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.