Wikipedia neutral or not neutral?

Well, what is it? Inquiring minds want to know. First of all, the policy.

The policy follows the “impartial” or “objective” journalistic model, as described in this document from

Supporters of this tradition feel it is the most honest form of reporting, attempting to lay out all sides of the issue fairly so that readers can make their own decisions. Reporters and editors following an objective model generally conceal their personal political beliefs and their opinions on controversial issues.

It is not necessary to conceal one’s own point of view, but the effort of an “impartial” journalist is to cover the topic, not their own opinions. As pointed out in the essay, if they do write about their opinions (as distinct from the facts on which those opinions might be based), this is labelled or distinguished as opinion.

Objective journalism does not require so-called “he said, she said” reporting that just cites the arguments or each side without seeking to draw any conclusions. Objective reporters can judge the weight of evidence on various sides of a dispute and tailor accordingly the amount of space they give various opinions. There is no need to provide “false equivalence” — treating every opinion equally.

News media following the objective model may express opinions in clearly labeled editorials, commentaries and cartoons, but those views should not affect the organization’s news reports.

Calling the neutrality goal “Neutral Point of View” was misleading, because “impartial reporting” is not a “point of view.” It’s a choice, a decision, a practice, the goal being to present, for Wikipedia, encyclopedic information that is not based on some point of view, but that provides readers with the information they might need to make their own assessments. There has been long-term conflict on Wikipedia over the interpretation of this, and what is remarkable is that there are users and administrators who openly prefer advocacy reporting, who have edited in conflict with others, and used tools to enforce, their own obvious point of view.

It has been called the “scientific point of view,” which was also a misnoer, because science, by definition, has no point of view, but seeks to establish knowledge through testing of ideas. Humans have points of view, not abstractions like “science.” Scientists often have points of view. In fact, scientists often get blocked on wikipedia for expressing them.

Again from the Policy:

Neutrality requires that each article or other page in the mainspace fairly represent all significant viewpoints that have been published by reliable sources, in proportion to the prominence of each viewpoint in the published, reliable sources.[3] Giving due weight and avoiding giving undue weight means that articles should not give minority views or aspects as much of or as detailed a description as more widely held views or widely supported aspects. Generally, the views of tiny minorities should not be included at all, except perhaps in a “see also” to an article about those specific views. For example, the article on the Earth does not directly mention modern support for the flat Earth concept, the view of a distinct minority; to do so would give undue weight to it.

Wikipedia made a decision very early, not based on extensive experience, to use a flat model, with all encyclopedia articles sitting in a single namespace, called “mainspace.” Subpages are not allowed in mainspace. Wikiversity decided differently, having had more experience. The flat model discouraged exploration of detail. So the Wikipedia article on the Earth does mention Flat earth ideas, by linking to the article. By doing so, the coverage becomes complete, and roughly proportionate to coverage in reliable source.

Notice: the standard for inclusion of material is coverage in reliable sources, a term of art for Wikipedia, a substitute for having an actual editorial staff of experts making notability and reliability decisions. However, in actual practice, the flexibility allowed creates situations where a point of view, especially if held by a significant faction of users, can warp what is allowed for inclusion and can effectively exclude from the entire project, information presented in reliable sources, because of editorial opinion about what is accepted by “most scientists,” as it is often put.

Reliable sources include the expression of opinions, not all are purely factual. So if some reliable source shows an opinion that “most scientists consider parapsychology a pseudoscience,” as a real example, this is then often reported in articles as if a fact, rather than the opinion it often is. However, perhaps there was a poll. The fact is the poll and objective reporting would cover that poll, where it was appropriate. If there are other sources which treat parapsychology as a science (which it clearly was, by intention, the “scientific study of claims of the paranormal”), these will then be labelled by anti-fringe users as “fringe,” which is synthesis, often, i.e., the insertion of personal judgment for reporting of verifiable information.

And “most scientists,” if they have not studied a topic, have opinions that are not much more informed than those of anyone else. Generally, they may depend on what others they consider to be informed have said, and this can be an information cascade. In the case of parapsychology, they may readily confuse parapsychology itself with belief or promotion of the claims studied. They may have an opinion that all paranormal claims are false, unsupported. Is that opinion a scientific fact? Consider what it would require! There are two aspects to a claim:

The first aspect is the evidence, and the second aspect is analysis. So there is a claim, perhaps, of some “paranormal ability,” and the bottom line for classifying a claim as “paranormal” is that it is not understood, or not understood scientifically, and it may seem to conflict with ordinary understanding of how the universe operates. Is the investigation of the unknown “pseudoscientific”? Investigation will develop evidence. Suppose the evidence shows that the so-called “psychic” was a fraud. Was the investigation — parapsychology in modern times — therefore “pseudoscientific”? Hardly.

Basically, if people are asked survey questions who are not experts on the topic, their responses might be poorly informed. But a collection of those responses might well be published in reliable source. Does it therefore become “fact,” which can be reported on Wikipedia without attribution?

Notice that with attribution, anything can become a “fact.” That is, if the attributed report is verifiable by looking at the source, that such and such was said or claimed is “verifiable fact,” not that the statement or claim was necessarily true.

When I began, as a Wikipedia editor, looking at Cold fusion, what I saw was that sources were being cherry-picked, and, as well, an administrator had blacklisted the main site where one could read scientific papers on the topic. At that point, I was quite skeptical about cold fusion, believing the common wisdom, that nobody could replicate the original findings. That claim, by the way, is still found in many articles on cold fusion in reliable sources, particularly newspaper or tertiary sources not actually focused on the topic, but which mention the inability to replicate in passing.  When I attempted to balance the article, as policy would require (this was, after all, on an arguably fringe topic, so covering it more thoroughly than in an article on nuclear fusion would be appropriate) I ran into high resistance. I have since researched coverage of cold fusion on Wikipedia and saw that this went way back. Many arguments were advanced to avoid covering what should be, by Wikipedia guidelines and Arbitration Committee rulings, golden for science articles. One of the principle ones was “undue weight.”

