Wierd Earl's Cold Fusion link...

Just looked at Wierd Earl’s link for today (Alternative Science). They have a page about “cold fusion”. Now, it has been a lot of years since Pons and Fleischmann made their claims. As I recall, they claimed that it was absurdly easy (and cheap) to make a little fusion “generator” in your own kitchen.

Now, seems to me that even if they faced the ridicule of the entire world, they would have been able to do something fairly dramatic by now.

For instance, they could scale up a cold-fusion system that produced enough power to run a standard house. How much could it cost? They could use it themselves and pour the electricity/gas savings into their next generation. They could install it for their friends and relatives. Pretty soon, people would be coming off the power grid in droves. It would be on all the infomercials, “As Seen On TV”, eBay, wherever.

And if these guys were smart enough to patent their idea, they’d be in line for megabucks.

Am I missing something here?


You’re right – if cold fusion had actually worked. It didn’t.

Pons and Fleischmann did an experiment and found more energy was given off then they thought it should. Therefore, they concluded it was cold fusion. It turned out to be various errors.

It’s like the old Sherlock Holmes adage about eliminating the impossible. Pons and Fleischmann eliminated some impossible results, but left some in.

I once invented cold fusion with my chemistry set in high school. A test tube full or chemicals suddenly turned warm. I was on to something.

Until I realized I had filled it with hot water instead of cold.

That’s weird. (Easy to transpose letters; I have to watch out for it in my own writing.) What’s really silly is that “cold fusion” has become a staple of half-baked sci-fi in movies and tv shows. (I’m using “sci-fi” to mean stuff that has the appearance of science fiction, but not the mentality.) Even though there’s no reason to believe that cold fusion is even possible, there’s a popular conception that it’s just an engineering problem.

Never mind cold fusion; what’s the status of research into hot fusion? Are we ever gonna get those fusion power plants up and running?

Pons and Fleichman never figured out how to scale up the effect. They never made it reliable enough to even demonstrate to skeptics. The money finally ran out, the lab closed down. Same thing happened with researchers in Japan. A project at Naval Research Lab still continues, see http://www.spawar.navy.mil/sti/publications/pubs/tr/1862/tr1862-vol1.pdf

Contrary to what many may say, only a part of the scientific community decided that the Pons/Fleichman report was a mistake. Many scientists eventually found evidence of nuclear ash (helium 4, tritium) in the right porportions. But other things (gamma rays, neutrons) were missing. The main product was heat, but more heat that was possible from chemical reactions. But were the heat measurements a mistake? If there was a nuclear reaction going on, it wasn’t one that is known in high energy physics, so many scientists decided that the heat measurements must not be reliable. A sub-controversy appeared regarding this: maybe it was a new kind of nuclear reaction that only appears in solid matter at low temperature… versus… all reactions are well known! There can be no new ones, if they were possible then we’d already know about them!
Arthur C. Clarke thinks that Pons and Fleichman will be the only scientists to win both the Ignobel prize and the Nobel prize: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/280/5369/1532

The long running test of cold fusion at SRI finally concluded ten years later, with the result that CF is not a simple mistake as many have insisted, but also certainly not any normal type of fusion. The report was basically ignored (no new funding for CF research appeared.)

As I see it, the main problem was that the effect was extremely controversial, and also wasn’t easy to reproduce. Yes, controversial effects can defeat their detractors and win over the scientific commmunity, but they need to be easily demonstrated, otherwise many doubting researchers will try looking into them, fail, then assme there was nothing there to begin with. And with so much politics and nastiness, most researchers steer far clear just to avoid threatening their jobs. Controversial science is like long-shot betting: sometimes it pays off big, but more often it creates ruined careers. CF also attracted lots of crackpots, which then caused legit reseachers to steer clear.


Large archive of research papers (many of them recent)

ICCF10, 2003 cold fusion conference

current journal : cold fusion times

DMOZ links
Stories at San Francisco Chronicle

Wired magazine

Books both pro and con