Huw Price: Icebergs In The Room? Cold Fusion At Thirty

  • Quote
    At a press conference on March 23, 1989, Fleischmann and Pons claimed that they had detect excess heat that it must be caused by a nuclear process – ‘cold fusion’, as they termed it. The field has also been attracting new investors recently (including Bill Gates himself). A recent peer-reviewed Japanese paper lists seventeen scientific authors from several major universities and the research division of Nissan Motors which report ‘excess heat energy’ which ‘is impossible to attribute … to any chemical reaction’ with good reproducibility between different laboratories. But their work is only the tip of a very substantial iceberg - yet it's still ignored by mainstream physics. I wrote about these issues in Aeon three years ago, I argued that the problem is that cold fusion is stuck in a reputation trap. The reputation trap is nicely illustrated by the tone of a New Scientist editorial from 2016. It accompanied a fairly even-handed article describing recent increases in interest in LENR, from investors as well as some scientists.


    Reputation trap? Oh come on - cold fusion research was designed to get bad reputation from its very beginning - in organized and streamlined way. Its "bad reputation" is only evasion and consequence of the fact, that cold fusion threats carrier of many researchers engaged in energetic research - from "renewables" over batteries, solar and fuel cells, hydrogen storage, nuclear and hot fusion research. All these people have very good reason to ignore cold fusion - so that they're ignoring it.

    This - and nothing else - is the primary cause of cold fusion ignorance by mainstream physics - not "bad reputation". See also:

  • Reputation trap? Oh come on


    Kazuo Ooyama , who is not an academic but a professional mechanical engineer

    has communicated to me that that in his dealings with professors in Japan over a decade

    about cold fusion.. there is a fear of losing reputation

    even losing a professorship ... by associating with cold fusion.


    This will be written in the preface of his 227 pg cold fusion reactor book released around 23 March.

  • Quote

    The fallacy here is obvious. It puts the burden of proof on the wrong side. What matters is not whether there is a compelling reason to think that there are icebergs, but whether there is compelling reason to be confident that there are not. That’s what’s distinctive about these safety cases, and it stems from the high cost of getting things wrong – hitting the icebergs, or missing the islands.


    Whereas the reputation trap is just a strawman fallacy, this insight is very important. I'm often forced to face the famous, but equally dumb Carl Sagan's quote: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." The using this quote like mantra indistinguishably denominates every pathoskeptic denier.

    But what is more extraordinarily here: the claim of cold fusion by itself - or the historical opportunity which is in stake, if we would ignore it? The burden of proof is not on the supplier of claims only - but on everyone who could profit from it. The correct sentence should sound:


    "Extraordinary claims extraordinarily require the evidence."

  • I'm often forced to face the famous, but equally dumb Carl Sagan's quote: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."


    Yuch! That is one of my bête noire(s?). Here is what Melich and I wrote about it:


    One of the 2004 DoE reviewers wrote: “As many have said, extraordinary results require extraordinary proof. Such proof is lacking.”

    This is not a principle of science. It was coined by Carl Sagan for the 1980 “Cosmos” television series. Conventional scientific standards dictate that extraordinary claims are best supported with ordinary evidence from off-the-shelf instruments and standard techniques. All mainstream cold fusion papers present this kind of evidence.


    Conventional standards also dictate that all claims and arguments must be held to the same standards of rigor. This includes skeptical assertions that attempt to disprove cold fusion, which have been notably lacking in rigor.

    Laplace asserted that “The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness.” “Weight of evidence” is a measure of how much evidence you have, not how extraordinary it is. There is more evidence for cold fusion than for previously disputed effects. (For example, although there were a few hundred papers published about polywater, most were speculative, and only two labs reported success. [Franks, F., Polywater. 1981])

    Finally, the quality of being “extraordinary” is subjective. What seems extraordinary to one person seems ordinary to another. Many scientific phenomena that experts take for granted, such as quantum effects, seemed extraordinary when they were discovered, and still seem extraordinary to non-scientists.