Yet this was an article on a subject that was poorly defined. First of all, it was called “cold fusion,” first, in media (I think the first to apply the idea of “fusion” to the anomalous heat seen by Pons and Fleischmann in 1984 and first reported publically in 1989, was the University of Utah press office, but it caught on, and Pons and Fleischmann themselves were iffy about it. They actually claimed an “unknown nuclear reaction.” The only nuclear evidence they had were some detections of neutrons (an error, artifact), tritium (actually confirmed by others but of unclear implications and not at levels expected if the reaction were producing tritium through ordinary deuterium fusion) and inference from the energy density they calculated, which was weak; and confirming their work was very difficult. Even they had trouble with it, later. (The finding of anomalous heat in palladium deuteride was later confirmed by many groups, but it remains a difficult experiment).

Cold fusion immediately became, by 1989 or 1990, a fringe topic. That is, the idea that there actually was a nuclear reaction taking place in the material studied was largely rejected, but it was never conclusively shown that the original work was defective as to the report of heat. There is still no successful and verifiable theory of mechanism, but a practical theory has emerged that is verifiable, and it has been widely confirmed, and this is reported in scientific journals, and not just in primary sources. There are multiple secondary sources, peer-reviewed reviews of the issue or of the field in general including the issue or of some aspect of the field that takes this practical theory as a given, and that is that the reported heat is explained by the conversion of deuterium to helium, without significant loss of energy to other products or radiation. That conversion, by the laws of thermodynamics, must generate the observed energy in some form or other. (In classic hot deuterium fusion, if helium is the product, the large bulk of the energy is released as a high-energy photon (gamma). This is not observed (which caused many to reject helium as a possible product, “because no gammas.”)

So, the entire Wikipedia article is on a fringe topic. Many sources from almost thirty years ago reject cold fusion as a phenomenon worthy of study. The formal reviews, by the way, (1989 and 2004, U.S. DoE) did not do that; these are merely widespread opinions, back then. As it happens, if one restricts a source study to mainstream peer reviewed journals and academic publications, the best sources, there are more papers considered positive on cold fusion than there are negative. But that cannot be reported on Wikipedia because it is synthesis. As to reviews of cold fusion, I studied papers in Wikipedia qualified reliable source (or should be), published since 2005 on Wikiversity

I count 19 peer-reviewed or academically published reviews, in the period 20015-2012. In 2015, there were 34 papers published in Current Science, a peer-reviewed publication of the Indian Academy of Sciences. Some of them are reviews (such as my paper there). Are any of these reviews, over twenty, cited in the Wikipedia cold fusion article? Yes.

A small community of researchers continues to investigate cold fusion,[6][11] now often preferring the designation low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR) or condensed matter nuclear science (CMNS).[12][13][14][15]

15. Biberian, Jean-Paul (2007), “Condensed Matter Nuclear Science (Cold Fusion): An Update” (PDF), International Journal of Nuclear Energy Science and Technology, 3 (1): 31–42, doi:10.1504/IJNEST.2007.012439

Links shown are to the Wikipedia article or, for Biberian, to a copy on his web site. I cover some of these sources here: [15] [16]

15. Biberian is a general review of the field (as of 2007), and would be reliable source. All that is taken from it is the name shift. Isn’t that a bit odd? There is another paper that I did not classify as a review, ([16], Labinger & Weininger), but it could be taken that way (and there are other sources that are not peer-reviewed as scientific papers).

Since cold fusion articles are rarely published in peer-reviewed mainstream scientific journals, they do not attract the level of scrutiny expected for mainstream scientific publications.[16]

16. Goodstein 1994,Labinger & Weininger 2005, p. 1919

From Goodstein (my emphasis):

Cold Fusion is a pariah field, cast out by the scientific establishment. Between Cold Fusion and respectable science there is virtually no communication at all. Cold fusion papers are almost never published in refereed scientific journals, with the result that those works don’t receive the normal critical scrutiny that science requires. On the other hand, because the Cold-Fusioners see themselves as a community under siege, there is little internal criticism. Experiments and theories tend to be accepted at face value, for fear of providing even more fuel for external critics, if anyone outside the group was bothering to listen. In these circumstances, crackpots flourish, making matters worse for those who believe that there is serious science going on here.

Who believes that about “serious science”? Goodstein, physics professor at Cal Tech, apparently. Goodstein covers the “fiasco,” the total mess of 1989 and beyond. He ends up with what became my position, very quickly, which was very unpopular with the editors sitting on the Wikipedia article. What was a casual, off-hand remark that actually makes little sense when closely examined, if taken literally, is what is selected from him. That was his opinion. He expresses other opinions, which are ignored. Why?

Because, I came to think, the anti-fringe faction believes they are wrong. By the way, by “serious science,” Goodstein was not claiming that cold fusion was real. He was claiming that there is genuine research and there are some genuine mysteries, things not understood yet.

What Goodstein wrote, in 1994, was about the very large body of research reports that are not published under mainstream peer review. That’s a loss, created by the difficulty of publishing experimental results in some journals. But others accepted papers and the issue obviously does not apply to what is published under peer review. So research published in that was does receive — or would be expected to receive, normally — the necessary critique. My position is that genuine skepticism is essential to science, and critique within the field is crucial and necessary.

The article presents Goodstein’s 1994 comment as if it describes the present situation. Does it?

And then there is Labinger and Weininger, 2005.  It isn’t easy to find a copy of this paper, but I have one. It’s a decent report of the history of the cold fusion controversy. It does not support what is attributed to it.  Because of the importance of this study, I am uploading a copy of the paper, claiming fair use. The page referenced is 1919, but the entire paper is worth reading. Again, there is much in this paper relevant to what have been major issues with the Wikipedia article, and it’s been ignored. Heat/helium correlation is covered, as was known to the authors in 2004 (and there is much that they apparently didn’t know, but they were certainly aware of the significance of the correlation claim). I will probably write a fuller review of the paper.

