Re: Tech: Wired article about cold fusion

Christian Weisgerber (
6 Dec 1999 00:35:51 +0100

<> wrote:

> I recommend it.


> It's a very well written piece of "science anthropological
> journalism" about the history and current state of the cold fusion
> research community.

That it is. As a journalist, this guy is good.

Unfortunately, the article doesn't really advance us on the issue whether this cold fusion thing is real. There are some aspect of the article I really liked, as I didn't expect them at all: The writer, if we are to believe him, tried for independent confirmation of various factlets. He also presents a followup on the helium levels in the SRI experiment. Still, what I would really love to see is a later followup article, or better yet, a series of reports, tracing the progress of the various people mentioned.

Alas, followup articles would amount to information, I guess, and contrary to what they like to tell us, the press is about entertainment with one-shot bites, not informing its readership through consistent reporting.

The article sorely lacks explanations--or, if they're considered to be too technical for the intended audience, pointers to explanations--of how cold fusion is supposed to work. Theoreticians are mentioned, but never their theories. Are we looking at something that has at least a possible theoretical derivation, or is this a totally unexplained physical effect? If these people have been working on the problem for ten years, why can't they tell me anything new since then?

If you have been reading carefully, you'll notice that there's quite some divergence to what is supposedly going on. Some claim to have detected tritium and neutrons, others say its a D+D->He4 reaction, or they only talk about heat output, and one lab claims to have adopted the effect to a H+H reaction. Yeah, just the same thing, right.

At Los Alamos they don't see military applications. A new, efficient, portable energy source has no military applications? Military scientists only think about blowing things up? Excuse me, just how stupid am I supposed to be?

What makes me suspicious about cold fusion claims on a higher level is that ten years seems like an awful long time to bring a piece of technology to market. Maybe that's because I'm an IT person, but even considering that they started from plain physics, ten years still seems like a long time without a product. And we're not talking about a minor consumer gimmick here. If you can put a cold fusion device on the market, "fucking rich" will be a grand euphemism to describe the monetary rewards.

> I'm not competent to judge the technical merits of anything
> that's described in the article, but WOULD be curious to see the reactions of
> folks better able to assess the current state of the art described there.

I don't consider myself competent either, but I'm fairly confident that nobody could reasonably assess anything from the little hard information provided in the article.

> One thing that was a little disturbing about the article was the account of
> how the scientific and R&D community seems set against even a moderately
> funded investigation of what is an undeniably interesting and mysterious
> physical phenomenon.

Of what *may* be an interesting and mysterious physical phenomenon. There has been quite a bit of discussion about memes on this list, how to find the exceedingly difficult balance between believing just any dribble on the one hand, and showing about as much learning capability as a rock on the other hand. I'm glad the writer didn't put the conspiracy monging on too thickly. It would have instantly destroyed any credibility for me.

Summary: Tell me something we didn't already know ten years ago. I'll be only too happy to accept cold fusion--and boy, the consequences!--but until there's something more concrete, I'll be just as happy to ignore it.

Christian "naddy" Weisgerber