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The cold fusion horizon (aeon.co)
248 points by jseliger on Dec 22, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 190 comments



I understand the argument about the sociological reputation trap, but a little more reading about Rossi's research turns up some very fishy evidence:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_Catalyzer

In particular, the copper supposedly generated by the fusion of hydrogen and nickel has an isotopic composition very similar to that of natural copper, rather than what one would expect from byproducts of nuclear reactions. As a result, it's much more likely that copper comes from a conventional source rather than actual nuclear fusion.

It also doesn't help that Rossi has been convicted of fraud for purportedly inventing dubious devices in the past. In particular, he "created" a system for turning toxic waste into oil, but this turned out to be just dumping the waste into the environment. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_Rossi_(entrepreneur)

I'm all for avoiding groupthink in scientific research, but this might not be the right story on which to base that argument.


And that is, what I think is Rossi's biggest problem. Very showy, very secretive.

The explanation I've heard is that he has something which works (for some definition of works) but doesn't know how it works or why. And because of that he is walking around afraid that if too many details get out about how it works then someone smarter then him will jump in and patent/publish the why and then be forever known as the person who "invented" this technology.

I don't know if that is true, but listening to Rossi talk and what he has written it seems like it could be true.

But elephant in the room is that if you can produce a MW of usable energy out of this thing then why not run it 24/7 and generate your quarter million a year in revenue (pretty much any market will buy baseload power at $30/MWhr. Use your first quarter million to build another one in year two, then use the half million from year two to build two more for year 3 and use the million dollars you get in year 3 to build four more, and the two million dollars from year 3 to build 8 more. Etc. Easy to sell shares in a company that is doubling in revenue each year and will continue to do so until it reaches 25% of baseload power (1TW or about a billion a year in revenue).

Either way, the way in which Rossi's e-cat story is playing out it screams hoax not breakthrough. That has nothing to do with the "reputation" of cold fusion and everything to do with the difference between seeing breakthroughs get promoted and hoaxes get promoted.


Another possible explanation is:

He is really not very good at measuring energy input and heat output. He built something and confused himself into thinking it was producing more energy than it consumes. He took some money from investors to develop the technology. He spent much of the research money, eventually to realize that his device does not, in fact, produce energy. His investors now want their money back and he is concerned they are going to break his legs.

So at this point he has no choice but to maintain his original claims for as long as possible. Appearing now to be bumbling and incompetent may be preferable to appearing accurate and precise with measurements.


A reasonable guess, the only counter factual is that a number of people who are not fools seem to have convinced themselves that there is something there but they don't know what.

And as the article points out there are a number of labs around the world that have independently seen results that were anomalous with respect to the current understanding of how things should work chemically. So if nothing else there is a really good parlor trick in there somewhere, but even tricks need an explanation.


It's very common for people who are totally not fools to get sucked into free energy scams.

This is one of the better ones being demonstrated at the technical univeristy of Delft I believe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHW6b1aFPfU https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKCEceWs-Gc


That's amazing. He comes across like such a "magician".

An illusionist like "yes, take a look inside the machine!"


nice. how did it play out? has it been debunked?


This site has a lot of information http://peswiki.com/index.php/Directory:Muammer_Yildiz_Magnet...

There was some sort of plan in the works to have a model undergo a 30 day examination at a major European university. But (surprise surprise) there's no information to suggest that ever happened.

Another experimenter tried to replicate the device from the patent without success. http://peswiki.com/index.php/Directory:Muammer_Yildiz_Magnet...

Yildiz got involved in some sort of legal dust-up in Germany: http://pesn.com/2013/01/09/9602262_Yildiz_Tells_the_Story_Ab...

As of May 2015 they were said to be preparing a "sales launch" and licensing distributors: http://pesn.com//2015/05/05/9602616_Yildiz-preparing-for-sal...


> He is really not very good at measuring energy input and heat output.

Calorimetry is actually extremely hard to do right. VERY hard. I stopped following this field a few years ago, but back then EVERY single positive result was due to faulty calorimetry.


Lubos Motl called out the specifics of the Energy Catalyzer hoax some years ago. I think it had to do with neglecting hydrostatic pressure within the water pipes, which allowed steam to get in.


Just temperature measurement is hard once you start talking accuracy better than a few tenths of a degree C. Add in heat flow, yeah whatever.


The article mentions two independent groups of physicists who both had access to his device and both reported the same results. That would mean that both groups were in on it, or he's become so good at faking his results that they withstand a month of scrutiny.


Or that they have screwed up themselves somehow. In '89, there were several labs which claimed to replicate P&F's results, too.

They were eventually found to have calorimetric or similar problems.


> The explanation I've heard is that he has something which works (for some definition of works) but doesn't know how it works or why.

This happened to someone - one batch worked, one did not.

Turns out that palladium can be refined from spent nuclear fuel https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthesis_of_precious_metals#P... and his first batch was "contaminated" in this way, and worked. His second batch was traditional mined from the ground and did not work.

Caveat: This is a story I heard, I have no direct evidence for it.


True, to claim you are able to produce 1 megawatt of power you actually have to put it somewhere.


You could generate bitcoins.


>But elephant in the room is that if you can produce a MW of usable energy out of this thing then why not run it 24/7 and generate your quarter million a year in revenue

I guess the fundamental problem could be that while it does produce excess heat, it doesn't produce more than a heat pump would, so you can't actually use it for anything useful.


> It also doesn't help that Rossi has been convicted of fraud for purportedly inventing dubious devices in the past. In particular, he "created" a system for turning toxic waste into oil, but this turned out to be just dumping the waste into the environment.

I feel like if someone has done this once, anyone taking them seriously again, deserves to lose their shirt. What, he suddenly reformed and is now doing real science? In what universe does this happen?


As an Italian, I have to say that being convicted or found innocent of anything in the local legal system doesn't really indicate much.


Good point.


He seems to characterize the charges as being more 'tax fraud' stemming from environmental damage caused by his failed effort to develop a more efficient waste incenerator.

Maybe he was scamming investors too, but he seems to be able to spin it in a way that plausibly he was not.


I guess everyone can remember this if you ever make a mistake! I think people can have second chances, if he products verifiable results then it is what it is, sure he will have to deal with skepticism but totally rejection forever is a bit much and possibly a waste.


Wait, what? I thought this was about the science and the results, not about the person.


That's true as long as everyone is acting in good faith.


Most of science is not particularly good at handling people not acting in good faith.


I think that is how the "reputation traps" develop.


[Rossi] "created" a system for turning toxic waste into oil, but this turned out to be just dumping the waste into the environment

Wow, he is literally the villian Captain Planet fought in every single episode.


A huge problem is that people think cold fusion is just about the eCat. There's also this thing called Muon catalyzed fusion which was the first type of fusion to be labeled "Cold Fusion". It's a proven phenomenon the DOE provides grants for research into this.


You clearly have no idea of what the legislative landscape looks like in italy wrt environmental protection.

Results have been duplicated by two independent institutions of which one is the oldest university on the planet.

Im guessing professional envy may be the biggest problem Rossi faces..


Perhaps being convicted of fraud means his reputation is already damaged so he has little to lose by being in the reputation trap. If he had a clean record, he might keep away from the trap. In the end though, it doesn't really matter if he's wrong but we would suffer a huge loss if he's right but can't get it finished.


This guy is a fraud and known pathological liar, but he got entry to the Unites States because what - he's European and has the label "entrepreneur?"

But whoa, refugees? No thanks.

Excuse the snark, but why is this guy here and why is anyone lending him any credibility at all?


It's somewhat ironic to say you want to avoid groupthink and then to cite Wikipedia as your source.


Well, here's another source. Here's what the most prominent full-time pro-LENR advocate/journalist these days thinks of Rossi: http://newenergytimes.com/v2/sr/RossiECat/Andrea-Rossi-Energ...


I was open minded about Rossi and the 'E Cat' until I saw that video.

Like, where is the measuring equipment? He has a multimeter measuring the current coming out of the wall, but is not taking a simultaneous measurement of the voltage. Sure, OK, I guess we'll assume it's 220 V from the power company, and figure it's drawing about 750 W (about half the power of a full size microwave oven).

But then on the output side, he has a rubber hose with a tiny amount of steam coming out. Maybe even less that what you would expect from a 750W tea kettle. They have to hold it up against a tshirt to measure it. They have a thermometer on the input water reservoir but for some reason don't even bother measuring either the temperature or mass-flow rate of the output?

This video is not demonstrating the measurement techniques of a credible scientist. I would not let this guy service my home air conditioning unit.


you’re not wrong there is potentially irony there, but … it’s not like Wikipedia doesn’t have sources you can follow. Linking to Wikipedia is linking to a consensus summary & portal to more links


I take no sides in the cold-fusion discussion. The irony comment was meant as an aside. More enlightened souls like you and I will check the sources. However, Wikipedia pages are not made by "consensus"; they are invariably shaped by the most powerful group of editors on the page.