The heat/helium correlation is still not covered in the Wikipedia article. All attempts to refer to it were reverted on various excuses or sometimes no excuse. Yet Labinger and Weininger, in 2005, considered this significant.

So how does this happen? It’s what I called MPOV-pushing, Majority Point of View Pushing, and in practical terms, “Majority” does not refer to the “majority of experts on the topic,” nor to “the majority of scientists,” nor even to the “majority of Wikipedia editors,” but rather to the “majority of those who are watching an article and who have not been blocked or driven away by the majority faction.”

And that faction has been quite open about opposing neutrality policy. Here is an essay by an editor, Manul,  Neutral and proportionate point of view.

There was no participation in that page by other than the author, and there is no comment on the Talk page, but it’s linked from many pages.

The neutral point of view policy does not prescribe neutrality, in a certain sense of the word. When there are competing points of view, Wikipedia does not aim for the midpoint between them. Rather, it gives weight to each view in proportion to its prevalence in reliable sources. Wikipedia’s less-than-obvious meaning of “neutral point of view” is a perennial source of confusion.

NPOV editing would be “objective and impartial.” “Points of view” are actually irrelevant. The problem is in determining “weight,” because Wikipedia verifiability rests on what appears in reliable sources, and the faction tends to reject sources that “promote” views it opposes. That judgment is synthesis; it’s prohibited in text, but infects the process by which text is selected — or rejected.

How the faction distorts the subject is by creating “balance” that reflects their own views, by cherry-picking from a vast array of sources of differing quality and relevance. And the strongest sources, for how cold fusion is currently viewed, would be those peer-reviewed reviews. In my opinion, that balance is itself somewhat skewed as to general scientific opinion, because, as pointed out by Labinger and Weininger and others, most scientists are not aware of “recent research,” which includes much research published as early as a few years after Pons and Fleischmann announced. From what I’ve seen, many scientists will argue that the biggest problem with cold fusion was the absence of a nuclear product, and that argument depends on ignorance of the heat/helium correlation.

Facts are not points of view; they may be used in arguments to support or oppose a point of view. But if a fact is verifiable by reliable source, my position was that the fact belongs somewhere in the project. For example, there are claims of evidence for a flat earth. If these appear in reliable source (which might be an article on the Flat Earth BS, published by a reliable secondary source as Wikipedia requires), they belong in the project somewhere, assuming that an article on the topic exists, which it can if there is enough reliable source. It only takes a few for an article, and only one for a mention.

The faction would exclude these arguing that they would be undue weight in an article, but would also disallow and historically opposed creating a new article that would include those facts, being more specific and balanced within the topic of that new article.

Presenting an argument against some position while not presenting the position itself is clearly POV expression.

Effectively, evidence that they think contrary to their point of view has been excluded. The essay by Manul is not completely wrong, but is misleading, because the issue is not the “weight of points of view,” but the “weight of what is in reliable source.” If all of that is presented somewhere in wikipedia, and properly linked and contexted, what is “mainstream” will become obvious.

Yes, there can be reliable source claiming that such and such is fringe or pathological science or pseudoscience. However, are there reliable sources that claim other than that? And if a source claims something is fringe, but another reliable source accepts that thing and covers it, is the latter to be excluded because a source claims it is fringe?

That exclusion, which has obviously happened, is not neutral in the meaning of the policy. As a practical reality, opinion shifts over time, and the opinions of experts can differ from that of the majority, so there is also the fact that what is “fringe” may vary with time.

There are rejected views that exist in reliable source. “Reliable source” does not become unreliable because opinions expressed became obsolete. Rather, it would be covered somewhere, in the project I and many others envisioned. “The sum of human knowledge” includes mistakes that were made.

I never attempted to present cold fusion, in the article, as other than fringe, but simply to present what was in reliable sources, following policy. This was heavily attacked. On the talk page, however, I argued that the extreme skeptical view, favored by many editing that article, had disappeared from scientific journals long ago, and that cold fusion was being routinely accepted, in some journals. Not in all. There were journals that vowed, in 1990 or so, to never again publish an article on cold fusion. All this, by the way, is not some vague conspiracy theory, it’s well-covered in sources accepted by Wikipedia, such as Simon, academically published, Undead Science, mentioned by Labinger and Weininger.

Wikipedia never developed reliable structure to deal with factional POV pushing. Yet it obviously exists, with some administrators being among the pushers.

Is Wikipedia neutral? No. It could be, and it often is. There are many editors who understand the principles — as are well-known to experienced journalists. The “He said, she said” style of journalism is lazy and shallow, and the idea of neutrality as being “in the middle,” as Manul decries, is a primitive idea, a straw man. However, what the principles behind the NPOV policy suggest is allowing the weight in the sources (which means, effectively, the weight of the sources) to determine the balance of articles.

Factional, POV editing pushes out information, even though reliably sourced, that contradicts the faction’s point of view.

I found that this only happened when there wasn’t broad community attention. Factional POV-pushing, then, thrives in the noise, the huge volume of activity on Wikipedia, where a faction can, through what is created by watchlists, appear to be in the majority, and can revert-war out what they don’t like, and they did, long-term.

When broad attention was attracted, as with RfC or other process, they would lose and articles would be improved. So a priority for the faction came to be eliminating or disempowering users who could skillfully manage creating those processes, within policy. And so there is an essay written originally by a factional administrator: Civil POV pushing

There is philosophy that developed of creating a neutral encyclopedia by excluding editors who were not neutral.

As can easily be understood, that was doomed, because nobody is always neutral. Very rarely are those who  become highly informed on a topic completely neutral, having developed no point of view.

What human organizations develop, that need objective judgement, is process, and there is only one real standard for assessing neutrality: consensus, with the degree of neutrality generally being measurable through the degree of consensus, including all participants willing to behave civilly. Civility is crucial to this.

