Baby With the Bathwater: The Wrongful Rejection of Cold Fusion — Part I

BabyandBathWater2014 is upon us, and progress in the field of Cold Fusion (aka LENR) marches steadily on. Brillouin Energy Corporation (BEC), currently operating out of California and working in collaboration with Stanford Research Institute (SRI), recently signed a multi-million dollar deal with an undisclosed South Korean company who intend to manufacture their LENR boiler technologies and outfit obsolete power plants with them.

It has recently been confirmed through an official press release that inventor Andrea Rossi’s American distribution partner is none other than North Carolina-based Cherokee Investment Partnership (CIP). CIP has spawned a business-subsidiary, Industrial Heat LLC (IHC), apparently as a vehicle to further develop and market Rossi’s E-Cat (Energy Catalyzer) technology. IHC is also engaged in a prolonged diagnostic of Rossi’s E-Cat, the results of which will be released in an official report later this year. Even more interesting is that CIP-CEO, Thomas Darden, has been in close contact with Chinese government officials who have announced their intentions to establish a “Nickel Reactor New Energy Project”.


Also noteworthy, Defkalion Green Technologies (DGT), with bases of operation in both Vancouver and Greece, are in the process of real-time mass spectrometer measurements of their Hyperion Reactor. While not particularly important at first glance, these tests should yield very important data concerning the nuclear ash that results from reactions in Nickel-Hydrogen systems. With this data in hand, experts in the field will be better equipped to develop a comprehensive, predictive, and engineerable CF-LENR theory. In a recent press release they have also announced that: Several third party independent tests from international organizations, universities and teams are expected to present their results thus verifying our recent technological and scientific breakthroughs. Accordingly we expect the commercialization of our technologies in the 3rd quarter of 2014.”


Maybe these commercial ventures will pan out; maybe they won’t. That is the boom-and-bust nature of business in our society (love it or hate it). But as we approach the fulfillment of a 25-year struggle to validate Cold Fusion, the question remains, why it was ever written off in the first place? If Cold Fusion was such a glaring example of “pathological science” and if it’s self-sacrificing adherents were nothing more than deluded “true believers” (as the Skeptical community often proselytizes), how is it that this “discredited” science is on the precipice of totally altering the landscape of energy, sustainability, and how we believe Science operates?

PonsFleischmanColor1When Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons made their first announcement in 1989, beside just claims of nuclear-level excess heat, they also claimed to have detected nuclear products; specifically neutrons. Beyond the ire that side-stepping the peer-review process instilled in many scientists, the claim that their discovery was a room-temperature “fusion” reaction is what really sparked off the skeptical circus.

The problem was that their neutron measurements were found to be in error. Accusations of bad science and outright fraud soon followed; most notably from nuclear physicists like MIT’s Ronald Parker and CERN’s Frank Close. Parker was the first to lob public accusations of fraud. And Close, to this day, still paints the entire incident as a clear-cut case of “fraud”, based on his interpretation of events originally put forward in his 1991 book Too Hot to Handle.

ColdFusionGraphicThe truth, a rather benign one, is that Fleischmann and Pons weren’t attempting to defraud anyone. Firstly, the duo’s preliminary research into heavily loaded palladium spanning from 1984-1989 was A) personally financed, and B) inspired by the work of their scientific forerunners. Interestingly enough, their predecessors (some from as early as the 1920’s) thought they might have witnessed fusion-like reactions occurring in room-temperature, electrolytic hydride systems. As curious scientists first and foremost, the two colleagues could not resist the allure of exploring such a provocative possibility. Fleischmann and Pons had already achieved more than enough prestige in their lifetimes; they had absolutely no reason or motive to risk their reputations and indulge themselves in some self-aggrandizing publicity stunt.

