Widom-Larsen theory

DRAFT undergoing revision.

first revision 7/12/2018: corrected comment about Widom activity, moved DARPA report to its own subpage, and added responses, including a reported replication failure, to the Cirillo et al paper.

A discussion on a private mailing list led me to take a new look at Widom-Larsen theory.

This is long. I intend to refactor it and boil it down. There is a lot of material available. This also examines the role of Steve Krivit in promoting W-L theory and generally attacking the cold fusion community (and “cold fusion” only means the heat effect popularly called that, and does not indicate any specific reaction.) What I call the “cold fusion community” is the LENR or CMNS community, which, setting aside a few fanatics, is not divided into factions.

I have, in the past, called W-L theory a “hoax.” That has sometimes been misinterpreted. The theory itself is not a hoax, it appears to have been a serious attempt to “explain” LENR phenomena. However, there is a common idea about it, that it does not contradict existing physics, often combined with an idea that “cold fusion” is in such contradiction, which is true only for some interpretations of “cold fusion.” The simplest, that it is a popular name for a set of experimental results displaying a heat anomaly, doesn’t present any actual contradiction. That the heat is from “d-d fusion,” a common idea, does present some serious issues. But there are many possible paths and understandings of “fusion.”

No, the hoax is that W-L theory only involves accepted physics.

Explanation of Widom-Larsen theory

The subpage covers the explanation on New Energy Times, and my commentary on it.

Reactions of physicists

So Krivit has many pages on the reactions of physicists and others, covered on Reactions.

The most recent one I see is this:

Larsen Uncovers Favorable Defense Department Evaluation of Widom-Larsen LENR Theory

So this,  June 6, 2017, was from Larsen, framed by Larsen. As we will be seeing, that W-L theory has been “successful” in terms of being accepted as possible, in many circles, is reasonably true, or at least was true, but has a problem. Who are these people, and what do they know about the specific physics, and most to the point, what do they know about the very large body of evidence for LENR? One may easily imagine that LENR evidence is a certain way, if one is not familiar with it.

This “favorable report” was actually old, from 2010. I cover this report on a subpage: Toton-Ullrich DARPA report. While the report presents W-L theory as it was apparently explained to them by Widom and/or Larsen, including comments that reflect their political point of view, the report ends with this:

The Widom-Larsen theory has done little to unify or focus the LENR research community
• If anything, it appears to have increased the resolve of the strongforce D-D fusion advocates to circle the wagons

(No specific references are made to a “strongforce D-D fusion” theory. Ordinary D-D fusion has long been understood as Not Happening in LENR. Most theories (like W-L theory) now focus on collective effects. This concept of an ideological battle has been promoted by Krivit and, I think, Larsen.)

• LENR is an area of research at the TRL-1 level but the community is already jockeying for position to achieve a competitive TRL-8 position, which further impedes the normal scientific process

Depending on definitions, the research is largely at TRL-1, yes, but in some areas perhaps up to TRL-3. Nobody is close to TRL-8. This report was in 2010, and Rossi was privately demonstrating his devices to government officials. Then, Rossi wasn’t claiming TRL-8, though possibly close, and later he clearly claimed to have market-ready products. He was lying. Yes, there is secrecy and there are non-disclosure agreements, McKubre has been pointing out for the last couple of years how this “impedes” the normal scientific process. Notice that in the history of Lattice Energy, Larsen invoked “proprietary” to avoid disclosing information about the state of verification of their alleged technology, which was, we can now be reasonably confident, vaporware.

• Without a theory to guide the research, LENR will remain in a perpetual cook-and-look mode, which produces some tantalizing results to spur venture capital investments but does little to advance the science

While a functional theory would certainly be useful, W-L theory does not qualify. A premature theory, largely ad-hoc, as W-L theory is, could mislead research. Such theories can best be used to brainstorm new effects to measure, but at this point the most urgent research need is to verify what has already been found, with increased precision and demonstrated reliability (i.e., real error bars, from real data, from extensive series of tests.)