In standard deliberative process, if a member of an assembly is uncivil, they are not banned, but asked to sit down, and if they refuse, they are conducted from the room. To actually ban a member from a deliberative assembly generally takes a supermajority vote, after announcement, and it’s rare. Most people will cooperate with an attempt of a chair to maintain order. So if the chair orders a member excluded from the room (the equivalent of a block on Wikipedia), that only applies to the immediate session. Wikipedia went for “quick,” i.e., :”wiki,” and lost the power to develop consensus as a result. It famously takes time and much discussion.

In fact, however, wiki process as it developed on Wikipedia is incredibly inefficient, failing to establish real consensus after massive discussions, enormous wastes of time, because few do the real study needed. Instead it’s quick: Keep/Delete, Block/Unblock, and if you argue, Ban. Or if you argue for what a strong faction likes, ”Unban.” Even after massive process to determine a need for a drastic change in behavior.

What I saw from the author of the CPOV essay was gross incivility from him and those whom he supported and who supported him. These users, including administrators, could freely and with little restraint insult those who disagreed with them. Before I was involved with cold fusion, the faction was not doing well before the Arbitration Committee. The open “SPOV (Scientific Point of View) pushers” had suffered losses in arbitration and thus we can see disgust with the Arbitration Committee in the essay — though I agree that they failed to deal with the issues. Then there was the first cold fusion arbitration, in 2008.

I was largely unaware of this case until later. (And at the time I was quite skeptical about cold fusion.) There was no finding of improper behavior (by which I mean behavior not matched at least as strongly by those arguing for Pcarbonn to be banned), rather the core finding by the Committee was this:

3) Pcarbonn edits articles with a stated agenda against Wikipedia policy[1] [2][3] Additionally, Pcarbonn has treated Wikipedia as a battleground; his actions to that effect include assumptions of bad faith [4], and edit warring. [5][6]. For more complete evidence see [7][8][9].

The “stated agenda” links to a screed by JzG (Guy) on the Administrator’s Noticeboard. JzG was far from neutral, I established that later, he was involved in the controversy. So they validated JzG’s agenda by blaming the problem on Pcarbonn instead of looking at the underlying cause of the continued dispute. (And JzG, emboldened, then proceeded to act even more disruptively, leading him to blacklist out-of-process, which I noticed and confronted, purely as a neutral editor …. and JzG will never mention it, but that first arbitration led to his reprimand. But nothing was done to actually restrain his POV-pushing. He resigned his admin tools in disgust, but, then, because the resignation was after the ruling, he was able to request them back and then work, piece by piece, over time, to get revenge.)

What was the “stated agenda”? JzG wrote:

See also WP:COIN. The long and the short of it is, Pcarbonn (talk · contribs · logs · edit filter log · block log) has written an article in a fringe journal, New Energy Times, openly admitting that he has been pursuing a years-long agenda to skew the article Cold fusion (edit | talk | history | links | watch | logs | views) to be more favourable to the fringe views proomoted by that journal, [10] and especially [11]. Example:

“I’m pleased to report that the revised page, resulting from the mediation process, presents the topic as a continuing controversy, not as an example of pathological science. This is a major step forward in the recognition of the new field of condensed matter nuclear science and low-energy nuclear reaction research … I now have a lot of respect for all paradigm-shifting scientists, like Copernicus, Galileo, Fleischmann and Pons, and the other courageous cold fusion pioneers”.


Few media outlets are paying attention to the subject, and many of the prominent individuals known to New Energy Times who are observing the field are keeping mum though a few observers such as Ron Marshall and Pierre Carbonnelle have tried their best to participate.

That note was from Steve Krivit, not Pcarbonn.

The source given by ArbComm does not support the claim. The whole article should  be read (the old links are dead), it is here. Pcarbonn was claiming that the Wikipedia Dispute Resolution process worked. What he was allegedly “promoting” was what is quite obvious from recent sources, including the 2004 U.S. Department of Energy review.  An “agenda to skew the article” would be far from reality for Pcarbonn. But ArbComm fell for it.

In addition the edits they point to with “[1][2][3] “do not support the claim. They have stated that they do not wish to rule on content issues, but what Pcarbonn was claiming in those edits is easily supportable from sources, and they seem to infer an agenda from pointing to what would be, for him, simple knowledge found in reliable source (or at least sources accepted by most editors). That’s ruling on a content issue, by using an opinion or claim as evidence of improper agenda to promote that opinion, while claiming they were not so ruling.

I am not here looking at the behavioral claims, i.e., the alleged results of “battlefield mentality,” (revert warring and incivility), but Pcarbonn’s accusers had, for years, in many situations, behaved as badly or worse (and continue). Assumptions of bad faith have been routine for them, and it is still going on. Pcarbonn had been able to work through mediation to improve the article, but the faction (JzG and Science Apologist being prominent factional users) did not like the results, so they got rid of him, it’s pretty much that simple. They knew what arguments might appeal to the Committee, and this time they prevailed. Science Apologist was only a few months away from being sanctioned himself, but he was able to later return with no restrictions, with factional support that misrepresented the history to the community.

The Arbitration Committee did not have the sophistication to realize that “POV pushing” is human, and normal, and that what we would hope for is “Civil POV pushers,” who will negotiate in good faith, and seek consensus.

Instead, “POV pushing” is considered a crime, and experts get banned frequently, because they have a point of view and argue for it. A sane Wikipedia community would guide them toward advising the community, to provide sources. A “fringe POV pusher,” is likely to know better than anyone else what reliable sources exist, if they exist.

I argued before the Arbitration Committee that Wikipedia might consider suggesting that experts declare their credentials and with that be treated as having a conflict of interest (since Wikipedia does not want them as “authorities,” but would — or should — respect and consider their advice. An expert (which would include “cranks” and “crackpots”) is likely to be aware of the best sources, but should not be judging whether or not these are adequate. Those are editorial decisions, which on Wikipedia would be made according to policies, not “truth,” or even “expert opinion.”

By banning experts, and, relative to the other editors involved, Pcarbonn was an expert, Wikipedia warped the article.

