and it is not impossible that one of the ideas being worked on will pan out.
You immediately tell your boss,
You assume I have a boss. If so, any ethical obligations are shared.
and patent it and publish it, and you expect fame and fortune, because your discovery is likely to help make LENR a commercial success!
Key word here: patent it. What happens if a patent is filed on a dangerous technology? Have you looked at that?
Oops, hang on, before you told your boss, did you stop to decide whether this discovery would lead to bathtub nuclear weapons made from car parts?
And you assume that LENR researchers are ethical dodo-heads who would not think of such a thing. However, that’s unnecessary. Suppose that the inventor doesn’t think of it, even if it is possible and could be a logical development of the technology.
Most likely, no, because probably it never even occurred to you to check. Or maybe you thought about it but decided that there was no risk… but maybe you learn later on that you were wrong about that! Or maybe you do study the issue, decide Wow, that’s super-dangerous, you better not publish it! … but then two years later, you read that same dangerous discovery in the newspaper, because a different grad student halfway across the world was working on the same thing as you. Like I wrote, “good luck keeping a dangerous truth secret, when 100 top research groups in 100 countries are all digging nearby.”
Yes. Then what happens? Mushroom clouds or planet killer?
Depending on secrecy is a form of depending on ignorance. It’s not terribly secure. Look, there are already hundreds of people all over the world researching LENR. The Russians are big on it, and so are the Chinese and Japanese.
You are correct in that if an explosive method is possible, it is likely to be discovered, if LENR research opens up and becomes widespread. However, in order to assess that risk, we must do two things:
- Consider how likely it is that an explosive method could be found.
- Consider the harm of not pursuing LENR research.
Sane choices are not based on “too horrible to contemplate.” In making such choices, we need to contemplate all reasonable possibilities. If the probability of finding an explosive method were high, there could be more of an issue.
The possible benefit (including harm reduction, including saving many lives) is clear, so if LENR is real, what then is advisable? We could do a game theory study, evaluating the risks and benefits. To do that intelligently does not allow knee-jerk “too horrible to contemplate” scenarios.
When the decision was made to run the LHC, the nightmare scenario was maximum “horrible,” the planet could be literally destroyed if they created a substantial black hole or, say, stranglets that are “contagious.” Yet the decision was made to go ahead, and the benefit was nowhere near as great as LENR could present.
Was that unethical? It is arguable, but my opinion is, there may have been an ethical failure, but it was not huge. The devil is in the details.
I don’t know the details, who was responsible, and the full process that they went through to make the decision. I don’t know that the decision was “right.” That’s the same fantasy as “good” or “bad.” (i.e., that the world was not destroyed does not show that the decision was “right.” Maybe they were just lucky! If I bet everything I have on a coin toss, for a benefit smaller than the value of what I have, and I win, was I “right”? If I have a foolish trust and stand on it, and am not harmed, was I “right”? I don’t think so.
This article covers the issue. It does not describe a risk benefit analysis, but only a decision that the horrible outcome was “impossible.” That thinking was defective, since an unknown risk is always possible, though it can be very improbable. Ah, where is ontology when we need it? (I would agree that the outcome is so improbable that the possible benefits may have outweighed the risk in the full consideration, but was this given full consideration? I don’t know.
A very small but not impossible risk could outweigh a small benefit, so was the benefit great enough here? I don’t know.
What I do know is that my life and the life of my children and descendants were put at risk, and they didn’t ask me. That is a problem, but that problem is all over the place, it’s the problem of governance and collective decision-making.
If experts in academia and industry all around the world are searching for the “next-generation NAE”, and they know exactly what they’re looking for, then if one exists, it will sooner or later be found and made public, no matter how dangerous it is. This is my strong belief. In other words, the beginning of that search process is already past the point of no return.
How public it is made is not obvious. I agree that if the possibility exists, it is more likely to be discovered if LENR is accepted, but this is a losing argument for the rejection of LENR research. Even if the analysis were valid, which I doubt, it would be useless. Nobody will buy it, I predict, at least nobody who makes much of a difference.
Now, the story of the graduate student was not completed. He applies for a patent, and the U.S. government seizes the patent. They do that, on occasion, with technology with possible military applications. The danger would actually be that the patent office would reject the patent on the grounds that “LENR is impossible,” which has happened, because then the person would go ahead, make the technology, and distribute it for . . . fun and profit. In other words, the rejection cascade could be making the world more dangerous. And that would generally be true for all knowledge. Depending on ignorance and secrecy, long-term, is not a survival strategy, though it can seem that way to the reactive mind.
(That rejection would be unlikely if the conditions of this scenario, that LENR research has come to be considered respectable, hold. The rejection was not actually rejection, because it could have readily been overcome. Rather, while patents are ordinarily issued for unproven ideas, it’s routine, if the idea is considered “impossible,” and if that comes to the attention of the examiner, they may demand evidence of workability and enablement. That is allowed by the Constitution, in spite of what some jilted inventors think. Bottom line, a cold fusion patent still is unlikely to be issued if it is written to claim “cold fusion.” It’s not actually fair, but within executive discretion. And all the rejected applications were, in the end, for useless technology, it had not been developed to the point of practical utility. The problem is that raising funds for development can be more difficult if a patent is not possible.)
We can keep stepping back in time. You’re the one who discovers a theory explaining how LENR works, which would lead inevitably to the situation of the previous paragraph. Do you publish it?
Again, you have left out a crucial step and factor: It is not just an explanation of how LENR works, but what is discovered, for this line of thinking, must be a way, or predictably lead to a way, for a very high-explosive technology. If I merely discover how LENR works, or, much more likely, a way to make very active NAE (I should say “we,” not “I”, because whatever I do, to be successful, will not be done alone. I may try a codep experiment with a gold wire and uranyl nitrate in the electrolyte, and the extremity would be, not a mushroom cloud, but a possibly dangerous level of neutrons, a local risk, and if I try that experiment, I would have neutron monitoring in place. Far more likely, if it works — which is not probable, but possible, this would be confirmation of existing research in press at this time — it makes detectable levels of neutrons, and it doesn’t take many to be detectable.)
If you do, I just said you’re setting in motion an unstoppable chain of events that will lead to the publication of a dangerous NAE recipe if any exists.
You have a weird idea of inevitability. First of all, that recipe does not exist. You mean “if any is possible.” Possibility does not exist, except as possibility. Possibility is a fantasy that happens to be useful, and which also can be abused.
Publication could be stoppable, as one possibility. If the danger is high enough, publication could be assigned the death penalty. That’s extreme, for simply making it illegal and creating active enforcement, that continually searches the internet for the appearance of any publication and that immediately hits the site with a governmental level DOS attack and then shuts down the domain, could be enough. And they toss the publisher of a “terrorist recipe” in the clink for however long is deemed necessary. And materials, including “car parts” can be controlled. If we can use beach sand, maybe not.
It is not going to happen that physics and materials science are outlawed. Truth will out, and that’s good news, not bad.
But does such a thing exist? It’s far too early to know, even if you tried in good faith to figure it out. (It’s impossible for one person or even team to thoroughly search the whole space of possibilities.)
So I say censoring oneself at least bears strong consideration, even at this stage, even without knowing even vaguely whether there is something dangerous.
I have considered it. When I first thought of an explosive possibility, I considered it carefully. Maybe I should STFU, I thought. However, I now know much more about the conditions of LENR. I had what we could call “non-physical ideas” about it.
OK then take another step back in time: Do you publish something that is not quite a theory of LENR but contains the core of an idea that will lead others to the theory? Do you publish the result of an experiment that beautifully narrows down what the theory is?
There are about 5000 papers on LENR. Progress is not likely to be made by developing the theory, though theory could be useful. Progress will come fromm first, reviewing what has been done. Often, good work has been buried in obscurity. Then experiments will be designed to test what appears, and will be confirmed, developing a “lab rat,” is the word used by LENR researchers.
Then this experiment will be used to develop a much larger body of confirmed results, with correlations. Then theory formation will have enough basis to do more than guess.
So that experiment (that leads to a bomb possibility) is not going to be performed any time soon.
Here is what is reasonably possible in the short term. The workers at Texas Tech complete their heat/helium study and find that the ratio tightens on 23.8 MeV/4He as precision increases, and this is published in a major journal with a paper carefully vetted and designed to be essentially bullet-proof. The paper mentions no theory except “deuterium conversion.” It describes the protocols, and they were routine, work that has been reported hundreds of times. The difference would be in the helium measurement. And I could write a book on this point.
