If you read that article, it is probably because you are aware of recent announcements by commercial companies that cold fusion is ready for industrial use. This first part addresses the basic question, is whether cold Fusion, now named LENR, a validated scientific fact beyond any reasonable doubt, a probable phenomenon, very doubtful, or non-existent beyond any reasonable doubt.
After reading that article you might be interesting in:
- The an executive summary on LENR.
- The book "Excess Heat" of "Charles Beaudette" (Buy it rather) is one of the best book on the subject, and just the first chapters may be enough to explain where are the key pathology in Cold Fusion coverage by physicists, journals and media. Maybe that book make my article mostly redundant.
- To complete the book of Beaudette, that article answer to recent critics by Kirk Shanahan, explaining the quality of the work of Miles, McKubre, SPAWAR, Iwamura, and extending the range of critics debunking to more recent claims.
- Also see the site lenrproof.com.
- Think also about reading "Student's Guide to Cold Fusion " by Mickael McKubre,
- and watching that video from SRI .
- You can also read that short presentation by Jed Rothwell for ICCF18.
- More bloody, Jed Rothwell has written an article for wikipedia on LENR/cold fusion, which addresses this question with more precision, irony.
Beside that article, as a background, I advise you to read :
- a presentation of the book the "Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas Kuhn. This is a must to read, that explains very naturally what happened with LENR. How things turned out could not have been otherwise, and there is no hope "normal science" will accept LENR before it is industrialized and before a theory explains it. This point of view has actually been written before, and may have even missed point that Kuhn so well described. Apologies for that!
- Note that some of Kuhn ideas, that are strongly criticized today as exaggerated can be found in that old book "the art of scientific investigation" from Beveridge in 1908
- About groupthink and collective delusion, you will find in that article a description of Groupthink, that you could match to Cold Fusion history.
- Roland Benabou published a model, and explain some counter-intuitive observed facts in "GroupThink : Collective denial in Organizations and Markets" (see also Appendix D, Patterns of denials).
Les francophones peuvent lire:
Cold fusion crazy beginning : LENR killed in a trough of disillusionment
The main story about cold fusion, alias LENR, starts in 1989 with an announcement by Dr Fleischmann (a leading electro-chemist of that time) who published results about heat production. This was something going beyond what the knowledge of chemistry at that time (and currently) would allow, and was done during a very long electrolysis (months) of heavy water with palladium electrodes, needing very careful calorimetry. He also claimed neutron detection. He detected He4 production, but was advised by the administration of University of Utah not to publish results.
The article attracted much media buzz, and much hope for an energy revolution. It also attracted some furor, because the neutron measure was an artifact. There was some conflict about publication customs, as the finding appeared to be inconsistent with what was currently known about hot- fusion in plasma, and some say, because it threatened the status-quo. Most of all, it threatened budgets.
Subsequently many experiments were quickly done, many failed, and few succeeded. Three influential labs (MIT, Caltech, Harwell) quickly ran (some say sabotaged) experiments that failed, perhaps helped by some tweaking of the data (see Eugene Mallove), a lack of patience, and lack of knowledge of the key conditions necessary to trigger the reaction, and possibly by poor calorimetry (see Miles calorimetry paper at ICCF17),.
Finally a cascade of opinion formed with positive claims that cold fusion is voodoo science, and errors, if not fraud.
All was done in 6 weeks, and never reconsidered since.
Early rejection, late ignorance : Trust the data, not the consensus
Looking back, many criticisms were made with unwarranted assumptions, and errors in logic. Those assumption and errors are clear today, but should have been identified easily from the beginning, especially from scientists having knowledge of past scientific history.
You can find a well constructed article by Edmund Storms that addresses those criticisms with a review of current results on cold fusion. This was published in Naturwissenschaften in 2010 (Edmund Storm 2010). The consensus that he summarize states:
The phenomenon called cold fusion has been studied for the last 21 years since its discovery by Profs. Fleischmann and Pons in 1989. The discovery was met with considerable skepticism, but supporting evidence has accumulated, plausible theories have been suggested, and research is continuing in at least 8 countries. This paper provides a brief overview of the major discoveries and some of the attempts at an explanation. The evidence supports the claim that a nuclear reaction between deuterons to produce helium can occur in special materials without application of high energy. This reaction is found to produce clean energy at potentially useful levels without the harmful byproducts normally associated with a nuclear process. Various requirements of a model are examined.
Impossible impossibility : If a dog can't fly, this doesn't prevent bird from flying
The first criticism is that "LENR is not allowed by today's physics and quantum mechanics". Huizenga summarized that rebuttal with the concept of the "three miracles of cold fusion": lack of neutrons, gamma rays, and not enough energy to overcome the Coulomb barrier.