When the duo arrived at their lab one morning to discover that a small cube of palladium had partially vaporized, melted through its electrolytic cell, burned through a blacktop lab-bench, and melted a 4-inch deep hole into their solid concrete floor, they finally started to believe there was something genuine about such far-out claims from the past. Based off this result, they went about trying to detect nuclear products, because they knew of no other reaction that could produce such absurd amounts of excess heat. Skeptics who attacked the “nuclear-reaction” label were not properly considering that such beliefs were motivated by the unusually high levels of excess heat sometimes witnessed.

fleischmann5Because their research had been up to that point secretive, highly unorthodox, and was being conducted on university grounds, for political reasons Fleischmann and Pons could not simply approach a colleague in the nuclear physics department to assist them with measuring neutrons. They would have likely been ridiculed, reprimanded, and/or had their research shut down. However, they did eventually succeed in obtaining a neutron detector from a colleague on campus without arousing much suspicion, and soon after went about conducting measurements.

Because they were not full-blown experts in the area of detecting nuclear products, and because the 89’ press conference was rushed months ahead of what either man was comfortable with, the neutron data was exposed to the light of day prematurely. It was a far way from fraud, but it could be labeled perhaps as “bad science” (as long as one is being non-derogatory, sensitive to context, and/or non-judgmental in regards to their overall process/results). The detection of nuclear products was quickly discredited as artifact, and skeptical detractors hung their argumentative-hats on that point for the remainder of the controversy. Fleischmann and Pons would now be unfairly chastised as operating “outside their area of their expertise” in regards to all their results just because their neutron data turned out to be inaccurate.


Blatantly discounting and/or ignoring the discovery of excess heat was (and continues to be) the major blunder of status-quo skeptics. The fact is Fleischmann and Pons were well within their area of expertise when it came to conducting electrolytic chemistry and calorimetry; which meant they knew how to account for, as well as measure, excess heat. At the time, a number of unfounded criticisms were lobbied against their excess heat results; such as not controlling for all possible experimental artifacts that could account for the abnormal findings. However, unlike their neutron measurements, their measurements of excess heat have never been properly discredited.

For example, electrochemist Nathan Lewis of California Institute of Technology conducted weeks of research on Cold Fusion following the announcement. Ultimately he and his colleagues turned up negative results. However, when electrochemist Dr. Melvin Miles evaluated their procedure over a decade later, he found their lack of results to be a product of procedural error caused by ignorance of particular experimental parameters. This is not terribly surprising because most labs attempting to replicate the Fleischmann-Pons Effect had very little operative information to go on.

NateLewisRegardless, at the time Lewis and others seemed satisfied and emboldened by their alleged null-results and seized the moment to indemnify Cold Fusion further. Lewis even went as far as to publically declare at an 89’ American Physical Society (APS) meeting in Baltimore that the excess heat was an artifact of insufficient cell mixing; an elementary protocol controlled for by most electrochemists. Lewis’ claim was simply untrue; he was basing his unfounded judgments off his own faulty experiments.

Fleischmann and Pons’ cells were properly stirred. There were no identifiable anisotropies that could possibly account for the production of nuclear-level excess heat. This fact was clearly documented in their peer-reviewed article published in Fusion Technology. Also, Fleischmann’s presentation at an American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting soon after clearly proved the integrity of their cell-mixing; a meeting where Nathan Lewis raised no objections to the demonstration he witnessed from Fleischmann.


Another popular criticism (that is still sometimes evoked) has to do with what’s known as recombination. Recombination is the rejoining of negative ions with positive ions (in this case Hydrogen, Deuterium, and Oxygen) to form neutral molecules inside electrolytic cells. When this occurs modest amounts of chemical heat are generated and/or carried away. Perhaps this could explain Fleischmann and Pons’ results? Here is a leading expert in the field describing the process in more detail:

“When the gases created by electrolysis are allowed to leave the cell, they carry with them chemical energy that has to be taken into account. This chemical energy can be calculated using what is called the ‘neutral potential’, if no partial recombination takes place in the cell before the remaining gas leaves. The error comes from not knowing what fraction of the generated gas recombines back to D2O in the cell and what fraction leaves as D2 and O2.

 If all gas recombines in the cell (which can be [initiated] using an internal catalyst) then no energy needs to be added and the results are accurate as measured. This is called a closed cell and is now used extensively. If all generated gas leaves, the calculated corrections are accurate. This is called an ‘open cell’. [Fleischmann and Pons] used open cells. Nevertheless, they determined the fraction of recombination that occurred in their cell.”

