Talk:Cold fusion/Archive1

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

This is an archive page, last updated 3 May 2016. Please do not make edits to this page.
Archives for this talk page: , (new)(back)


Bob M--I was mostly just trying to get a link from the page to something else, so that it wouldn't be a "dead-end." It was really the only thing I could think of. Thanks for making it better.Researcher 15:49, 24 September 2007 (EDT)

I think you're probably right in a way. Many scientists in the past have researched what turned out to be pseudoscience. It's how the 'pseudo' is added to/left off the word. Actually it should probably be "pseudotechnology".Susantalk to me 15:58, 24 September 2007 (EDT)

Yeah, but who wants to make up a whole "pseudotechnology" page? I mean, we could also do a Perpetual Motion Machine and the silly thing from Atlas Shrugged, but that would be about it?Researcher 16:01, 24 September 2007 (EDT)
Not that I know anything about this, but aren't we sort of confusing "pseudo-science" and "currently impossible science" here? It seems to me that whether or not something qualifies as pseudoscience should be dependent on methodology, not results or lack thereof. --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 16:05, 24 September 2007 (EDT)
Akjeldsen was right on. There is, in fact, lots of very legitimate scientific research, real science, that has boring results. I.e., that comes up with nothing new. And then there is research that turns up anomalies, where there are unexplained results. In the case of "cold fusion" there is an obvious interpretation of results that was quite unexpected. Some of the original work was flawed, but some of it, the most significant part, in fact, was never demonstrated to be artifact. It was just claimed to be so by lots of "scientists" who were, in fact, mostly opining outside their fields. It's a remarkable field, where many chemists were saying, "This is not chemistry, it must be nuclear physics," and many physicists were saying "This must be chemistry, because it's impossible by what we know of nuclear physics." The experiment was a chemistry experiment. If nothing else, unexpected chemistry would be revealed by it. What we had was a pile of physicists saying that the chemists were incompetent chemists. Must be. Couldn't be that there was something new to learn about physics? Something unexpected? What's that? We don't know yet. But, within ten years, it was obvious from the evidence that this was almost certainly a nuclear reaction of some kind. You don't produce helium without nuclear reactions. The physicists, by and large, however, stopped looking more than twenty years ago, convinced that it must be artifact. There are plenty of exceptions, nuclear physicists, experts with hot fusion, who are working on cold fusion theory.... especially in China and Japan. --Abd (talk) 16:59, 14 February 2012 (UTC)
If I remember the original stuff was by Fleshamn Fleshman and Ponds. They didn't publish anything in journals and nobody could reproduce their work. There was loads of hype and no substance. So nobody would look at the subject for years. Now some people are taking another look and they are trying to advance the theory and getting some stuff published. Others are still wary though. Possible pseudoscience sounds a good description to me.--Bob's your uncle 16:08, 24 September 2007 (EDT)

You wrote: ". . . advancing the theory." Please note that cold fusion is an experimental observation, not a theory. There is no theoretical explanation for the observation, but it has been replicated roughly 14,000 times worldwide, often at very high s/n ratios. Also the names are spelled Fleischmann and Pons. Before you speculate that it might be pseudoscience, I think you should first read enough of the literature that you are at least familiar with the main researchers' names. - Jed Rothwell