Other experts, including scientists, showed up, but generally did not understand how Wikipedia worked and tended to argue “truth,” an easy mistake to make.

JzG actually disclosed, at one point, where his POV came from. He had a friend who was an electrochemist and he had asked the friend about the article, from before Pcarbonn and others had worked on it, apparently, and he thought it was “pretty good,” as I recall. So, JzG concluded, Pcarbonn and others must be wrong. He had a point of view, and he pushed it relentlessly, and continued to do so, but it was not a point of view based on expertise, nor on the best reliable sources, but on emotional reactions and personal opinion. JzG was famous for radical incivility, long before I ever became involved. And it continued, it’s still going on….

Pcarbonn faced, as I later faced, some outrageous opposition, and commented about it, which could look bad. But I have not examined those specific claims. I’m just looking, now, at what was cited by ArbComm as the proof of an “agenda contrary to policy.” It wasn’t there. So they imagined it, synthesized it, which, I found, was all too common. They did themselves what they accused Pcarbonn of, not “assuming good faith,” but assuming an intention to violate policy — which was not shown in the evidence given. And they did it unanimously, which is scary.

(Later, the ArbComm mailing list was hacked. ArbComm considers it valuable to present a face of consensus to the community, but that is negotiated privately, on the list. So much for open process.)

(One point: I think they considered Science Apologist an expert. He was indeed a physicist, but that conveys almost no expertise on cold fusion, only on the theoretical reasons to expect it’s impossible, which is not controversial. That is, “cold fusion” is not well defined, but the common concept of it, the easy assumption from the name, is probably impossible and SA would know why — and so do I.

Yet that argument is also flawed, and was known to be flawed. Basically, perhaps something is happening that we have not anticipated. Low-temperature fusion is not “impossible,” but a first approximation of rate, for d-d fusion, which is what everyone thinks of first when “fusion” is mentioned in connection with the heat effect, would have the rate be very, very, very low. However, rate cannot be calculated for an “unknown nuclear reaction,” which is what Pons and Fleischmann actually claimed. That fact, by the way, is not mentioned in the article. My source for it would be primary, the actual first paper. Here it is: (my emphasis).

… We realise that the results reported here raise more questions than they provide answers, and that much further work is required on this topic. … The most surprising feature of our results however, is that reactions (v) and (vi) are only a small part of the overall reaction scheme and that the bulk of the energy release is due to an hitherto unknown nuclear process or processes (presumably again due to deuterons).

The title of the article as printed was “Electrochemically induced nuclear fusion of deuterium”; however, I have seen claims that as-submitted, there was a question mark after this, dropped in the editorial process. The matter was enormously confused by the coverage of the classic d-d reaction, because they apparently believed they had detected those neutrons, and tritium as well, which, as to the neutrons, was artifact and error. Looking at that paper now, numerous errors stand out. This was rushed and sloppy — and apparently did not disclose enough to allow replication.

There is later work reporting neutron production from PdD, but the levels are extremely low, and have never been correlated with heat. There is also later work finding tritium, but roughly a million times down from what is apparently the primary product, helium. And, again, I have seen no attempts to determine if tritium was correlated with heat. Experiments tended to look for one or the other, or if they looked for both, as in some of the famous replication failures, they found neither.

“Fusion” also appears in the University of Utah press release.

Again, I’ve seen a claim that this came from the press office, not Pons and Fleischmann.

My favorite counterexample to the “impossibility” argument is to point to a form of cold fusion that is not controversial, it is accepted as a reality, and the argument as to why “cold fusion is impossible” does not consider it. Muon-catalyzed fusion takes place at very low temperatures.

What we know of as “cold fusion” is definitely not muon-catalyzed fusion, but the naive impossibility arguments don’t think of exceptions, i.e., what if there is some catalyst? MCF (or an equivalent with another catalysis, perhaps some kind electron catalysis) isn’t happening because MCF has the same branching ratio as hot fusion, and would generate fatal levels of neutrons (from the level of heat reported), so a simple catalyst causing ordinary d-d fusion cannot be the explanation of cold fusion. But what if the reactants are not just two deuterons (and some catalytic condition)? Basically, what Pons and Fleischmann actually claimed was an “unknown nuclear reaction” and the later-developed evidence, still excluded from the article even though very amply covered in reliable source, does not tell us the actual reaction, only the fuel and the “ash” or nuclear product.

I still find it hard to believe that the strong helium claim remains, after so many years, and in spite of ample coverage in peer-reviewed and academically publish sources — including sources cited in the article for other, relatively trivial matters, totally excluded. What the article has on helium is this:

In response to doubts about the lack of nuclear products, cold fusion researchers have tried to capture and measure nuclear products correlated with excess heat.[121] Considerable attention has been given to measuring 4He production.[13]However, the reported levels are very near to background, so contamination by trace amounts of helium normally present in the air cannot be ruled out. In the report presented to the DOE in 2004, the reviewers’ opinion was divided on the evidence for 4He; with the most negative reviews concluding that although the amounts detected were above background levels, they were very close to them and therefore could be caused by contamination from air.[122]

(The links in the article quotations are to the Wikipedia notes, but I will cover some of these sources below. [121] [13] [122])

Ugh. “In response to doubts” was POV synthesis. There was a search for nuclear products, from the beginning. Helium was not expected, from “fusion theory.” The lack of other products (especially neutrons) was a cause for doubt that a nuclear reaction was involved. But helium can be a nuclear product. Helium was found to be correlated, but that is not stated, only that there was a search for it. Describing this as a reaction to doubts follows the debunkers’ opinions that this is based on fanatic belief, trying to prove the belief. Not good science.

Other nuclear products have indeed been reported (at very low levels), but only helium has been correlated with heat. Tritium has been widely observed, but still only, roughly, a million times down from helium; if tritium is being produced, it is probably from some side-reaction or rare branch. No attempt was made, to my knowledge, to compare tritium levels with heat reports. The discovery that helium and heat were correlated was not announced until 1991, by Miles, and that fact was reported by Huizenga in his book — also reliable source. He was quite skeptical but considered the report astonishing, as it would “solve a major mystery of cold fusion,” as I recall. All this, of high importance in the history of cold fusion, is missing.

