Cold fusion debates often assert that there is this or that scientific consensus. What would this mean?
1 a : general agreement : unanimity • the consensus of their opinion, based on reports … from the border — John Hersey
b : the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned the consensus was to go ahead
2 : group solidarity in sentiment and belief
So what, then, is scientific consensus? Because consensus is about opinion or judgment, there must be someone with opinions or judgments. Who?
Well, “scientists,” of course! Just any scientist?
LENR Forum is, organizationally, a disaster. Topics of threads are routinely ignored to discuss anything and everything, and the last few days, Rossi vs. Darden aftermath discussions has been filled with arguments about scientific consensus, with little apparent understanding that the arguments are rooted in differing definitions and positions.
Instead of discussion of what “consensus” would mean, specifically, the flames focus on what opinion is allegedly that of the “consensus.”
On Wikipedia, where I first confronted this issue, the majority opinion among editors concerned with the Cold fusion article was that cold fusion was rejected by consensus, and that opinion to the contrary was “POV-pushing.” However, consensus can change. How would we know if it changed? For Wikipedia purposes, the general answer would be, when the new view appears in a review article in a mainstream peer-reviewed journal, or perhaps in academic publication.
Problem is, when such did appear, it made no difference at all. Why? Because the author of the article (Ed Storms) was supposedly a “believer.” This argument was entirely outside of Wikipedia policy, but … it still prevails, because the real decision criterion on Wikipedia is not “consensus,” as claimed, but, routinely, “majority of those determined to maintain their point of view, especially if they are administrators.”
This is a telling argument on Wikipedia: if an editor has a view different from that of the long-standing, prevailing view on Wikipedia, and attempts to properly express evidence for this point of view on the project, they must have an agenda to warp presentation toward their beliefs, and therefore are not “encyclopedic,” but are, rather, not neutral. Whereas those who sometimes vigorously and even preposterously oppose presenting verifiable fact in articles, in the other direction, are expressing what came to be misnamed a “scientific point of view.” Meaning their point of view, and any scientist who presents something different must be “fringe” or worse.
What I pointed out then — this was 2009 — is that there is no “Journal of Scientific Consensus.” There is no reliable source for it. However, there are opinions expressed, sometimes, in sources considered reliable. These are then cited as evidence of consensus. In an interesting twist, the writings of supporters of cold fusion research have been used as verification of the fringe status of the field, whereas other comments by those same authors have been excluded.
I was writing in 2009 that the field had “turned a corner,” probably sometime around 2009. The rejection cascade was no longer absolutely firm. Some journals had long published cold fusion papers. The only reasonable standard for scientific consensus that I’m aware of would be what is being accepted in mainstream peer-reviewed journals. Assessing this, though, is not simple. Nevertheless, by 2009, nearly all the major scientific publishers were publishing in the field. Springer-Verlag, Elsevier, the largest, and others.
Does this mean that cold fusion is accepted? Many of these papers take the reality of the FP Effect for granted. It is clear to me that, at least in some journals, the topic being cold fusion is no longer cause for immediate rejection. But the impression that cold fusion was rejected “long ago,” because “nobody could replicate it,” remains, and rejections on that basis still occur, even though it’s obvious that this view was shallow at best, and quickly obsolete.
I have seen no paper published recently that confronts the situation.
Do I trust your views on these papers? No on general principles, I would not trust even an expert who had outlying views from consensus
You are confused. The consensus of experts is that cold fusion is real. I do not know any leading electrochemist who disagrees, and I know lots of leading electcrochemists. Perhaps you have in mind the consensus of plasma physicists or nuclear physicists. They know nothing about cold fusion so their views do not count, any more than the views of biologists, bankers or country music fans do.
When you look for a scientific consensus, you must be sure that it includes only experts in the subject who are well versed in the literature. You cannot include scientists who have not read the literature. If you cite their views, you have made a fallacious appeal to authority (false authority) logical fallacy. As you see from the 2004 DoE panel, many of panel members read nothing and knew nothing. Their “objections” were based on theory or pop science platitudes. Essentially they were saying what Huizenga said: “my theory says this can’t happen, so it can’t happen.” That violates the scientific method.