(If Texas tightens on 30 MeV, say, I take another look at W-L theory. It would not necessarily be strong evidence, but would indicate that other reactions are happening than deuterium conversion to helium, and not just a low levels — that is already known –, but at higher levels. (If they find that heat and helium are not actually correlated or the correlation is very weak, I would likely take up another hobby. That was the “extraordinary evidence” needed to overcome prejudice against “extraordinary claims.” Not the finding of heat, nor the finding of helium, but the correlation. And if my paper published in Current Science, 2015, is defective, please, write a critique. If it is decently written, I would support publication. There are errors in that paper.)
If a recipe for bathtub nuclear weapons made from car parts is out there in the void, waiting to be discovered and posted on the internet, we should ask ourselves: which step in the scientific research process is the step that starts an unstoppable chain events leading to that fateful internet post? Is it already too late today?
Your imagination does not create an “unstoppable chain of events.” And the “internet post” is not the maximum disaster, there are events necessary beyond that before actual harm is done. Your analysis is hysterical, you said it correctly with “terrified paralysis.”
You ask “Does Byrnes think he is the only one on the planet to be concerned about such issues? On what does he base this opinion?” Well, I know that I spent years reading about LENR before I saw a single word written about proliferation risk.
Did you talk to Peter Hagelstein about it? There is a mailing list that has been operating for many years where CMNS researchers communicate, and that is where I have seen mention. It is a private list. These are the pe0ple who would actually be faced with the ethical issue, most internet discussion is not from those people, and people who occupy themselves with discussions like what you reported are not likely to be a real member of that community, or if they became such, they may have moved on. You are making assumptions about a whole community of people based on a very non-representative sample. We could ask the community about this issue. Game?
However, I’m not depending on ethical restraint. That can fail because people vary, greatly. No, if the possibility becomes so obviously real that a dangerous recipe is or could be published, if I could tell that, — by knowing the recipe! — I would blow the whistle myself. If nobody responds, it would not be my moral issue any more, it would be everyone else’s, but I would be responsible for clear communication. “Innamaa al-balagh ul-mubiyn” is the Qur’anic phrase.
Maybe this discussion is out there somewhere, but I’ll tell you, I never came across it, and indeed I was totally oblivious to the issue for years. (Good thing I’ve never discovered any dangerous information on LENR myself; during that period, I would have just gone right ahead and immediately posted it on the internet! I don’t claim to be blameless here.)
Got it. But you are now discussing LENR, and open and clear discussion of LENR, where the issues can be examined in detail, could possibly hasten the day. In fact, that is part of why I do it.
You have argued that clear evidence of the reality of LENR could then lead to that Inevitable Doom. You might be helping to develop it, or, realize this: I have long used discussions with skeptics to make the issues clear. Where a question arises that is not already clear from existing evidence, I have already taken, on occasion, such questions to experts, and one paper was written out of such a question. Much more is possible. Open discussion fosters the advance of science and thus makes finding a “land mine” more possible. So … what is the conclusion here?
Perhaps you might consider another career, because science intrinsically creates the risk of finding possibly harmful knowledge. In any field, I will claim. What do you think is completely safe?
What I actually recommend is developing a grounding in something where training is available, but most people don’t realize the value. Basic ontology, how to live in the world-as-it-is.
And I also know that people are publishing their LENR experiments and theories in the open literature–even at facilities that are fully equipped to do classified research. I’m happy to hear that I’m not the only one concerned, but I wonder whether I’m the only one concerned *to the appropriate extent*. Because if that bathtub car part nuclear bomb recipe exists out there in the void, ready to be discovered, then I suspect that right here, right now, could well be our last chance to realistically stop, before the situation avalanches out of anyone’s control. And yet no one is proposing to do so, to my knowledge.
When SPAWAR first discovered what appears to be clear evidence of neutron generation (at maybe ten times background), and Pam Mosier-Boss was giving Steve Krivit the Galileo protocol, which had only been published for charged-particle detection, she told him that the cathode substrate wire could be silver, gold, or platinum. He didn’t like that, and wanted her to specify a single metal, because he wanted everyone to do the same experiment. I understand why he would want that, but Krivit is not a scientist and not a researcher, and especially not an engineer of powerful social projects.
She knew that a gold wire produced more interesting results, by far. Neutrons. But she did not have permission to make that known, and she may already have been pushing the limits by telling him gold as a mere possibility. This was U.S. military, and whatever they revealed had to be cleared. She chose silver, and the result was more or less a waste of time, results were . . . meh! Not nearly as interesting as if those experiments had been done with a gold wire, probably.
SPAWAR supervision was obviously very aware of military possibilities, and has obviously concluded, on consideration, that the risk is very low. I have given some possible reasons, but those who know are not talking, nor would I expect them to. Little by little, I am having private conversations with many of the major players. I don’t know any, so far that think high explosive is a LENR possibility. The maximum risk is meltdown, and that might be rapid enough to create a small explosion; and small explosions can and do happen. After all, there can be a stochiometric mixture of hydrogen and oxygen these cells, and closed cells can build up some substantial pressure.
Pam is working on a project to develop a hybrid fusion-fission reactor, that uses cold fusion to generate neutrons that then cause U-238 fission, and that apparently has government funding. It’s possible. Whether it is practical or not, I don’t know. But generating neutrons can be dangerous! Make enough neutrons, you can transmute stuff.
The SPAWAR neutron work is published, and the evidence is plausible. It is unconfirmed, and I know of few efforts to confirm it. I created a kit to do it, the basic kit was $100, power supply not included. Long story, I sold one kit, which got the purchaser, a high school student, into the movie, The Believers, but the LR-115 detectors included were damaged in etching, somehow, not understood. And I gave up on the project because I was no longer interested in single-result experiments. I now have, maybe, some better ideas. Among others, I might redo that work with uranium added, which would make for a stronger confirmation of neutrons, and which would be confirming Pam’s more recent work, perhaps.
By the way: I mentioned above that I don’t believe in LENR, but after 4+ years of reading LENR theory papers (related to my blog), I do have opinions about which purported mechanisms are less far-fetched than others.
Many of those opinions are not surprising. If you have been reading my comments on other subpages of the main page for this page, you would know that I agree with many of the points, but also that I would have advised you that your quest was not likely to find what you are looking for. No theory, to date, is free of implausible assumptions.
LENR is itself implausible, but not impossible, that was an error, and overstatement, which was understood by many at the time.
I promote my own theory (doesn’t everyone?) My theory is that cold fusion is a mystery, but that it is an effect caused by the conversion of deuterium to helium, mechanism unknown. I do not particularly expect my theory to be conclusively wrong, in my lifetime. I fully expect to eventually be proven wrong and would look forward to it.
I also have the opinion that the real mechanism, once understood, will not contradict anything actually well-known, such as basic nuclear theory and quantum mechanics. That’s an opinion, not a fact. Obviously we could not be sure until the real theory is found and tested and proves out.
It is testing that will be the issue, not plausibility, but, obviously, the theory must be plausible enough that someone is motivated to test it. And then for someone else to confirm it. And funding for that must be available. (But some tests might be cheap enough to do with discretionary funds, or there is always GoFundMe. I needed to travel in 2017 to attend the Rossi v. Darden trial in Miami, and that’s how I managed it, and the response was good enough that, when the trial settled unexpectedly, I had enough left to fund my ICCF-21 attendance. Life is good. People are supportive.
Therefore if an Oracle magically told me that LENR definitely exists, I would have my own idiosyncratic opinions about how (at least vaguely) it would be most likely to work microscopically. What I’m writing is based on that. Conditional on LENR existing, I think it’s not merely a nonzero possibility but actually pretty likely that unlocking the mysteries of LENR would be, in the long run, a catastrophe. (I am, however, using “bathtub nuclear weapons made from car parts” as a kind of joke or figure of speech, not as a literal description of exactly what I’m worried about.)
Right. I can see what you are doing. Many physicists have attempted to “explain LENR.” Ed Storms often complains that they come up with theories that don’t match the evidence, and he is more or less right about that. You would be unlikely to be an exception. And until you are powered by something far more inspiring than “This is all wrong, but I’m going to look at it anyway,” you are unlikely to have the power to do better. That’s about how the brain works, at least normally.
However, your ideas can still be useful. You don’t have to be “right” to be useful. My dedication is to science, as a process, not to science as “knowledge,” unless “knowledge” means what we actually know, i.e., the full body of experience, rather than how we interpret it, which is provisional. Highly useful, but a map, not the Reality.