  • Quote

    there is a fear of losing reputation even losing a professorship ... by associating with cold fusion


    Well - but there is intriguing thing, that nobody fears the loss or reputation by associating himself with string theory and/or another failed theory.


    The mainstream science community behaves like nest of ants, which is composed of various wrongdoing individuals - but as a whole it behaves like smart superorganism, which is occupation driven and which never makes decisions against its very own interests. It can very precisely recognize, whether support of some idea or paradigm brings more grants and jobs for scientists in a given moment - or it merely threats it.

  • Quote

    Conventional standards also dictate that all claims and arguments must be held to the same standards of rigor. This includes skeptical assertions that attempt to disprove cold fusion, which have been notably lacking in rigor.


    That's perfectly correct - but it's not the whole story. My point was, that evidence for or against cold fusion must be even better than for or against polywater, because the polywater still has no apparent practical usage, whereas the cold fusion already has. The opponents of cold fusion should try much harder than the opponents of polywater, because they have much greater responsibility.


    Quote

    the quality of being “extraordinary” is subjective. What seems extraordinary to one person seems ordinary to another.


    I'm well aware that You - as a proponent of science and blue-sky research - have lower resolving power for it. For proponents of science everything looks equally important - actually the more, the more mainstream they're are. But not for these ones, who are paying all this fun - i.e. tax payers - and these people represent a majority of human civilization. Their interest is actually what matters here - not the interest of scientists. The scientists are here for us, tax payers - not vice versa.


    Thus the research of findings and ideas, which already have practical usage should always get a priority over these ones, which need more research for their practical applications in a given moment.

  • My belief is that the what an author of an opinion piece writes is important, but the real battle is won, or lost, in the comments section. If correct, then I think we are winning this one. Finally. Many LF members, and 1 notable former member, have jumped into the fray to make some well reasoned, scientifically targeted replies.


    Maybe this is what it will take from now on?

  • Alan Smith


    Yup Huw is following through on his own philosophy. It’s certainly brave but the need of the times requires it.


    Even if just a few % likely given the advances in understanding in physics especially at nano scale spintronics, plasmonics and materials and even new understandings in high energy physics resonances in recent years it would be foolish to not revisit and review the subject what ever are ones previous beliefs.


    I wonder if it would be interesting to invite Huw and his Skeptical colleagues to your lab. He might win his bet and his colleagues if serious might also provide some useful insight.

  • Conventional scientific standards dictate that extraordinary claims are best supported with ordinary evidence from off-the-shelf instruments and standard techniques. All mainstream cold fusion papers present this kind of evidence.


    This is an old argument. I'll just state the other side of it.


    It makes sense to talk about "level" of evidence only within an inductive framework in which beliefs before the experimental evidence are related to those after, and belief is quantified as Bayesian probability.


    This is possible, and many have argued this notably E.T. Jaynes (who pioneered the revival of Bayesian probability theory). His seminal book The Logic of Science is available in a more edited form commercially, but also most of it is open here and very well worth anyone interested in these matters reading. It notably explodes Popper's ideas about falsifiability be showing that inductive logic can be treated mathematically just as rigorously as deductive logic, which we all as humans intuitively know.


    The good news for LENR about that is that lack of falsifiability (and LENR hypotheses as currently known are not falsifiable) need not be seen as a problem for a useful scientific theory.


    The bad news however is that it makes sense to talk about needing higher levels of evidence for a hypothesis that is a priori (based on all previous evidence) of lower probability.


    I hear two comments:

    (1) That is wrong, no-one can determine prior probabilities of scientific hypohtheses.

    (2) LENR hypotheses are high prior probability due to the large amount of evidence thus far.


    (2) is logically correct: if the evidence thus far is in fact of enough quantity and quality

    (1) Is wrong. Specifically it is possible to determine the relative probability of hypotheses based on their complexity. More complex theories have more free parameters (even if coded as a symbolic string without numeric values some sort of MDL measure can be used).