First of all, THH is stating his personal view. That’s a choice, but Jed treats the matter as if it were about some “fact.” As if there is an established mechanism for determining scientific consensus, rules to follow, and he is following them, whereas THH is not.
Cold fusion is a fairly unusual — but not unique — situation. First of all, what’s real here?
We can see what we see, in our experience. Jed refers to this, mentioning electrochemists he knows. However, our personal opinion can easily be warped by factors that influence our personal experience. What electrochemists is Jed likely to have met?
To hear Jed’s story, one would imagine that, at least, there would be a “consensus of electrochemists.” How would we know? Well, we could run a survey. Jed is actually talking, not just about “electrochemists,” but the world’s “leading electrochemists.” What’s the standard?
CMNS, Condensed Matter Nuclear Science, is not pseudoscience, and THH’s has made some statements that must be called “insensitive,” careless.
There seems to be no other field in science where there is such reticence to accept peer reviewed factuality from top experts.
True, but there are pseudosciences where the same degree of caution exists. LENR, sociologically, is on the borderline between pseudoscience and science. The type of argument you advance here, general and dismissive of skeptics, is typical of pseudoscience. however there are real scientists generating results. Some of these write up the results in a way that is similar to pseudo-science, with inflated claims and a lack of checking. Others do good work, but not thus far, even after many years, with results that will convince skeptics who hope for LENR but follow rational methods in evaluating claims.
THH is far from the most extreme of pseudoskeptics. However, he is incautious about the “borderline.” Pseudoscience has a clear definition, but the edges can be unclear. (The linked article has been a battleground, and it shows.)
THH is acknowledging the existence of “real scientists generating results,” which sets him apart from fanatic pseudoskeptics. However, he is relying on overall assessments, such as “inflated claims and a lack of checking.” He is also relying on alleged lack of results that ‘will convince skeptics.” It’s fairly easy to assert counterexamples. THH is arguing from partial knowledge, selected, still.
There is a fundamental problem, call it “expert bias.” If one becomes expert in a field, ordinarily, one has some sense of the importance of the field! It takes years of work to become an expert. Why would someone invest that work if they are not already, at least to some degree, convinced there is something real going on?
(There are a few special cases, actually remarkably few, where someone becomes obsessed in “refuting” the beliefs of others. I could argue, at this point, that Morrison became so, as an example. My testable hypothesis: if this is so, Morrison would likely repeat older, discredited arguments, creating a magnified assembly of proofs that LENR is bogus. This failure to whittle down argument is typical of believers, and pseudoskepticism is a variety of belief.)
Did Morrison do this? At this point, I don’t know, I’ve only seen some signs, not enough to confidently assert the claim.
I do rank someone like Morrison above run-of-the-mill debunkers, who rarely become as informed as Morrison did. However, we organize and classify our knowledge, and create stories from it, and when we become attached to our stories, we have left the scientific method behind.
THH in the above, I’ll assert, is confusing the behavior of some, say, someone advocating “cold fusion is real,” with the topic itself and the full community. There is no doubt that the general CMNS community still often sees itself as embattled and isolated, and when people do that, they often respond defensively — or offensively. So some level of “unscientific” argument is employed, on occasion. THH, however, is not privy to the major communication processes in the CMSN community. There are all kinds of people involved, some highly opinionated and attached to being right, and some who are far more objective and detached.
We are studying, here, the work of Pons and Fleischmann, and when we have taken this work to a level that deserves wider attention, we will seek it. From my experience, it will be given, and we will then see what recognized experts have to say.
My recommendation to the CMNS community has been: “You won. Be gracious.” This means to tolerate skepticism, even unwarranted skepticism. It is no longer necessary to fight to be able to breathe. It also means to trust the full mainstream process, which was merely damaged and temporarily short-circuited by the rejection cascade. It will recover, it always has. Give it time. Meanwhile, there is work to do!
There is no severe shortage of funding for the most deserving research, not any more. I don’t necessarily agree with all funding decisions that have been made, and much, in the past, was … call it “inefficiently spent,” starting with the millions that the U.S. DoE was spreading about, in 1989, in a frenzied rush to confirm or disconfirm “cold fusion.” Before it even had a decent definition!