I’m not convinced that you know enough — yet — to distinguish what is necessary for a working theory, but maybe. We will be, I hope, looking at those pesky experimental details.
You have been talking with Peter Hagelstein, who has been working intensely on the problem for approaching thirty years. If you read his papers or listen to him speak, he has explored many avenues and rejected many ideas after such exploration. He has settled some, but at ICCF-21, in the Short Course on Sunday that preceded the Conference proper, he talked about what he had just come up with the week before. When the DoE considered cold fusion in 2004, reports are that everything was going very well, reviewers were astonished to hear what had been done, and then someone asked Peter what he thought was happening. I have said that we should, as a community, have had a handler for Peter there. Peter did answer, and it was reported that this was when eyes glazed over and rapport was lost. Peter would not be aware of the harm of premature theory discussion, I think. He doesn’t think that way. So a handler would have trained him to say, I have many ideas, and some have been published, but I have nothing as important to consider now as the experimental evidence that there is an effect. If you want to talk with me later, give me your card — or here is mine — and I’ll be happy to talk with you.” And then he would have said, “Briefly, though, what is happening appears to be the conversion of deuterium to helium and I am looking at how that might happen with the other effects — and lack of effects — that are actually seen. D-d fusion is only one of many possibilities.”
Instead he told them the Theory du Jour. Like he did at ICCF-21, with noobs. I don’t recommend it. We need him to be talking with people like you, Steve. And, ultimately, with the full mainstream physics community, because I suspect that this is what it’s going to take to crack the nut.
Sorry for such a long comment, kudos if you’re still reading, and I hope that helps clarify where I’m coming from,
All the best,
The same to you, Steve. It was already clear, do you realize that? Certainly it is possible, th0ught, that I’ve missed something.
Deep communication is a process. Written communication can be very difficult, or at least inefficient. In my training, it was discouraged, in favor of face-to-face communication, or, if that is not possible, then voice. On the other hand, once a working relationship is developed and for the creation of written documents, writing can actually be very efficient.
Steven Byres responded, which I am copying here.
Dear Abd, thanks for your thoughtful reply.
You are welcome, Steven. You have paid your dues, at least partially. To my audience here:
Steven is an apparently competent physicist, and did some study of LENR theory, looking at whether any of the various theories are plausible. He found none that were, though he did not examine all. Then he suggested that performing or publishing LENR research was “unethical,” which led to this discussion, beginning on this post, Ignorance is Bliss. (I have used that title twice, but it was more apropos here.)
In prior comments, Bynes suggested the book by Richard Muller, Physics for Future Presidents the science behind the headlines. Since I found an inexpensive copy, I bought it and have been reading it. Muller does not echo Steven’s “terror.” However, given his relative ignorance of the actual experimental work with Low Energy Nuclear Reactions, and his training as a physicist, with certain ready assumptions coming out of that experience, his fears are not without a basis, and deserve to be straightforwardly addressed, which is what I’m essaying.
I offer three things to ponder.
First, Nick Bostrom’s recent “Vulnerable World” paper https://nickbostrom.com/papers/vulnerable.pdf is on almost this exact topic and goes through some relevant hypotheticals and considerations much better than I can here.
Simon Derricutt responded to this.
Without accepting every argument, necessarily, I will leave that to Simon. However, I will first state how I read Steve’s point.
- “Nuclear” is intrinsically dangerous, but, fortunately, using it for massive destruction is technically very difficult, thus effectively protecting us from other than governmental actors.
- LENR, if it is real, is “nuclear.”
- LENR looks like it might be usable without the special materials and very difficult technology involved in fission bombs.
- Research that would show the reality of LENR would lead to research discovering how to make “nuclear” weapons with LENR.
- Therefore performing and publishing LENR research is unethical.
If this is not accurate, please, Steven, correct it. My goal is to state his position such that he will say, “Yes, that’s what I’m thinking” or “Yes, that is what I believe.” His choice.
Second, the recent David Evans affair: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/10/horsepox-smallpox-virus-science-ethics-debate/572200/
I corrected a minor error in the URL, found in the original comment. From that article:
This controversy is the latest chapter in an ongoing debate around “dual-use research of concern”—research that could clearly be applied for both good and ill.
First of all, all scientific research is multiple-use. However, in this case, the research carries with it an obvious hazard. As is common, there is no clear definition of “good” and “ill,” and these tend to be knee-jerk reactions. How we respond to this is another matter, and Byrne’s position appears to be that such research should either be forbidden, but his suggestions appear to involve nothing more than “they shouldn’t do that, it’s unethical,” an argument that appears to do little to change what happens. People don’t tend to listen to others who proclaim them as morally deficient, or does Byrnes live on a planet other than Earth?
Pretty much everyone accepts that it is possible to create smallpox in a lab, and that this will become progressively easier in the near-future, and that therefore any enabling information that lowers the competence barrier to creating smallpox must not be published.
I would tend to agree, but the reality of the risk here is high, and the up side of publishing not so high. In the real world, we balance risks and benefits.
But David Evans went ahead and “spelled out several details of how to do so”, and the journal PLOS ONE went ahead and published his article. Many people in the government and military of his own country are aware of the smallpox issue, but didn’t stop him.
And perhaps they knew what they were doing (or not doing, in this case). Perhaps knowing that it is as easy as it is could be useful. That is, once we know that this is possible, legislation can be written and passed, and the resources necessary to accomplish the task identified. This would not stop governmental-level efforts, though, so there is a different possible response, addressing the vulnerability directly, so that a smallpox pandemic becomes very unlikely. Ignorance is not bliss, no matter how much Big Brother proclaims it.
(He talked to some Canadian government bureaucrats, but apparently the people he talked to were the wrong people and they didn’t understand the implications of what he was doing.) So, based on this example, how is our collective ability to suppress dangerous scientific information?
Ineffective. Further, the issue is “dangerous information,” not just “scientific information,” and who decides what is dangerous or not? What is “fake news” and what is “real news,” and this is very much a live issue.
It is woefully inadequate even in the best of circumstances (blindingly obvious and widely-acknowledged risks, above-board research in a well-governed country).
Let’s look at the actual publication. Steve points to an article in the Atlantic, which, of course, would publicize the issue, making it more likely that terrorists would notice. The Atlantic article points to a Science article that itself refers to a press release, from a company developing a vaccine that could be effective against smallpox. Currently, immunizing against smallpox is considered to involve higher risks that the risk of a smallpox pandemic. The Canadian research, then, is leading to efforts that could prevent such a pandemic. Even if that research had not been published, all it would take is someone looking at the obvious (to a biological researcher), and we could be defenseless. As it is, will governmental action be adequate?
And this leads to the real issue, it’s the same issue I’ve been working on for three decades: how can we , on a large scale, make collective decisions, and communicate and cooperate, with maximized intelligence and consensus? This is nothing other than the problem of government, restated with fewer assumptions than are common.
This example, however, fails to show that publishing caused actual harm. It is not clear to me whether it increased or decreased risk. Steve just looks at one side, the “terrifying” one. Steve’s reporting on this misses that the researchers did not just consult the Canadian government; before the research was published, they reported what they had found to the WHO Advisory Committee on Variola Virus Research.
And that report very directly responds to the hysteria:
18.5.4. Advisory Committee Members noted that by nature scientific technologies are dual-use and can thus be used for both positive and negative ends. This is true with DNA synthesis; it is also true for more basic technologies like fire. However, on balance, the historical record has clearly demonstrated that society gains far more than it loses by harnessing and building on these scientific technologies.
They went on to address specific policy issues. This is with research that is far more accessible for harmful application than LENR research is likely to ever be. But Steve argues that it is possible, and therefore . . . .
Mere possibility of a harmful outcome is not enough for policy creation, rather probability must also be assessed, as well as probabilities of benefit or loss of benefit. I will suggest that Steve’s physics education has not prepared him to make these assessments objectively, and even more, his knowledge of theoretical physics, which appears considerable, has not prepared him to assess the technology of LENR. It could, but it would take far more effort and attention. It’s up to him, the choice of whether or not to attempt that.
So, if there’s a 100-step path to get to a LENR-related nuclear proliferation catastrophe, and someone tells me that it’s OK to take the first 80 steps, because by then “the possibility will become so obviously real” that we (scientists and/or governments) can collectively prevent the last 20 steps from getting disseminated, I find that over-optimistic to the point of delusion.