• DTRA needs to be careful not to get embroiled in the politics of LENR and serve as an honest broker
 Exploit some common ground, e.g., materials and diagnostics
 Force a show-down between Widom-Larsen and Cold Fusion advocates
 Form an expert review panel to guide DTRA-funded LENR research

Great idea. They did not take advantage of the opportunity to do just that, as far as we know. If they did, good for them! The story that there is a battle between W-L theory and “cold fusion advocates” is purely a W-L advocacy story, as is the claim that W-L theory does not conflict with known physics, which the report authors did not critically examine. it is not clear that they read any of the critical literature.

Critiques of W-L theory

Steve Krivit mentions some of the critiques on his blog, but suppresses their visibility. Some, in spite of being published under peer review, he completely ignores.

The subpage, Critiques,  covers

Hagelstein and Chaudhary (2008)

Hagelstein (2013)

Ciuchi et al (2012)

Cirillo et al (2012) (experimental neutron finding cited as support of W-L theory)

Faccini et al (2013), critique of Cirillo and replication failure and further response to Widom

Tennefors (2013)

Email critiques from 2007, including two written with explicit “off the record” requests, which Krivit published anyway, claiming that they had not obtained permission first for an off-the-record comment, and that he had explicitly warned them, which he had not. Krivit interprets language however it suits him, and his action might as well have been designed to discourage scientists in the field from talking frankly with him . . . which is the result he obtained.

Vysotskii (2012 and 2014)

Storms (2007 and 2010) and the Krivit comment published by Naturwissenschaften, Storms’ reply, and Krivit’s continued reply on his blog.

 

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6 thoughts on “Widom-Larsen theory”

  1. Abd – IMHO the main problem with W-L theory is that an ULM neutron would drop into any nucleus, and so we’d get a lot of different isotopes produced, some of which would be radioactive. I don’t see any reason why the neutron would only affect the Hydrogen isotopes, when there are as many Pd nuclei around. As such, experimental results point to W-L being wrong, since we don’t see a gradual increase in radioactivity of the Pd sample and the signature gamma energies of those neutron-heavy isotopes. Again, the total absorption of gammas presumes that those gammas must be all in a specific direction (towards the synchronous group of electrons moving in synchrony), and there seems to be no reason for that anisotropy. The presence of that “gamma shield” on the surface of the Pd could in any case be tested using an external gamma-source directed through the active Pd. Fairly easy to actually test that prediction, and Larsen had a patent on such a gamma shield, but though (if it actually worked) that would have been worth a lot of money for a low-mass gamma absorber for nuclear-powered aircraft (military use), it hasn’t been commercialised. The obvious conclusion there is that it doesn’t work, since it would be easy to make and demonstrate.

    There seems not a lot of point in pushing a theory whose predictions don’t match the measured results. Better to accept that it’s wrong and think of an alternative mechanism by which the effect could happen. If we can’t think of a mechanism, it’s better to accept that we don’t know why it works rather than to believe in a mechanism that is obviously wrong. As usual, belief and disbelief tend to cloud peoples’ perspectives and miss some evidence. It can however be hard to drop a theory that’s been believed to be true for years.

    1. Yes, Simon. That is a truly major problem. W-L advocates claim that, indeed, there are many transmutations, and, of course, the “gamma shield,” but then, to avoid the lack of evidence for a shield — testing was suggested by Garwin and Larsen declined to answer, as “proprietary,” but that was years ago and they already patented it — Larsen and Krivit point to the sparkling SPAWAR IR video, claiming the patches are transitory, but that only could handle the prompt gammas, not the delayed ones, and then all the beta activity would be observable.

      I do not, however, think that W-L theory is “wrong.” Rather, there is some contradictory evidence, for which, maybe, there is some additional explanation. But the theory is definitely speculative and unproven and not the “standard physics” slam-dunk that has been pretended.

      Yes, I agree that “mystery” is better, far better, than a weak theory. There is a school of thought in the community, matched in the mainstream, that LENR was rejected because of “lack of explanatory theory.” If true, that would be a breakdown in basic science, so it is only true as a kind of oft-repeated excuse for not looking at evidence. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is not a scientific principle, but it is a heuristic for guiding attention, and it becomes suppressive of new findings if the excuse then leads to no examination of the evidence.