Rush to judgment makes for Bad Science (on all sides.) Taubes, himself, was in a hurry to get his book published, necessary for a writer. He’d already put an insane amount of work into that book. By the time it was about to be published, there was new evidence. It would have required a major reconsideration. So he punted. I predict that he will come back, but the time is not quite ripe for that. Soon!
Meanwhile, what is the preponderance of the evidence, now? That is a judgment, not a fact. It can be warped by Bayesian priors that are heavily biased, and all that, in the history of cold fusion, is obvious. I’ve made the case about the 2004 U.S. DoE review that
- It showed a sea change from 1989.
- It continued to show that the opinions of some experts on anomalous heat was warped by “it can’t be real because that would mean ….” When such opinions are in place, skeptical arguments that are actually preposterous, when examined can stand unquestioned. Blatant error can escape notice, as it did in that review, if the error supports the prior expectation.
What are the causes of the commonly-reported anomalous heat in FP-class PdD experiments? That’s a research question and is not a theory. If a specific cause is proposed, is that testable? If so, the topic is scientific. If it is not testable, it’s pseudoscientific. As an example of a pseudoscientific theory, a commonly-asserted cause is “They must be making some mistake in measuring heat.” That’s been stated by “scientists,” i.e., people with credentials such that one might expect them to know better. But they don’t. Scientists are human like the rest of us, they can get caught in their own ideas.
If they are writing outside their field of specialization, they don’t necessarily know much more than anyone else. But as scientists, they may be able to couch their opinions in “scientific language.” I.e., pseudoscience.
This is a point that Jed makes.
In the other direction,
You have repeated the same mantra:
the top hundred electochemists of their day replicated the pons-fleischmann anomalous heat effect and submitted it to peer review >150 times many many times.
You have not addressed my argument, which is that determining whether what was repeated is in fact a nuclear anomaly, or something else, is at best not clear cut. At the time those 100s of electrochemists decided there was no nuclear anomaly worth pursuing – except for a few outliers. Or the world’s electrochemistry journals would be still publishing LENR papers.
What journals are we talking about? There were electrochemistry journals prominent in the early days, 1989 into the 1990s. What’s happened?
Nor have you engaged with the reasons why those many scientists might have felt the results they obtained were not clear proof of some Nobel Prize worthy new science – had they felt that they would without doubt have continued. Academic freedom was then and still is a reality, and when a whole field believes something is worth pursuing it gets pursued.
People following up don’t get the Nobel Prize. My opinion is that Miles should, because he was the first one to show direct evidence that the FP Heat Effect was not only real, but nuclear in nature, and his work has never been successfully impeached. It’s been quite adequately confirmed, as well. But I’m not holding my breath. THH has a rosy idea of what happens in science. In fact, continuing with cold fusion research was very risky, particularly to anyone without tenure or independent support. That is shifting, but was a reality for a long time.
Some of those electrochemists did continue. However, the work was difficult and the pay was lousy. Jed does not mention, perhaps because it doesn’t serve his story, and he has a story to tell, Dieter Britz, an electrochemist who has remained carefully neutral on LENR. It cannot be said that he doesn’t know the literature.
We may, at some point, look at who those “leading electrochemists” were. Obvious is Fleischmann, of course. Was Pons “leading”? He was chair of the chemistry department at the University of Utah. Bockris was definitely “leading.” There was Gerischer, to be sure, as a notable electrochemist who supported cold fusion.
(Fun fact, lead author of the 1997 tribute to Gerischer in Journal of Physical Chemistry B was Nathan S. Lewis about whom we will write more. Koonin and Lewis basically killed cold fusion at the May 1, 2989 APS meeting.)
So, notable electrochemists: how about the Faraday Medal winners?
It is quite possible that Fleischmann would not have been eligible for that award (read the article). But on that list are Bockris and Gerischer and … Nathan Lewis. There are 28 laureates. Those are the only three names recognizable to me.
Looking about, I found a book review: Developments in Electrochemistry:
Science Inspired by Martin Fleischmann.