This was expounded upon by another well-respected expert in the field:

“I [agree]…any question of ‘recombination’ (or electrode depolarization) is eliminated absolutely by the use of thermodynamically closed cells (as many did), and the extent to which it occurs is very easily quantified by measuring the amount of make-up water, as [Fleischmann and Pons] did.”

To restate, recombination is an elementary consideration, easily controlled for, that most serious scientists working in this field take into account. In fact, University of Minnesota’s Professor Robert Oriani definitively answered this question as early as 1990. He had achieved positive excess heat results in his experiments, and his peer-reviewed paper published in Fusion Technology clearly demonstrated that questions surrounding experimental artifacts like recombination were most definitely controlled for.

NatureCoverWorth noting is this particular paper’s back story. It had been submitted to Nature magazine prior. It was approved by both of the peer-reviewers Nature themselves selected. Then, inexplicably, the editor vetoed their decision and rejected the paper. Oriani’s results were unimpeachable; politics and bias was clearly at play. This should not be surprising, as most “premier” science journals nowadays are underwritten by huge, status-quo multinationals.

While there is much more to say on the topic overall (which I will save for Part II), this preliminary analysis suggests that widespread claims of excess heat have been wrongfully ignored for over 25-years based on a set of totally fallacious arguments. Thus far, dogma has won out over the scientific method. Simply put, skeptics wrongfully threw out the baby, excess heat, along with the bathwater, the nuclear-reaction hypothesis. Ultimately, what does it really matter if it’s nuclear fusion or not?

Letter to Nature on Martin Fleischmann released

On August 3, 2012 Dr. Martin Fleischmann, co-discoverer of cold fusion, passed away in his home after a long illness.

Obituaries produced by mainstream news outlets were nothing more than gross distortions of career that exemplified intellectual honesty and integrity. The science journal Nature was but one publication that mischaracterized Fleischmann’s work where author Philip Ball wrote of cold fusion as a “pathological science”, and the “blot” it left on Fleischmann’s career.

Fortunately, Dr. Brian Josephson, a Cambridge University professor and Nobel laureate, responded to Nature’s portrayal with a letter published in Nature Correspondence. Because of licensing arrangements, the text has only recently become available to non-subscribers, and is reproduced here.

Here is Brian Josephson’s letter to Nature magazine:

Cold fusion: Fleischmann denied due credit
Brian D. Josephson

From Nature 490, 37 (04 October 2012)
Original online publication at, 03 October 2012
Philip Ball’s obituary of Martin Fleischmann (Nature 489, 34; 2012), like many others, ignores the experimental evidence contradicting the view that cold fusion is ‘pathological science’ (see I gave an alternative perspective in my obituary of Fleischmann in The Guardian (see, describing what I believe to be the true nature of what Ball calls a “Shakespearean tragedy”.

The situation at the time of the announcement of cold fusion was confused because of errors in the nuclear measurements (neither Fleischmann nor his co-worker Stanley Pons had expertise in this area) and because of the difficulty researchers had with replication. Such problems are not unusual in materials science. Some were able, I contend, to get the experiment to work (for example, M. C. H. McKubre et al. J. Electroanal. Chem. 368, 55–56; 1994; E. Storms and C. L. Talcott Fusion Technol. 17, 680; 1990) and, in my view, to confirm both excess heat and nuclear products.

Skepticism also arose because the amount of nuclear radiation observed was very low compared with that expected from the claimed levels of excess heat. But it could be argued that the experiments never excluded the possibility that the liberated energy might be taken up directly by the metal lattice within which the hydrogen molecules were absorbed.

In my opinion, none of this would have mattered had journal editors not responded to this skepticism, or to emotive condemnation of the experimenters, by setting an unusually high bar for publication of papers on cold fusion. This meant that most scientists were denied a view of the accumulating positive evidence.

The result? Fleischmann was effectively denied the credit due to him, and doomed to become the tragic figure in Ball’s account.

For more, see Brian Josephson’s Link of the Day archive.

Related Links

New energy solution from Nobel laureate ignored at NY Times April 7, 2013

Brian Josephson safeguards historic contribution of Martin Fleischmann October 6, 2012

Martin Fleischmann leaves brilliant legacy of courage in pursuit of truth August 4, 2012

Brian Josephson safeguards historic contribution of Martin Fleischmann

U.K. University of Cambridge Professor Dr. Brian Josephson, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1973 for the Josephson Effect, wrote the fine obituary published in The Guardian honoring Dr. Martin Fleischmann, co-discoverer of cold fusion who passed away earlier this year.