I think there's definitely a cultural problem where the outcome of an experiment is associated with the reputation of the scientist who performed it. We see this in the bias to publish only positive results - as though if an experiment did not make findings of significance it is a failing of the scientist who performed it - and we see this in the reluctance of many scientists to investigate that which would be very surprising if found to be true.

The NASA research into the EmDrive is an excellent example of this. The discovery of a method of propulsion which does not consume onboard mass yet achieves energy efficiencies greater than that of a photon rocket would be extremely surprising, which makes it all the more important that apparent effects such as these are investigated. The correct response on seeing an unexpected experimental result is not to ignore it or to assume the experiment is wrong (although that should be treated with a high probability), but to report it and to systematically investigate the discrepancy until either the unexpected result is confirmed with a degree of evidence commensurate with its unexpectedness or the error is discovered. Extreme skepticism can be equally as bad as extreme gullibility, and it is extremely discourteous to imply or to assume the existence of fraud, or to attack the character of the researcher unless there is overwhelming evidence supporting such an aspersion. Even if it might by probabilistically justified to promote the possibility of fraud on the part of the scientist to the most likely explanation for an unexpected result, this has negative externalities on entire scientific fields and forces researchers to "stake their reputations" on publishing surprising results, which is just the sort of perverse situation we should strive to avoid.


The NASA EmDrive research is what I thought of, as well.

I found the vehemence and personal nature of the attacks on those results to be surprising, disappointing, and beyond the bounds of typical rational skepticism. Sure, it will probably turn out to be nothing, but NASA is not trying scam us. Not every investigation of weird results is a scam.


If this is such a credible or important result, why are none of the articles about it ever from NASA or quoting NASA?


I thought it was 99% an independent effort and a NASA lab just let them use their vacuum balance test chamber.


I didn't say it was credible or important, just that it's not a scam. There's a huge range in between those two extremes.

Here's an earlier comment about this research:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10497100


No, no there is not. Because 100% of the time so far in cold fusion, no one has built a device that actually works or subjected it to tests which would prove it does.

Rossi is a fraud. His public tests always mysteriously wind up involving him tinkering with the device, and involve people he has prior relationships with.


Yeah, I don't get this. To overcome the Coulomb barrier at room temp (source: http://zidbits.com/2015/05/how-does-fusion-power-work/) is akin to claiming you built something which goes faster than light. That's why the term "cold fusion" has such a stigma attached to it, it's literally on the same physics defying level as perpetual motion machines.

Because of the stigma attached to the term cold fusion, they have now switched to calling it "low-energy nuclear reactions" or LENR. It's the same exact thing, just a fancy new name to attract naive & moronic investors.


Well, let's look at the basic formula:

U(coul) = (1 / 4PI e0) ( q1q2 / r)

U(coul) is the stated coloumb barrier. e0 is the permittivity of vacuum: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuum_permittivity q1, q2 are the charges of the interacting particles. r is the interaction radius.

So, if I want to lower U(coul), I either target q1 and q2 and make them smaller, or make e0 and/or r larger.

So, how do we do that? e0 seems like a prime area to do some math. The permittivity of water is 710. Are there higher ones? http://www.physics.usyd.edu.au/teach_res/db/d0006c.htm

Also, we know that high amounts of electricity strip the electrons off atoms. How does this change the coloumb barrier? Does it at all? At high enough electron densities, is it possible for an electron to hit a proton and make the next lower element at a different isotope?

It's also obvious that lighter metals are ideal, as they have less protons than heavier elements. Given that, which metals have a seemingly-valid energy path, IF the barrier can be surpassed?


Great article. I'm not going to defend Rossi, but what happened in 1989 was a travesty. Yes, Pons and Fleischmann were premature in their annnouncement. But they didn't deserve to be made pariahs, and there were others whose careers were destroyed for so much as publicly entertaining the possibility that cold fusion might be made to work. Edward Teller, on the other hand, was old enough not to care:

Around 1992, McKubre says, he was summoned for an audience with legendary physicist Edward Teller. "He asked probing questions, in better depth, I think, than anyone else on the planet. You could see what a giant intellect he must have been in his time. I was subjected to this interrogation for four hours. At the end of it Teller said that he did not think that cold fusion was a reality, but if it were, he could account for it with a very small change in the laws of physics as he understood them, and it would prove to be an example of nuclear catalysis at an interface. I still don't understand what he meant by that, but I'm quite willing to believe that it's correct." [0]

It really shows how political and, frankly, corrupt Big Science is. As this article points out, failure to replicate proves nothing. The charitable reading is that Pons and Fleischmann didn't even know for sure what properties of the alloy they were using were critical to the reaction, though they had some ideas. That possibility should have been considered.

[0] http://www.wired.com/1998/11/coldfusion/


I was around, and read the Pons & Flieshman paper before it was released (when the pre-prints were carefully guarded and numbered... do frauds carefully guard their papers to make sure they don't get out, or do they publish far and wide?) IIRC it was the university that jumped the gun at least as much as them.

I worked for a very well respected lab for physicists, the head of which should have gotten the nobel prize around that time (he missed out, but he was close). We replicated their experiment and then replicated it again with some changes that should have been innocuous. In both cases we were unable to observe the phenomena they observed.

We published a paper to this effect, and were branded "deniers" by Mondo2000 and other fringe science advocates who really wanted to believe in Cold Fusion.

We didn't disprove it, we didn't show evidence that P&F were wrong... and the fact that we spent lab time and money to replicate the experiment described in the pre-print shows we considered it possible enough to spend the time.

Remember, failure to replicate an experiment either means the paper doesn't describe how to reproduce the phenomena well enough, or the observations in the paper are in error (for any number of reasons.) But we were just a datapoint. To claim they were frauds is a much, much higher bar. But they certainly were minor leagues scientists from a lesser university, and it's not surprising they were ostracized they way they were-- and that was politics (these "little people playing our game, the nerve!") as much as anything else.

Big Science/Governent Science is very political and very corrupt. Genuine scientific outcomes are suppressed or ignored or rejected for publication because they violate the theories and beliefs of "peers" who "Review" them. I've been published and gone thru that gauntlet, and its very rarely about ensuring the integrity of the science, and much more about protecting grant receipts.


> do frauds carefully guard their papers to make sure they don't get out, or do they publish far and wide?)

I don't know, but the publicity machine at the time didn't inspire confidence in any science.

> We didn't disprove it, we didn't show evidence that P&F were wrong... and the fact that we spent lab time and money to replicate the experiment described in the pre-print shows we considered it possible enough to spend the time.

I'm surprised that a nuclear physicist would regard it as anything other than bollocks (to use the British technical term). It had the look of pathological science from the off in my eye. While I might have been willing to demonstrate the lack of fision products from an F&P apparatus brought to our detectors, it wasn't worth any significant effort/resources, and clearly nuclear physics expertise was the last thing that was wanted by proponents.

Some of us were doing actual fusion experiments with things like platinum and palladium at the time. Their important property for nuclear physics, apart from the right atomic number, was ability to hang together in intense heavy ion beams, so that data-taking was just limited by the data acquisition interfaces, not the target. [Ob-hacker: the data acquisition and analysis systems were quite interesting, especially for the time.]

For the record, I did get results published from such measurements which overturned widely- (universally-?) held belief in the field.


Big science is made out of meat like everything else and suffers from all the same biases and cognitive blinds and fallacies.

Scientists are genetically 99.9% identical to new age woo woo peddlers and quacks. Science is more rational because it cultivates more rational methods, but not because it runs on better hardware.


Big science is made out of meat like everything else

I take it you're referring to: http://www.terrybisson.com/page6/page6.html


More specifically the scientific method, but the scientific method is out the window in society these days-- it's un popular. A politicians pronouncing something true (that is conveniently in his self interest) is given more weight than a thousand peer review publication (or even simple phenomena that can be measured in any college lab in the country.)

Science seems to be dead, and what passes for it now is extremely politicized.

At least outside of commercial institutions. I'm sure Intel and the people who make fab equipment are doing real science.


The scientific method is absolutely at odds with how human beings behave socially and politically. It's kind of strange that we ever came up with it. Our natural tendency is to use ideas to manipulate, to believe to belong rather than because anything is true, and to rely on a lot of sloppy heuristics in place of more cognitively expensive and time consuming modes of thought.

Ultimately I think the only reason science became politically favored at all is because it was good at making people rich and building weapons to make them powerful. Truth has no part in it. Few people care about that, and not because they are evil but because they are a product of a Darwinian process that barely rewards it and that rewards other shorter term things much more.


