I was wrong about ‘cold fusion’

I was wrong about ‘cold fusion’ May 19, 2020

Three days ago, I wrote this:

  • In 1989, chemists Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann made headlines with claims that they had produced fusion at room temperature — “cold fusion” compared to the almost 15,000,000° Centigrade that fusion is thought to require when it happens in a star. Thinking their discovery was a game changer, instead of going down the proper route of submitting for publication to a respected science journal which would have involved peer review, they went straight to the news media. Many laboratories around the world subsequently attempted to replicate their experiment. None could. Their reputation collapsed and, with it, their authority.

I’ve been contacted by a personal friend of Fleischmann and Pons, who has given me insider information about the ‘cold fusion’ incident.

I’m grateful to have at least one reader! Please feel free to interact with me.

Fleischmann escaped from Nazi Germany after the invasion of Poland and died some years ago so, not wishing to disrespect the dead, here is my clarification.

My critic says this,

“I suggest you publish a retraction, saying you were not aware that F&P published in journals first, and that many other researchers subsequently published replications.
You shouldn’t vouch for the replications. It would not be proper for you to say, “since it was replicated, it must be real.” You have not read the replications, so you should not take a stand either way. Just say you don’t know. I have read them, and I have been in the labs, and I have written detailed analyses of some of them, so I can say “it must be real.” You can read my analyses and see if I am right. For example:

https://www.lenr-canr.org/acrobat/RothwellJreviewofmc.pdf  “

I’m happy to take his advice. He also acknowledges that many researchers at the time could not replicate the effect and tells me that,

“The public impression was wrong. The promise was that the effect fuses deuterium to form helium, releasing 24 MeV per reaction. That’s true. If the reaction can be understood and controlled — a big if — then I think it does have the potential to become a practical source of energy, because the power density, temperatures, and energy density are demonstrably higher than the uranium oxide fuel pellets in a conventional fission reactor.”

So, there was a modest promise that the media, typically, leapt on to exaggerate into a big promise well before its time. Wouldn’t it be good if cold fusion eventually does deliver…

The difficulty we have to face is the gulf between the language of scientists, which should always be couched in provisional terms of probabilities, and the desire for certainty merged with sensationalism, which is the currency of journalists. It was the journos at the time (1989) who coined the term ‘cold fusion’ and who speculated about it soon becoming a safe energy source.

I consider my job, as a retired science teacher, to be about communicating science to the general public in an understandable way. I’m happy to clear things up if I get them wrong. Perpetrating doctrine is not my game, I leave that to believers.

My critic and I agree that Fleischmann and Pons’ previous academic status did not protect them from subsequently diminished authority, whether justified or not. In fact, they were both sacked from their posts and hounded by the community until, in the case of Stanley Pons, he renounced his American citizenship and is now retired in France.

That was the point of my article: scientists do not worship authority, they only respect evidence.

Sometimes though, it takes a while for the evidence to become respected…

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