Notice that “nuclear proliferation catastrophe” is an invented risk, when it comes to LENR. There is no indication from LENR research that it will ever be possible to use LENR as he imagines, even if LENR effects become common and easily accessible. The indications are that this is intrinsically impossible. But, of course, I could be wrong about that, as about anything. Always, the issue is probability.
And then, with contingent probability, the likelihood, to this student of LENR, would be that to convert LENR to an explosive device would require quite as much difficult technology as fission bombs or, more applicable, fusion weapons. Fusion is not difficult to create, but explosive fusion, very, very difficult. I see no reason to expect that it would be easy with LENR, given that LENR is a condensed matter phenomenon, and that the mechanism will fail in a plasma (whereas plasma conditions are necessary for classic fusion, allowing very rapid reaction rates). To understand this, Steve might need to look at other cold fusion theories, the likelihood being that LENR is catalyzed by confinement in specific structures, and it is structure that is absent in plasmas.
(See also: https://politics.theonion.com/smart-qualified-people-behind-the-scenes-keeping-ameri-1819571706 ). You wrote “Truth will out, and that’s good news, not bad.” Do you believe that it’s “good news” that David Evans published several details about how to make smallpox? Do you believe that it’s “good news” that others will undoubtedly follow in his footsteps, and publish even more enabling details in the coming years? Is this a process you would want to speed along and encourage?
Yes, it’s good news if governments respond intelligently. The smallpox risk already exists, and has existed for many years. There are stockpiles of smallpox virus in the labs of two governments, the U.S. and Russia. If not, well, the failure of governments to respond intelligently to hazards is already risking billions of deaths. That’s the problem, not science itself.
Publishing specific enabling details remains unethical, but Evans did not do that for smallpox. It appears that he published specifically to warn governments of the risk, so that countermeasures may be taken.
Third, the example of methamphetamine.
This is utterly fantastic — and naive.
You wrote “To protect against this risk, we must understand cold fusion, or we will be defenseless if it is invented.”
That statement must be understood as “cold fusion applied to explosive devices of very high yield.”
You seem to be saying that if the good guys and bad guys both fully understand LENR, then we’ll be in good shape—in other words, that there exist effective countermeasures or anti-proliferation techniques, and that we will find them and be able to put them into effect when we know what we’re looking for.
Steve mind-reads. Badly. I’ve seen this before. “Seems to be saying” is used to create a straw man argument. I suggest that a more useful way to parse and interpret the language of others is to assume that they are writing sensibly, at least first-pass. Where there is a risk, there are usually countermeasures that can be applied. I would not write “in good shape,” that’s ontologically unsophisticated, showing how Steve thinks. It’s not how I think. I was reading Whorf and writing about semantics over 50 years ago. It is still not a part of an ordinary scientific education. It should be.
This is an assumption, and a dubious one in my opinion.
Indeed, because he made it up.
There’s no Law of Fairness that more knowledge and more technology will help defense as much or more than it helps offense.
Correct, there is no such law, unless we trust that Reality is Justice, which I could say in Arabic, would that make any difference? To back up, life is not “fair.” Nor is it “unfair.” “Fair” is a human response, common with children. “Unfair!!!” I suggest growing up, it is actually much more fun.
I think that the likeliest scenario in this context is that if bad actors get access to the information, then we will be defenseless whether or not we understand the risk.
The basis for this “think”? Shall I put up that image again? How well do we think when we are terrified?
If we take this to its logical conclusions, we are basically screwed, because this will happen with one risk or another, even if LENR is unreal. I suggest, again, “Get over it! We are all going to die, sooner or later.”
And then I suggest “The inevitability of death can lead to a conclusion. a standard for living, which is to live as well as possible, now, and living in fear is unattractive. What is possible as to living well is almost unlimited, compared to what is possible living in fear. When I had children, I was quite aware that to have children was to risk suffering, what if my children got sick and died? As a single person or person without children, I had no such risk, my suffering would be limited to personal pain, which is easily handled, in fact. If I had no money, it mattered little. But with children, everything shifted. I made my choice, to live, setting fear aside, and that choice does not make us stupid. It actually empowers, as any martial artist would know. Ever study martial arts, Steve?
As a nice example here, think about the technology of methamphetamine synthesis and production. If nobody knew chemistry and chemical engineering, no one would be able to produce meth.
Well, not really accurate, but, okay.
In reality, both anti-drug governments and drug producers have encyclopedic knowledge of how to produce meth.
Encyclopedic knowledge is not necessary, just a recipe that can be followed.
Armed with that knowledge, have the governments been able to stop all meth production?
No, of course not. However, meth production is not a terrorist weapon. If it were, much stronger measures could be taken and might be taken. I remember a Scientific American article when I was in my twenties, recommending that laws against drug production and possession be repealed. Governments continued to ignore the assessments of scientists.
No. The raw materials are too ubiquitous, the required infrastructure is too easy to build, and international cooperation and/or border enforcement are too hard. Knowing exactly what the meth producers are doing has not translated into decisive countermeasures.
Meth production is far, far easier than I expect for methods of creating LENR explosives. I expect, in fact, that such methods are not possible, because of the nature of LENR as “condensed matter nuclear science.”
If long-term LENR R&D eventually leads to a nuclear proliferation catastrophe, I think that, like the meth example, there would be no decisive countermeasures.
This is an assessment within an ignorance enforced by the belief that LENR is impossible. Rather, if LENR is possible, what would it be? What does the evidence indicate?
Notice that “catastrophe” here refers only to knowledge of how to do it, but we must add that the method is accessible and does not require special conditions or materials. Right now, d+d fusion can be achieved in a home lab. But that’s not LENR.
Can we control access to deuterium? We can try.
It is already difficult to obtain and additional controls could be placed. But is deuterium necessary? Further, Steve runs a standard trope, very inaccurate, completely ignoring what Muller wrote.
But heavy water can be extracted from ordinary water by relatively low-tech means like evaporation, distillation, electrolysis, or chemistry.
It can, but to do this with adequate efficiency, uses a lot of power, and that power usage could easily be detected.
Take a mere one liter (!!) of heavy water, run the D+D->Helium-4 reaction to completion, and you get more energy release than the Hiroshima bomb.
Highly misleading, even shocking. Two problems: (1) running fusion to completion is extraordinarily difficult, not possible with anything approaching current technology, by any method. (2) LENR probably does not involve d+d fusion. It requires something else. Now it is very possible that methods of generating useful power from LENR will be developed. However, what is needed for a LENR explosive is quite what Muller points out. Really, I suggest that Steve review that book!
Muller points out that gasoline packs more energy per unit mass than TNT, but TNT is usable as an explosive because of the power level attainable, because of the chain reaction possible, as ignition of any of the TNT rapidly leads to conditions that cause the entire mass to convert to hot gases very quickly.
Fission bombs are possible because the fission reaction will still take place even when the material is vaporized at high temperature and pressure. And then fusion bombs, the same, a deuterium-tritium mixture will continue to fuse if the material is a hot, dense plasma.
But LENR is not at all like that. It is more of a catalyzed reaction, requiring a structured catalyst, and there is no evidence showing that it can take place in plasma conditions. The structure is not there. Nor is one reaction triggered by another taking place close to it. The reaction shuts down if the material melts, and probably before that point. Making this into an explosive is simply not a realistic risk.
Steve has not really paid attention to LENR theory, only to a few very primitive theories, mostly rejected.
To produce one or a few liters of heavy water does not require a big factory – more like a garage, AFAICT.
A garage with a lot of power available. It would show up like a sore thumb from a helicopter with IR imaging, this was used to identify and prosecute people growing marijuana in their apartments.
This is obvious: Steve is inventing arguments from ignorance, combined with imagination, in an attempt to prove that his ideas are correct. I suggest he back up and consider a more scientific approach.
To transport one or a few liters does not require a sophisticated smuggling operation, to say the least.
Yes, that’s true, but one will need a lot more than deuterium to make a LENR bomb.
Even if we assume very optimistically that thousands of liters of heavy water would be required to cause a problem, this would still be an incomparably harder-to-control weapon ingredient than the status quo ingredients of enriched uranium or plutonium.
Muller points out that terrorists would focus on more realistic threats.
Think about how drugs are produced in large sophisticated factories in lawless or corrupt areas, and then smuggled around the world by the thousands of tons, despite strenuous enforcement efforts.