    The difference between thinking skeptics and thinking advocates of LENR, when they examine evidence, comes down to prior probabilities. If you reckon nuclear reactions at low energy which suppress 99.9% of the expected high energy products are high prior probability (say 1%) you will be persuaded by a standard experiment. If you reckon they are much lower probability you will be persuaded only by much higher quality experiment, perhaps with replication (on the grounds that human error/fraud hypotheses stay higher than the LENR hypothese post experiment unless you have very good checks).


    There is then the question of how many independent experiments alter probabilities. That is complicated by the difficulty in ensuring independence. Once LENR as a meme exists, if the people doing the experiments have heard of it, they are susceptible (being only human) to groupthink and therefore maybe not detecting systematic errors. They also (being only human) once convinced that on balance LENR is likely will see evidence of it from many experiments that others not so convinced would not.


    Huw, being a philosopher, not a mathematician or a scientist, probably would not agree with the mathematical view of induction given above.


    Most people here, I'd guess, will not agree much with it.


    However, it does explain how somone can be highly skeptical of the LENR hypotheses advanced here given the evidence noted here, without being irrational, prejudiced against LENR, or a pathoskeptic (I guess the latter term as used here implies irrationality).


    I also expect people to argue:


    (3) such a person can never be convinced of LENR


    That is not true, just they would require the type of evidence available for other scientific theories and not yet for LENR. I'd put that evidence into two categories:


    (1) strong predictions made before experimental results are known.

    (2) strong lab rat style experimental support. By that I don't mean experiments that are easy to do, just experiments that are well defined and lead to the same strong positive results when completely independent groups with independent methodology and experimental setups do them.


    We'd need quite a discussion on precisely what "strong" means in these two cases: but it is easy to see that on both LENR (as a hypothesis) lags behind other phenomena which were observed experimentally before any new theory existed to explain them.

    THH

  • A skeptic who respected LENR researchers would not consider it likely that a group of non-specialist people on the internet would be able to detect groupthink style systematic errors in interpretation of a whole set of scientific experiments: because very obvious ones would have been detected by the experimenters themselves.


    One who though LENR experimenters were whatever the converse of pathoskeptic is - faithholding believer perhaps - would think such errors might be detected by non-specialists.


    Personally, I adopt both sides of this. I respect some LENR researchers, some are clearly (from evidence) bad experimentalists, and some are faithholding believers. Some, of course, are frauds or vapourware merchants, if by LENR researcher you mean anyone who claims to conduct research into LENR devices.


    That is why I take my views from a combination of things, and mostly from the coherence and temporal progression of both experimental claims and supporting theoretical claims. Progress in either makes me interested. W's claims here for example, supporting Alan's claims here, would get me very interested. Since I'm not fully competent myself to understand W's claims, and have little information about Alan's claims, that is currently very hypothetical. When I see a writeup of W's claims or Alan's claims done with the sort of care and rigor that I'd expect from a high quality peer reviewed publication I might revise that. (That gets out of the whole "reputation trap so can't publish" thing). I think many people can be capable of judging lack of rigor and care, even when not fully able to judge content.


    I should say that thus far the most interesting work I've seen was the "increased fusion probability in metal lattice" stuff which was coherent and well supported. Two problems, it does not quite seem to hit the claimed experimental results in terms of fusion rate, and (major problem) it does not of itself solve the "almost no high energy reaction product" issue.

  • The difference between thinking skeptics and thinking advocates of LENR, when they examine evidence, comes down to prior probabilities. If you reckon nuclear reactions at low energy which suppress 99.9% of the expected high energy products are high prior probability (say 1%) you will be persuaded by a standard experiment. If you reckon they are much lower probability you will be persuaded only by much higher quality experiment, perhaps with replication (on the grounds that human error/fraud hypotheses stay higher than the LENR hypothese post experiment unless you have very good checks).


    Can it be that you missed some basic classes in mechanics or did you forget the fundamental law of momentum conservation?


    Nobody with a decent grasp of physics expects hard radiation from a low energy D-D fusion event. Even if you apply the rules of the outdated Standard model, that a fictitious scalar strong force potential will accelerate the involved masses you will see , that you end up in a symmetric configuration and the acceleration vectors cancel. There is no vector that is different from “0” that can be attached to a particle.