This claim erroneously applies the knowledge acquired in plasma science to the inside of an unknown condensed matter environment, such as a lattice, a surface, or cracks... There is no doubt that the usual reaction happening in plasma is improbable. However if one observes how different quantum mechanic function in semiconductors or superconductors, then experts should be modest about definitive claims of impossibility.
What quantum mechanics and thermodynamic says is simply that global mass and energy have to be conserved, that global entropy cannot decrease, that quantum numbers and momentum have to be conserved, and the Heisenberg inequality is respected.
LENR as observed today may be some nuclear transmutation, yet what and how it happens is not understood. LENR mays also challenge the usual way physicists make approximate computation of quantum mechanics. Maybe we should abandon some assumption, like the two-body independent computation, the Born-Oppenheimer approximation, relativistic simplification, to name a few.
Basically, today there is no theory, and we don't have enough data to propose a precise mechanism, and to know how it actually challenges current physics. This should not be a problem as one can still accept facts. After all, we accepted fire and cooked food before understanding it.
Yeong E. Kim of Purdue University expresses this perspective in a more technical vernacular :
I clearly recognized that the conventional nuclear scattering theory at positive energies cannot directly be applied to nuclear reactions involving deuterons bound in a metal, which is a negative-energy bound-state problem. Quantum scattering theory describing the Coulomb barrier problem is applicable to scattering experiments with nuclear beams.
When they were being criticized at the APS meeting, I was frustrated that I could not rebuke public criticisms by my nuclear theory colleagues, since I did not have an appropriate alternative theory, even though I realized that their theoretical arguments are premature.
Impossible perfection: Initially planes often crashed
The second criticism is even worse, since it is the basic foundation of science. That is "If it is not systematically reproducible, it is non-existent". This reasoning is shocking for anyone that understands the early development stages of technologies, like semiconductors or the airplane. As is usual for an unknown phenomenon, there were unknown required conditions. These are knowingly respected or not, leading to failures or successes.
This developmental course may look simple, but it is not, and is to be expected. The reproducibility, if not in total, has increased tremendously. Many of the criteria to trigger LENR have been found.These criteria include the need for higher than previously believed loading of palladium, some needed and banned palladium impurities, and a nano-scale crystallographic structure. There have also been many different causes, such as cracks or contamination. In other words, one cannot honestly ask for perfect reproducibility until all is understood.
Definitive doubt : Initial doubts about experimental data have to be reevaluated with new data
The third family of criticisms assert that the findings are only measurement artifacts. It is right that early experiments demand exacting procedures, but the calorimetric results of Fleischmann, one of the best experimentalists of his time, left no doubt. The problem was lack of reproducibility, not precision.
It was an error to say that cold fusion was easy to do in an experiment. Moreover Fleischmann did not disclose all the data, and it was impossible to implement good experiments in a short period of time. Not easy, but much less difficult than hot fusion.
There have been some real criticisms, and some retractions, but if you read the papers you will see that many sources of error have been addressed by better experiments. There are also many experiments where the anomalous heat was so great that there is no doubt, yet it was not reproducible.
Some experiment have also changed the setup, like that done by McKubre (McKubre/SRI) who changed from isoperibolic calorimetry to isothermal calorimetry, and later to flow calorimetry. With an increase in control, more and more experiments leave no doubt. To avoid being misled, one should focus on the best results, the best protocols, instead of taking cheap shots at the weakest.
More than the simple increase of measurement quality there are also other phenomenon that have been studied. There are clear results about presence, and consumption, of tritium found in Indian BARC (eg, see BARC 1996 tritium report ), and in the U.S. There is discussion about evidence of He4 production, that although less solid, are correlated (see Report41 by ENEA) to the produced heat. There have been some transmutation experiments by Iwamura for Mitsubishi (see Iwamura work), reproduced at Toyota (see Toyota replication). You can also see the claims by U.S Navy SPAWAR team regarding high energy particles during electrolysis (see Spawar CR-39 story), which was published.
All these results have been individually challenged. We can first notices, however that none of the challengers give any evidence of the reality of the artifact they claim. Instead they only offer artifact which seems very hard to believe given the precaution of the experimentalists who are accustomed to permanent skepticism.
Most of the experimental results, although precise and clear when positive, are not perfectly reproducible. With time, the failures seem more and more justified by experimental conditions, and not by measurement protocol (see for example ENEA 2009 at ICCF15, or Dawn Dominguez of NRL at ICCF17). This is clear evidence that the results are linked to a real reaction and not to a measurement artifact.
