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Wikiversity/Cold fusion/Controversy

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Is Cold fusion dead?

The following were arguments presented by a Wikipedia editor, who is credited in the edit summary. He will be invited to participate here, to review this material. Let's look at what he asserted. For background, he previously asserted that cold fusion was considered dead, i.e., that there was no point in researching it or even following the field, and there is no doubt that this is true. It was so considered. The question is whether or not that is still true today.

All unsigned material here is by the original author credited. His original signatures have been redacted because this is not about him. However, all new comments added on this page should be signed, and indented sufficiently, to distinguish them from the original comments. --Abd 23:44, 23 September 2010 (UTC)

is the controversy really over? sources[edit]

(original context)

[1] It explains how Lewis and Koonin used humour on their presentation to sway the audience on their side and accuse P. and F. of breaking scientific rules (see start of page 173, and pages 170-174). This doesn't change the fact that the audience was swayed, that's it, that the controversy is over and that cold fusion now stands as pathological science. See:

"On the one hand, many experts say that cold fusion is dead, but on the other hand we can always find scientists who will disagree. Latour has left us with the knotty problem of figuring out how many dissenting experts it takes to keep a controversy alive." Undead Science, pag 11 [2]

I think this is enough material to write up something on the article. --[signature redacted.]

There is a jump from the fact that the audience in 1989 was swayed, and the accepted fact that cold fusion was declared dead, to a claim that it is still dead. I.e., that it "now stands" as "pathological science." Simon is noting the problem, at a time when it was still true that "most scientists" believed that cold fusion was, indeed, pathological science, this was 2002. Simon asks the question, about "How many dissenting experts it takes to keep a controversy alive." The editor here interprets that as a claim that the controversy is dead. I have Simon, and read the whole book. This editor reads a few excerpts from the book and imagines that he's going to get the message. Simon is one of the major sources that establishes that the rejection of cold fusion was political, not "scientific," that the norms of science were bypassed. Yes. It was rejected. Yes, it was considered pathological, and, in fact, anyone who did research in the field, if they didn't have tenure, was in big trouble. The supply of graduate students was cut off, the lifeblood of exact replication work, which almost totally disappeared in favor of new research, because there isn't any glory or money in exact replications.
This passage says nothing about the status today. I've only seen signs of the shift beginning with the 2004 U.S. DoE review, which, indeed, tells us how many experts are on each side, from a sample of eighteen.--Abd 02:07, 24 September 2010 (UTC)

DOE 2004 says nothing about the field being accepted or about any controversys existing or not. Use sources that actually deal with the topic:

