One of goals of science related blogs is to encourage enthusiasm about science. However, sometimes this enthusiasm can be misdirected, for example, when people such as intermittent poster Derek Syms/Electrickiwi misunderstand the scientific communities reaction to areas of research such as LENR (low energy nuclear reactions), also known as cold fusion.
Derek often makes demands that the scientific community should be doing more research in this area and claims this perceived disinterest is due to cover ups and corruption. I’ve written this blog article because I think such claims are worth unpicking in order to better explain how science works.
However, a good starting point is for me first to consider my own position on LENR. Science is not often as simple as being “for” or “against” a particular idea – it is about deciding what you think the best interpretation of the evidence that is available.
LENR/cold fusion first came to the public and the wider science communities attention in 1989 after Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann revealed their preliminary observations of an experiment which appeared to release anomalous amounts of excess heat, and suggested that it might be the result of nuclear processes which could potentially be a source of cheap, sustainable energy. Unfortunately the release of these results directly to the media prior to peer review and publication was not looked upon well by many in the scientific community and when there were difficulties replicating the work in other laboratories there was a lot of criticism of these two researchers.
Since 1989, a number of researchers have continued research in this area, now often referred to as LENR , and there is still debate about the nature of the anomalous heat produced. There are those who contend that it is a genuine phenomena, while others suggest that it is arising due to mis-measurement of the energy input/output or due to other problems with the apparatus.
Not being an expert in this area, I am happy to accept that there might well be a genuine phenomena here, but it seems to me that there just isn’t enough evidence to conclusively prove that this is the case, or that it is nuclear related. Nor is there any evidence that, should this phenomena exist, that it can be applied to the benefit of humankind – if the amounts of energy are so hard to measure that there are debates over whether it exists or not, I fail to see how this could benefit us.
However, I quite willing to be proved wrong (with scientifically verifiable evidence).
Another reason I am skeptical about the existence and potential applications of LENR is that research has been carried out for almost 25 years and there has been little advancement in understanding. It has been my observation that when a unusual idea is first discarded and/or laughed at by the wider scientific community, the proposers of the idea usually are able to provide enough evidence within a few decades to have it reconsidered and accepted by the scientific community – this does not appear to be the case with LENR.
In suggesting that the scientific community should do more research into LENR, Derek also overlooks the realities of doing scientific research. Funding is not unlimited (unfortunately) and there are a wide range of research subjects which can benefit humanity. In terms of our energy needs it is not a choice between using oil derived products and finding a magical solution with LENR. There is excellent research into solar and wind power, for example, research that has made much more progress over the past 25 years than LENR research.
Would I suggest that all research on LENR be stopped? – No, if researchers feel that they still have areas to explore, then fair enough they need to use the evidence they have so far to convince funding bodies to support them. But should we throw lots of funding at an area that is still unclear after almost 25 years, when there are other priorities and research areas providing much better results.
And consider the possibility that LENR does exist, but we do not have the technology to make it work yet. By investing in research in other areas, the technology required to make it work and be useful, might be more likely to arise than funneling huge amount of resources into the one area.
And note I said the “possibility” that it might exist. I would not take this as a given based on existing evidence. One of the exhilarating (and frustrating) things about science is that we are exploring the unknown. Io paraphrase a talk I heard recently “science is like hunting for a black cat in a dark room, with the possibility that there is no black cat.”
Of course there is other information confusing the issue – there are websites and youtube videos which purport to describe functional LENR devices. I must admit I’m skeptical of such claims as they come across more as advertising than as science, but if they do in fact work, then why would we need to to invest more time and money into researching LENR? When science/technology makes it to working prototypes this is usually where industry will typically take over.
In the meantime claims of conspiracies, cover ups and insults are inaccurate/have no value.