    So we can sum up: THH just repeats, without any personal reflection, nonsense arguments made by people that only new the outcome of kinetic experiments...


    As a corollary we can conclude: THH objections are void because they are based on ignorance of physical facts/laws.

  • The difference between thinking skeptics and thinking advocates of LENR, when they examine evidence, comes down to prior probabilities. If you reckon nuclear reactions at low energy which suppress 99.9% of the expected high energy products are high prior probability (say 1%) you will be persuaded by a standard experiment.


    Cold fusion is not based on nuclear theory. Whether it is possible according to nuclear theory is utterly irrelevant, and should not be taken into consideration. You do not have to reckon anything about nuclear reactions or probability to be certain it is real. Cold fusion is based on 18th and 19th century chemistry and physics, especially the laws of thermodynamics. It is based on calorimetry, which by 1780 was good enough to detect many cold fusion reactions with certainty. The only theories you need to believe in cold fusion are:

    1. Thermodynamics and the conservation of energy.
    2. The limits of chemical reactions, where chemistry is defined as changes to electrons that do not transmute elements. These limits are about 4 eV per atom. Cold fusion reactions have produced thousands of electron volts per atom, with no chemical changes, so chemical reactions are ruled out. That leaves only a nuclear reaction, or something unknown to science.

    The production of tritium and helium proves beyond any doubt that the reaction is nuclear. The key point is: NO THEORY IS NEEDED. Theory is NEVER required to accept a result. It can NEVER be used as the basis to reject a result. That turns the scientific method upside-down. That would be a weird form of religion, not science. To call this "skeptical" (as THH labels it above) is an abuse of the word. A skeptic is not someone who rejects the whole basis of the scientific method and clings to a theory in spite of overwhelming evidence that it is wrong. That is as far from skepticism as you can get. Even if the reaction violates every aspect of nuclear theory (which is far from the case), experiment proves beyond question the tritium is real, so the reaction is nuclear. If it can be shown that no theory can explain the tritium and heat, that would only prove that all theories are wrong.


    The most fundamental rule of the scientific method is that when theory and replicated, high-sigma experiments conflict, theory always loses, experiments always win. There are no exceptions. In 400 years of modern science, there has never been an exception. The only question is how many replications at what s/n ratio are needed. That is debatable up to a point. But when the level of tritium is 50 times background in many experiments, in many labs, it is no longer debatable. It is no longer rational to entertain any doubts about it. You might as well doubt Ohm's law or the laws of thermodynamics.


    Also, the notion that reactions are "suppressed" is ridiculous. They never happen in the first place. We do not need to know why they never happen to be certain they never happen. That is an observation. And as I said, theory is never any basis to doubt an observation.

  • As the nobel prize winner Julian Schwinger said it: "Has the knowledge that physics is an experimental science been totally lost?"


    "My first attempt at publication, for the record, was a total disaster. "Cold Fusion: A Hypothesis" was written to suggest several critical experiments, which is the function of hypothesis. The masked reviewers, to a person, ignored that, and complained that I had not proved the underlying assumptions. Has the knowledge that physics is an experimental science been totally lost?"


    - Julian Schwinger , 1994

  • Cold fusion is not based on nuclear theory. Whether it is possible according to nuclear theory is utterly irrelevant, and should not be taken into consideration. You do not have to reckon anything about nuclear reactions or probability to be certain it is real.


    Schwinger expressed this most elegantly when he asked:


    Have we forgotten that physics are empirical?


    Yes, THHuxleynew has forgotten that, or he never learned it in the first place. Everything he wrote above is invalid because physics are empirical. Because experimentally proven facts, demonstrated with calorimeters and tritium detectors, overrule all probabilities, reckonings, considerations, memes, Bayesian probability, mathematics and theories. Instrument readings decide all issues. They settle all questions. There is no appealing or disagreeing with tritium at 50 times background, measured repeatedly, in different labs. Yes, some experimentalists are sometimes wrong, but they are not all wrong month after month, year after year. If that could happen, the experimental method would not work, and we humans would still be living in caves.