      Mysteries are actually common, not extraordinary, only the speculations become extraordinary. (Many mysteries, with little hope of natural explanation, become almost invisible, with little attention paid to them. Stuff Happens and while attempt to explain it can drive one literally crazy, it is also a fact that sometimes investigation of Stuff leads to new discoveries. So … I highly recommend the acceptance of the mysterious. The use of “mystery” to deny that there is any possible natural explanation is offensive, and obviously an argument from ignorance. To assume that observers must be wrong is also offensive. Instead, there is merely something unexplained. Can this also be observed by others?

      How about not running around like headless chickens until there are other reports, and until these can be narrowed and better understood with controlled experiment. Instead, the U.S. was spending millions of dollars per month attempting to replicate the FP experiment, with inadequate information and much of it based on an assumption that if there were a nuclear reaction, there surely must be radiation and radioactive product, and lots of it! But nobody was reporting that — at significant levels — , beyond the obviously flawed Pons and Fleischmann neutron/gamma report (which was also not a significant level).

      Haste makes waste. For political reasons, the DoE wanted a quick answer, and again, haste makes waste, in this case the possible lost opportunity cost of a trillion dollars per year from the delay in finding practical applications. That was a very expensive error, avoidable with the application of far, far less in focused research, which the panels both recommended, to address basic questions, and which the DoE never actually funded. Why not? That’s a political story, I’m sure.

      W-L theory appears to have functioned to promote Larsen as a consultant. As Storms was retained by Lattice Energy, in return for support (Storms’ mass spec came from Lattice) and stock, Widom also was made a partner in Lattice. Krivit has never acknowledged support from Lattice, but when I studied the support of NET, years back, when NET was still a nonprofit filing reports to the IRS, there was a single large anonymous donor obvious, appearing about when NET’s swing south became highly visible.

      At ICCF-12, 2013, there was a press pass waiting for Krivit, he never claimed. In late 2012, I asked to meet Krivit, because I was going to be in San Rafael, I have a daughter living there. He said he doesn’t meet with people involved in the field unless there is a specific purpose, which I found very, very strange for a journalist. So I was busy getting ready to travel and didn’t make up some purpose, and contacted him after my trip to offer cooperation, since I had a report to make from a late 2012 conference at SRI. He blew me off with “no time for chit-chat” remark, and when I wrote, “suit yourself,” he copy-pasted the remark in response — including the same typographical error. Deliberate, rude and unnecessary offense, similar to his 2007 behavior with Storms and Chubb. Krivit had, in fact, with hard work, established himself as a journalist covering LENR, and had been doing quite well, as a result, financially. Why was he trashing it?

      I find a simple explanation. Maybe it’s wrong. Maybe he’s simply insane.

      I had stopped writing about Krivit entirely, and had called him to apologize. He said that if I didn’t wrote about him for six months, he’d consider talking with me. I hadn’t written about him for six months, which he acknowledged when I contacted him again. But still wouldn’t meet with me, not even for coffee in his home town, quick and easy.

      1. Abd – “Many mysteries, with little hope of natural explanation, become almost invisible, with little attention paid to them.”

        A better way of stating it than I’ve come up with, so maybe later on I’ll quote you on that. I’ve been digging around in some of those (and maybe become a little crazy) but as regards LENR I have no ideas that appear useful.

        It’s possible Krivit doesn’t want to talk to you since that requires facing the inconsistencies in his ideas. You are good at digging into logical errors, after all. If someone is prepared to get into a discussion, then they should also be prepared to change their opinions when a sufficiently-good demonstration is given that that opinion is wrong. It’s difficult to persuade someone that their opinions are wrong when their job depends on keeping those opinions – some erudite person made that observation before me, but not exactly in those words. I’ve no idea as to why Krivit took those paths.

        Hard to know why the DOE took the paths they did, either. Finding people competent enough and who also accepted the P+F results as real may have been difficult. Hindsight is always clearer, though, and no doubt at the time people thought they were doing the right thing.