If there is "no theoretical explanation for the observation", why is it called "cold fusion"? Why not just call it "a few anomalous unexplained watts"? ħumanUser talk:Human 03:18, 11 November 2009 (UTC)
I like the idea of cold fusion, I hope this research is successful and the inventor make shit loads of money. However, until I have a cold fusion battery in my car it is a fringe science at best. - π 03:29, 11 November 2009 (UTC)
That is mistaking practicality for scientific truth and acceptance. There is no "inventor" here, not yet. (Rossi might be one, or he might be a total con. Rossi's work isn't "science" yet, it isn't published in detail, confirmation is impossible, etc, because of the secrecy, and all the demonstrations could easily have been faked. So, with Rossi, people tend to believe what they want to believe.)
"Science" does not depend on practical application. It might never happen, but there either are or are not nuclear reactions taking place in palladium deuteride (or certain other environments where there are reports of transmutations), and whether or not this creates immediate practical possibilities is scientifically irrelevant. The practical difficulties have not been appreciated. First things first. The mechanism is not understood. (Actually, there may be more than one mechanism, a possibility which could be behind some of the confusion.) Until the mechanism is understood, engineering the effect has been hit-or-miss. I have just seen work, privately, that is, for the first time, reporting accurate control of the reaction, excess heat that is reliably predictable from initial and maintained (and variable) conditions. If this stands up to scrutiny, it simply means that research can start to accelerate. What is being controlled is a condition that allows cold fusion to take place, the control does not actually demonstrate the mechanism, which remains very controversial, with no theory running clearly in the lead. --Abd (talk) 17:10, 14 February 2012 (UTC)
You wrote: "Why not just call it 'a few anomalous unexplained watts?" Well, that would be technically inaccurate. First, the reaction has produced well over 100 W on many occasions, sometimes continuously for months. Second, it is not the power that is significant, but the net energy from the reaction. A cold fusion device weighs about as much as a wooden match. When you strike a match, it will burn at about 20 W for about a minute, producing ~1000 joules (1 BTU). The cold fusion devices continue far longer than a minute. Sometimes they go for months. Many have produced 50 million to 300 million joules, so there is no possibility that the reaction is chemical. Also, while the heat is anomalous, it is not unexplained. It has been correlated with helium production at the same rate as plasma fusion, and also tritium, neutrons, gamma rays and x-rays, so there is no doubt it is a nuclear reaction, mainly or exclusively fusion. - Jed Rothwell
And the cold fusion battery is where? If you can produce this kind of energy, why isn't being used? - π 22:35, 12 November 2009 (UTC)
Practical devices cannot be made because the reaction cannot be fully controlled yet. A device weighing 1 g might produce 10 W or 100 W, so if you scaled it up, it might produce catastrophic levels of heat before exploding. At least 6 cells have exploded. There are photos of some of them at - Jed Rothwell, Librarian,
Not practical yet, from what I can tell from what little I've been reading. First you gotta get some nice palladium and deuterium, not exactly hardware store items. Then, the "extra" energy is less than what is usually fed into the system, I think I was seeing figures like 10% peak, 5% average on one paper. So it's "working" in that Eout > Ein, problem is that the Ein is dissipated in the process, and that the materials are expensive. It's also not "easily" reproducable. Oh, and the best way to justify calling it "fusion" is that He is produced (3 and 4), after carefully excluding atmospheric He (~5-6 ppm) from the experimental material. There is some interesting stuff there, but the website makes it hard to find. Perhaps the links Jed added to the next section would be good reading. ħumanUser talk:Human 23:54, 12 November 2009 (UTC)
You wrote: "I think I was seeing figures like 10% peak, 5% average on one paper." This is a complicated subject. Cells have not been optimized to produce high ratios. That is not a priority, and in some cases it would interfere with the experiment. In the early 1990s, SRI reported typical peak rates from ~20% to ~350%. Many recent cells with varied waveforms or laser stimulation have run with about 1 W in, and 5 W to 20 W out. With gas loading, heat after death, or ion beam loading there is no input power. The Arata technique, gas loaded nano-particles, has recently been replicated at U. Kobe and Toyota (in Phys. Lett. A) and the NRL. This was discussed at the recent ICCF-15 conference in Rome, Italy. - Jed Rothwell, Librarian,

Yeah. It's interesting and provocative fundamental research, but we're not exactly solving the energy problems yet. (I do wonder what the energy required to extract deuterium from probably water and nuclear fissionables, which were probably extracted from minerals and refined. At some point, the mechanism of fusion, the exact reactions, will be required for completeness, and the lack of these details is somewhat frustrating. Nonetheless, it is interesting as basic, fundamental research, which I am sympathetic to.) 00:05, 13 November 2009 (UTC)
(EC)If you find a ratio of elements different than what you started with, then yes a nuclear reaction has taken place. Whilst these results are promising, I would call it far from a done deal. I wouldn't call cold fusion a psuedoscience as such, but given that it conflicts with a lot of what is known about nuclear fusion it is going to need a lot more experimental results first. - π 00:08, 13 November 2009 (UTC)
Yeah, the experimental particle refs are far from inspiring. Most seem like blips-above-the-baseline-in-the-mass-spec, and a lot of hedging in the conclusions (which does happen in science, but....). Sterile hub cap 00:27, 13 November 2009 (UTC)

Brought up to date somewhat[edit]

This article was severely out of date and biased against cold fusion. I have added a few facts to straighten out some misconceptions, such as the notion that cold fusion was announced to the press before it was published in J. Electroanl. Chem., and the notion that cold fusion has not been widely replicated.

The article is still heavily biased against cold fusion and it has practically no scientific content per se, but I added a link to, where readers can find the literature. This website has a large collection of full-text papers, including nearly all of the negative, anti-cold fusion papers ever published.

Please do not edit or revert this article until you have familiarized yourself with this literature. Note that cold fusion has been replicated by roughly 2,000 researchers worldwide at 250 major labs such as Los Alamos and BARC, and these researchers have published ~3,500 papers. The science is rather difficult to grasp at first. So you have to do a lot of reading before you can grasp the claims or judge whether or not the claims are valid.