Enforcement efforts on drugs are half-hearted compared to what would be possible if a LENR bomb became possible. Drugs are simply not that much of a risk, and generally cause harm to people who voluntarily allow it. Yes, there is collateral damage, and it’s long been known that this is largely the result of attempts to control behavior through law enforcement, which is a piss-poor method, particularly when applied to what is widely perceived as a victimless crime.
So is it possible to “protect against this risk”? Yes! Note that LENR is apparently a ridiculously hard technical problem to crack—based on how little progress has been made in 30 years of work—and the scientific interest and institutional resources devoted to LENR around the world has been on a secular declining trend that seems to be asymptotically approaching zero.
The man has paid no attention to what is actually happening. Most LENR research is probably secret, first of all, until published, but there is funding being allocated, significant funding. He means “practical LENR,” and it is indeed a difficult problem, having to do with the necessary catalytic material. Research into producing that material is far, far, from what it would take to make a bomb. The military is interested in LENR, has long been, but not for bomb-making at all. For portable power. SPAWAR discovered that they could make a few neutrons with LENR. That was not announced until it was cleared for lack of risk. They are obviously being careful!
There is work under way on a hybrid fusion-fission reactor, based on those findings and more. As I’d expect Steve to know, and Muller covers this, what is needed for a fission reactor is not useful for explosions, not in itself, and terrorists can obtain nuclear materials. What the (cold) fusion would provide is a few neutrons, which would then cause the fission of U-238. This cannot sustain a chain reaction, and as soon as the thing gets hot enough, the neutron production would stop and the fission reaction would shut down. This could be used to operate at temperatures, possibly, up to the point at which the necessary catalytic structure will disappear. So this could be usable for power production, and NASA is looking at this for use in space.
(The latest thinking is that LENR takes place in the gamma and delta phases of metal hydrides, and those phases are not possible at high temperatures. I would worry a little about delta phase as having explosive potential, but that material may already have been made at high concentration under high pressure (5 GPa), and no anomalous heat production was reported. Because of the nature of the experiments, low-level anomalous heat would not have been observed, I expect. But it did not explode.
That was not done with deuterium, but with hydrogen, but there are LENR reactions reported with hydrogen. (The “nuclear ash” is not known for that. Storms thinks it would be deuterium, which seems roughly possible with the right catalysis. What is that?)
I think it very, very unlikely (but not “impossible”) that an explosive LENR material will be found. There has now been a lot of research looking at metal hydrides, and LANL apparently tried explosive pressurization of PdD. No effect was observed.
So, suppose we could make delta phase PdD, and for some reason it was stable enough to transport. (My suspicion is that it may not be stable, if it is highly reactive, which it would need to be to be usable as an explosive). Okay, if we know this, and if a serious risk is perceived, then the possession of X amount of that material could be made a serious criminal offense — or even more draconian measures could be taken. How about inspecting every place with deuterium sniffers that would detect deuterium levels above natural? Basically, what I trust is that humanity will find ways to deal with risks, and those ways may not be practical under the risk is high.
If serious scientists and institutions stop trying to figure out LENR, it just won’t get figured out period.
Steve does not know that. There are LENR experiments that I, in my apartment and basement, with materials I already have, could do, and one of these could result in a breakthrough. And that’s happening all over the world. The Russians are particularly active, but so are the Chinese and others.
This “nobody figures out LENR period” option is definitely safe, and probably feasible, at least on the decade timescale and maybe even century timescale.
It is safe only from an imagined risk, and, remember, the risk only exists if LENR is real, and if LENR is real, then practical applications become even more possible and likely than bomb risk, so there is a cost, a huge one. Perhaps global warming, which is already a serious risk for millions of people, and people die for lack of practical power generation, wars are fought over it, etc.
“Safe” is an illusion, especially when based on ignorance.
Sounds pretty good to me! To throw out that option a priori because we’re worried that a bad actor will figure out and militarize LENR on their own, and then the rest of the world will be surprised and “defenseless”, well I think that’s a bizarre thing to be worried about.
But it is not an option. I think that Steve should actually read the WHO report on the horse pox issue.
Bad actors hoping for better weapons would be exceptionally unlikely to do so via blue-sky LENR weaponization research, and exceptionally unlikely to succeed if they did try, for many obvious reasons.
I agree. Weaponization research is likely to fail. However, Steve appears to be assuming that his arguments will be accepted, and governments and corporation and scientists in general interested in LENR research will agree with him and voluntarily decide to cease research, or, even more strongly, to forbid it. Yet what is truly dangerous would not be LENR, but weaponization of LENR, and he seems to be assuming that if LENR is real, that therefore it could be weaponized.
I can, right now, with materials near my desk, make a few neutrons. (Without LENR.) Should those materials be illegal? (An Am-241 button from an ionization smoke detector, and a piece of beryllium metal).
I have almost a kilogram of heavy water, and I have palladium chloride. I could buy some uranium nitrate, it is available, and possibly test some of the claims of the former SPAWAR people. (They used uranium wire, but I would try codeposition). Anyone could do this. Should it be illegal? Or illegal to publish?
So at the end I find that your claim “To protect against this risk, we must understand cold fusion, or we will be defenseless if it is invented” is wrong on both counts—understanding is unlikely to offer much protection,
“Unlikely” is here as an assessment of someone who knows very little about LENR or “cold fusion.” This boils down to “Abd is wrong because I say so.”
and the “nobody figures out LENR period” strategy is in fact a path to highly reliable protection (though nothing is 100% guaranteed in this world).
But that, as well, is not “highly reliable,” and mostly because it just isn’t going to happen. We will figure out LENR, and both US DoE reviews recommended it, and Steve is here way out on a limb, making an argument that nobody with any knowledge is accepting. Further, we need to look at the contingencies.
LENR is not real. Prohibiting LENR research will not allow us to find out, so the question will remain open and more time will be wasted, so the “embargo” would have a cost (to the scientific enterprise). NO DANGER. COST of prohibition.
LENR is real. If so, practical power application is quite possible, even if difficult. Suppressing the research, then, could have a very high practical cost. Enormously high. BENEFIT.
• LENR cannot be weaponized. NO DANGER, cost to prohibition.
• LENR can be weaponized.
• It’s difficult, not accessible to other than governments. NO DANGER (at least to ordinary thinking, governments are also dangerous).
• It’s easy.
• Countermeasures are possible. REDUCED DANGER.
• Countermeasures are not possible. DANGER.
And all this assumes a world where we tolerate that some people are highly motivated to inflict massive harm, even at the cost of their own lives. We fail to address the basic problems and try to put ineffective band-aids on them. It is possible that solutions to the problem would be relatively easy, but we put almost no effort into it.
Steve, first of all, appears to believe that (1) LENR is impossible, therefore the entire exercise is a waste, and is only attempting to create morality issues for others, not for himself, which is the opposite of sanity. and (2) if it is possible, weaponization is likely, whereas, in fact, if the scientific issues are not resolved, is a judgment impossible to make from knowledge, instead of fear.
One more thing: You say “Science intrinsically creates the risk of finding possibly harmful knowledge. In any field … What do you think is completely safe?” I don’t expect people to stop doing anything that isn’t 100% infinitely safe, because nothing is, but I do expect people to make good ethical decisions given available information in an uncertain world.
“Expecting people to make good ethical decisions” is also foolish. People don’t, often. Ethics are personal, often (though there is collective ethics and there are ethicists). Steve apparently wants people to make decisions that fit his personal ethics, but seems to be clueless about how to actually create this outcome. Not uncommon, to be sure, he was trained in physics, not political science or psychology or other relevant fields.
For example, laser isotope separation research might well eventually catastrophically undermine nuclear non-proliferation efforts, and therefore I think people shouldn’t do such research. (At least in the public domain, and perhaps not even in secret.) I think the same about LENR for the same reason. I think the same about research that reduces the competence barrier to making smallpox. Your “completely safe” criterion is an absurd straw-man, because a “completely safe” criterion cannot distinguish 10% risks from 1% risks from 1-in-a-googol risks, and cannot distinguish the obvious risks of laser isotope separation research from the infinitesimal risks of honeybee behavior research.
Steve wants the world to respect and follow his imaginations. (Does he? Why is he taking the time to write about them?) The example he has chosen (the horsepox research) has, if anything, made the world safer, not more risky. “Complete safety” would be a straw man argument if it were made as an argument. It was a question, that would then rationally lead to an assessment of probabilities, not a black and white “completely safe”/”unsafe” judgment. Probabilities and benefits must be balanced in the consideration!