One of the main criticisms of cold fusion was that deuteron-deuteron fusion into helium was expected to result in the production of gamma rays—which were not observed and were not observed in subsequent cold fusion experiments.[40][123] Cold fusion researchers have since claimed to find X-rays, helium, neutrons[124] and nuclear transmutations.[125] Some researchers also claim to have found them using only light water and nickel cathodes.[124] The 2004 DOE panel expressed concerns about the poor quality of the theoretical framework cold fusion proponents presented to account for the lack of gamma rays.[122]

The new sources are [40] [123] [124] [125].

[121] The 2010 Hagelstein review in Naturwissenschaften, being cited for what is trivial about it. Wow: they point to a convenience copy on JzG must not have noticed. What would be a bombshell in that article is the stated assumption in the abstract:

In recent Fleischmann-Pons experiments carried out by different groups, a thermal signal is seen indicative of excess energy production of a magnitude much greater than can be accounted for by chemistry. Correlated with the excess heat appears to be 4He, with the associated energy near 24 MeV per helium atom.

Peer-reviewed reliable source in a mainstream multidisciplinary journal (then, it later narrowed the focus to life sciences).

[13] The Hagelstein paper submitted to the 2004 U.S. DoE review. Not peer-reviewed, though. Primary source for claims of a segment of the Condensed Matter Nuclear Science community.

[122] is the 2004 U.S DoE review report, misrepresented — or synthesized. The statement, however, is from the summary and was the opinion of the anonymous review author, based on some reviewer opinions.

From the review, listing the claims in the review submission:

1. “The existence of a physical effect that produces heat in metal deuterides. The heat is measured in quantities greatly exceeding all known chemical processes and the results are many times in excess of determined errors using several kinds of apparatus. In addition, the observations have been
reproduced, can be reproduced at will when the proper conditions are reproduced, and show the same patterns of behavior. Further, many of the reasons for failure to reproduce the heat effect have been discovered.”
2. “The production of 4He as an ash associated with this excess heat, in amounts commensurate with a reaction mechanism consistent with D+D -> 4He + 23.8 MeV (heat)”.

The second claim being considered is not mentioned in the Wikipedia article, only a criticism of it. “Commensurate” is stronger than “correlated.” That is, not only is 4He correlated with heat (i.e., increases when heat increases, is not found when heat is not found), but the ratio found experimentally is consistent with the requirements of thermodynamics for deuterium conversion to helium. (Which might not be the reaction shown, but another which accomplishes that conversion). And then the review had:

The hypothesis that excess energy production in electrolytic cells is due to low energy nuclear reactions was tested in some experiments by looking for D + D fusion reaction products, in particular 4He, normally produced in about 1 in 10in hot D + D fusion reactions. Results reported in the review document purported to show that 4He was detected in five out of sixteen cases where electrolytic cells were reported to be producing excess heat.

Wait just a cotton-pickin’ moment!  That was a blatant error. It’s not what was in the document, they are referring to the Case Appendix, which mentions “sixteen cells” that were tested. But 8 of them were controls which were not expected to show either heat or helium. Unfortunately, the Case work was never published, I’ve been leaning on McKubre — gently! — to arrange its release, it was done for a governmental client. In any case, only five cells are reported in the Appendix, I forget the exact details, someone could look them up. A detailed heat report was only shown for one cell. There were not “sixteen cells reported to be producing excess heat.” And, as well, these were not electrolytic cells. Someone read quite carelessly. (One of the reviews made the heat error and I think the summarizing bureaucrat made the “electrolytic” error.) All of this shows that the review report itself was not carefully checked. Primary source, my opinion. It went on:

The detected 4He was typically very close to, but reportedly
above background levels.

Misleading and inaccurate. In two cells, helium levels rose above ambient, and showed no slowing as they reached ambient levels. In most 4He work, the helium levels are either below ambient (and ambient helium has been excluded) or in one case, which I cover in my 2015 review in Current Science (reliable source!) ambient helium was not excluded and the measured helium was an elevation above ambient.

This evidence was taken as convincing or somewhat convincing by some
reviewers; for others the lack of consistency was an indication that the overall hypothesis was not justified. Contamination of apparatus or samples by air containing 4He was cited as one possible cause
for false positive results in some measurements.

That is a “possible cause” if one pays no attention to experimental details and the correlation, and if one believed the 5/16 claim, as one reviewer did, of course the “lack of consistency” would be an indication that the overall hypothesis was not justified. However, what is the hypothesis? The work was investigational, and the conclusion was that heat and helium were strongly correlated, and this was not based on Case, except a little. It was based on Miles, which the reviewers ignored, but who is featured in all reviews of the topic.

The correlation is covered in many, many reliable sources, but totally missing from the article, yet it is the strongest evidence for the nuclear nature of the heat effect called “cold fusion.” By far. All the rest is circumstantial and remains debatable for the most part. Garwin on input power and heat measurements: “They must be making some mistake.” Okay, it’s possible, but the “mistake” somehow creates a correlation with blinded measurements? I’ve said that if cold fusion was a treatment for heart disease, it would be standard of practice already, the evidence is that strong.

Remember, though, Wikipedia’s standard for inclusion is not “truth,” but verifiability in reliable sources, and for scientific articles, the gold standard is peer-reviewed and academic sources. Not editorial opinion about “mainstream views.” If a view is not mainstream, that can be stated, by showing a reliable source claiming it. All this can be verifiable if properly attributed.

But the faction actually censors and makes the subject obscure. This example makes that obvious. Continuing to look at the notes on what I quoted from the Wikipedia article:

[40] is an article from Scientific American in 1999: What is the current scientific thinking on cold fusion? Is there any possible validity to this phenomenon?