- Jed Rothwell, Librarian,

So you're saying we need to familiarize ourselves with the 3500 papers on your site before we can make further edits to this article on ours? ŴêâŝêîôîďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 23:50, 10 November 2009 (UTC)
I suggest you read a few dozen papers, at least. Especially McKubre, Miles, Szpak and Storms. They have important things to say and they write well. I also recommend the books by Beaudette and Storms. The full text of the former is available at - Jed Rothwell

I shall certainly be editing your wonderful contributions, Jed, since 1, some of the writing is very poor and 2. abbreviations like "J. Electroanal. Chem." are pointlessly jargony. I take it that that is the Journal of Eletroanalytic Chemistry? By the way, as a librarian, surely you know publications should be italicized? ħumanUser talk:Human 01:47, 11 November 2009 (UTC)
I use the abbreviations because my EndNote database of papers uses them, and you have to use them in journal papers and at universities and places like the ENEA. I edit and translate papers and I have to make sure the correct abbreviation is used. I have an old paper list of them from Los Alamos. Here is an on-line list:
I realize that publications should be italicized but I could not figure out how to italicize. - Jed

"but on the same day it was published, it was also reported to the media, which complicated attempts by other groups to duplicate the experiment." I am confused, how did media coverage prevent people from successfully replicating the experiment? - π 01:56, 11 November 2009 (UTC)
I went to that on-line suppository, pretty funny really. Clicked on the "current state of affairs" or whatever it was. A two page pdf that reads like Tom Butler wrote it, only without the intelligence. ħumanUser talk:Human 03:16, 11 November 2009 (UTC)
To be fair to Mr.(?) Rothwell, chemists are well known for their journal abbreviations (although it's the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry or J. Electroanal. Chem., I think--no hyphen) in part because there are standard ways of citing things in chemland. He also may not know how to italicize. On the other hand, I'd still like to know more about the evidence for cold fusion in simple, quick terms, because I've not heard of it and I think if it were real we all would have. Sterile hub cap 03:35, 11 November 2009 (UTC)
I appreciate the abbr.s, but expect an outsider talking to outsiders (ie, the non-academic - us) to use "English". And if he can't use that hyperbar above the edit box to edit a wiki, how competent is he to edit a wiki? Oh, sorry, he's a "librarian". By the way, that's a false claim. Does he have an MLS? I doubt it. He's just a crank running a webshite. ħumanUser talk:Human 04:34, 11 November 2009 (UTC)
You wrote that I am "just a crank running a webshite." That I may be, but please note that the authors of the papers are not. They are a group of ~2000 professional scientists, including many distinguished scientists such as the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry in Berlin, the former chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, and two Nobel laureates. So they probably know more about chemistry and physics than you do. They certainly know more about cold fusion. If you wish to learn about this subject, I suggest you stop talking about me and read what these people have to say. - Jed Rothwell, Librarian,
You'll have to forgive Human for being a bit abrasive. Scarlet A.pngpostate 20:15, 12 November 2009 (UTC)
He is forgiven! Anyone involved in cold fusion has heard far worse. Actually, I appreciate harsh "skeptics" who attack me or the researchers ad hominem because it is such an easy argument to counter. It is more difficult to defend or explain the science itself, such as calorimetry or neutron results. - Jed Rothwell
So what's an example paper in which fusion has been done at low temperatures? Or is the research just heading in that direction? Sterile hub cap 20:59, 12 November 2009 (UTC)
I am not sure what you mean. All of the positive papers describe fusion done at low temperature. There are many null papers that describe no anomalous results. Perhaps I misunderstand the question. - Jed Rothwell
I was just looking for a citation with an experimental procedure including temperatures, a nuclear reaction or two, and the experimental evidence that fusion occurred. I've looked a few articles; some looked theoretical and some described fission rather than fusion. Sterile hub cap 21:52, 12 November 2009 (UTC)
The excess heat is evidence that fusion occurred. (It is called "excess" meaning it is the additional heat above the energy you put in, but in many recent experiments there is no input energy, so it is all excess.) Heat is the main evidence, being "the principal signature of the reaction" (Fleischmann). It is correlated with nuclear products, prompt radiation and so on. Chemical and fission reactions also produce heat, but they are ruled out because there is no chemical fuel or chemical transformations, and there are no fission products.
An up to date general taxonomy and description of the latest results is here:
Here is one of the best examples of heat correlated with helium:
Here is a well-known experiment that measured only heat, but at levels beyond the limits of chemistry, with no chemical fuel or reactions:
- Jed Rothwell

Yes, please forgive my carborundum approach, Jed. I've been reading the papers, well, some of them, and they are very interesting. PS, why not sign up a user account (they're free!) and sign with four tildes (leaves a nice datestamp and all) More to follow, I'm sure. Thank you for the explicit links, your web page is a bit hard to follow. ħumanUser talk:Human 03:38, 13 November 2009 (UTC)

The source of energy is not unknown; every indication is that it is fusion[edit]

Gooniepunk2005 wrote in the article that cold fusion . . . "referred to the ability to generate fusion at 'cold' temperatures. Modern 'cold fusion' research no longer claims this effect, but does claim significant non-conventional energy generation from an unknown source."

This is incorrect. Modern cold fusion research continues to claim that nuclear fusion is occurring. In fact, the evidence for this is overwhelming in the opinion of the researchers. I know several hundred researchers and they agree this is fusion. I changed the article to list their principal findings:

"Cold fusion produces excess heat, helium in the same ratio to the heat as plasma fusion, tritium, neutrons and other nuclear products, so researchers feel that the most likely explanation is that it is nuclear fusion. Cold fusion has produced 10,000 times more energy per gram than any possible chemical reaction, with no known upper limit, and without chemical transformations, so it cannot be a chemical reaction."