        1. It is not necessary to have ideas to be useful. Just observe, be a witness.

          Can I get a witness?

          As to why Krivit doesn’t (or at least didn’t) want to talk to me, yeah, I can speculate, but the reasons he gave, in the end, made no sense. Something is happening, and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?

          Speaking of Jones, I need to talk with that fellow. He’s a major part of the history. I already walked up to him in 2013 and shook his hand, congratulating him on being the only person to critique Miles in a peer-reviewed journal. The field became downright weird, forgetting that any publicity is better than no publicity. Lack of critique doesn’t mean acceptance, it means literal ignorance, being ignored.

          As to the DoE, this was partly ordinary governmental incompetence, and, at least by 2004, partly the community not knowing how to ask for something realizable, such as a “LENR desk.” Some think that it was all rigged, but there are simpler explanations, and we won’t really know if a conspiracy still exists (if there ever was one) unless we push and see who, if anyone, pushes back.

          The DARPA report was pretty smart, actually. Naive on the theory, but much smarter about what to do about it. The revised version of this page will examine the collection of “testimonials,” showing how shallow that was, for the most part, compared with the critical reviews. In one case, of course, Krivit actually misrepresents a rather dramatic pan of the theory, by Richard Garwin, choosing words with weaker accidental import to quote. It’s obvious where his bread was buttered, by this time. Classic reversal of meaning by quoting out of context, and I pointed to this years ago.

  2. I have finally finished reading this Abd. It took me 2 days! (not continuously). It is an important analysis of several things: W-L theory, which I suspect is past resurrection (even for an avowed agnostic); poor SK’s efforts in support of W-L, and his butchered understanding of the ENEA and SRI 4He results; your efforts to dig deeper into our “Case” and “M4” experiments. The first two points I no longer care about in my sunny retreat but I have promised you (and others) more discussion of “Case” and “M4”. I will do this … not sure about the forum or timing but “soon”. One quick comment. We (SRI & ENEA) were well aware that anodization of Pd does dissolve surface (which can then be redeposited – but that is a side issue, albeit an important one). But you were first to point out the relevance of that fact to our, and ENEA’s, improved recovery of 4He from successful heat-producing Pd cathodes (and places important bounds on the depth below surface that is relevant for the FPHE). This method of recovery WILL be used in future attempts, and you will get formal credit for recognizing it. Thanks. I will elaborate further.

    1. Thanks, Mike. Brave man! (I’m working on reformatting all that coverage, to make it much more accessible, and there will be a blog post with lurid headlines, etc. Your encouragement here motivates me to complete that.)

      Case was a dead end, a repeat of the classic materials problem, and, contract done, I understand why the paperwork was never completed to publication, but it’s important for history. If I can assist in documenting what actually was done in those experiments, and the full results, please allow it! We know what was not done: the cells were not investigated for retained helium, in spite of that mysterious helium decline in that one experiment.

      Yes, any electrochemist would have known about palladium dissolving. For some time, I thought about dissolving the entire cathode to study helium. I realized that the cathode would break up and lose electrical connection — but this should work with codep.

      Then, once Krivit started his attack based on the Violante mention of anodic reversal (as being an attempt to promote the theory of helium retention) I realized that, of course this would release near-surface helium! He must have realized that himself, but missed the significance of identical behavior being shown by the only two experiments to have done that, in conjunction with helium measurement.

      Something went seriously south about Krivit, he not only lost all scientific objectivity, if he ever had it, he lost all journalistic integrity. If he’d been skillful about it, he’d have noted the “coincidence,” and, like Huizenga, could have suggested it might not be confirmed. Instead, he was quick to believe in fraudulent data manipulation (which he also did with Violante, it wasn’t just you. It wasn’t personal! Just business,it appears.)

      Yet, when Cirillo reported neutrons, in a paper co-authored with Widom (what did Widom have to do with that work?) Krivit has been completely unconcerned about replication failure. The fact is that Cirillo was evidence against W-L theory. (Not conclusively so, I can make up an explanation).

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