AOH :: FUSION48.TXT|
Lack of Professionalism in Dealing With Fleischmann & Pons
From: dave@mahendo.Jpl.Nasa.Gov (Dave Skinner)
Subject: Lack of Professionalism in Dealing with Fleischmann & Pons
Date: 2 May 89 19:55:27 GMT
Organization: Jet Propulsion Labs, Pasadena, CA
I would like to begin by stating that cold fusion may or may not be the
byproduct of Fleischmann and Pons. I am no physicist, and I am no chemist.
In fact, I have absolutely no connection with either the chemical or the
energy industies. So, I don't have any axes to grind (at least not on
I always felt that physcists (like all scientists) were, or at least should
be, careful to give their colleagues the benefit of the doubt on any
scientific claim that their colleagues might make until after the verdict
was in. Even then, scientists would usually let the stigma of going public
and being wrong be sufficient punishment for the guilty. This is because
the researchers suffer not only the embarrassment of the moment, but are
undoubtedly haunted by their mistake throughout the remainder of their
careers. All of this seems fitting and proper; the punishment fits the
crime, so to speak.
So, the response of some physicists (and I will attempt to show that this
behavior appears limited to physicists) to the announcement by Fleischmann
& Pons (F&P) of the discovery of a means of producing cold fusion has
repeatedly tarnished this professionalism with blatant attempts to
question the competence and integrity of F&P, as well as to call them
outright liars. Furthermore, all of this is going on while the verdict is
still out. Skepticism is one thing; publically implying that F&P are
incompetent, immoral, and foolish is another.
In the second week after the 23 March announcement (on 6 April to be exact),
physics professor H. W. Lewis of the University of California at Santa
Barbara wrote in the Los Angeles Times:
Did the Utah team acheive cold fusion? No.
If the Utah scientists had actually produced cold fusion at
any substantial level, they would have been bathed in a
deadly beam of neutrons that [would have] fried them to a
If they had produced as much as a watt of power through
fusion, there would have been a trillion neutrons per second,
which would be lethal in a very short time. That they lived
to hold their press conference is clear and unambiguous proof
that they did not produce any noticeable amount of power
through cold fusion.
I would say that Lewis is describing F&P as both incompetent and foolish!
Worse than that, Lewis did not wait for any of the attempts to recreate the
F&P experiment to be completed before writing this commentary.
At appearance after appearance, F&P have been met not only with skepticism, but
with only slightly muffled anger and hostility. Reports of problems of this
kind were reported at the Fleischmann appearance in Italy, and at the Pons
appearance at the American Chemical Society meeting in Dallas during the second
week in April.
In describing the congressional hearing on cold fusion that occurred last week,
Larry Brader (of Tektronix) said that:
Furth and others were sarcastic and somewhat abrasive to the
Why? What ax does Furth, a physicist from Princeton, have to grind? (sarcasm)
There appears to be both bad blood between physicists and chemists in general,
as well as vested interests, like congressional funding, at stake in particular.
It is totally unprofessional to air "dirty laundry" in public. Yet, that is
exactly what the physicists are doing!
Then there are the seminars being given by cold fusion researchers throughout
academia. For example, there is the belittling of F&P at Yale:
Gai displayed data showing that during this time [last seven
hours of the experiment] detector #1 counted a grand total of
2 neutrons, which the group named "Fleischmann" and "Pons".
The Yale seminar discussed the unsuccessful attempts by Yale and Brookhaven to
replicate the F&P results. By being one of the many research efforts that
probably used drawn, rather than cast palladium, Yale was unable to get the
excessive heat seen by F&P at the University of Utah. By the time the seminar
was held late last week (there were actually two seminars on 28 and 29 April),
the Yale researchers should have been aware of this problem. Yet Gai, who is
an associate professor of physics at Yale, carefully omitted this fact during
his presentation, because he knew it relegated all of the Yale-Brookhaven
results to merely control experiments, while at least eight other universities
worldwide had not fallen into the drawn-versus-cast palladium trap, namely
Texas A&M, Stanford, the University of Florida, Moscow University in the Soviet
Union, Sao Paulo University in Brazil, as well as universities in Poland,
Czechoslovakia, and China. Instead, Gai resorted to reporting the absence of
neutrons in an experiment which had obviously failed as if the failure was a
success; the absence of neutrons was reported as significant despite the fact
that the experiment showed no signs of heat, and despite the presence of
chemists from Brrokhaven, no heat measurements were performed. It was the
reporting on the "significant" absence of neutrons which led to the ridicule
of F&P mentioned above.
Then yesterday, the Boston Gloge quotes Ron Parker and Ron Ballinger, two
physicists from MIT as saying that F&P are guilty of:
misrepresentation and maybe fraud
Ron Parker is (or has been) the director of MIT's Plasma Fusion Lab and their
Alcator-C tokamak research project according to David A Honig on the net.
These physicists have an obvious ax to grind.
Meanwhile at the American Physical Society conference in Baltimore last night,
Caltech physicists claimed that they had repeated the F&P experiment, saw no
neutrons, did not say they saw heat (apparently because like all of the efforts
by physicists since the F&P announcement, they have not performed any
calorimetry), but did say they could explain away any heat that F&P did see
without resorting to fusion as an explanation. According to the Los Angeles
Times, "cheers" were heard as the physicists in the room obviously took the
announcement to be proof that F&P are wrong.
Cheers were heard indeed! This kind of behavior is ridiculous. I have been
appalled by the sporadic childish behavior of physicists since the original
F&P announcement, and things seem to be getting worse instead of better.
This latest barrage of jealousy appears to be linked to the appearance of
F&P at congressional hearings last week, which only underscores that money,
rather than common sense, is directing the mouths of these physicists. To
Paul F. Dietz who asks:
Is it my imagination, or did the critics' kid gloves come
off after Pons and Fleischmann asked congress for $25 M
(which would come from the hot fusion program)?
I say YES! The repugnant behavior of physicists, and apparently physicists
alone, has entered a new even more repugnant phase. These guys have a lot
to lose monetarily if F&P are right, but do they have to lose their self
respect as well?
How many physicists will have to "eat crow" if cold fusion (with energy levels
in excess of breakeven) is actually occurring like F&P claim? More important,
how much damage will be done in the mean time to the reputation of all
physicists in the eyes of John Q. Public, in the eyes of their funding sources
(usually the U. S. Government), and in the eyes of the rest of the science
community if this behavior continues?
I personally think that physicists should *keep their mouths shut* when it
comes to saying that F&P results are "impossible" until all the pertinent
facts are known. I personally think that announcing the absence of results
as either de facto proof that F&P are wrong "like we thought all along", or as
attempts to belittle and ridicule F&P ahould be curtailed immediately. As for
the latest tactic of calling them liars, well that doesn't even deserve a
For the record, I was never fond of chemistry. When I was an aerospace
engineering student in the 1970s, I was glad when my chemistry requirements
had been met. By comparison, I have great admiration for and find great
elegance, as well as utility, in the physics.
In fact, the point of this entire commentary is to cause these unnecessary
negative comments and actions by physicists to cease for the sake of physics.
Such negative comments by physicists places physics in the same category as
common politics, where the people involved show no more maturity than the
average two-year-old. My comments are meant to keep physics at the proper
stature in the eyes of everyone.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
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