I did not mention that the tritium and neutrons do not occur in the same ratio as they do in plasma fusion. Only the helium does. This is important but it seems beyond the scope of the discussion. I could expand this summary and provide references (footnotes) if other authors here feel that would be a good idea. I could, in fact, provide hundreds of references. But this article is short and it contains no technical details so I do not suppose that is called for. This article is more of a parody than a serious scientific analysis. - Jed Rothwell, Librarian,

Well, for a serious technical analysis, I suppose people could read the papers. For something less technical but still extensive there's Wikipedia, which interestingly splits cold fusion into two articles. "Cold fusion" is just about the supposed results in 1989, while the real possibilities, such as with muon fusion, is mentioned in "nuclear fusion", as that article covers all genuine methods. That could be a possible route to go down. Scarlet A.pngpostate 16:22, 25 November 2009 (UTC)
I'm going ahead and basically splitting the article. There's too much confusion with one half of the article banging on about legitimate fusion research and the other half banging on about half-baked and unsubstantiated pseudoscience. Scarlet A.pngpostate 11:38, 28 November 2009 (UTC)
Cold fusion is used to refer to high-Z elemental formation by energies below normal hot fusion temperatures, depending on tunneling through the Coulomb barrier, and it is also used to refer to muon-catalyzed fusion, which normally runs, in experiments, at close to absolute zero, in frozen hydrogen isotopes. (If it's "most efficient" at 900 C., it's news to me, but I certainly don't know everything.) I've never seen anyone who knew what they were doing call the neutron generators that work by piezoelectric acceleration of deuterons, as I recall, "cold fusion." They are hot fusion. The Farnsworth fusor isn't hot, but the plasma inside certainly is. Below, I examine the usage of the term cold fusion, which is heavily charged politically, and the article assumes that research into LENR is not "science." That's little short of bizarre, it's simply ignorance. While the field was certainly attractive to a lot of people who aren't scientists, it was also a normal scientific field, with academics involved, being published under peer review, and that research continues, at institutions all over the world. Basically, the article was obviously written by someone who didn't know the literature, and who relied on one of the popular hit-jobs, such as Park's book, which isn't about science at all, it's just a pile of accusations that would never make it into a peer-reviewed review. With time, we can go over some of this.
What, specifically, is "half-baked and unsubstantiated pseudoscience"? That's a general claim being made with no specifics. What is "legitimate research?" Pons and Fleischmann were apparently not looking for an energy source. They were doing fundamental research, it turns out that the calculations that fusion cross-section at room temperature was ridiculously low (it's not zero at any temperature) were based on unverified approximations, so they decided to test the theory. They expected to confirm the theory. They did know that fusion cross-section under condensed matter conditions would be higher than the naive expectation (this has been quite well confirmed, by the way, as to hot fusion cross-section, i.e, simple bombardment of PdD targets), but they expected the difference to be below what they'd be able to observe. They were astonished to come into their lab and find that their cubic centimeter of palladium had vaporized and that a hole had been burned through their lab table, down into the concrete floor. Remember, Fleischmann was probably the world's foremost electrochemist, this was not some bozo working in a basement. What happened then is a very complicated story; they scaled down their work, for fear of more serious ignition, but they only found anomalous heat, by 1989, in about one-sixth of their cells, after months of electrolysis to reach the necessary high loading ratio. They were not ready to announce, it was forced by the University for legal reasons, to preserve intellectual property. But this was real science, attempting to falsify a widely accepted but unverified theory.
Science is founded in experiment, not in theory. Science that uses theory to reject experiment, without actually demonstrating and showing artifact, isn't science at all, it's belief, similar to religion. With polywater and N-rays, the actual source of the artifacts was found. With cold fusion, claims were made, but never demonstrated, and the Fleischmann-Pons heat effect, last I looked, was confirmed in 153 reports in peer-reviewed journals, with many more conference papers and other non-PR journal reports, such as the work of the Electric Power Research Institute, contracted to SRI International. Much of this is solid work, by professional scientists, "legitimate research," even if it does challenge some preconceptions. There is work of lesser quality, for sure. So? --Abd (talk) 03:47, 14 February 2012 (UTC)

Starting with "what is cold fusion"?[edit]

Current revision: Cold fusion, also called Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) is the "philosopher's stone" of modern science - it referred to the ability to generate fusion at "cold" temperatures.

Pons and Fleischmann, in 1989, claimed to have observed evidence of an "unknown nuclear reaction," that was in the original paper. But because they were working with deuterium, and in particular with the mobile deuterons that exist at practically metallic concentrations in highly loaded palladium deuteride, practically everyone assumed that if there was a nuclear reaction, it must be deuterium fusion. However, d-d fusion is a very well known and understood phenomenon, and it doesn't behave like what Pons and Fleischmann reported. The name "cold fusion," nevertheless, caught on, and is popularly applied to almost all LENR claims. There is no theory of cold fusion, however, that is accepted by researchers and theoreticians in the field, i.e., no understood mechanism. To equate "cold fusion" and LENR, a much more general term, in the same sentence, and then define them as an "ability to generate fusion," sidesteps and denies the very purpose of the term LENR, which was to back off from claiming "fusion."

