Friday, March 23, 2007
On this day 18 years ago, the University of Utah announced the
discovery of cold fusion without giving any technical details
(WN 24 Mar 89) . The peak
came three weeks later when Stanley Pons received a standing
ovation at the annual ACS Meeting in Dallas, but by June it was
over. The Utah research was exposed as a pitiful embarrassment.
For years the faithful sulked at their own annual meetings held
at swank resorts around the world. There they could congratulate
each other on their progress. Each year another experiment would
be hailed as proof, but never survived replication. A few years
ago, however, the bolder of the faithful began to reemerge from
the dark, giving papers at professional society meetings. They
now prefer to call their field Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions
(LENR),and they held a session at the APS March Meeting in
Denver. Next week they will hold a session at the ACS Meeting in
Chicago. Once again, there is a new experiment that is being
hailed as proof-at-last. Who knows, maybe this will be the one.
Last month we predicted that Rusi Taleyarkhan's troubles aren't
over (WN 16 Feb 07) . You
will recall that while he was at ORNL Taleyarkhan claimed in a
paper published by Science that he had generated deuterium fusion
in sonoluminescence. His claims were disputed by two experienced
physicists, Putterman and Suslick, who repeated the work and got
no indication of fusion. After Taleyarkhan joined Purdue as a
Nuclear Engineering professor, another paper was published that
seemed to independently verify his ORNL results. Who were the
authors? Taleyarkhan's students. What were they being trained
to do? They apparently had little to do with the research. When
a Purdue misconduct investigation seemed headed for the wrong
answer it was terminated. A second Purdue investigation cleared
Taleyarkhan of misconduct. Now Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC), chair of
the Science Committee's Investigations Subcommittee has requested
a copy of the University's internal investigation reports.
Science owes its success and credibility to openness. Findings,
including details of how they were obtained, are exposed to the
scrutiny of the entire scientific community. It sounds like a
prescription for chaos, but it's a mechanism for self-correction.
The alternative is dogma. Could openness be extended to all
knowledge? With Wikipedia, it seemed to work for a time, but for
those who profit from a misinformed public, including purveyors
of pseudoscience, the target is too tempting to leave alone.
Why do technical problems always come up on Spring Break?