“Non-proliferation efforts” are temporary and not ultimate solutions, which is generally true for all attempts to prohibit dangerous activities. “Dangerous” is, in the end, a political judgment, and do we trust the politicians?
I advocate for good, thoughtful risk-benefit analyses in all cases, and I have argued previously that such an analysis would find LENR research unethical, especially at the current very early stage of understanding and development.
And this is obviously an argument from ignorance. “We don’t understand it, therefore this is too dangerous to study.” Hence the title I gave the blog post, “Ignorance is bliss.” If we are ignorant and refuse to allow others to become knowledgeable, we must be assuming that ignorance is superior to knowledge. As the WHO pointed out, all knowledge carries with it the potential for abuse. That could include honeybee behavior. It just takes some imagination. How about weaponization of bees to carry an infectious agent, perhaps one that multiplies and reproduces itself from bee to bee? There is research into fungi that take over and dominate ants to reproduce themselves and infect other ants.
It’s simply unlikely, that’s all, and does not even occur to someone with poor imagination. Being a physicist, “nuclear” immediately creates an image of high danger, but, in fact, as Muller points out, the risk is not so high, and not just from the difficulty.
Believing that a field is bogus, a mistake, is not a qualification for assessing the risk involved if it is real.
It’s a perfectly good reason to pay little attention. If the infamous pink unicorn is claimed to be in a garage across town, I’m unlikely to go look. But if there is a credible report that might indicate reality, I’m not going to rush to think of how dangerous this knowledge might be! Maybe there is a reason why pink unicorns went extinct (assuming they ever existed). Maybe they were Truly Dangerous, so we hunted them down and killed them all, and then almost completely forgot about them. OMG! If anyone reports a pink unicorn, arrest them! (And send the military to completely isolate that garage.)
A serious risk-benefit analysis for LENR, as to “proliferation risk,” has probably already been done, by the military. No known military studies have claimed risk, and decisions made indicate “no significant risk.” (The risk found for this technology is that others develop it and we don’t, thus creating major harm to the U.S. economy, it’s called a “disruptive technology,” from that, not from “proliferation risk.”)
Serious effort can be put in, again, once reality has been established, because effectively legislating “no research” is way premature if the field is not clearly established. It would be legislating ignorance, and while there have been efforts like that (say, with stem cell research), they are generally agreed by scientists to be a Bad Idea, causing harm in terms of lost benefits. Still, ways were found to work around what was prohibited, so the prohibition might have created some benefit as well.
The risky research would be weaponization, which is very different from attempting to create a reliable effect at relatively low power. The argument here has been that low power could be scaled up to high power, and not just high power, but very high power density, because that is what weaponization requires. Ordinary scale-up by simply making devices bigger will not push it toward an explosion. Creating small-scale explosions could be weaponization research (because one could then conceivable make them bigger). Can we create active material and cause it to chain-react at high rate, so that it generates massive energy in microseconds? If we can do this with a few grams, then doing it with kilograms or thousands of kilograms, BANG!
This is very, very unlikely, not even conceivable from present knowledge of LENR. It’s enough of a possibility that I suggest that working with gamma and delta phase palladium deuteride be done with caution, because there is some risk. If one finds that this is a serious explosive material, publishing that would then raise the ethical issues. I suggest caution because it is “possible,” with a probability high enough to imply reasonable caution, not because it is likely or even moderately prossible. It is probably impossible, from what we know about LENR.
At this point, gram-scale gamma and delta phase PdD (or NiH, perhaps) would be made in a diamond anvil press at 5 GPa, which is not easily accessible! However, it is possible to accumulate those “super-abundant vacancy” phases, they are stable if deloaded, and they would certainly not be dangerous unless loaded with deuterium (or maybe hydrogen). What happens if they are loaded? If they vaporize, yes, this could create ethical issues. If they merely become hot, no. If they melt, no. What we know is that small regions in LENR-active material may get hot enough to melt the material, locally. All signs are that this shuts down the reaction. It does not continue in that location. What was called an “explosion” by some, the 1984 meldown, was, at most, a meltdown that destroyed the apparatus and probably caused a small chemical explosion. Not a “nuclear explosion,” like a fission or fusion bomb. And nobody has replicated that event. People talk about it sometimes and, in fact, a paper on it was presented at ICCF-21. The conclusion was that it was not a nuclear explosion, and it’s not clear what did actually happen.
If Steve wants to influence real decisions, he’ll need to learn much more about LENR than he knows already. I don’t expect this, because he believes it’s impossible. I would simply encourage him to put a little time into considering the impossibility arguments. They are quite weak, as a matter of general principles, not strong enough to contradict clear and confirmed experimental evidence, which exists.
The matter is far simpler than he thinks. Bottom line, how could we know that an “unknown nuclear reaction” is “impossible”? Wouldn’t that require omniscience?
7 thoughts on “CFC Comment”
Dear Abd, thanks for your thoughtful reply.
I offer three things to ponder.
First, Nick Bostrom’s recent “Vulnerable World” paper https://nickbostrom.com/papers/vulnerable.pdf is on almost this exact topic and goes through some relevant hypotheticals and considerations much better than I can here.
Second, the recent David Evans affair: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/10/horsepox-smallpox-virus-science-ethics-debate/572200/ Pretty much everyone accepts that it is possible to create smallpox in a lab, and that this will become progressively easier in the near-future, and that therefore any enabling information that lowers the competence barrier to creating smallpox must not be published. But David Evans went ahead and “spelled out several details of how to do so”, and the journal PLOS ONE went ahead and published his article. Many people in the government and military of his own country are aware of the smallpox issue, but didn’t stop him. (He talked to some Canadian government bureaucrats, but apparently the people he talked to were the wrong people and they didn’t understand the implications of what he was doing.) So, based on this example, how is our collective ability to suppress dangerous scientific information? It is woefully inadequate even in the best of circumstances (blindingly obvious and widely-acknowledged risks, above-board research in a well-governed country). So, if there’s a 100-step path to get to a LENR-related nuclear proliferation catastrophe, and someone tells me that it’s OK to take the first 80 steps, because by then “the possibility will become so obviously real” that we (scientists and/or governments) can collectively prevent the last 20 steps from getting disseminated, I find that over-optimistic to the point of delusion. (See also: https://politics.theonion.com/smart-qualified-people-behind-the-scenes-keeping-ameri-1819571706 ). You wrote “Truth will out, and that’s good news, not bad.” Do you believe that it’s “good news” that David Evans published several details about how to make smallpox? Do you believe that it’s “good news” that others will undoubtedly follow in his footsteps, and publish even more enabling details in the coming years? Is this a process you would want to speed along and encourage?
Third, the example of methamphetamine. You wrote “To protect against this risk, we must understand cold fusion, or we will be defenseless if it is invented.” You seem to be saying that if the good guys and bad guys both fully understand LENR, then we’ll be in good shape—in other words, that there exist effective countermeasures or anti-proliferation techniques, and that we will find them and be able to put them into effect when we know what we’re looking for. This is an assumption, and a dubious one in my opinion. There’s no Law of Fairness that more knowledge and more technology will help defense as much or more than it helps offense. I think that the likeliest scenario in this context is that if bad actors get access to the information, then we will be defenseless whether or not we understand the risk. As a nice example here, think about the technology of methamphetamine synthesis and production. If nobody knew chemistry and chemical engineering, no one would be able to produce meth. In reality, both anti-drug governments and drug producers have encyclopedic knowledge of how to produce meth. Armed with that knowledge, have the governments been able to stop all meth production? No. The raw materials are too ubiquitous, the required infrastructure is too easy to build, and international cooperation and/or border enforcement are too hard. Knowing exactly what the meth producers are doing has not translated into decisive countermeasures.
If long-term LENR R&D eventually leads to a nuclear proliferation catastrophe, I think that, like the meth example, there would be no decisive countermeasures. Can we control access to deuterium? We can try. But heavy water can be extracted from ordinary water by relatively low-tech means like evaporation, distillation, electrolysis, or chemistry. Take a mere one liter (!!) of heavy water, run the D+D->Helium-4 reaction to completion, and you get more energy release than the Hiroshima bomb. To produce one or a few liters of heavy water does not require a big factory – more like a garage, AFAICT. To transport one or a few liters does not require a sophisticated smuggling operation, to say the least. Even if we assume very optimistically that thousands of liters of heavy water would be required to cause a problem, this would still be an incomparably harder-to-control weapon ingredient than the status quo ingredients of enriched uranium or plutonium. Think about how drugs are produced in large sophisticated factories in lawless or corrupt areas, and then smuggled around the world by the thousands of tons, despite strenuous enforcement efforts.
