Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp. 407–409, 2009
Cold Fusion: Fact or Fantasy?
MARISSA E. LITTLE AND SCOTT R. LITTLE
EarthTech International, Inc. at Institute for Advanced Studies at Austin
11855 Research Boulevard, Austin, TX 78759
When Professors Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons made their initial
announcement about cold fusion in 1989, the scientific community was unusually
open toward incredible discoveries. A few years earlier a team of scientists had
announced the discovery of high temperature superconductors. Alex Muller
and Georg Bednorz were considered outsiders in the area of superconductor
research, their laboratory had no reputation in the fi eld, and they provided no
theoretical explanations. These facts, combined with previous failed attempts by
dedicated superconductor researchers, caused the announcement to be received
with skepticism. However, within a few short weeks nearly every replication
of the experiment was successful and improvements had been made (Nowotny &
Felt, 1997). In an almost parallel set of circumstances, Fleischmann and Pons,
neither of whom were specialists in the fi eld of nuclear physics, announced their
extraordinary results with no theoretical underpinning. But at this point the stories
diverge. Most of the efforts to replicate their experiment failed and the furor died
almost as quickly as it started (Simon, 2002).
One possible explanation for this turn of events is that cold fusion is not real.
In this case, the positive results obtained by numerous researchers (LENR-CANR
Library, n.d.) over the past 20 years would have to be due to some combination of
measurement error, misinterpretation of results, or even confi rmation bias, which
is “. . . the inclination to recruit and give weight to evidence that is consistent with
the hypothesis in question, rather than search for inconsistent evidence that could
falsify the hypothesis” (Risen & Gilobich, 2007). While this may not seem likely
due to the volume of published positive results, it should be noted that there are
countless null experiments that have remained unpublished. Several null results
were published shortly after the announcement when interest in cold fusion was
widespread (Browne, 1989), but the vast majority of null results after the initial
announcement have fallen victim to the “fi le drawer effect,” a phenomenon
that causes less emphasis to be placed on papers that prove the status quo. The
research behind these papers is simply stored in a fi le drawer and it never reaches
publication status. In an effort to combat this effect, we are belatedly publishing
pertinent null results in this issue of the Journal.
The other possible explanation is that cold fusion is real but diffi cult to
reproduce for reasons that are yet to be fully understood. Fleischmann and Pons
did not provide a complete specifi cation for the experiment. Subsequent efforts to
discover this specifi cation have not resulted in the usual narrowing of experimental parameters accompanied by increased reproducibility and strength of effect.
Instead, the cold fusion parameter space has exploded into an assortment of
loosely related methods and phenomena. In contrast to the original experiment,
which involved electrolysis of heavy water with a Pd cathode, cold fusion
experiments now include light water electrolysis, a variety of cathode materials,
gas-loaded metals, ultrasound cavitation, exploding wires, high-temperature
plasmas, etc. (Storms, 2007). This diversity can be optimistically interpreted as
evidence that the phenomenon is robust and rather reproducible. But it also can
be a symptom of confi rmation bias: evidence of cold fusion is found in any
suffi ciently complicated experiment.
It is quite diffi cult to judge which of these two scenarios is true. The fi eld of
cold fusion suffers greatly from the Experimenter’s Regress—a term coined by
Harry Collins (1981). Experimenter’s regress has two pertinent consequences in
this situation. First, “it is impossible to know by objective criteria alone whether
one or another experiment has been performed competently. Thus, rather than
providing an unambiguous way out of controversial affairs, experiments can only
serve to reinforce the apparent confl ict” (Saulson, 2001). This aspect of experimenter’s regress does not allow conclusions to be drawn about the positive results from cold fusion experiments, nor about the null results. One is unable to
determine the merit of an experiment if the expected outcome is not known. If
cold fusion is real, then the experiments with positive results should be lauded as
well performed. However, if cold fusion is nothing but the result of measurement
errors, then the null experiments were obviously correctly performed. Because of
the controversial nature of the claims, the results cannot be interpreted objectively.
Additionally, experimenter’s regress, combined with confi rmation bias, leads a
person into a feedback loop where they assume that the results obtained are the
correct ones since it is diffi cult to determine otherwise. This further polarizes
the two sides as experimenters with positive results become more convinced of
the veracity of cold fusion and experimenters with null results become more
convinced of the fantasy of cold fusion.
All doubts could be put to rest by the development of a commercial energy
source based on cold fusion. But before this development can begin, a robust
demonstration experiment is required to convince scientists, engineers, and investors.
A cold fusion cell that produced enough power to run itself would certainly
suffi ce. Several researchers have claimed such large quantities of excess heat; a
self-sustaining device should be possible even with the ineffi ciency of converting
heat to electricity. But no such device exists.
A cold fusion experiment that reproducibly produced strong, unambiguous
evidence of nuclear reactions would be the next best thing. Martin Fleischmann
lamented the lack of such an experiment in his opening remarks at the Seventh
International Conference on Cold Fusion (ICCF-7) in 1998. Apparently, this
situation has not changed in the ensuing decade. Some cold fusion researchers
will claim to have such experiments in hand but the world has not yet seen the
expected consequences, namely large-scale investment and research in cold
fusion. Possibly some researchers are keeping their success a secret. Solving the
world’s energy problems would certainly bring both fame and fortune.
It should therefore come as no surprise that the mainstream scientifi c community
still does not accept cold fusion as a means of creating nuclear reactions.
This situation will persist until a robust demonstration experiment is developed
and publicized. If no such experiment ever appears, cold fusion will slowly fade
away and become nothing more than a footnote in the history of science.
About the Authors: Marissa and Scott Little work at EarthTech International,
a company dedicated to investigating new energy ideas. We have spent countless
hours on cold fusion experiments, with a great deal of emphasis on accurate
calorimetric measurements (Little et al., 2008). Despite this effort, we have never
seen a successful cold fusion experiment. We are still dedicated to this fi eld and
watch for new announcements with anticipation. Unfortunately, the null results
obtained in our laboratory have fostered the undeserved reputation that we
are trying to disprove cold fusion. Nothing could be further from the truth. This
reputation has lessened the interests of other scientists in being open and cooperative with us. However, our laboratory remains open and we remain optimistic that someday we will have the opportunity to make measurements on an experiment that irrefutably demonstrates the phenomenon known as cold fusion.
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Little, S. R., Luce, G. A., & Little, M. E. (2008). MOAC—A High Accuracy Calorimeter for Cold
Fusion Studies. Presented at the 14th International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear
Physics. Available at: http://www.earthtech.org/experiments/ICCF14_MOAC.pdf.
Nowotny, H., & Felt, U. (1997). After the Breakthrough: The Emergence of High-Temperature
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Risen, J., & Gilobich, T. (2007). Informal logical fallacies. In Sternberg, J., Roediger, H. L., &
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