Current revision: "Fusion" in this case refers to the fusion of hydrogen atoms (usually deuterium (2H) or tritium (3H), since the amount of energy required to fuse regular hydrogen is largely unattainable in Earthbound apparatus) to produce helium with the accompanying release of energy.

This is just plain wrong. "Fusion" refers to the formation elements of higher nuclear weight from those of lower weight. Below a certain atomic weight, if nuclei can be induced to fuse, to join into a single nucleus, the resulting nucleus is lighter than the sum of the components, and thus there is mass lost, which is converted to energy. In cold fusion, tritium is not a significant reactant, and in palladium deuteride experiments, there is little or no hydrogen present. If "tritium" and "deuterium" are present, "hydrogen" is normally used to refer only to the single-proton nucleide, but, of course, deuterium is also called "heavy hydrogen" because, chemically, it behaves almost exactly like light hydrogen. Both will load into palladium. However, it is not known with any certainty that the reaction is just deuterium fusion, and many different catalytic processes are theoretically possible. For example, a recent ballyhooed theory is "Widom-Larsen" theory which proposes a mechanism whereby surface conditions in palladium deuteride produce, it's claimed, very slow neutrons which are absorbed, setting off a series of reactions. Some proposals involve the fusing of deuterium with other present elements. Color me Skeptical as Hell, because these slow neutrons would cause all kinds of transmutations and other effects that aren't observed. Widom and Larsen do come up with some explanations, though, that sound Rube Goldberg to me, teetering on the edge of impossibility, or having fallen over it.

However, if we want to confine ourselves to what is being accepted in peer-reviewed secondary sources, it does appear that deuterium is being converted to helium, but it is far from known that this is just the simple fusion of deuterons to form helium. For starters, when two deuterons fuse, even at very low temperatures (as with muon-catalyzed fusion), the reaction has the same branching ratio as at high temperatures: half the reactions produce a proton and tritium, and half the reactions produce a neutron and Helium-3. Helium-4 is produced only very rarely, and would always be accompanied by a gamma ray. Imagining the production of ordinary helium without radiation is quite difficult. One of the famous "proofs" that cold fusion was bogus was that nobody had died from radiation poisoning at the lab of Pons and Fleischmann, since the neutron levels required for ordinary fusion to produce as much heat as they were reporting would have been fatal. The "dead graduate student effect."

However, this argument and many others fail when we realize the possibility of an unknown reaction. Is it possible that there is an unknown reaction? It's not only possible, it's a near certainty, now, because the experimental evidence is clear that, first of all, there is anomalous heat, heat with no identified chemical origin, and, secondly, that helium is being produced commensurate with that heat. The correlation is unmistakeable, and there is no contrary experimental evidence. Last time I looked, this is science, definitely not pseudoscience. Measurable, falsifiable, reproducible, etc.

I'll let this sit for a time and see if there is comment, then I'll work on a lede which is more accurate. "Cold fusion," with reference to the Fleischmann-Pons Heat Effect, is not a scientific term, it's a popular one, and it becomes even iffier when applied to, say, the claims of Rossi about his "Energy Catalyzer," which, again, has not been adequately studied to even begin to seriously speculate on how it works or even if it works. All I can say about it is that it isn't impossible that nickel and hydrogen might set up, under certain conditions, some kind of nuclear reaction. People in the field, though, think that Rossi's explanations are total nonsense, and trust in his honesty is quite low. He's not a scientist, he's an inventor and entrepreneur. I've theorized, at times, that he's deliberately making himself look like a con artist, there could be commercial reasons he'd want that.

Personally, I do use the term "cold fusion" to refer to the entire field, which includes reports of biological transmutation and acceleration of nuclear decay, reported by Vyosotskii, whose work appears sound -- remember, these are experimental reports, not just theoretical ravings, and, in fact, many of the reports that I find most interesting avoid theory entirely -- but which is without independent confirmation. I've seen no sign that anyone has tried. Some of these things appear impossible at first, but not to someone who understands that our knowledge of how to apply quantum mechanics to the complex environment of condensed matter is quite primitive, dependent upon approximations that are assumed to apply based on unverified theoretical arguments. Nuclear effects of the chemical environment are not impossible, and examples are well-known, such as the conversion of a stable element, in free space, into an unstable one in a chemical environment. What theoreticians are exploring most recently is cluster fusion, where a Bose-Einstein Condensate is formed and collapses, and one nuclear physicist, Takahashi, has calculated 100% fusion cross-section if four deuterons (two deuterium molecules) start out in a particular physical "Tetrahedral symmetric" configuration and collapse in this way. The obvious intermediate product would be Be-8, which, outside of a condensate, would promptly decay into two helium nuclei, plus four electrons would fly off. The theory isn't complete, missing rate calculations for the formation of this physical configuration, and quantitative predictions of how the heat would be distributed, because research in the field shows that radiation above about 20 KeV is found, if at all, only at low levels.

