Original article on Build the Enterprise here.
In helping to think about Cold Fusion … let’s go back in time to when claims of fire-starting were first heard about. Recall how the science committee reacted …
Back in the caveman and cavewoman days, someone had the idea to try to create fire artificially. They had seen the heat generated by forest fires started by lightning, and they thought that fire would be just dandy to create heat and light at night and to cook meat. They were tired of eating raw meat. Since people had noticed heat was generated by rubbing sticks together, some had the idea to rub them together faster and faster. Eventually here and there people claimed they were able to start fires by this method.
One day the caveman and cavewoman science committee met to examine these claims of people creating fire. They brought in people to testify. Some said they are able to do it by rubbing certain kinds of sticks together, but others said all they achieved was a sore back from bending over all day. The science committee listened to the evidence and then took a vote. Because fires were not consistently created, the claims must be false. The committee proclaimed that artificially started fires did not exist. It was settled science.
A year later the science committee convened again. A small minority of people were still claiming that they had succeeded at artificially creating fires. After an investigation the committee concluded that only 21% of people attempting to start fires claimed to succeed. Since the fires were obviously not consistently reproducible, this big claim of artificial fire-starting was declared pathological science. Additionally, it was declared that these fire-starter types were to be ignored and shunned. After all, everyone knew people can’t start fires. Only lightning can do that. It was settled science.
On the third year the science committee met again. This time a few cavemen and cavewomen objected strongly to the science committee declarations of the previous year because they were tired of having to eat in the woods instead of the caves because everyone shunned them. So this small group of people said they could actually demonstrate this fire-starting. The science committee members reluctantly agreed to witness a demonstration. The cavemen and cavewomen who claimed they could start fires took the committee members to their cave that evening. All of them proceeded with rubbing sticks together upon which they did for two hours, and then finally one caveman was able to start a fire.
Everyone including the science committee members at first were startled and excited. The committee members scratched their heads and walked around this seeming fire. Finally, the most learned among them said: “It’s a trick! Five of the six people who tried to start the fire here tonight did not succeed. For scientific proof, these fires must be consistently reproducible. They all rubbed the sticks together in the same way, but only this fire appeared. This is obviously not a fire at all. It’s an illusion to fool us.”
The science committee left in a huff, but not before declaring loudly that the man who said he had started a fire should be shunned and he should eat in the woods alone forever. What nonsense they muttered. Pathological fire-starting, one said. The committee members had far more important matters to attend to than this artificial fire quackery. Besides, how important could fire-starting be anyhow?
Postscript #1: Ten years later the science committee changed their position slightly and said fire-starting could be studied. But since only 21% of people claimed that they could start fires, they still declared that artificial fires were not possible to create. Furthermore, they added this clarification: “And the claimed fires burn not nearly as hot as forest fires, and there is certainly no theory to explain this. These seeming fires violate our laws of fire science and thus these fires can’t possibly exist.”
Postscript #2: 300 millennia later the science committee of the day finally conceded that fires could be artificially created. To this they quickly put them to use and burned Bruno at the stake for claiming the Earth revolved around the sun and that the sun was just another star. After all, the Earth is at the center of the universe, and there is only one sun. It was settled science.
The Believer zed short