So is it possible to “protect against this risk”? Yes! Note that LENR is apparently a ridiculously hard technical problem to crack—based on how little progress has been made in 30 years of work—and the scientific interest and institutional resources devoted to LENR around the world has been on a secular declining trend that seems to be asymptotically approaching zero. If serious scientists and institutions stop trying to figure out LENR, it just won’t get figured out period. This “nobody figures out LENR period” option is definitely safe, and probably feasible, at least on the decade timescale and maybe even century timescale. Sounds pretty good to me! To throw out that option a priori because we’re worried that a bad actor will figure out and militarize LENR on their own, and then the rest of the world will be surprised and “defenseless”, well I think that’s a bizarre thing to be worried about. Bad actors hoping for better weapons would be exceptionally unlikely to do so via blue-sky LENR weaponization research, and exceptionally unlikely to succeed if they did try, for many obvious reasons. So at the end I find that your claim “To protect against this risk, we must understand cold fusion, or we will be defenseless if it is invented” is wrong on both counts—understanding is unlikely to offer much protection, and the “nobody figures out LENR period” strategy is in fact a path to highly reliable protection (though nothing is 100% guaranteed in this world).
One more thing: You say “Science intrinsically creates the risk of finding possibly harmful knowledge. In any field … What do you think is completely safe?” I don’t expect people to stop doing anything that isn’t 100% infinitely safe, because nothing is, but I do expect people to make good ethical decisions given available information in an uncertain world. For example, laser isotope separation research might well eventually catastrophically undermine nuclear non-proliferation efforts, and therefore I think people shouldn’t do such research. (At least in the public domain, and perhaps not even in secret.) I think the same about LENR for the same reason. I think the same about research that reduces the competence barrier to making smallpox. Your “completely safe” criterion is an absurd straw-man, because a “completely safe” criterion cannot distinguish 10% risks from 1% risks from 1-in-a-googol risks, and cannot distinguish the obvious risks of laser isotope separation research from the infinitesimal risks of honeybee behavior research. I advocate for good, thoughtful risk-benefit analyses in all cases, and I have argued previously that such an analysis would find LENR research unethical, especially at the current very early stage of understanding and development.
Steve – Nick Bostrom’s paper effectively debates the necessity of stopping any research that might possibly be dangerous and installing a 1984-type totalitarian government in order to do so. As it happens, the technology for that is already here – see Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon etc. for such built-in spies in the house and being carried by a lot of people. Looks to me that the cure is worse than the disease, here. Of course, if we have a cadre of people watching what everyone else does, there’s the perennial question of who watches the watchers. Alternatively, who programs the AI that’s doing the job….
He also puts forward the idea of a nuclear bomb being possibly made from a battery, some metal and some glass, and how you’d stop people using that. Get rid of all the glass (difficult when the raw materials are easily available), get rid of all the batteries (also difficult when you can make a battery from a couple of coins in a lemon or potato), and get rid of the metal – also pretty difficult, if you want to maintain any level of civilisation (and don’t forget that plastics need to be banned so they don’t clog the oceans). Back to the Stone Age.
Basically, if such a bomb was actually possible, there is no way to stop it. There’ll be some maniac somewhere who will make one. However, the likelihood of that being possible, based on what we know of nuclear physics so far, is vanishingly small. As it happens, the probability of being able to make a bomb using LENR techniques is also vanishingly small. So far, the distinguishing feature of LENR is that it doesn’t produce nuclear radiation to any large extent, so much so that most mainstream scientists consider it to not be nuclear at all and that the heat produced is from *something else* (and most likely to be experimental error anyway).
Bostrom looks at things as being black, white or shades of grey. This is a fallacy. An invention can be wonderful (very white) when used in one way and terrible (very black) when used in another way. The same technology that gives you genetic modifications to people who would otherwise be sick or dead, and gives new food crops that have improved capabilities as regards surviving drought, containing extra vitamins, pest-resistance, or other obvious gains, can also give us a new pandemic. It also gives us the possibility of stopping that pandemic, by the way, in that samples may be analysed and cures found. Smallpox hasn’t actually gone away, either. There are stocks of it in various research laboratories, as there are of anthrax and quite likely any other diseases we think have gone away. It only takes one person to get access by some means and spread them around. How do you stop that?
The risks of nuclear proliferation for LENR are vanishingly small, as I’ve said, based on what we know so far. The gains of having cheap power will be very great for us in the West, and for people in the Third World will be literally life-saving. For people in the Philippines, where paraffin for cooking and lighting costs around 1/3 of the income, and causes respiratory problems and occasional (fatal) fires, cheap energy for lighting and cooking will make a huge difference both to health and prosperity. For people in India using dung to fuel their cooking-fires, again cheap energy will be literally a life-saver. Solar power and wind-power are not cheap relative to the alternatives, and of course aren’t always available when they are needed – may be an advance of what they have, but not a good solution and in order to have a Western-type power use you’ll need to cover a lot of the country (around 2/3 of it, as it happens) which then impacts food production.
We’re thus in the business of trying to rank the risks and the gains in order to attempt to make the best decision as to what to research. The risk of LENR is very low, the gains are very high, and IMHO it would actually be unethical to stop such research. The gains from genetic research are also very high, and the risks of a problem are pretty high too. There, better to keep research in accredited institutions and have open discussions about the risks too. Selling CRISPR kits over the net is maybe not the best policy here. The thing about biological constructs is that they are likely to be self-replicating, and the barriers to escape tend to be somewhat permeable.
Some people seem to think that we can assign a number to the risks and rewards. Thus a 1% risk, a 10% risk, etc.. All we can really do is assign a rough idea of the likelihood of a bad outcome – Bayesian analysis may seem pretty precise and impressive, but in truth we don’t know what we don’t know, and it’s what we think we know but actually don’t know that is the thing that’s going to bite us. We can only get a better idea of the actual risks once we’ve done something enough times to be statistically valid. When we haven’t done something, and haven’t seen any bad results, no risk can logically be assigned. It’s a guess, and better to call it that.
I expect I could think of a way to produce enriched Uranium in the back shed, or to produce Deuterium from water. Cheap vacuum pumps are available, after all. There are algae that will collect Uranium from seawater, and Thorium is all over the place if we can think of a cheap way to concentrate it. The question that springs to mind here is why the algae gained the capability of collecting Uranium – turns out it can be useful to keep the plant that bit warmer in an Ice Age, and that was found out when the French found less U-235 than expected in a delivery of Uranium ore and thought someone had stolen it. Sorry, I don’t have a link for that, but it was news a decade or so ago. Meantime, the Iranians are likely trying to find ways to make nukes, and I doubt if they care whether or not it’s dirty. If we get working LENR, and it’s cheaper than oil, they won’t be able to afford the bomb research. Wars are fought for various reasons, but resources remain the major cause, and cheap energy enables recycling of resources and thus freedom from limited resources. Cheap energy seems to be a very valuable thing to have, and reduces other risks. Well-fed rich people in general don’t make war.
From reading your blog, it seems that you think that LENR is impossible anyway. As such, no risk of producing a bomb, no risk of someone finding something amazingly good either, and the only reason to stop any research on it would be to stop people wasting time and money. That was indeed Parks’ justification for stomping on it.
For me, I figure the gains to everyone in the world of having a cheap, safe, and reliable source of energy will be massive. The risks of LENR producing bomb-making materiel seem very small, simply from the energy-density argument and that by definition it requires a crystal lattice of some form. The worst that can happen is a melt-down. May ruin someone’s day, but not a lot more than that. I’d thus support anyone trying to find a way to make it work.
replied with Update.
Steve gets The Treatment – a comprehensive reply to his long comment that brings up many extra things to think about…. Abd also brought up the LHC Black-hole production possibility, and of course that’s not the only possible disaster that could result from such high-energy physics, since we don’t actually know what is possible anyway. With the stated object of trying to achieve conditions close to the hypothetical Big Bang, where according to current theory the current rules we know didn’t apply, predicting what could happen is necessarily impossible. Any dangers are un-knowable until you hit them.
I’ll hit on a couple of quotes from Abd here.