Western Europe has the scientific revolution (around the Baroque era), and---bam---a few short hundred years later they dominate the globe in the 19th century.


The scientific method cannot say things are true; it can only rule out particular arguments.

In a sense, you can argue that the method can state truths about the incorrectness of theories, but it is highly arguable about whether such a truth actually makes a statement about reality (vs. one's con/perception of reality).


I recall 1989 incident as Pons and Fleischmann appearing in the news saying they'd discovered cold fusion and then becoming a bit of a laughing stock when it turned out to be rubbish. I don't get how that shows that Big Science is corrupt or not. It seems a bit unrelated.


> "becoming a bit of a laughing stock when it turned out to be rubbish"

The important thing here is to separate the idea from the implementation. Is cold fusion theoretically impossible? I'm no expert, but there seems to be at least some scientists indicating it's not impossible. If that's the case, why does the failure of the first experiment matter?

It's sad that the scientific community is partly based on reputation. I'd rather see all scientific work published anonymously, the work should speak for itself.


I don't think the work can ever speak for itself; it is simply too hard to verify the data. Falsified data appears in science all the time even without anonymity and can take years to discover. With anonymity the world of science would quickly fill up with fake data generated by fossil fuel and pharma companies. Having your reputation at stake is an important control in behavior.

Finally, anonymity precludes collaboration, the very basis of science. If I don't know who did something I can't call them up to extend their work, get their raw data, get help optimizing their method, etc.


> "I don't think the work can ever speak for itself; it is simply too hard to verify the data."

It wouldn't work in every case, however it is possible to have a reproducible experiment as part of a scientific paper. If the experiment can be reproduced (by publicly known scientists), then the identity of the author is not that important. The only time this wouldn't work is when experiments were too costly and/or time-consuming to reproduce.

> "Finally, anonymity precludes collaboration, the very basis of science. If I don't know who did something I can't call them up to extend their work, get their raw data, get help optimizing their method, etc."

Could go down the pseudo-anonymous route instead (similar to sites like HN and GitHub). That way the contact information could be specific to a single project, or could span multiple projects.


Cold fusion IS theoretically impossible, that's the point. Nuclear theory very much says that cold fusion doesn't work.

Which means the experiments have to work because no one has a workable theory which predicts cold fusion.


> Cold fusion IS theoretically impossible

I think that's a bit strong. Nuclear theory does not say the energy isn't there (as the subject article of this comment thread points out). It also does not say it is impossible for the potential barrier between the nuclei (which is what makes it necessary to have high temperatures for conventional fusion to work) to be lowered somehow; someone upthread posted a reference to a conversation with Edward Teller where he basically said that's how he would explain cold fusion if it turned out to be true--the nuclear analogue of a chemical catalyst, lowering the activation energy required. It only says we don't currently know of any mechanism for lowering the potential barrier.


It's not a bit strong.

You refute your own refutation. You use the words 'somehow', 'if', and 'currently'. That's kind of the whole point. _Currently_ there is no theory that explains how to do fusion without massive amounts of heat, ergo cold fusion IS (currently) theoretically impossible.


> "_Currently_ there is no theory that explains how to do fusion without massive amounts of heat, ergo cold fusion IS (currently) theoretically impossible."

http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2011/11/25/cold-fusi...

"Unfortunately, their results were hugely flawed, and their experiments were not reproducible, and cold fusion is now synonymous with ideas like perpetual motion machines: very appealing promises of virtually limitless energy, but that are unfortunately physically impossible."

"Now, that’s not necessarily fair. While perpetual motion machines would violate known physical phenomena — like the conservation of energy — cold fusion is, in principle possible. If we go back to the Sun, where nuclear fusion definitely occurs, it isn’t like the temperatures there are sufficient to cause the individual nuclei to overcome their mutual electric repulsion and fuse together. Instead, something else remarkable happens to the two nuclei that are about to fuse."

"Remember that instead of being solid particles, these nuclei are quantum mechanical objects, meaning they act both as particles and waves. The quantum mechanical wavefunctions of these nuclei — in the Sun, at any rate — wind up overlapping, so that there’s a small but finite (and important) probability that two of them will find themselves in a more energetically favorable state! When that happens, they can tunnel into that energetically favorable state, and fusion can occur!"

"Now, this has never been observed at cold temperatures, but from a theoretical physics standpoint, it may be possible."


This is misleadingly phrased. We have precise, verified models for quantum tunneling and at what rates under what circumstances it does and doesn't occur.


Based on those models, what circumstances are required for quantum tunnelling to occur?


Loosely the main points are that the rate falls off exponentially with the "width" of the barrier, and that energy is still conserved (you can say the particle "must have" had more energy at some point because it crossed the barrier, but you'll never observe it with more energy than it has). For more precise answers, just plug the potential you're trying to tunnel through into the Schrödinger equation.


You're referring to the 'Gamow window' right? From what I understand, the Gamow window only refers to the energy levels of the particles, rather than temperature per se. I'm guessing that's why approaches like Muon-catalysed fusion can work at lower temperatures.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muon-catalyzed_fusion


Muon-catalysed fusion reduces the width of the barrier - the muon is ~200 times closer to the nucleus (since it's that much heavier) and so the coulomb barrier is that much narrower - and the reaction rate is exponential in that.


Sure, it makes sense that it affects the Coulomb barrier (or the Gamow factor/window https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamow_window ), but doesn't muon-catalysed fusion kind of prove that cold fusion could exist? The Wikipedia article suggests that the reactions can take place at room temperature, with the main issue being the reliability of the required reactions.

In other words, we already have one proven method for reducing the Coulomb barrier, why is that the only one that's possible?


The standard model is very solidly established, and it tells us what fundamental particles there are. The muon is the most stable negatively charged particle other than the electron; the Xi is about 10000x shorter-lived, and the tau 1000x shorter than that - and even muons aren't stable enough to be practical.

More importantly, these things are physics rather than chemistry. No amount of chemistry will produce muons from ordinary chemicals, you have to use high-energy radiation. (Admittedly molecular bonds distort electron orbitals a little bit, but nothing like the factor of 200 you get from switching them for muons). If someone had a way to catalyse any kind of nuclear process with chemistry (something as simple as making a radioactive element decay faster) that would be a major breakthrough. To jump straight to the single most useful one would be too much to hope for.


> these things are physics rather than chemistry

The atoms of palladium in the cold fusion experiments don't know that they're supposed to be doing "chemistry" rather than "physics". That division is only in our theories, not in reality.

> (Admittedly molecular bonds distort electron orbitals a little bit, but nothing like the factor of 200 you get from switching them for muons)

This is a valid concern, but as I understand it, the suggestion is that strong electric or magnetic fields have to be applied in order to induce cold fusion, so we're not just talking about the distortion of orbitals from molecular bonds, we're talking about the distortion due to strong externally applied fields, which can be much larger.


It probably isn't. In fact it almost definitely isn't (there was some work which showed palladium matrices should accelerate beta-decay processes a little).

But there's no model which supports any of the proposed mechanisms for cold fusion currently put forward as possibly workable devices - i.e. it's not theoretically possible, and there's no solid path to show that it might be.


> ergo cold fusion IS (currently) theoretically impossible

You can't qualify "theoretically impossible" with "currently", because that concedes the point. Honest theorists don't say something is "impossible" unless it is known to be impossible, period; not just "our current theories can't explain it", but "our current theories, in regimes where they are well confirmed experimentally, contradict it".

For example, the scam about a "water-fueled engine" is theoretically impossible--it's not just that our current theories of chemistry can't explain how such a thing would work; it's that our current theories of chemistry can explain, in detail, why such a thing cannot work, based on a huge body of experimental knowledge about chemical reactions involving water.

That is not the case with cold fusion. Our current theories can't explain how it would work, but they also can't rule it out. The regime in question is not well explored experimentally. Honest theorists don't make claims about something being "theoretically impossible" if the regime in question is not well explored experimentally. They may say it is "theoretically extremely unlikely", but that's an opinion based on someone's judgment about how likely it is that something new will turn up in this experimental regime that our current theories don't cover. It's not the same as "impossible".


I don't think “nuclear theory” explicitly “rules it out”. There's certainly no result that leaps off the page and states that it most certainly is or is not possible. But there's a very clear threshold of Coulomb repulsion that would need to be overcome in order for this to work, and absolutely no trace of any phenomenon so-far calculated or measured that might allow it to be overcome at room temperature. So it is... shall we say “inherently incompatible with theory and what we know impinges upon those theories”?


Early announcements would have been one thing, but all evidence points to these guys committing flat out fraud.


Evidence?