That's correct. What it does do is show the balance of opinion of a panel of experts, which is blatantly contradictory to any claim that "most experts believe that cold fusion is pathological science." A panel of experts is not the same as "general scientific opinion," because they are presented with evidence to review. In fact, a few of the experts, we can read their opinions, didn't bother reviewing the evidence, their minds were already made up. They were convinced that it was all a big mistake, because it must be a mistake. Doesn't theory say that "cold fusion" is impossible? In fact, what theory said, so to speak, was that deuterium-deuterium fusion, two particles, was probably impossible. So, what if what was happening was not d-d fusion? How could we say that something we don't even know what it is, is impossible? But that's the way they were. The balance, even given this strong initial bias on the part of a few: one-half the reviewers thought that the crucial excess heat evidence was "conclusive." What did the other half think? "Bogus?" Probably not! These are scientists, and they would presumably realize that evidence might be good, but not yet "conclusive." So some of these, at least, must not think it's bogus, they simply need to see more to consider it conclusive. That indicates a majority considering research in the field legitimate. And, in fact, the conclusion of the report was unanimous: more research was recommended. This is utterly incompatible with a view that this is pathological science. This is in 2004. They recommended research and publication in major journals. Did that happen? It certainly did! --Abd 02:07, 24 September 2010 (UTC)
  • "Seventeen years after the announcement [of cold fusion] the scientific community does not acknowledge this field as a genuine scientific research theme." Biberian 2007
That was a generalization by Biberian, in 2007. I can find something similar from 2009, the very fact of publication in the Journal of Scientific Exploration shows that this journal considered this a "neglected field." However, that is very different from a scientific judgment that a field is "pathological." "The scientific community" refers to the overall community, which would include decision-makers at universities, etc. But scientific consensus in a field is not dependent upon the general opinion of scientists. It depends on experts chosen to review papers submitted for publication at peer-reviewed journals. When these experts start accepting papers, making sure that they fairly present the research and that they fairly present the state of the field, then we know that expert opinion accepts the field as legitimate. Even if everyone else thinks it's totally bogus. So, reading in that light, we can understand the claims that the editor makes below. --Abd 02:08, 24 September 2010 (UTC)
  • "Most chemists would rather forget all about cold fusion. (...), only a small core of researchers has kept the idea from fading away entirely. (...) Acceptance by the scientific community is still the main target for cold fusion advocates [success in publishing in peer reviewed journals seems imminent, but not in replication or appearing at major conferences] (...) But will the flare-up of cold fusion excitement last?" Van Noorden 2007
This was a shallow review, not in any way comparable to a peer-reviewed secondary source. By that time, "success" wasn't merely imminent, work was being published, and had, always continued to be published. However, the numbers of papers had fallen to a nadir sometime around 2004-2005. Overall, it might be noted, substantially more papers have been published under peer review that were considered by the skeptical electrochemist Dieter Britz as "positive" than he considered "negative."
In fact, once the science in a field settles, we will see that it was all -- or almost all -- positive as to what is ultimately found to be happening, the underlying explanations. (This work has already been done, it is now known why most of the early replication efforts didn't find any heat, nor did they find nuclear products. If they had found heat, they would have found nuclear products! Basically, they failed to set up the necessary initial conditions, which were obscure to everyone. The author here was incorrect about replication, hoiwever. There was plenty of replication. When the 1989 DoE conference was preparing its report, Miles had previously told them that he'd come up negative. However, it took months for successful replicators to start to see results. Miles then got positive results, later published. He phoned them. They did not return the call. In all, there are 153 peer reviewed papers published, as of a year or so ago, confirming excess heat in the palladium deuteride system. What is largely missing is something we can certainly wish for: exact replication. And until there is again a supply of graduate students, assured that their work won't be wasted by rejection, we won't see much exact replication. It's a lot of work for no glory. I'm approaching this differently, I'm designing replication kits based on a particular SPAWAR experiment, but I am also varying this in small ways, to lower costs and hopefully improve efficiency. However, if I'm successful, researchers will be able to run a SPAWAR neutron replication for something like $100 if they buy the kit from me, less if they have all the materials lying about. If they use my kit, it will be an exact replication, down to batches of materials, etc. Compare this to the $8,000 I was told I should be prepared to spend when I started looking into this. --Abd 23:44, 23 September 2010 (UTC)
  • "Nonetheless, a network of dedicated cold-fusionists still toils away in a vineyard that looks pretty barren to almost everyone else" Wired March 2009 [3]
  • "Nobody [proved it correct]. The laws of physics left cold fusion dead in the water. Nearly. A hardy band of believers refuses to let the dream die and, two decades on, continues to work on the phenomenon, now renamed as low-energy nuclear reactions." The Guardian, March 2009 [4]
The Guardian was writing about the SPAWAR neutron results. They neglected to notice that those results had been published in Naturwissenschaften, they were just writing old news, based probably on their archives. The reviewers at Naturwissenschaften aren't a "hardy band of believers," they are scientists, experts in the involved fields, supervised by editors who have the reputation of a journal that's been publishing for a hundred years at stake. This is the journal that published Einstein. It is now published by Springer-Verlag, which is even older and has even more at stake. The "hardy band of skeptics" at Wikipedia's cold fusion article haven't been reading the literature, they haven't noticed that there are skeptical papers being submitted that are being rejected, even though one of their number has told them about it.
Sure, there was a "hardy band of believers," because these people had seen something with their own eyes, in their own labs or in the labs of others, and they knew that it had been rejected without sound explanation. Often this has been compared with polywater or N-rays. Yet with N-rays, the explanation for the reports was clearly demonstrated, the idea that N-rays were based on real observation was killed, it was truly dead. With polywater, there was a lot of excitement until a scientist demonstrated the real origin of the unusual spectra that had been seen. So, what was the real explanation for Fleischmann's excess heat? Was a peer-reviewed paper ever published that demonstrated the error? What was the real explanation for Mile's finding that excess heat was correlated with helium at, within an order of magnitude -- which is astonishing if it's not fusion -- of the value expected for deuterium fusion? None of this ever appeared in the literature in any way showing that it was established. --Abd 02:07, 24 September 2010 (UTC)
  • "So far it hasn't been replicated to satisfy either the scientific community or the Department of Energy, leaving this type of fusion's future out in the cold for now." Scientific American, March 2009 [5]
This is the kind of rejection that cold fusion may continue to receive for a while. It is not coming from experts. That wasn't a peer-reviewed publication. --Abd 23:44, 23 September 2010 (UTC)
  • "Attempts to replicate their experiments failed, but a number of researchers insist that cold fusion is possible. (...) The American Chemical Society has organised sessions surrounding the research at its meetings before, suggesting that the field would otherwise have no suitable forum for debate. (...) In a bid to avoid the negative connotations of a largely discredited approach [researchers now use the term LENR" BBC, March 2009 [6]
This is the shallow reporting on the SPAWAR results, we saw in the media, where they repeat what they find in their archives, it requires no money for new investigative reporting, and it speculates about "no suitable forum for debate." What happened in 2009 when a major news organization decided to investigate? Why isn't this editor noticing that? --Abd 02:07, 24 September 2010 (UTC)
  • "But other scientists could not reproduce their results, and the whole field of research declined. A stalwart cadre of scientists persisted, however (...)'" American Chemical Society, March 2009 [7]
That's right. It's true that "other scientists could not reproduce their results," but that was only transiently true. By the end of 1989, it wasn't true, and, above, I note that it became very much not true over the years. This work has now been amply and redundantly replicated, in substance, and the most striking piece that has been multiply replicated is one that works with a variety of experimental approaches, the simultaneous measurement of excess heat and helium. If there is no excess heat, there is no helium found. If there is excess heat, the helium is almost always found to be commensurate with the heat, at a very remarkable ratio: that expected from a nuclear reaction which takes in deuterium as fuel and spits out helium as ash.
Remarkably, I found that Huizenga noticed the significance of this finding in 1993. I'll bring in more about this later. --Abd 02:08, 24 September 2010 (UTC)
  • it seems that the CR-39 experiment is taken more seriously, according to the New Scientist [8]
That's right. Now this was really, in a way, silly, because the SPAWAR work was demonstrating radiation effects, when the main reaction doesn't produce detectable radiation. Indeed, other early researchers reported neutrons at similar levels, but they were so low, vastly lower than that expected were the reaction ordinary deuterium fusion, that this was considered proof that fusion wasn't taking place, and the levels were so low that perhaps they could be explained by unusual cosmic ray events or the like. However, what caught everyone's attention about the SPAWAR results was that the technique they used demonstrated that (1) this was radiation emanating from the cathode, not cosmic rays (2) it was way above background, and (3) it was absent from controls. SPAWAR had reported charged particle radiation before, but using techniques vulnerable to criticism that it might be some kind of chemical damage. But the neutron report bypassed all that. It was simply not deniable. However, it also hasn't been adequately replicated. But this is not the crucial evidence. It is merely a piece of candy, so to speak, because neutrons don't just show up on their own, not at this level of intensity -- which is still so low that with conventional electronic detectors, it would be way down in the noise. I'm replicating this work because (1) it's cheap, and (2) neutrons are nuclear, intrinsically. --Abd 02:07, 24 September 2010 (UTC)