Cold fusion is a mystery, a place where we don't know what's going on. That apparently offends some people.

It may or may not ever result in practical power generation. If Rossi is real, that's coming soon. If he's a con -- or, just as likely, he doesn't have adequate control of the reaction, if it can't be sustained because the reaction sites are quickly destroyed -- then we could be looking at many years of research, and it may never be practical. This is not some easy, "free energy." --Abd (talk) 03:19, 14 February 2012 (UTC)

Refocus for the article[edit]

The history of cold fusion is a great case for a study of popular pseudoskepticism. Reading over the comments above, I see that a whole series of myths have been swallowed whole by some. Assumptions are made and stated that are completely incorrect, but that seem to be rigidly believed. (Some of these myths are still occasionally found in media stories on cold fusion, what might have been reasonable to state in 1989-1990 isn't necessarily so after 20 years of research.) I'll list some common ones, as well as some truths or reasonable interpretations that are misapplied.

  • Pons and Fleischmann's work was not replicated. False.
    • 153 papers in peer-reviewed journals, from a database maintained by skeptic Dieter Britz, show anomalous heat in PdD, the core Pons-Fleischmann claim. Early on, there were lots of negative replications, but later analysis has shown that most of these reports did not reach the required loading ratio of about 90%. Results are apparently never seen below 80%, and the ratio achieved by the early negative replications was about 70%. The truth behind "not replicated" was that, for a few months in 1989, most replication efforts failed. One of these was by Melvin Miles. During the process of the 1989 ERAB panel review, which reported negative results by Miles, Miles called them to tell them he was now seeing excess heat. They did not return the phone call, according to Miles. His early negative report is in the review as published.
  • Pons and Fleischmann were mistaken about neutrons. True.
    • They were outside their expertise; however, the creation of very high loading ratios (difficult, actually 70% was considered the normal limit), and the accurate measurement of heat, were very much in their field. Their neutron measurement error was irrelevant to their heat measurements. Later work showed that there is little to no detectable neutron radiation involved in cold fusion experiments. Recent work has shown evidence that appears convincing that extremely low levels are found, perhaps ten times background, but this work has not been confirmed. It is irrelevant to the basic mechanism, probably.
  • The energy necessary for fusion is not attainable at low temperatures, cold fusion is therefore impossible. False.
    • The fusion of low-Z elements is highly exothermic; there is, however, a potential barrier, the "Coulomb barrier," raised by the mutual repulsion of positively charged nuclei, that prevents fusion from taking place, under ordinary conditions. The rate at which fusion happens is not zero at any temperature; however, fusion in the plasma state (free, unbound nuclei) has an extremely low rate ("cross-section") at room temperature. Nevertheless, catalysis may be able to "lower the barrier," and the well-known demonstration is muon-catalyzed fusion, which is studied at close to absolute zero temperature. Many cold fusion theories involve some form of electron catalysis, and there are some theories that effectively invoke neutron catalysis. 2-body quantum mechanical analysis indicates that electrons at the ordinary ground state cannot raise the cross section enough to produce detectable fusion rates; however, the condensed matter environment is much more complex, and experimental evidence supports a greatly enhanced cross-section in such matter. The discovery of a catalytic method to allow detectable cold fusion would not overturn established science, it would merely be something new and previously unsuspected, that is, approximations assumed to be valid would have been shown to be inaccurate under rare conditions, that's all.
  • Cold fusion is pseudoscience. False.
    • Claims that CF is pseudoscience are frequently made, coupled with claims that CF meets the standards, which are being listed by the pseudoskeptic, quite clearly, as circular arguments. Because so many of these claims exist and are still being repeated, it's worth looking at the characteristics of Pseudoscience, from the current RW article.
    • Vague and/or exaggerated claims and ambiguous language
      • Pons and Fleischmann made specific claims in their original publication, which was far from a complete description of their work. The original paper wasn't verifiable without additional information, experimental details. However, what happened then is only of historical relevance. There are now two central claims:
        • Palladium deuteride, above 90% loading -- which is difficult to obtain, it takes special materials and treatment -- shows erratic but significant anomalous heat, at levels claimed to be impossible from chemistry.
        • Helium is produced, correlated with the anomalous heat, at levels commensurate with what would be expected if the anomalous heat were produced by deuterium fusion.