As far as I can tell the only 'fraudulent' thing they did was jump to the conclusion of "WE MADE ENERGY WITH COLD FUSION" when they probably should've announced their result with "looks like we have some unexplained heat". They most probably were, however, understandably rather excited.


Producing even a little heat with fusion produces a lot of nasty radiation. As in kill everyone in the unsheilded room within a few seconds.

Based on the amount of unexplained heat they produced fusion would have been extremely radioactive, however they did not treat there setup as an extreme radiation hazard. Which suggest they did not think there would be any fusion.

PS: Here are some pictures for a device expected to produce less than 1W of fusion. http://www.cmgww.com/historic/farnsworth/inventions/fusion/f... Note the deep and cheap to produce pit.


> Producing even a little heat with fusion produces a lot of nasty radiation. As in kill everyone in the unsheilded room within a few seconds.

This is greatly exaggerated. The amount of excess heat they claimed to observe was really quite small, and D-D fusion produces a relatively weak neutron flux [0]. I'm not saying some shielding wouldn't have been a good idea, but instant death? No.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power#Deuterium


100Mev+ X-Ray / Gamma radiation is not fun. There is some play in the numbers based on type of fusion, but ~1w is on the order of 10^12th reactions per second and flat out lethal. Sure, if a device is weak out 1 millionth of that then it's not a big deal, but nobody cares about 0.000001 watts / second.


You didn't even click the link. Neutrons from D-D fusion are at 2.45 MeV.


Yea, I was off by a factor of 10.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equivalent_dose 1W of 2.5Mev neutrons ~= 10W worth of Gamma Rays in terms of equivalent dose. (http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/nuclear-engineering/22-01-introdu...) There are several 14.1+Mev fusion products see chart: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_fusion (Which is probably where I was thinking 100Mev), but it’s already normalized so we are talking 10W equivalent.

Granted that 10W dose equivalent is not focused so a person standing next to it might get 8% of that which is .8W, or ~0.01W/kg equivalent (for a 80kg person) which just happens to be ~1 Rads per second. (1 rad = 0.01 Gy = 0.01 J/kg. 250 to 500 rads is the LD/50.

So, Standing next to an unshielded 1W neutron source has a 50/50 shot giving you a lethal dose within ~4 to 9 minutes.

PS: 2.5Mev Neutron radiation @ 1J per kg is ~10 Gy which is ~LD100 and probably where I was thinking 1W = death.

(Please double check my math.)


They were chemists, not physicists. They were completely out of their depth when thinking about physics. From what I read in Frank Close's book they jumped the gun when they learned about Steve Jones (who wanted to explain Earth's He-3 with cold fusion), and they didn't want to risk losing credit for their major discovery.

Obviously they were no saints and did lie and massage data when it all crumbled. But they behaved far more like blinkered true believers than frauds.


Blinkered true believers and frauds differ only in one aspect: intent. I've met some 'true believers' and the common element was that they believed enough to risk other people's funds but not enough to risk their own. That makes it a very fine line between a true believer and a fraud, thin enough for me to bin them equally. It doesn't matter to me because I can't look into someone's head to figure out which of the two it is, no matter what they say or do, true believers may very well be frauds and people who you think are frauds may end up being true believers.

In the end, the only thing that matters is results.


> I've met some 'true believers' and the common element was that they believed enough to risk other people's funds but not enough to risk their own.

according to wikipedia Pons and Fleischmann self-funded the experiments for several years before the announcement to the tune of $100K.

Anyway, giving such a great palladium's absorption of hydrogen it would be interesting to see a grain of palladium deuteride as a target for NIF and/or Sandia Z. The density of the deuterium absorbed into palladium is about the density of the standard frozen DT grain used traditionally, yet with all these additional heavy palladium atoms spread around the stability of compression would definitely be different - whether better or worse the experiment would show. Also the electrons would be in typical in-metal cloud state instead of being attached to the deuterium atoms - again the difference which may play a role (at least in lithium deuteride used in H-bomb it doesn't make things worse :)


Do you have a good link where I can read about this evidence?


What evidence is that?


Rossi is very fishy, and he has no clue why his 'invention' works. Scratch that.

However, these two Swedish professors Lidgren and Lundin were involved in testing Rossi's claims a few years back. Lundin is a plasma physicist at the Swedish institute for Space Physics, and has a long publication record. (https://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=%22rickard+lundin%22&hl...)

Now they've published a paper:

"Nuclear Spallation and Neutron Capture Induced by Ponderomotive Wave Forcing"

Here: http://www.irf.se/Publications/?dbfile=IRF%20Scientific%20Re...

They're saying essentially that they can use heat and EM field to resonance to make solid-state materials expel a neutron. They call this "thermal neutron spallation".

Which is a pretty bold statement of an entirely novel concept.

They've said they're setting up an experiment to demonstrate this novel form of neutron spallation.


> They've said they're setting up an experiment to demonstrate this novel form of neutron spallation.

They'd need to have some results besides Rossi and then others would need to replicate it, and then replicate it again by yet another team for it to start being believable and taken seriously.

Not a physicist, just a regular computer programmer, but reading that paper I see some pretty serious claims -- matter transmutting to different elements (isotope formation), neutron emission and capture, at 2000'C environment, there are claims about having 1-10 kWh generators running for years with a few grams of fuel only.


Completely different field- but I think Charles Darwin's way of "crippling potential criticism of one’s ideas by taking charge of all conceivable counterarguments" is a great example of how important rhetoric is, especially in such 'biased' areas. Just imagine what would have happened to his idea of Evolution if he had not been such a rhetoric genius.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/11/11/adam-gopnik-angels-... "[...] the other great feature of Darwin’s prose, and the organization of his great book, is the welcome he provides for the opposed idea. This is, or ought to be, a standard practice, but few people have practiced it with his sincerity — and, at times, his guile. The habit of “sympathetic summary,” what philosophers now call the “principle of charity,” is essential to all the sciences."


This article is funny. It tries to do an end-run around any criticism of the subject matter by constructing an elaborate piece of work to establish that if you don't agree with the basic premise of low energy nuclear reactions there must be something pathologically wrong with you.

And you are not only suffering from a defect, no you are doubly wrong, because having LENR would be such a great thing for the world.

For me it is simple. If someone shows up with a working LENR device (or even any device, who cares how it works as long as it is safe) that really outputs considerable power and they are willing to sell me that power at a rate that is lower than what my electricity company charges then I'll be more than happy to sign up. Until then they, their investors and promoters should do what they can not to raise expectations beyond those that they can readily prove, no matter what the benefit to mankind and no matter how many scientists got unfairly (if so) railroaded for fudging their numbers and defrauding investors.

Cold fusion, zero point energy, unicorns.


> This article is funny. It tries to do an end-run around any criticism of the subject matter by constructing an elaborate piece of work to establish that if you don't agree with the basic premise of low energy nuclear reactions there must be something pathologically wrong with you.

It's really quite the other way around: the opponents of LENR research have treated everyone working on it as if there were something pathologically wrong with them. The article is merely pointing out that this is not good science.

Skepticism is important, but it is not an infallible source of truth. A lot of self-styled skeptics, ironically, refuse to apply their skepticism to itself.

As for raising expectations, I think a somewhat fine line has to be drawn. There's nothing wrong with talking about possibilities as a way of attracting attention and funding; what's wrong is to cross the line into making promises not yet supported by results.


I'm not aware of any scientist that 'opposes LENR', I am however aware of a lot of scientists (and lay-people for that matter) that are skeptical of Rossi. And most scientists will take a much harder look at anything LENR related before committing their names and reputations to it leaving the field wide open to the fringe, with predictable results.

It's not dis-similar to how people working on AI would call it anything but AI for a decade or so in the IT business. The AI winter had a very good reason: being oversold makes a field toxic.


> I'm not aware of any scientist that 'opposes LENR'

Say what? From the article:

Ever since 1989, in fact, the whole subject has been largely off-limits in mainstream scientific circles. Authors who do put their head above the parapet are ignored or rebuked. Most recently, Lundin and Lidgren reported that they had submitted their paper to the journal Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion, but that the editors declined to have it reviewed; and that even the non-reviewed preprint archive, arxiv.org, refused to accept it.

This is not just about Rossi by any means; he showed up relatively recently. This goes all the way back to Pons and Fleischmann. I wish I could remember the name of the physicist whose career was destroyed for no more than being publicly seen to entertain the possibility that cold fusion could be real.

Read up on this a little bit -- you'll see that pretty much the entire physics establishment opposes LENR.

> being oversold makes a field toxic

Yes, and there certainly has been some overselling. Even if P&F's work had been replicated, one could legitimately criticize their handling of the situation (it appears that the University of Utah, their employer, had a hand in this). But can one seriously suggest that because some researchers made premature announcements and oversold what they had actually accomplished, we should punish them by denying humanity what would be an almost miraculous invention, if it could be made to work? That makes just no sense at all, but that's pretty much how the physics establishment reacted.