Peter N. Saeta, an assistant professor of physics at Harvey Mudd College, responds:
Eight years ago researchers Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, then both at the University of Utah, made headlines around the world with their claim to have achieved fusion in a simple tabletop apparatus working at room temperature. Other experimenters failed to replicate their work, however, and most of the scientific community no longer considers cold fusion a real phenomenon. Nevertheless, research continues, and a small but very vocal minority still believes in cold fusion.

Fuzzy in, fuzzy out. What did Fleischmann and Pons actually claim? “Fusion in a simple tabletop apparatus”? Not actually. They claimed evidence for an unknown nuclear reaction, and the apparatus only seemed simple. It was actually quite a difficult experiment. “Other experimenters failed to replicate their work” was false, if taken as excluding confirmation, the reported effect was eventually confirmed by many, the idea of general failure was obviously based on early difficulties in replication.

The statement about “most of the scientific community” was true for 1999 and may still be true. What does “believes in cold fusion” mean? Is cold fusion a religion? The question was about “current scientific thinking,” but it is asked as if there is some authority, when, in fact, scientific opinion can vary widely. “Very vocal” is a tad, ah, judgmental. People who are working on something may be enthusiastic about it. Is that a problem? I will quote the skeptical inquirer Nate Hoffman from Dialog (1995):

YS: I guess the real question has to be this: Is the heat real?

OM: The simple facts are as follows: Scientists experienced in the area of calorimetric measurements are performing these experiments. Long periods occur with no heat production, and then, occasionally, periods suddenly occur with apparent heat production. These scientists become irate when so-called experts call them charlatans. The occasions when apparent heat appears seem to be highly sensitive to the surface conditions of the palladium and are not reproducible at will.

YS: Any phenomenon that is not reproducible at will is most likely not real.

OM: People in the San Fernando Valley, Japanese, Columbians, et al, will be glad to hear that earthquakes are not real.

YS: Ouch. I deserved that. My comment was stupid.

OM: A large number of people who should know better have parroted that inane statement….

The Scientific American article then presents Michael Schaffer. He is clearly at least somewhat knowledgeable, but he’s also sloppy. Nevertheless, he comes to a reasonable conclusion:

“So, what is the current scientific thinking on cold fusion? Frankly, most scientists have not followed the field since the disenchantment of 1989 and 1990. They typically still dismiss cold fusion as experimental error, but most of them are unaware of the newly reported results. Even so, given the extraordinary nature of the claimed cold fusion results, it will take extraordinarily high quality, conclusive data to convince most scientists, unless a compelling theoretical explanation is found first.”

He is talking about the political situation. He obviously thinks that something might be valid. However, he does not mention the strongest evidence that the heat effect is nuclear in nature, the heat/helium correlation. He merely points out what is not controversial, that the ordinary d-d fusion reaction only very rarely produces helium and when it does, it will always produce (must produce) a gamma ray. It is not clear that Schaffer realizes that the reaction might not be “d-d.” The lack of gammas strongly indicates that. But what I find of interest in his comment is the description of the position of “most scientists.” Is this “reliable source”? Obviously, the editors think it is for the comment about gammas. What about the ignorance of most scientists on the “newly reported results”?

A “compelling theoretical explanation” is quite unlikely at this point. Many have attempted to come up with one. Most theories conflict with the experimental evidence, so are not complete even if valid, i.e., there would be details to be worked out. Some theories replace one mystery with another, i.e., cold fusion is a mystery but what is known does not actually contradict known physics, it is merely unexpected, something yet to be understood. The theory that most closely attempts to explain experimental results would require a massive revision of basic nuclear physics, but without the specific experimental evidence that would justify this.

However, as to a scientific examination, the heat/helium correlation hypothesis is testable. In addition to having been confirmed widely, there is a project under way to confirm it with increased precision, and I hope and expect that there will be results in “not long.” Which could still be some years. My concern here is simply that there is extensive coverage of the heat/helium correlation in reliable source, the earliest I know of would be Huizenga, Fiasco, 1993 (2nd edition), yet it is still entirely missing from the article, almost 25 years later. This is not “recentism.”

The rest of the Scientific American article is pseudoskeptical bullshit, mostly scientifically irrelevant. I have sometimes considered writing a detailed review of that whole article, but … so much bullshit, so little time. (Morrison also did debate Pons and Fleischmann in a journal, and we are reviewing that elsewhere on this site. In that environment, he was more careful. What the other respondent wrote could not have been published in a scientific journal … but Scientific American published it…. so much for them. There was no thorough analysis of the topic, it was almost entirely opinion.

Phlogiston theory is covered better than cold fusion.

Completing the notes to that quoted section of the Wikipedia article:

40. The 2004 U.S. DoE report, again, which is reporting the “most negative” individual reviews. The argument of leakage is an obvious possible artifact with helium measurements at the low levels that would be expected if helium is the source of the reported heat (as helium production from deuterium is very energetic). The objection completely neglects the correlation and the actual experimental behavior.

[The review report was itself not subject to peer review, it was political. It actually shows a sea change in thinking from the 1989 review, but … attempts to insert fact from the review that could show this was always reverted. Instead, superficial comment from the review that is easily misunderstood was used. There was massive revert warring over this, over the years (before I was ever involved).  Is this still the condition of the article? Yes. The 1989 review is presented this way:

In 1989 the United States Department of Energy (DOE) concluded that the reported results of excess heat did not present convincing evidence of a useful source of energy and decided against allocating funding specifically for cold fusion.

That is easily verifiable from the primary source, the 1989 review. It is also misleading. First of all, the 1989 review was rushed, and the conclusions based on almost complete replication failure in the early efforts. Of course those reported results “did not present convincing evidence”! Further, the concern was “useful source of energy,” and there are still no such results, only indications of possibility, certainly not “convincing evidence,” enough to justify the charge to the panel, should there be a massive, heavily funded project? No, there shouldn’t have been, and still should not be. Not yet. Rather, the panel did recommend further research “under existing programs.”