Comfortable conspiracy theory : Inconvenient data is always conspiracy
Most of the criticisms are in fact just cognitive dissonance, and reflect the reluctance of researchers that do not want to say publicly that they are convinced that LENR experiments are frauds organized by fringe researchers. This type of conspiracy theory is probably required to explain the inconvenient results,as LENR is assumed impossible "by law" .
Today, these past criticisms seem hard to believe, especially when listing the various institutions, the various labs, the various research studies, and the new researchers entering the LENR domain. The funniest part of all this to observe is that when looking about experimental quality, it is clear that early critical experiments were first loosely done (see Miles calorimetry paper at ICCF17, and CEA Grenoble paper 97), and that there are strong suspicions of misconduct, raised by an insider (see the furor of Eugene Mallove).
Ignoring peer-reviewed articles is easier than blocking peer-review, but both work
Another strong criticism against LENR is that there are no peer-reviewed paper. In fact that is already factually false. There are about a thousand peer-reviewed papers published in recognized journals. To counter that fact, some answers that this studies were mostly published in chemistry journal. In fact this is even sounder confirmation because, in chemistry, peer-reviewers are more familiar with calorimetry than peers in physics journals. One large problem is that often there are some claims in terms of nuclear issues, which is not the domain of chemistry.
There are also criticisms that authors are fringe scientists, meaning only that the people are working on LENR. Some also claim that a journal was on the fringe, simply they were accepting LENR articles. This mental loophole would be funny in debates in a conspiracy theory club, but have no room in science.
More seriously, there is clear evidence of significant and unethical obstacle toward publication in peer-reviewed journals for a LENR paper (see report 41 blocked, Oriani paper blocked after positive peer-review). Criticism of official sophism is being ignored (see Nature refusing to reexamine Caltech loose experiment). Another problem, even deeper, is the tendency to reject papers because there were only experimental results and they provided no theory.
When extraordinary evidence is presented, the charge of needing evidence has to flip
A usual argument is that "LENR is so unbelievable that it should require extraordinary evidence to prove it". The first answer is that extraordinary evidence is already there, published in peer-review journals, validated in corporate reports (see EPRI, Shell/CNAM), replicated in many various way, cross-checked, and done within a global structure eliminating any reasonable possibility of experimental artifacts.
The second piece of evidence is that it is possible that LENR breaks no important parts of current physics, maybe just our usual way of working with quantum mechanics. We just don't know yet if it shakes our conception about physics.
Finally the network of evidence is so large, so much of it have been cross-checked, so correlated that there is no reasonable doubt, until someone provides real evidence that it is all an artifact. The requirement for" extraordinary evidence" now rests on those who criticized, or else you can throw most of modern science into the bin. Until now, there has been no critical scientist that has really challenged LENR results, without the problem being addressed (sometime accepted and causing retraction). Very few criticisms were simply real enough to be addressed, and the most valuable criticisms came from other LENR experts (like Edmund Storms).
Real does not imply useful
A variation of that extraordinary requirement is the "tea kettle" motto. Once again, this kind of criticism is not scientific, since in science you don't need fact to be useful to be accepted as real. Many scientific facts started by being useless anomalies or a funny phenomenon. For example this is how semiconductors and radioactivity were first encountered. Waiting for a phenomenon to become useful is the best way to impede innovation.
Guilty of being supported by dreamers, of being lucky
One criticism, although a bit desperate, is to remind everyone that LENR have been supported by fringe-science fans, the "free energy movement", fans of Nicholas Tesla, of magnetic superunitary motors. For naive people this is a very efficient argument, since you don't trust a scientist if he is supported by people you judge as crazy. More seriously though, some scientist have an open-mind about some fringe energy claims. You can understand by experience that rejecting a claim without looking at it is not scientific.
All of that in fact reflect non-arguments. At most if fringe fans were well funded, you could expect a strong bias to obtain funding, but LENR is mostly a good way to ruin your career and lose your funding. On the opposite side, when you see mainstream researcher like Duncan (see his story in University of Missouri), Celani (see his story from CERN) or Dawn Dominguez (see her story at NRL), jump into LENR, you can be sure that they were following real results, and not just some hopes for more funding.
Another criticism of the same kind, is to say that LENR is "too good to be true". It is right that LENR is nuclear, yet clean, can be downsized easily, and looks like the Holy Grail for the energy sector. It is also true that scam artists usually sell such sort of dreams to victims. When someone proposes to you a dream that seems impossible, you should be careful. However, here we have been already careful, too careful in fact. This heuristic is only a reason to follow the scientific method. Since there are many experiments converging to a coherent reality, the evidence shows that the results are far from just measurement artifacts, and so you can dump the psychological argument.