> Most recently, Lundin and Lidgren reported that they had submitted their paper to the journal Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion, but that the editors declined to have it reviewed; and that even the non-reviewed preprint archive, arxiv.org, refused to accept it.

Since when is a journal under obligation to review or accept a publication?

They're free to publish it on their own website.

> I wish I could remember the name of the physicist whose career was destroyed for no more than being publicly seen to entertain the possibility that cold fusion could be real.

Well, history will vindicate him if it is real. That's the way these things go and cold fusion is not an exception to this. Any kind of very much off the beaten path scientific idea that turns out to be true after all has gone the same route. There are even cases of Nobel prizes being awarded many years after the original discovery.

One thing I do know about cold fusion: nobody to date has been able to demonstrate beyond doubt the production of a net energy surplus over an extended period.

And since evidence would be very easy to provide we don't need to rely on rumors for this, just show the device and we'll call it the breakthrough that it is. And I'm sure that even nature would be more than happy to publish the write-up in that case.


Yap. This is almost certainly a scam. As long as there are rich people, there will be scam artists selling them "cold fusion", "infinite energy machines", it is fascinating to watch these happen.

This also creates an interesting market, just like scam artists look for marks that other scammers have deceived, there is probably someone taking notes which investors are buying into the story. Those people would be good targets for the future. "Hey psst, I got a this scientist friend working for NASA that is building a flying car running on weak nuclear force energy, he just need a bit of funding".


> ""cold fusion", "infinite energy machines""

I don't think it's fair to lump those two together. I think we all accept the energy potential in fusion is there, and it also seems possible that the most efficient way to tap that energy is one we have yet to fully understand. The most efficient method could be found under the 'cold fusion' umbrella, and even if these methods turn out to be a different process than fusion, we still may end up learning something new anyway. For example, sonoluminescence has been linked to fusion before, but even if the processes involved end up being different to fusion, it's still an interesting process:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJolILUbdNw

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonoluminescence

The point is, it doesn't serve us to dismiss fields of scientific research that have some chance of bringing us a new understanding of the science involved, even if we end up scrambling around in the dark for a long time.



You missed the point. I said even if the process turns out to be something other than fusion, interesting phenomena like sonoluminescence are still worthy of study anyway.

Same with this E-Cat stuff, clearly there's something we haven't formally explained yet going on, and the experiment has been shown to be reproducible, sounds worthy of study to me, even if it turns out to be a different process than fusion, and even if it turns out it can be explained without changing our scientific models.


I lumped them together because those are common area where scammers concentrate on. It is sort of a sweet spot of "sounds sciency" not too hard to grasp. Because the fusion is "cold" don't have to build a Tokamak so just a few millins for some hoses and voltmeters, and other such things sounds plausable.

In general I was talking about scammers in such instances. I think in this particular case this guy is a scammer.

Yes fusion and energy research is a very worthwhile thing to study, but it is very doubtful this is happening with this guy.


> I don't think it's fair to lump those two together.

Heh, I disagree. I hold almost the exact opposite view and believe it is perfectly fair to lump those two together. Cold fusion requires overcoming the Coulomb barrier at room temperature. Do you have any idea how impossible that is? It's just as impossible as accelerating an object faster than light, or me spontaneously quantum tunneling through my floor into my basement. So yes, perpetual motion machines, unicorns and cold fusion all belong to the same area of science and deserved to be lumped together.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coulomb_barrier


You mentioned the Coulomb barrier makes this impossible. Can you comment on this story about Edward Teller?

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10780632

Seems to me it's not proven beyond doubt that it's impossible. Furthermore, even if it does prove to be impossible it could turn out to be a 'useful mistake' if new science needs to be developed to explain the phenomena that were once labelled as 'cold fusion', that's what interests me more, I don't really mind what it's called.


> Can you comment on this story about Edward Teller?

It's an anecdote of an anecdote. It's literally third person hearsay, with Teller saying "Oh, it "might" be possible". We don't even know he said that. Even on the off-chance he did, it means practically nothing. There are similar wordings and phrasing done about breaking light speed from respected physicists. You could probably get one to say "might" as well. It doesn't mean there's any validity behind it. The point and facts still stand - you're not going to break the Coulomb barrier at room temp. It's an impossibility.


I think it's a bit hasty to classify anything related to "cold fusion" as necessarily a scan and to be avoided at all costs. The science of it is not as outlandish as "infinite energy," there may be something there. But yes it any research needs to be in a credible, serious, peer reviewed manner.


In general it is an interesting subject and worthwhile investigating, but in this particular case it is a scam.

I was just saying that some topics somehow attract scammers more than others. It is easier to sell "we have cold fusion", "or we have batteries with super long life" to a lottery winner than say some nano technology or genetic breakthrough. Everyone thinks they understand energy and batteries.

Now the article talks about the feedback effect of this and that is if anyone tries to do legitimate research in these areas, they will have an upstream battle to fight to be accepted in the mainstream science community, specifically because of all these other charlatans.


He says that failing to recreate Fleischmann and Pons' findings isn't enough reason to doubt their claims because recreating results is tricky, and implies that therefore we have no actual reason to doubt that they achieved cold fusion. But we do.

Not only did their apparatus, according to their own measurements, not produce any of the radiation that would be an unavoidable byproduct of fusion, but the core also didn't contain any fusion byproducts. As a result I think it's perfectly reasonable to conclude that they could not possibly, in any if their experiments, have achieved Fusion. If their measurements of excess heat are true, whatever it's source was, it wasn't fusion.


I don't think the point of this piece is to claim Fleischmann and Pons actually succeeded. I think the point is that there is a difference between the failure of a particular experiment, and proving that all experiments in cold fusion will fail.

Fleischmann and Pons was certainly not the only science experiment to produce a false positive in 1989, but it was a huge, public failure, in a research area that is filled with cranks (easy energy). I agree with the article's author that it probably tarnished an area of research that, while far-fetched, should not be automatically dismissed as impossible.


I don't think many people are saying it's impossible. I'm not. But given the history I think its reasonable, before treating any claims in this area as credible, to either want a clear theoretical basis for a given experiment or unambiguous details on how to repeat a compelling result. In the absence of either or preferably both of those, all we are dealing with is uncorroborated and unverifiable claims which we have no reason to take seriously.


But that would be interesting in itself.

P&N made the PR mistake of calling their process "cold fusion."

If they'd called it "unexpected heat we can't explain" they'd have encountered much less hostility.

Then the question wouldn't have been "Where are the neutrons?" but "Can this be replicated?" followed by "Can this be used for energy generation?"

Social taint my be true strong a description. But there's huge hostility in science to experimental effects that appear to challenge existing theories without also providing a completed new theory that makes predictions and can be falsified. The further away from the mainstream the effects appear, the more hostility they generate.

Which is why claiming to have found cold fusion as a result of unreliable experiments and a complete absence of a finished theory was professional suicide - even though there seems to be some kind of phenomenon there. Or at least enough of a phenomenon to be worth investigating.


It's been investigated for 26 years. I do understand your and the author's point, it's just that it doesn't really get us anywhere. A few months ago I was discussing this on another forum and someone said words to the effect that "what the cold fusion people should have done was build a device powerful enough to run an electric car or heat a house", as if F&P cold fusion was a real thing that worked and the trouble was that nobody ever bothered to try and develop it. In reality dozens of investigators have tried to recreate it and scale it up. They didn't fail because they didn't try, they failed because it doesn't work.

Yes it's theoretically possible that someone might figure out a way, but as with the magic thruster drive, even the people working on the devices dont have the vaguest idea how such a device might actualy work. That doesn't provide much to go on in the way of reasons to be optimistic about their chances of success.


The article seems to be lost on a large number of commenters who are asserting (or almost asserting) that this is a scam because (1) Rossi seems to have a dubious history (I'm only going by the comments, not my own investigation) and (2) Rossi is secretive (3) Rossi is not a notable scientist from a top-tier University (4) Rossi comes across as overconfident.

This is what the article is pointing out. The author is saying that in this case the cost of a false positive is so incredibly low and the benefit of a positive result is so high that we should be more willing to lower our guard a little more. These kind of quick reflex objections based on red flags will be useful 99.99% of the time, but major scientific advances only occur 0.01% of the time and so maybe humanity would benefit more if we loosened up a bit on our skepticism, especially surrounding the person or the field and focus more on the science.


The quick reflex is an optimization, if it is true the proof will surface on its own strength, until then you can safely ignore it. After all, unless he's actually discovered something you're wasting your time.