A second DOE review in 2004, which looked at new research, reached similar conclusions and did not result in DOE funding of cold fusion.[10]

And on that point, (a massive or special program) the 2004 review conclusion was “similar” as in 1989, and said so, and that is also my conclusion, with much more thorough knowledge of the evidence than they were able to gain in the short review process. Rather, the panel again recommended further research– unanimously this time (the 1989 recommendation was actually forced by the threatened resignation of the Nobelist co-chair if it was not included, along with other language noting doubt, not certain rejection) further research. What was missing from that summary of “similar” was that what they report from 1989, about the lack of “convincing evidence” was definitely not the conclusion of the 2004 panel. Yet the way the reports are presented in the article matches the common opinion of skeptics on this: that the 2004 report also rejected cold fusion, and that there is no decent evidence for it. There is language in the summary of the report that shows the contrary; the panel was divided, which actually is a better reflection of “emerging science” rather than “fringe.” Given the very strong general negative opinion of cold fusion, some reviewers were apparently predisposed to misread the evidence, as can be seen in the individual reports (and then reflected in the summary). I never attempted to state this in the article, because it is “original research,”  though it is easily verifiable in the primary source, the review submission and report.

123. Rogers, Vern C.; Sandquist, Gary M. (December 1990), “Cold fusion reaction products and their measurement”Journal of Fusion Energy9 (4): 483–485, Bibcode:1990JFuE….9..483Rdoi:10.1007/BF01588284

The abstract is at the linked URL. From the first words of the article:

Ambient or cold fusion of deuterium is postulated to occur when two deuterium nuclei in a palladium or titanium metal lattice with ambient kinetic energy quantum mechanically tunnel through their mutual coulombic charge barrier and undergo one or more of the following
nuclear fusion reactions.

It is not controversial that gammas are not observed. The article examines the proposal (“postulated to occur.”) By whom? The reactions listed are the three known d-d fusion branches, and it was obvious from the original Pons and Fleischmann paper that these were not the main reaction, and what they presented showing that the might be happening at low levels was either artifact (neutron measurements) or weak (tritium and helium, as of that time). The article wastes a lot of space on what is completely not controversial: the absence of any product other than helium at significant levels. Is this the best source for that? Perhaps. They use the source to show “no gammas.” Right. No gammas, at least not high-energy gammas. There is later work reviewing this issue in more detail and with more experimental history, this was 1990.

124. This is Simons, Undead Science, p. 215. He is actually studying the sociology of cold fusion and the rejection. Simon is cited for “X-rays, helium, neutrons.” To repeat the quotation:

Cold fusion researchers have since claimed to find X-rays, helium, neutrons[124] and nuclear transmutations.[125] Some researchers also claim to have found them using only light water and nickel cathodes.[124] 

Now, due weight. What are the “main claims”? What has the most reliable source? Further, there are claims of major effects, correlated (and also with correlated causal conditions), and claims of minor effects, not correlated. The article mashes all this together. There are indeed persistent reports of X-rays, , but with no particular coherence or consistency across multiple researchers. Likewise neutrons have been reported, with the strongest report, least likely to be some artifact, being more recent than Simon, so why is Simon cited? And the levels of neutrons reported are only slightly above background, with the relationship to the primary reaction (primary symptom: heat) being quite obscure.

This was “passing mention,” by a sociologist and it contains no detail or references. It is quite unspecific. They are avoiding citing peer-reviewed reviews, which do cover all this with far more detail.

p. 215 in Simon mentions light water reports (mostly heat and tritium). This is all vague and not clearly confirmed, unlike the primary findings: heat from palladium deuteride, and correlated helium. There is no balance, in spite of the existence of peer-reviewed reviews of the field that cover these issues in detail.

The sentence makes it seem as if helium were found in light water experiments. No, helium has not been so reported. Light water or light hydrogen have been used in control experiments. If there are light water reactions, they are largely unconfirmed. Light water has been used as a control in heat/helium studies. No helium from PdH. (Storms has theorized that light water LENR would produce deuterium, which would be very difficult to measure.) What Simon actually says is:

The most startling of these are reports of the measurement of excess heat and nuclear particles (mostly tritium) using light-water based electrolytes with nickel cathodes, as opposed to heavy water and palladium.

So not helium and not transmutations other than to tritium. Poor sourcing. And these editors don’t actually sit down and read Simon; rather they grab snippets from Google Books. Simons reports much on the sociology of high interest, but the faction just cherry-picks what tells the story they want to tell.

125. Simon again, 150–153, 162. Mysteries abound in cold fusion research and Simon is aware of it. What is reported by “most cold fusion researchers” and what is reported by only a few, inconsistently? Again, the article mashes all this together, an inconsistent collection of artifacts generated by confirmation bias.

The Wikipedia editorial process encourages sentence-by-sentence, line by line, point by point “negotiation” of article content. It is extremely difficult to generate an article with overall balance, because of how the work proceeds.

Ironically, it was Science Apologist who demonstrated another approach. While he was site-banned, for a time, from his disruptive editing, he used the time to create an article on Optics, in his user space on Wikisource. I don’t know why he didn’t use Wikiversity, it would have been ideal for that. What he wrote was judged better than the standing Wikipedia article, and it was then RfC’d to replace the existing mess in one edit. I supported that move. See the discussion. It was all much more complicated than necessary. Really, there would have been a binary choice to make, which article is better? (Not “perfect.” Just a comparison!) (The author being banned was actually irrelevant, the content was released under the standard WMF license, but some argued “meat puppetry.” An opinion that an article written by X is better than the articles written by a farrago of users, erratically, is not “meat puppetry,” and if there is consensus for a substitution, that is it, as to my understanding of Wikipedia process. ArbComm apparently explicitly approved what should really have been obvious.) I am not aware of any other example of this being done. Nor have I found much interest in doing it. People would rather fight than switch. And writing an article on a topic as complex as cold fusion is actually a lot of work. And nobody is being paid to do it.

Many hands make short work, so if that were to be done for cold fusion, it would take collaboration, which has never appeared, in spite of opportunities.



Author: Abd ulRahman Lomax


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