      • These are not vague claims, and are not exaggerated, though some non-scientists exaggerate them and exaggerate the implications.
    • Lack of peer review, and claims of vast establishment conspiracies
      • Cold fusion work is being extensively published under peer review, as it has always been. There were also some major publications which explicitly stated they would refuse to submit articles relating to cold fusion for peer review. There was some level of repression of research, that's well-documented in academic publications. "Vast establishment conspiracy" is highly unlikely, but a widespread knee-jerk rejection, with approbation, can have a similar effect. This is really irrelevant.
    • No attempts or interest in replication or outside verification
      • This obviously does not apply to cold fusion.
    • Stasis, and hostility towards development or change of the idea.
      • It's been said by Edmund Storms that the problem with cold fusion theory is not that there is no theoretical explanation, but that there are too many. The field is far from static. There is substantial controversy in the general field (LENR) over whether or not fusion is involved, which partly depends on the definition of "fusion." There is no monolithic group of "believers."
    • Refusal to use the scientific method, or the claim that it can not be used.
      • This applies more to the pseudoskeptical approach, which refuses to use the scientific method to examine the claims, and I've even seen claims that the skeptical position cannot be tested, because it would involve proving a negative. The error is in assuming and asserting artifact without subjecting that to experimental test. If there is an artifact being reported by hundreds of researchers, it should be easy to confirm. Just do what they did, then demonstrate the artifact with controlled experiment.
    • Misuse of scientific terms.
      • This may apply to some criticism of cold fusion, but not to cold fusion. "Cold fusion" itself is not a "scientific term," and most published papers don't use it. It remains possible -- but unlikely -- that it's not fusion at all.
    • Poor standards of evidence.
      • This applies to some cold fusion research, and some premature conclusions that are found here and there, but does not apply to the overall field.
    • Reliance on negative proofs.
      • This doesn't apply to cold fusion, which is ultimately based on positive evidence. Extraordinary evidence, in fact. Just not the evidence that many pseudoskeptics demand, such as demonstrations of commercial-level heat, usable for energy generation. That might never happen. The negative argument is stated like this: "If cold fusion were real, then surely after twenty years there would be a commercial application." Yet muon-catalyzed fusion is real, and there will likely never be a commercial application.
    • Ideas are unfalsifiable
      • This absolutely doesn't apply to cold fusion. The strongest evidence for cold fusion is a set of research results, from twelve groups, that show very strong correlation of anomalous heat with helium production. While not simple to falsify, because it isn't simple to set up the effect, generally, it's definitely falsifiable: just use the state of the art to generate anomalous heat, as has been done by hundreds of researchers, measure helium, and show that the correlation is nonexistent or weak. If helium is found, demonstrate by controlled experiment that it's from contamination or leakage from ambient, not from nucleosynthesis. Nobody has done this, the heat/helium correlation is challenged only by armchair critics. Cranks, basically.
    • Clear political and religious motivation
      • Doesn't apply to cold fusion.
    • Cold fusion has been, arguably, "fringe science," but definitely not "pseudoscience." I've claimed that it has turned the corner, that is is now more properly "emerging science," -- these are Wikipedia classifications -- because many of the major scientific publishers are now publishing cold fusion material. Springer-Verlag and Elsevier are publishing in the field. The American Chemical Society, the largest scientific society in the world, recently, with Oxford University Press, published a LENR Sourcebook series. Tellingly, in the 2004 U.S. Department of Energy review of the field, experts were evenly divided on "evidence for excess heat is conclusive" and one-third of the experts thought that "evidence for nuclear origin is convincing or somewhat convincing," but the experts were unanimous in recommending further research to clarify issues. That certainly would not have happened with a pseudoscience, and probably not with fringe science. Further, that review panel included some experts that obviously weren't going to consider anything until there was a totally nailed-down, proven theory to explain the results, as to mechanism. Some reviewers clearly did not understand the evidence (there are some major bloopers in the reports; as an example, work showing heat-helium correlation was misunderstood and incorrectly reported in a way that made the results seem like an anticorrelation); this was a brief review and inadequate.