The burden of proof is rightly on the one making outrageous claims, there is no burden of sufferance because the positive benefits are so high. They'll be there regardless of whether one believes, after all, it works or it does not.

See also: ubeam, theranos, moller and so on.


> "The quick reflex is an optimization"

That's not what's happening here. The optimal response in terms of saving time is to stay neutral until stronger proof arrives. What's happening instead is people being hostile to research being conducted in a way they disagree with, or by people they disagree with. That negativity takes energy.


There is almost no reason to give him the benefit of the doubt. You could watch tv instead or go for a walk than listen to him and you'd spend your time better.

Who he is matters and his past matters as well. I (some no name from the Internet) can't walk in to a public University and say, I want to be a physics professor. Sure, there is a 0.000001% I maybe be qualified and be a great professor. But my background doesn't warrant them even listning to me talk about it. They'd have as good a chance finding a professor by picking randomly from a phone book. Same thing here with this guy.

> but major scientific advances only occur 0.01% ...so maybe humanity would benefit more if we loosened up a bit

Yeah sure. We can loosen up a bit and maybe give NASA or some college professors random grants to go study this in more detail. As far as Rossi, we'd probably have a better chance discovering cold fusion just by taking a walk and stumbling on it. So no, in his case, based on what I've seen, it is not worth loosing up.


In this case there has been some independent verification of an anomaly. If the rest of the world took the attitude that you did there would be no follow up and we would base all of our decisions on the scientists reputation. That's bad science and bad for science.


This sounds like a case of "Pascal's mugging" - the idea that we should be willing to pay for a very small chance of an extremely good outcome, because the expected value is high. There are arguments over how to resolve it, but taking it literally certainly leads to bad outcome. There is a virtually limitless supply of cranks claiming to have cold fusion, and I would bet a lot of money that none of them do.


Since there is <50% chance that this will pan out, then you would be making a good bet. Also, 99% of startups fail from inception, so according to your risk-reward tolerance you'd want to avoid investing your time or money in early stage startups as well.

Scientific advances are made when someone accomplishes what others thought was impossible. I haven't seen anything in the physics to indicate that you'd be breaking (known) laws of physics. It seems that this article was written for people such as yourself.


Based on watching videos and reading about other stuff he's done:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_Rossi_%28entrepreneur%2...

I vote for this being a scam. A very clever scam but another scam.

There is in fact whole cottage industry centered around energy and battery technology. The audience for this is not us or other scientists but investors. It is about demos, videos, secrets, lots of tubes and wires, flickering lights, acting like they just discovered free energy and will revolutionize the world of physics. The goal is to make people with money believe you.

In general, just because people have money doesn't mean they also know science and thus many are targets of scam artists. But the "art" part in scam art is to also pick an area that is not too confusing (brain surgery, genetics, something too theoretical, etc) or too hard but something seemingly simple -- "we make energy", "we have a new battery", "a device that produces more energy than it consumes" etc.


I dislike the whole opening about "superluminal neutrinos". That announcement was asking for others to identify the issue with the testing rig, as they figured there was one but could not find it themselves. As far as I know, the only ones to claim the existence of superluminal neutrinos were the media.

I agree that there is an unacceptable stigma against certain fields of research (look at how long it is taking to test the EM drive, which has been reproduced how many times already?), but I don't see a problem in not believing someone already convicted of fraud when they claim to have discovered something but won't let you see how it works.

Until findings are reproduced, I give this the same level of credibility I give this guy:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEJtsC5sVZA


"There are credible reports that a 1MW version of his device, producing many times the energy that it consumes, has been on trial in an industrial plant in North Carolina for months, with good results so far." - This. This is why scientists are skeptical. "Is there a plant" isn't a hard scientific question. We don't need or care about "credible reports". It's there or it isn't. And if you refuse to admit one way or another, you're almost certainly lying about the whole damn thing.


This cold fusion guy supposedly has a 1MW plant in test at an industrial site. That should be verifiable.

Nobody seems to know if Theranos' technology actually works, even the investors. With a multi-billion valuation, that's a big problem.

Nobody seems to be sure whether the D-Wave quantum computer really does anything "quantum", even though they've shipped products.

How did we get to the point where we can't even verify claims for supposedly working technologies?


All of these claims can be verified (or shown to be false), they just aren't. If you're charitable, it's because of the need for secrecy. If you're realistic^Wcynical, it's because the stuff doesn't work.


When "fake it until you make it" is a widely spread mantra, people get good at the "fake it" part.


I just saw the movie "The Big Short", about the guys who saw that the mortgage collapse was coming and figured out how to short it. They had to talk a bank into creating a new kind of derivative so they could short mortgages. There's an opportunity here. Someone needs to come up with a way to short startups. There are a lot of "unicorns" worth shorting.


Haven't watched that yet. I love the idea, though. Silicon Valley creates so many BS valuations that there should be some negative incentive to it or at least a steady stream of people getting rich off calling their BS. Might lead to some changes in valuations as a side effect.


And then realise, you never actually have to make it


See: the startup industry. You'll either die or get acquihired before your product will have to start to make some sense (in terms of being actually useful).


No real entrepreneur wants to be acquihired. It's a massive loss of freedom.


Then most startup founders are not "real entrepreneurs". Most people go for startups because it's a get-rich scheme, and whatever product that startup does is a throwaway thing, means to an end.


You don't get rich in an acquihire.

Being acquired and being acquihired are two different things.


Scam artists have been doing this for a long time. A lot of things are not verified simply because verifying then could show they are false.

One can equally ask a scam victim "Wait, you sent money to Nigeria? How could you do it?" or a cult member "Why didn't you get out sooner?". And the answer is that for the scam to work, the victim has to become a believe first, then they will resist revising their beliefs. They become a co-conspirator so to speak.

So the fusion guy convinced himself and his investors that 1MW works, neither one of them have any interest at this point in revealing that it doesn't. They would want to sell it, bring others on board, and then slowly fade away.

Investors often don't want to know the truth, because it would reveal that they've been played. If someone pays the money for D-Wave, they now have an inherent interest in not telling the world how it doesn't work, because the world will laugh at them for spending all that money on it to beging with.


I really wish people would stop discarding the idea of nickel-hydrogen cold fusion just because Rossi has a bad reputation. So I am happy when I see cautiously positive articles like this one.

Firstly, those who research this domain are fully aware that cold fusion is impossible according to theoretical physics. But experiments trump theory. And as I have written about it 4 years ago (http://blog.zorinaq.com/?e=61) the fact is there are experiments conducted by multiple other groups of researchers that demonstrate anomalous heat being produced by nickel-hydrogen cells. Not only this anomalous heat cannot be explained by current physics but there are clues that nuclear fusion is taking place (some nickel atoms being transformed into copper atoms). Unfortunately the controversy about this entire area of research is amplified by the fact that many of these experiments are very hard to reproduce.

Research has made some progress over the last 4 years, and my opinion has not changed: whatever mechanism is taking place, it seems to be able to unleash fantastic amounts of energy from very little material. We just need more researchers to look at into it and understand it.


On the other hand, there aren't billions of dollars to be made in a cottage industry from cranks claiming that fusion-like setups cause things to actually get cooler or that some form of reverse-fusion occurs. So if you have enough people looking hard enough and only publishing the best results, you'll definitely get "experiments" which show "anomalous heat". And they will definitely be "hard to reproduce" since they're just noise.


That reminds me, whatever happened to that perpetual energy machines from those "Steorn" lads from Dublin?

edit: never mind I see they are still around somehow (and managed to waste millions in process) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steorn http://orbo.com/

------------

"Welcome to the online shop for Orbo technology, home of our "never die" battery technology-based products.

We're excited to move towards bringing the first of our products to market in 2016 and revolutionising the world of consumer electronics.

The battery is dead."

------------

Oo


Ah yes.. If I'd invented a source of perpetual energy, this is exactly how I'd commercialize it too: http://orbo.com/products/ophone


The key sentence:

We are like a thirsty town, desperate for a new water supply.

Our human inclination is to talk ourselves into believing the mirage. Add in the inevitable snake oil salesmen... As scientists, the more we desperately, wish for a thing to be true, the more we must demand of the evidence.


Database with cold fusion papers (very comprehensive):

http://lenr-canr.org/index/Summary/Summary.php

The BSM-SG model describes LENR fusion very well, most of the reported experiments implement one ore more of the theoretical mechanisms for successful fusion.

http://www.amazon.com/Structural-Physics-Nuclear-Fusion-BSM-...

But does not make so much sense without understanding the main book.


I recently was excited to find out that cold fusion is actually real. Check it out: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muon-catalyzed_fusion

No one ever seems to mention it but it seems like it could be a promising avenue someday.