Avoiding data is more comfortable
Globally one classic method to raise criticisms against LENR is to repeat, like it is done on Wikipedia, the official position as published in 1989, that there have been no replication, no peer-reviewed papers, no reproducibility. If reproducibility is still below 100% for most protocols, all the other assertions are factually false.
The second approach, seen on Wikipedia, in Scientific American, or in Nature is to refuse debate, forbid dissenters critics (ban some Internet site like LENR-CANR.org and some subjects because "there is no room"), and reuse old criticism, mostly armchair criticism, on old experiments, refusing to update any data. This may seem surprising but it seems common when a community is attacked, tired of answering criticisms whether for good or bad reasons. Some call that "circling the wagons". It is clear that in this kind of scenario there is no longer any reasoning, or scientific method going on when the wagons are circled.
Again, read the data, not the consensus
It is time for us have to decide, as real researchers, businesspersons, citizens, to trust the data and not just the consensus. It is hard, since you might not have the required competence to judge the experiments. If scientists can do the experiment themselves, if businesspersons can hire scientists, for a citizen the best evidence is to avoid getting too deep in the tricky technical part, and focus more on behavioral and business evidences. This type of evidences is clear today on LENR. It is also important to read the positions and arguments on all sides. With LENR the criticisms are so weak, they are more exhausting than challenging. These sorts of criticisms, however are unable to convince deniers who can selectively shutdown part of their brain on demand. Those struck in criticism will dig deep into details so they can misinterpret them at will, or dodge any rebuttal by moving the target.
Once again, if you doubt or want to be comforted in your conviction, I advise you to read the review by Edmund Storms that address typical criticisms, published in Naturwissenschaften in 2010 (Edmund Storm 2010). For the data, you can get most papers on LENR-CANR.org, the LENR free library maintained by Jed Rothwell. On LENR-Forum.com, I have gathered many stories and some explanations about key papers. Topics are classified with "tags", to help in the research.
LENR is real, but for further, study further
This has to be repeated, even if LENR is validated, the usable level of energy production is not yet validated at the same level as the evidence of LENR existence. Even the recent breakthrough in LENR with nickel-hydrogen, requires further scientific cross-check. This is not, however, the core question we are addressing. The only question on the table right now is whether LENR is voodoo science requiring extraordinary evidences, or normal science for which normal level of evidence applies, or something in-between.
It has to be repeated also that even if LENR is validated as a scientific fact, there is no accepted theory, not even a unique leading one. There are, however, among the many theories, a group of theories that respect today's quantum mechanics. No theory is yet able to explain all the results and that has been validated by irrefutable experiments. Anyway theory is not required to admit a fact. That is the basic of scientific methodology, and a challenge for today's scientific establishment.
The usual tragedy of innovation
You might have noticed that I'm quite violent in the terms I use about some arguments. I have to admit that it is actually understated. There have been clear violations of ethics, clear scientific misconduct, huge sophism that would even justify dropping a college student. There is abuse of power, unjustified public insults, apparent incompetence, and clear denial, that would deserve much stronger terms than those I use.
I have the intimate conviction that no experiment can convince those who are set in denying the validity of LENR. This is just, like the thinking of conspiracy groups, or in corporate group delusion. You will find in that article a description of Groupthink, that match clearly what happened around cold fusion. Roland Benabou after gathering together the stories of denial (see patterns of denial) proposes a nice model of collective delusion (see this published (2012) paper) that predicts that with increasing level of evidence the violence of the attacks will grow, until final collapse.
Time to go further
There are some who are more optimistic and remind us that actually negative article are no longer published. There are more and more LENR reviews like the one of Ed Storms. I see that the scene appears to look very much like the last few months before the Berlin Wall did fall, when it was still officially standing, but nobody would battle to maintain it.
Just being critical is no longer the main problem, and after we are comforted that LENR has been validated as a normal part of scientific knowledge, we should go further to make good use of that knowledge. The first good usage of that confidence in the data, is that we should use a normal level of evidence to judge industrial claims in that domain.
In other words, the initial preliminary qualifying are over, and it is time to work, to build and to make money.
Next round, please.
Note: I kindly ask readers to help me to fix the mistakes, the errors, the missing points, the questions, the typos and the language errors... Please give your feedback on the forum.
Thanks to Abd Ul-Rahman Lomax, for review of this article with many criticisms. I've updated the article to follow most criticisms.
Thanks to Carl for the corrections.
License: This article can be used by anyone, provided that reference is given to the source (LENR-Forum.com, LENRNews.eu), the author (alias or real name) is given, an URL is given to a version of the article, and the article is not modified substantially. It can be translated, summarized, cut, or restructured provided there is no misrepresentation of the author's intent. Of course it can be quoted under usual fair-use conditions for the sake of demonstration, criticisms and parody.