Focusing on Fleischmann’s life’s work, the essay was not a defense of cold fusion, though Josephson wrote, “However, progress seems to be occurring towards the application of cold fusion as a practical energy source. It may well transpire that, in the words of one cold fusion entrepreneur: “The market will decide.” (Including Josephson’s links).

Josephson then went to work dismantling some of the blundering misconceptions that reared up in the print landscape through the many unresearched and cliche obituaries scrawled by witless writers “walking backwards into the future”.

He responded to one of the more egregious pieces (and there were many) printed in Nature, the scientific journal with a long-standing policy of refusing to publish cold fusion research.

John Maddox, editor of Nature back in 1989, had decided within months that cold fusion was through.

“I think it will turn out, after two, three years more investigation, that this is just spurious and just unconnected with anything that you would call nuclear fusion. I think that broadly speaking it is dead and it will remain dead for a very long time” Maddox said in the 1994 BBC Horizon documentary Too Close To The Sun. [watch]

Fortunately, only subscribers of Nature were subjected to the current dreadful fiction by Fleischmann-obit author Philip Ball, and we are not privy to Professor Josephson‘s Letter to the Editor in reply due to copyright (unless you’ve got $16), but he has posted a narrative containing the major points of his response on his website which we reproduce below.

Ball’s obituary of Martin Fleischmann in Nature found wanting
by Brian Josephson [original here]

A letter published in Nature addressed itself to an obituary of Martin Fleischmann written by Philip Ball, the flavour of which can be judged from the following extracts:
“the blot that cold fusion left on Martin Fleischmann’s reputation is hard to expunge”

“cold fusion is now regarded as one of the most notorious cases of what chemist Irving Langmuir called pathological science; it was a lack of reproducibility that finally put paid to the cold fusion idea”

“once you have been proved right against the odds, it becomes harder to accept the possibility of error. To make a mistake or a premature claim, even to fall prey to self-deception, is a risk any scientist runs”

When I challenged Ball on this he replied naively that “those few that claimed success have never been able to demonstrate this sufficiently reliably and convincingly to persuade the majority. That is simply the situation as it stands”. Factually that may indeed be the case but the fact that the majority are not convinced hardly suffices to justify the dogmatic presumptions implicit in the extracts cited above.

In any event, a response was clearly called for and I was glad that Nature accepted the letter that I submitted to their Correspondence section. In that letter I noted first of all that

Ball’s obituary, in common with many others, ignored the large amount of experimental evidence contradicting the view that cold fusion is ‘pathological science’,

citing the library at as providing a comprehensive listing of this research, including many downloadable papers. I also referred readers to my Guardian obituary.

I also noted that the situation at the time of the original announcement of cold fusion was confused because of errors in the nuclear measurements (this was not Pons and Fleischmann’s area of expertise), plus the difficulty others had with replication; however, problems with replication are not unusual in the context of materials science so this is not a strong objection and, further, in time

others were able to get the experiment to work and confirm both excess heat and nuclear products.

Ball included reference to ‘a Utah physicist who reported in Nature (see M.H. Salamon et al. Nature 344, 401–405; 1990) that he was unable to replicate the work’. Those who took the trouble to read this reference will note that the authors of that paper were much taken by the fact that there was a mismatch between the amount of excess heat claimed (which they did not measure) and the amount of radiation they measured. In case any readers were to draw the erroneous conclusion (which perhaps Ball hoped they would draw) that this refuted the possibility of nuclear reaction, I noted in my letter:

“experiment never excluded the possibility that the energy liberated might be taken up directly by the lattice”

I concluded by saying:

Had [this scenario] not happened, Fleischmann would have gained the credit due to him, rather than becoming a tragic figure in the manner of your correspondent’s account.

The above is provided as a service to those unable to access the complete obituary and comment in the journal itself.

Cold Fusion Now posted a series remembering Martin Fleischmann and turned one sorry obituary into art within ten minutes.