The same thing goes for those that would dare to dispute string theory or human-caused global warming. Trying to publish any papers that defy either of those canons will likely end your career.


In some circumstances yes, but I think actually that most of the papers out there disprove AGW, it's just that nobody reads them. I've read many papers given to me by AGW proponents that they claim support AGW, and in every case they don't and in most they actually support the opposite conclusion. (as do most of the scientists who have signed petitions.)

As a political movement, global warming doesn't need science, politicians and advocates just declare it "settled" and thus feel they don't have to defend their claims.


One big argument against free energy at low temperatures is that if it was possible then the natural world would have already discovered it.

The other argument is that if someone has a free energy device, they actually shouldn't need to convince anyone, they could just hook it to the grid, get paid for the power, use the money to build more devices, repeat until they had a serious power company. And then they start bargaining.


I'm not sure that argument against it holds up. For all we know some Deuterium and Palladium are hanging out in the cosmos undergoing fusion, and we would have no idea about it. There are real room temperature fusion methods[0] that can also happen in nature, but even if that method was break-even it doesn't mean Mother Nature would exploit it due to the difficulty of starting the reaction.

Getting paid for power and getting enough seed money to build more generators does involve convincing people, as well, and is pretty much what Rossi has been doing. He even started his own energy company, iirc, and has been selling self-contained "generators" to people.

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muon-catalyzed_fusion


> Getting paid for power and getting enough seed money to build more generators does involve convincing people,

He is clearly not trying to convince anyone serious by disallowing scientists to measure using their own equipment and on their own terms and conditions. Energy production is not hard to measure and people have been metering electrical enenergy for many decades now.

So far is obstructing and preventing such scrutiny. He is trying to convince only rich people to give him money. If you look at that as his goal, he is doing all the right steps in that direction.

> He even started his own energy company, iirc, and has been selling self-contained "generators" to people.

How many people have bought and used his device to generate power?


Getting paid for power doesn't involve convincing anyone but the power meter in most jurisdictions; utilities are required by law to buy customer-created surplus.


If Rossi's device really worked, he would be a moron to sell it or even show it to anybody.

You can start an energy company, start small at the beginning, provide something like water heating for a small neighborhood. Then use your profits to grow exponentially until you take everyone else out of business. If you have such a device, you're only really limited by the chemical supplies (nickel powder?).


The article claims Rossi was given a US patent. A patent is supposed to allow a person of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the claimed invention, so in principle it should be easy to test his claims.

Of course, if it works the tester will have to pay royalties.


Rossi contraption is just that (or not, as long as it's not scientifically open no-one should care).

What I'm curious about is this:

http://animpossibleinvention.com/2015/10/15/swedish-scientis...

Guys basically claim they found a way to create free neutrons at lowest possible energy cost, published a paper and even ran some initial experiments.


LENR, if possible, will have a much bigger impact on global economy - may even transform the way economies works. Its not just clean energy, but think about the impacts of artificial transmutation.

Also if LENR is possible, it also means that some or all of the biological life possesses this capacity and it could be an undiscovered fundamental natural occurrence.

BUT - all of this sounds too good to be true :( Fundamental discoveries have pretty much slowed down and it is very natural to be skeptical about these.


After some study of reactionless drive, I'm somewhat ready to accept that there is a lot to be learned about physics: http://www.gizmag.com/cannae-reactionless-drive-space-propul...

I'm certainly open minded about LENR, although the "free" energy attract a lot of shady characters.


A good documentary to watch is Fire from Water.

There has been a lot of work into LENR and a lot of it is positive. Toyota dedicated a two years research division to it.

The trouble is it's not consistent, and when excess heart is recorded, we're not sure why. I'm sure this is of those fields that needs a "eureka" moment where some group figures out what might be simple missing pieces.


If cold fusion research was tested with more accuracy, it would be a more respectable thing to research (or at least not laughed out of the room).

All of the tests on cold fusion/LENR devices never seem to use appropriate measurement tools for the measured range, much less the gold standard methods for counting energy in/out, leading to enough error you could hide a truck.

No more calculating energy from thermal camera pictures from 1 side of the device without checking periodically if the heat output is uniform. Similarly, they like to use 3-phase input power when a standard wall-plug power would do. Measuring 3 Phase power in these cases is like trying to measure the weight of a person using a truck scale. Also you can do more shenanigans with 3 phase that the meter wouldn't pick up, which due to the history of scams in this field is even more important that the power being fed to the device is proved to not have anything funny going on.

I'd like for cold fusion to be true, but in order for them to be taken seriously, they need to test the devices with much more rigor.


I am confused as to the author's justification for seeming to give credence to a thoroughly discredited person.

It would have been a better article if he had just stuck with "the science says it is possible just not probable" instead of discussing Rossi. And no mention of Pistol Shrimp - I am disappointed.


Why Pistol Shrimp? Other than them being cool as heck if the claims about them are true.


I can't find any high-quality single page that gives the history, but here's a low-quality one that explains the connection: http://twistedphysics.typepad.com/cocktail_party_physics/200...

Basically, pistol shrimp "attacks" produce a small burst of light (sonoluminesence). There was a theory that this was actually a form of fusion (sonofusion). There were some studies done that demonstrated this (Taleyarkhan, 2002). But there were lots of irregularities about the study (Naranjo, 2006), and like cold fusion it's been (mostly?) discredited.


I like her writing style. Fun read. Never heard of sonofusion or thought about using sonoluminesence for it. Sounds like some potential albeit with careful measurements & checks. Something that odd & difficult to measure is likely to trip people up anyway. Just the nature of the thing.


Could someone explain how Rossi's device is different from recent fusion reactor experiments?

http://www.ipp.mpg.de/3984226/12_15


Reading this reminds me of the controversy with the Cannae Drive


Rossi is a known liar. He has been jailed for it.

It has been far too long for independent confirmation of the claim. After all, it's in his best interest to be proven correct.

He is a fraud. The fact that he's taken outside investment means he's a convincing fraud. And that is how he puts food on his table.

Not from commercializing his 'findings.'

He'd be a wealthy man indeed, years ago, had this turned out to be true.

It's thus in his best interest to line up/support independent verification -- for years now -- and yet no independent verification exists.

Move on, it's bunk.


Cold Fusion is _real_. It powered my website back in the 1990s. Where have all of you been since then?


At first I was like please die, cold fusion from Adobe. Then I was like oh. Nevermind.


As you say it, I notice some parallels. A small team promotes ColdFusion as a revolution that goes against standard practices and is totally better. Most call bullshit on that with some uptake and research. A fringe builds new tech on top of ColdFusion & replications (open-source). All kinds of new, proven stuff comes out of both mainstream and comp sci over the decades. Occasionally, sales people still crop up talking about ColdFusion as a real benefit for developers. They've seen people kick ass with it.

Then, the rest of us were like: "Oh, nevermind."


Yes, hopefully Adobe Coldfusion's "horizon" will be an event horizon.


I seem to be trapped in an orbit quite near the even horizon where time has slowed to a crawl. (5 years into a CF project)


hold short, wasn't it proven months ago that the E-Cat "worked" by using the ground return for powering a second heating coil?


As far as I know, it hasn't been proven, as the requisite access has not been granted. Of course, Rossi could easily have disproved it as soon as the issue was raised, if it were not so.

Edit: The posited arrangement is diagrammed and described here, along with other reasons to doubt:

http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2013/05/21/the-e-cat...


This finally puts aeon.co on my 'never read' list. What a poorly fact-checked piece of writing.


Considering this intersects Rossi, the E-Cat reactor and Sweden, it might be interesting to know that Rossi and his claimed invention is quite controversial in Swedish media.

Searching for his name on Sveriges Radio (Swedish Public Radio): http://sverigesradio.se/sida/sok.aspx?q=andrea+rossi

...gives these results (with my very short translated snippets):

  ---------------
Blind faith in cold fusion (2014-05-27)

"Andrea Rossi claims his machine works using cold fusion, yet scientists cannot look into the machine or get all test data. Even though this, established Swedish physicists have written positive reports about Rossis machine."

http://sverigesradio.se/sida/avsnitt/375904?programid=412

  ---------------
Scientists helped suspected con-man to sell miracle machine (2014-05-27)

"I realize he's using us."

http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=406&arti...

  ---------------
Negative results were never published (2014-05-28)

"Andrea Rossi's alleged miracle machine, the E-Cat reactor, has been tested at Uppsala University. But no results of the test or the circumstances surrounding it have been published. Even at the [Swedish] Natural History Museum has an important study been made to suggest that Rossi's allegations are not true. Again, nothing have been published."

http://sverigesradio.se/sida/avsnitt/375957?programid=41

  ---------------
Andrea Rossi paid air plane tickets for Swedish scientists to Italy (2014-05-30)

"The visit resulted in a very positive report"

http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=406&arti...