See? It's still not accepted, it's discredited, there is a small resurgence of interest on the topic, it's not clear if it's a real revival or just a perceived flare up or a temporal thing, and there is only a die-hard core of scientists still pursuing it.

I would like Abd to address why these secondary sources don't leave clear that the CF field was discredited and only a few scientists remained in it.

Well, it's late, but you got your wish. You've completely misunderstood my point.
Please look at the list of recent sources shown at Cold fusion/Recent sources to see the volume of publication under peer review or by an academic press. Please look at the publishers involved, only one of them is not "mainstream." Some can be called "minor," but a minor peer-reviewed secondary source is still a peer-reviewed secondary source, it is still a notch above the media sources you asserted, because it tells us not what reporters are thinking or what a random particle physicist thinks (that the reporter called up to get a quick impression from), but what experts are thinking. And the recent review published by Naturwissenschaften really ices this, at least for the time being. This is a peer-reviewed secondary source, a review of the field, with over 150 references, approved for publication at a major and highly reputable journal. But it's not isolated. The list I have shows fifteen publications of secondary source reviews in quite a number of different journals or published by different reputable publishers. The Naturwissenschaften review is merely the peak of recognition by experts, so far. We already knew this was coming, because they had been accepting papers in the field since 2005. Krivit got his articles published in Elsevier's Encyclopedia of Electrochemical Power Sources.
And a very significant little event just occurred. A paper was published in the Journal of Environmental Monitoring, by Marwan and Krivit. When this was mentioned in discussion at Wikipedia, as I recall, it was pointed out that this was a minor journal. Now that shouldn't have mattered, unless the source was being compared with something contradictory from a major journal (and something recent, not something old and based on very incomplete information). But they decided to publish a response by Kirk Shanahan, raising many skeptical arguments. In the early days, peer-reviewed journals published papers by cold fusion researchers, and then responses debunking them, and didn't allow any further comment by the researchers, which was violating scientific protocol, though it's somewhat justfiable if the publishers have come to believe that the work is totally bogus, and that their readers, scientists generally, aren't going to be interested in further useless discussion.
But JEM copublished Shanahan's report with a response to it, not by Marwan and Krivit, but by a series of the best-known and most published names in the field (I think Marwan was among them, but certainly not Krivit, a journalist). And Shanahan has reported that they refuse to continue this debate, his request to respond again was denied. That means that they consider the matter closed. What they did was to first print a review that contradicted what many of their readers might think. I'd call that bold. Then they printed a response that might, indeed, give voice to what many of their readers might be thinking. And then they allowed the experts to tear this apart. Very effective, I expect. The editors consider the matter settled. Cold fusion is real.
If you have source for it -- many of the sources you assert don't actually establish it, but establish that certain people "thought" that the mainstream was rejecting them, as an example -- you can certainly continue to claim that "most scientists" reject cold fusion, because it will take time for the message to spread, unless there is some dramatic event, like a successful demonstration of high-output energy production. I'm not holding my breath for that. I have no opinion that this will ever become commercially a viable technology, it is a very fragile effect. On the other hand, it might. And the Naturwissenschaften article concludes, indeed, that this is well worth investigating. Is that a conclusion compatible with a belief that cold fusion is rejected, dead, not accepted by the mainstream, period?
Shanahan gets closer to the truth when he claims that the reviewers at Naturwissenschaften are biased. He misses that the publishers wouldn't allow this if it were actually bias and not opinion based on knowledge. --Abd 23:44, 23 September 2010 (UTC)