While this book was written as a tribute to Martin Fleischmann to mark his many contributions to electrochemical science, it is not a historical document and is intended reflect the state of electrochemical research in 2014. Each of the chapters covers a topic where Martin Fleischmann contributed and the chapters are written by ex-coworkers of Martin Fleischmann, now established experts in their fields. The chapters are:
1. Martin Fleischmann – The Scientist and the Person
13. Melvin H. Miles (University of LaVerne, USA) and Michael C.H. McKubre (SRI International, USA), Cold Fusion After A Quarter-Century: The Pd/D System
(17 chapters not shown)
For Wikipedians: this was published by Wiley in 2014. This would be Wikipedia Reliable Source, if one can find a copy…. However, so would many other books and articles that are effectively excluded….
(RS does not have to be “right.” It’s a term of art that refers to the publisher, not the author, but the dominant faction on Wikipedia, interested in these things, commonly makes ad hominem arguments against both authors and text. RS does not have to be cited as “truth.” Rather RS can be attributed, done properly, and establishes notability.)
I’m going to see if I can get a copy of that chapter. It covers many topics of current interest. (The subchapters are listed on the Wiley site.)
Meanwhile, the claim of “the top hundred electochemists of their day replicated the pons-fleischmann anomalous heat effect and submitted it to peer review >150 times many many times” is blatantly misleading or just plain false; that was written by an at-best-naive-pro-cold-fusion-author who is effectively trolling; Jed has made statements that were probably misinterpreted by kevmolenr. Jed has not disavowed these kevmo comments, and instead seems to join with the fellow. If I’m wrong about that, I hope Jed — or someone else — will correct me.
One more point. On Wikipedia, the dominant faction not uncommonly attempted to label cold fusion as “pseudoscience.” As I recall, that always failed. Cold fusion was considered “fringe science,” which can shade into “emerging science.” The label “pathological science,” however, was more successfully attached, see the article. Just to show how crazy Wikipedia can be, the pathological science article has the pseudoscience navigation template …. At one time, an article by Bauer, a sociologist of science, was prominently linked. It totally debunked the idea of “pathological science,” pointing out that there is no a priori standard for assessing what is pathological. Scientists make mistakes, and the common examples, Bauer showed, N-rays, polywater, and cold fusion, were at most errors (and in the case of cold fusion, an unresolved mystery, since there never was the killer experiment like what happened with N-rays and polywater.) Looking back, the Bauer reference was removed by a user named, at the time, Skinwalker, now renamed as a “vanished user” — which is not a good sign, these are often disruptive editors. Looking at the history, it appears that this was an antipseudoscience editor frustrated because Wikipedia allowed so much crap to be put up. There was no discussion on the Talk page of the claim that Bauer was not Reliable Source, and the external link that had stood for a long time did not need to be reliable source, if it was likely to be of interest to readers.
That’s how Wikipedia goes. There were a number of editors who knew enough to object and who would have had this article on their watchlist … but they were banned. Anyone who seriously understood how Wikipedia worked and who interrupted the agenda of the faction was banned. Unless they were administrators…. And that is how the faction would lose. They had administrators who would support them, and some were administrators, but they could not be open about what they were doing, which was warping the project according to their point of view, what they accused others of doing. They have suffered losses, but are still kicking.
The point is that cold fusion, per se, is not “pseudoscience,” but some explanations or arguments used by advocates (and opponents) are pseudoscientific, and we could give examples. Calling it marginal is effectively trolling those who would be called to defend it. The “scientific consensus” on cold fusion is quite unclear at this point, because there seems to be a pattern: skeptics who are moved, somehow, to investigate the field often shift from rejection or belief that cold fusion was a big mistake, to supporting it, and the best example is probably Robert Duncan, now at Texas Tech, but at U Missouri Columbia when he was retained by CBS 60 Minutes to review the field.
There were others offering to review, apparently, that thought they could dash it off in a few minutes…. After all …. “nobody could replicate.” Isn’t that proof enough? CBS turned those offers down, it appears.
But hope springs eternal for believers, and that includes believers in their own ideas of reality even if it is supposedly “scientific.” Somehow, they continue right on, quite sure that Duncan was somehow fooled. Actually, I remember the things that Duncan was saying soon after the program. He was coming up with all kinds of crazy ideas. Muon-catalyzed fusion from stray muons, yes! (Once a physicist starts asking “how could this happen,” instead of defending “it can’t happen,” the mind starts supplying possibilities. Given the history, most of these will be ridiculous, because … there isn’t enough data. Then, hopefully, the newbie settles and starts to recognize the basic issues and understanding deepens.)