“There is a cost to the protection, loss of privacy. Something has to give. A government strong enough to prevent such events is also very dangerous, so the real problem (on which I have spent as much time as cold fusion) is governance, or, stated with maximum generality, how we can, as humanity, communicate, cooperate, and coordinate, on a large scale. It’s coming, it is — I hope — inevitable, but the question is whether or not we will first destroy ourselves or, in effect, the planet.”
Yep, this is a bigger problem than people generally recognise. If you go look at what data Facebook or Google has on people already, and consider what power that information would give a government or other entity that wanted to control people (apart from simply sending them adverts that they have a good chance of responding to), then you can see that the real-life version of the dystopian “1984” is not that hard to achieve today. In fact worse than that, since being able to see whatever people are accessing and also to listen in to conversations (Alexa and the other “helpers”) make such spying far more invasive and, with AI analysis of all the data, would enable wrong-think to be immediately identified and punished.
As such, no research not government-sponsored would be allowed, and our progress (scientifically and culturally) would come to an abrupt stop.
“Perhaps you might consider another career, because science intrinsically creates the risk of finding possibly harmful knowledge. In any field, I will claim. What do you think is completely safe?”
All research (and most of art) is in search of finding out the unknown and the limits. You can only tell there’s a limit when you hit it, after all. In science, anything that is a benefit also has a possible downside. Fire keeps us warm but can burn us. The wheel can transport food or it can transport soldiers. Nuclear power can give us much cheaper electricity but can destroy cities on a scale previously impossible. Space flight can take us to other planets and protect us from asteroid strikes, or can put kinetic weapons in orbit ready to hit any place on Earth with a few minutes of notice if that. The technology of recycling energy that I’m working on will give us lower-cost energy than nuclear power, but also enables AI drones to stay aloft without fuel or recharge needed and thus would make war and assassinations much easier. Another project to reduce the effects of gravity and inertia could, if it actually works, enable both cheap transport and interstellar flights, but also would get those soldiers to their destinations far quicker and at far less cost. Everything we create is a two-edged sword, and can be used for good or ill. I don’t see any way around that, unless you euthanise everyone who shows any trace of curiosity about why things work the way they do and how things can be done differently (and then there’s the question of who makes those decisions and is thus also guilty of wanting to change what happens).
In the same way as Hillary climbed Mount Everest because it was there to climb, we humans will explore anomalies and try to extend knowledge because we know we don’t know everything yet. It’s not possible to stop people trying things, and generally people who make silly choices get a Darwin award. Personally I think the risks of religious wars are far higher than that of some scientific experiment destroying humanity. The risks of LENR being able to produce Weapons of Mass Destruction seem minute compared to that (and don’t forget that some ready-made nuclear weapons have disappeared in the past, and they wouldn’t need new science to produce an atrocity somewhere). LENR has been termed “the new fire” and this is a pretty good analogy – again it could improve our lives tremendously or can burn us, depending on how it’s used. However, at the moment it looks like the benefits are as great as fire and the downsides are far less.
On balance, LENR looks to be the most-benign energy source that has so far been produced. We lack the theory as to why it happens, but then we also lacked the theory for superconductivity for around 30 years after it was absolutely proven to exist. Being theoretically impossible doesn’t stop things from being real, but it does impede experimental progress. Sometimes we get the theory first, sometimes the experimental evidence first. Theory is only the best we know so far, and in many cases we know that the theory is not exact and we use different equations in different ranges because they are approximations. Going through the LENR experiments, and especially Miles’ heat-Helium correlation, should convince anyone that LENR is a nuclear reaction that produces heat with very little of the expected nuclear radiation. The fact that it exists doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be economical to actually produce heat this way on a commercial basis, but that possibility certainly exists. If it turns out to be possible, it would be crazy to ignore it.
Ah, Simon, it makes me happy to know that if I die, which is a real possibility not far off (but also probably not imminent), someone else can think as I do.
If you ever decide to stop beating your head against the 2LOT, let me know and I’ll give you advanced privileges here. You could actually make a difference, and confronting the impossible is a challenge, with cold fusion as well as the 2LOT. The Second Law is statistical, violated only with individual instances, but not with averages over a large number of interactions. Now, it is equally likely for Red to come up with roulette as Black, and the house edge is a small percentage. So if I can create a local exception, I could get rich! (besides violating normal physics). I actually did a demonstration of what this could look like with my daughter, and coin tosses, only Reality has an incredible sense of humor.
Meanwhile, I stumbled across this web page. Bizarre Particles Keep Flying Out of Antarctica’s Ice, and They Might Shatter Modern Physics
That is an ideal. It sounds good. Is it a practical reality? For some physicists, a few. Not for most, apparently.
Abd – I’m glad your demise is not obviously imminent, but I’m also aware of mortality and a limited (and undefined) time left.
The 2LoT stuff is actually a problem in technology, and it’s turned out that a friend has a technology that might make it possible whereas the technology I currently have access to is not sufficient. Maybe some data on that in a few more months. The difficulty is not in violating 2LoT, but in making the power output actually usable rather than a few microwatts (or in some cases picowatts).
Reality may be somewhat different than we’d thought. There’s a Feynman lecture than, in passing, notes that momentum is not conserved in the interaction of two electrons passing each other orthogonally. He didn’t specify a way in which that snippet of information could be utilised, but an interesting point is that the momentum is “carried away” in the EM field. Problem is, you can’t measure the difference between such a momentum-carrying EM field and one that isn’t carrying momentum. If you can’t measure it, is it real? If momentum is not conserved, then neither is energy. I’m running some tests on this…. Looks lower-hanging fruit than 2LoT since it’s stuff I can actually make with the tools I have, so 2LoT will need to wait a bit and we’ll see whether I need to redesign in a few months anyway.
Language problems… heat is actually a vector quantity, but the momentum vectors are random and cancel out and so it is regarded as a scalar. Maybe that’s part of the problem I’ve found it difficult to explain the underlying principles to other people. May be worth reading https://revolution-green.com/free-energy-by-simon-derricutt/#comment-4221783695 where it may become clearer. Lots of “may” there. There’s a cross-reference there to a currently-accepted mainstream science use of Graphene to convert Brownian motion to output power. Yep, it’s a ratchet that actually works. However, no mention that this violates 2LoT – even with Graphene that can’t be stated.
A big problem is that if you believe something is impossible then normally you won’t attempt it, and if you do then you’ll probably not do it in the right way anyway. We know the rules, but can we be totally certain that there are no exceptional circumstances where they don’t apply? The EMDrive is obviously impossible, since it violates CoM, yet experimental evidence points to it working. Going back to Newton’s derivation of CoM in the first place, I can see a loophole where, because of the limited speed of light, the action is not necessarily equal and opposite to the reaction, and this was also noted by Feynman. I can calculate the size of this inequality in various situations, too, using textbook physics. The EMDrive is thus not really impossible, after all, but a better design should be able to produce a much larger (and thus more useful) inequality of action and reaction. Woodward’s Mach-effect drive has experimental evidence, too. We believe it’s impossible because momentum is always conserved. Logically, that belief is misguided.
Back to LENR, we have experimental evidence that it actually works. Therefore the theory that says it can’t work must be wrong. In the same way as the stuff I’m working on is because I’ve seen evidence that seems incontrovertible (though small), it’s going to take effort to find out how to make it work better and a suspension of belief in “the rules”, and of course a suspension of disbelief in the experimental evidence. I haven’t stopped trying to think of a way to get LENR working better, just haven’t anything to add yet. There may be something in Mills’ 3.5keV photons that is relevant, even though Mills would deny any connection with LENR. Possibly there’s something in shrunken Hydrogen, though if so it’s almost-certain that this would be a higher energy state and not below-ground. Electron orbitals seem to really be resonances, though again that begs the question of “resonances in what, exactly?”. Smaller multilobed resonances would naturally have a higher energy than ground-state. Maybe that ~3.5keV higher?
These various “impossible” things need some solid experimental evidence of higher magnitudes of results before mainstream science will accept them as real. For pretty good reasons science won’t relinquish one well-proven theory or truth until the new one is beyond contention. I’m not complaining – that’s just the way the world works and it’s up to someone with a new paradigm to convince the rest of the world by doing it.
Incidentally, for some reason your link to “bizarre particles” doesn’t work. I found the article anyway, and can’t see the difference in the link. Odd….
Quick response on the bad link. The problem was that the link “looked good,” but it was missing an “l” in “html” at the end, caused by an incomplete selection when copying. Easy to overlook because many pages use “htm” instead of “html”. Fixed. Thanks.