  ---------------
Swedish scientists on paid trip for E-Cat reactor (2014-06-17)

"A believer ignores all arguments. Despite all the warning bells a half-dozen researchers at Uppsala University and the Royal Institute of Technology continue to cooperate with Andrea Rossi to try to find out about his alleged power device email catalyst functions."

http://sverigesradio.se/sida/avsnitt/396095?programid=412

  ---------------
All of the links above contains the actual radio episodes, in Swedish only though. There are more articles about him in Swedish media, these are just from our NPR. And please understand that my translated snippets are just meant to give a small taste of the content of the radio episode, you obviously need to listen to it go get the full content. :)


It seems that philosophers are not immune to scam artists. I am surprised by this particular example, but only a little bit.


have you even read the article?


Yes, and I have also read other sources, especially with regard to Rossi.

e.g:

http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1306/1306.6364.pdf

http://www.sott.net/article/241427-E-Cat-Cold-Fusion-Machine...


Then I hope you see the irony in your comment, and why the first reply was a little incredulous.

I'm not defending Rossi, BTW. The odds are very, very, very good that it's another scam. But it's not impossible that he's on to something and that's exactly what the article's author points to, along with lamenting how tragic it would be if cold fusion turned out to be real and we wasted 20 years not pursuing it because of the reputation trap.


I am wondering if we read the same article. The author uncritically cites already-discredited studies in favor of the E-Cat without noting the doubt that surrounds them, and only mentions fraud as being so improbable as to effectively dismiss it. He is apparently literally salivating over his expectation that he will be proved right.

FWIW, I know cold fusion is not definitively ruled out by physics, I would be thrilled if it were realized, I think it is a valid area of research and I always thought that Pons and Fleischmann were treated far too harshly, but ignoring strong indications of fraud is only going to make that case harder to make. I hope you can see that these are not mutually contradictory opinions.


I know almost nothing about cold fusion and theoretical physics in general, but as a guy who has read some Popper and Hume I'll chime in with an obviously subjective opinion, and say that after reading all the HN comments and parts of the article the first thought that came to my mind was this: "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

Interestingly enough that exact quote is present in TFA, but in a manner that makes it debatable:

> This is not to deny that there is truth in the principle popularised by Carl Sagan, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. We should certainly be very cautious about such surprising claims, unless and until we amass a great deal of evidence. But this is not a good reason for ignoring such evidence in the first place, or refusing to contemplate the possibility that it might exist

Paragraphs like this one remind me of a work-colleague of mine, who I try to convince from time to time during our cigarette breaks that aliens have not visited our planet and that they're not just "about to arrive", impending asteroid apocalypse be damned. At which point she almost always responds to me like this: "paganel, yours are valid opinions, but we cannot refuse to contemplate the possibility that one day they may arrive". This also reminds me of how early Christians actually believed that the second arrival of Christ was just around the corner. Whatever this guy writes about and whatever he believes in, it is not about science.


> "Whatever this guy writes about and whatever he believes in, it is not about science."

You say that, but you're ignoring the thrust of his argument.

Let's say, for argument's sake, that the results from Rossi's experiment seem somewhat dubious. Easy to dismiss a single flawed experiment, right?

However, there have been at least four separate reproductions of the experiment results since then (article mentions reports of similar results from Sweden, Italy, Russia and China).

The main question raised by the article can be summarised as: If evidence of a reproducible experiment with unexplained results exists, which is usually a key indicator that the experiment warrants further investigation, why is there sometimes reluctance to investigate when this reproducibility comes along?

Science is not served well by dogma. Interesting results can come from unexpected places. The wilful ignorance of the reproducibility is the issue here.


> Let's say, for argument's sake, that the results from Rossi's experiment seem somewhat dubious.

You would not know it from the article, but 'somewhat dubious' is a mischaracterization that suggests the problems might merely be experimental difficulties. In reality, the demonstrations have shown a sustained pattern of concealment and other highly dubious behavior, and there are also significant purely scientific problems, such as the isotope ratios of the alleged by-product. That's before we get into Rossi's earlier activities in high-tech waste management, which led to at least allegations of fraud. You may want to check out the links several of us have provided in these comments, and then ask yourself whether Huw Price has accurately described the situation.


Do the links provided tackle the reproductions of the experiment, or just Rossi's experiment?


You should read them yourself.


If you've already read them, you could save me some time, a simple yes (they cover more than just Rossi's experiment) or no would be useful.


There were many confirmations of N-rays too. "120 other scientists in 300 published articles"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N_ray


That's one possible outcome, but we can't be sure until more research is done. A growing body of evidence of new phenomena should be examined scientifically, even if it turns out there's nothing new at all.


But that's a Pascal's Mugging, isn't it? How unlikely does a claim of LENR have to be, exactly, before we can dismiss it out of hand?


It would be more tragic to have smart people investigating something that is very likely a fraud, when they could be doing something more productive.


Wow, 154 comments and complete and utter cluelessness. Yikes. Seriously people, why are you commenting on a complex subject you clearly know very very little about? I suggest you go read the articles on lenr-canr.org before any further commenting. Better yet, get back to your day job. You have no idea how little you know about this subject. http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/mt-s...

Fact: Cold fusion is a phenomenon that has been studied by 100s of scientists and replicated 1000s of times by folks as diverse as the Navy and Toyota and published in many many different and respected journals.


I don't disbelieve in cold fusion, the EM drive, superluminal anything, solve-all-problems nanotech, or the singularity because of the reputation of scientists.

I disbelieve them because pessimism. They're just such... "wouldn't it be great if" results. Wouldn't it be great if we had cheap, limitless, clean energy? Wouldn't it be great if we were not subject to the tyranny of the rocket equation? Wouldn't it be great if the stars really were in reach? Wouldn't it be great if all material needs were going to be met in the next generation? Wouldn't it be great if we were going to achieve godhead?

It would be great. It's so great that I just don't see it happening. It sounds like a myth people tell themselves.

This is admittedly not a logically coherent dismissal. But you can't derive anything from base principles, and if you have to have a heuristic, I think it's a more useful heuristic than a reputation-based one.


Wouldn't it be great if we could produce fertilizer out of air? Wouldn't it be great if we could get energy by just digging in the ground? Wouldn't it be great if we could just prevent polio with a simple injection? Wouldn't it be great if we could travel by just flying over the ocean?


To take one example, nitrogen was discovered in 1772. Haber process (which converts nitrogen gas to ammonia) was discovered in 1909, and was successfully industrialized in 1913.[1]

In other words, when Haber process was discovered, the question was NOT "wouldn't it be great if we could produce fertilizer out of air?". The question was, "We know the air is full of substance that makes fertilizer. How can we make that happen?"

Or, alternatively, when nitrogen was discovered, nobody said "We paved road for making fertilizer out of air!" It was probably something like "How weird, air is full of this strange stuff that makes animals suffocate." And apparently its discoverer went on to call it "noxious air".

Honestly, I can't think of any important scientific discovery that was accompanied by "This is great! Think what it could do for civilization!"

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Haber_process


>Honestly, I can't think of any important scientific discovery that was accompanied by "This is great! Think what it could do for civilization!"

Radioactivity.


Fire.


"This is great! We can burn down Ook's village! He'll never know what hit him!"

"We can what down Ook's village?"


Sure. It's a heuristic, not a logical proof.

And, I mean, we can't get energy just by digging in the ground. We didn't just poof, start flying over the ocean. We don't produce fertilizer just poof out of the air.

Also: we knew before the Wright brothers that heavier-than-air flight was possible (birds). We didn't go from nothing to oil-fired modern powerplants in one step. If someone had claimed to generate electricity from something random in the ground -- even inefficiently -- without piggybacking on centuries of preexisting power generation technology, I'd probably have been skeptical. And my skepticism would probably have been justified.


We know from biology that nanoscale factories are feasible, we know from human intelligence that AI is feasible, we know from Newtonian mechanics that space elevators are feasible, we know from stars that fusion is feasible.


Yep. And if someone said, "I've developed a nanoscale factory that has output fundamentally similar to what a biological cell has," that wouldn't trigger my skepticism. People who imagine that in the next few decades, we'll have nanotechnology that is two or three orders of magnitude faster, less error-prone, more centrally controllable, and more versatile than biology do.

I didn't say anything about AI or space elevators.

I'm not skeptical about hot fusion the way in skeptical about cold fusion.


Well, you said you disbelieve these things on the ground of them being too good to be true.

I get that people are more likely to exaggerate the likelihood of success of some technology if it seems extremely promising, and thus one should be more skeptical of those... But given all the other information available, that's a very weak proxy. You can make your own opinion by looking at the science.




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