I suggest refocusing the article to use the cold fusion example to study "pathological skepticism." Exposing pseudoscience for what it is involves a hazard of excess, of hubris, of becoming pseudoscientific in exposing pseudoscience, of a kind of group-think that afflicts people who call themselves "skeptics" just as it afflicts "believers."

The term "pseudoskeptic" is sometimes abused, just as "believer" is abused. The existence of abuse doesn't conflict with understanding the accurate application of terms. --Abd (talk) 16:16, 14 February 2012 (UTC)

  • "But I thought this was supposed to be RATIONALwiki!" *drink* EVDebs (talk) 02:33, 15 February 2012 (UTC)
So do I think that. It is. Is it possible for people to believe that they are rational when they are (sometimes) not? Can the rational criticize misapplication of reason? Reason proceeds from premises. How are the premises chosen? Hey, I'm a noob here. --Abd (talk) 03:04, 15 February 2012 (UTC)
My point is that you're assuming that the case should be left open for an experiment that has borne no significant results in over two decades, and that refusal to accept this is a failure on our part. Cold fusion as it's been understood for nearly a quarter century is of no interest without some seriously spectacular results -- not promised results, not potential results, actual results. I feel safe in saying that anyone who produces verifiable results based on Pons and Fleischmann's work will be up for a nigh-immediate Nobel Prize at this point; a vindication on that scale wouldn't be limited to the back pages of some low-impact journal. Everyone would be talking about it. Until that happens, cold fusion belongs in the dumpster with parapsychology and phrenology and there's no reason to call it anything but pseudoscience. EVDebs (talk) 03:12, 15 February 2012 (UTC)
No. I'm not "assuming that the case should be left open. It's actually closed, in the peer-reviewed literature. EVDebs, you are not open, for you the case is closed, you are a believer in "closed case." I'm guessing that you aren't interested in evidence, in the process of science. You could falsify this hypothesis if you choose, it's up to you. Nobody is saying that you should spend time on what is, for you, sealed.
There are, however, actual results, reported in peer-reviewed journals. They are significant. They do not show realized commercial potential, which would seem to be what you mean by "seriously spectacular." From a scientific point of view, they are spectacular, i..e, they indicate that a belief that was firmly and widely held is mistaken. Verifiable results for the FP Heat Effect were available by the mid-1990s, in the work of Melvin Miles. Huizenga, author of Cold fusion, scientific fiasco of the century, and the co-chair of the original U.S. Department of Energy Review, noted Miles' work in the second edition of his book, and commented that this was, indeed, spectacular, and, if confirmed, would have explained a "major mystery" of cold fusion, i.e., the ash. He then predicted that it would not be confirmed, and as his reason for thinking that, he gave the absence of the gamma rays expected from d + d -> He-4. The gamma rays are absent, but the helium result has been verified adequately for it to now be an widely accepted result, among those who study the field, which includes peer reviewers at journals and in the academic press. Helium is being produced, commensurate with the heat.
Tentative conclusion from all this: it remains unlikely, but not impossible, that the reaction is d + d -> He-4, but obviously if it is d + d, it is not an ordinary collision reaction, something else is happening, or the gamma would be seen. However, many CF theories do not involve collisions of d+d at all, so, "unknown nuclear reaction" is the status quo, pending better understanding.
What is likely from the experimental evidence is that the reaction is (deuterium in some form) ->[rare] (some intermediate product) ->[100%] helium (with very little else, other than what ends up as thermal energy, i.e., 24 MeV per He-4). Elucidating the specific process remains to be accomplished. If one of the existing theories is correct, it is nevertheless incomplete. For example, Takahashi proposes that the reaction is deuterium ->[rare] tetrahedral symmetric condensate ->[100%] Be-8 ->[100%] 2 He-4 + energy, and he's calculated the 100% cross-section from standard quantum physics. What is incomplete is at the two ends, i.e., a demonstration that the TSC can form (other than inferring it through the resulting fusion), and an understanding of how the energy is released other than by energetic alphas. There are proposals. No proof. This route, however, would not generate gamma rays, not directly, anyway. We know, however, that energetic alphas above 20 KeV are not generated, that's the so-called Hagelstein limit, from a paper published about a year ago in Naturwissenschaften. (Consequential effects would be seen, and they are not seen in significant quantities. They *are* seen, by the way, some of the effects are easy to detect even at low levels, such as tritium. But the amounts found are so low as to be, clearly, not associated with the main reaction, they are probably rare branches or unusual secondary reactions.)
The latest review I'm talking about was published in Naturwissenschaften, and it wasn't on a back page, it was featured. Read the abstract, and you can read the paper on All of these arguments -- and more of the same ilk -- have been given, and they have *nothing to do with the science*, they are political arguments, claims not backed by evidence, or irrelevant.
I reviewed all the pseudoscience characteristics, above, and showed how *none* of them apply to cold fusion. The argument given here by EVDebs would indicate, if true and cogent, that cold fusion could be "fringe science," but not pseudoscience. What EVDebs is showing, however, is his own attachment to his own ideas, coupled with a belief in the error of others. It's not "scientific" at all, it's a belief, not based on falsifiable theory. It is what is "pseudoscientific" here. And that's what's really relevant on Rationalwiki. If Rationalwiki only examines pseudoscientific views of others, but not those of "skeptics," then it is falling into the same error as others, just with different material. It's the same-old same-old, under cover of "reason."
If Rationalwiki supporters want the anti-pseudoscience movement to be successful, we will need to promote science, not just some sort of we-already-know pseudoscience. That may imply some level of backing off on certain claims. I know of at least three topics here, not related to each other, where Rationalwiki articles are simply promoting a popular view among skeptics, a form of vox populi, vox Dei. Real skepticism does not exempt itself from examination, and that's what Feynman wrote, "Don't fool yourself." Among some skeptics, pseudoskeptics, really, instead of being heard as "I might be fooling myself," which is how Fenyman would understand and apply it, attempting constantly to falsify his own ideas, it becomes, "Look at you, fools, how you are fooling yourselves."
Demonstrate what you want to teach, that's my advice, and if I'm fooling myself here, I'd appreciate some help. Specific help, not just vague generalizations about "seriously spectacular results," which are certainly not the general standard for science, which frequently accepts results and theories based on statistical significance far lower than what is the case for CF results. Nuclear physics ordinarily doesn't need to do that, precisely because it avoids the complexities of condensed matter; instead, in a plasma, it normally studies reactions that take place in isolation, but repeated in vast quantities, so that results can be precisely predicted, as averages.
I'm interested to watch what happens now. I know the arguments well, including arguments about the Naturwissenschaften "Review", both cogent and face-palm stupid. What will come up here on Rationalwiki? Real skepticism, or face-palm stupid? --Abd (talk) 15:56, 15 February 2012 (UTC)