Cold fusion is the scientific heresy that just won’t go away. In fact, it made quite a splash recently on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” The experiments in question were carried out by Frank Gordon and his colleagues at SPAWAR. I have heard both Frank and his colleague, Larry Forsley describe their experiments. Neither fits my mental picture of, say, a UFO conspiracy theorist or a raving phrenologist. They both seem to be very down to earth guys who are convinced they are seeing something unusual in their experiments. Neither of them claims to know for sure what is causing it, and neither seems to have any obvious reason for deliberately trying to deceive the scientific community. I tend to be taken aback by the visceral response of some scientists at the mention of cold fusion. To listen to them, one would think the infidels were at the gates, ready to defile some scientific Holy of Holies, and plunge us back into the Dark Ages. I must confess, I really don’t understand why these people feel so threatened.
There are many government agencies, including the Military that would seem to have at least some interest in promoting research in this area, with DOE in the forefront. Unfortunately, the appointment of Steve Koonin as the new Under Secretary for Science does not bode well for the new technology. Steve is a brilliant, conscientious scientist, and would seem to be the ideal man for the job. However, he was also a prime mover in the scientific community’s initial rejection of cold fusion following its ill-conceived debut back in 1989. He is unlikely to be enthusiastic about eating crow, as it were, 20 years later. Be that as it may, DOE just stood up ARPA-E, and handed them $400M to fund just such high risk, high payoff work as this. It seems eminently reasonable to me that, given the organization’s stated mission, some fraction of this largesse should be devoted to cold fusion research. In terms of the nation’s overall research budget, we’re talking chump change here. What do we have to lose? Is it really worth unleashing a scientific Jihad to stop it?
For anyone interested in learning more, here are some links to recent publications in the Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) community, some graphics and descriptions of experiments, and a paper disputing the SPAWAR results.
Let reason prevail and the research go forward.