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New study claims cold fusion is possible
March 25, 2002 9:26 AM   Subscribe

New study claims cold fusion is possible 'A paper by a team of researchers at Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory who say they have discovered evidence of what looks like nuclear fusion taking place in a relatively inexpensive tabletop device.' You have to go back to 1989 for the last claim of this kind. Cheap energy - the answer to America's dreams, or Bush's biggest nightmare? (Via Techdirt)
posted by RobertLoch (31 comments total)

 
unfortunately, neither the original authors nor other researchers at the same facility were able to reproduce the results reported in the initial publication. science magazine even went so far as to publish an editorial at the beginning of the issue that explains the controversy and their reasons for publishing the paper anyway. basically, it sounds like they're trying to protect themselves from the fallout of yet another big scientific hoax like the one we had last time somebody reported an incidence of "cold fusion".
posted by shylock at 9:48 AM on March 25, 2002


Why would energy independence be a nightmare for any American president?

You don't happen to have a link to that editorial that doesn't require a registration do you?
posted by revbrian at 10:09 AM on March 25, 2002


Here are comments by Bob Parks in his What's New newsletter for the American Physical Society.

Essentially, he isn't buying into it and feels that Science is embarrasing itself.
posted by obfusciatrist at 10:15 AM on March 25, 2002


revbrian, there were 2 documentaries done on the subject - The Saint, and Chain Reaction. Joking aside, Bush's oil buddies would not be too keen on the idea. In fact it would have a dramatic effect on the world economy in general. The oil industry is the largest industry on earth. Anything that decreases the demand for oil would have an overly proportionate negative effect on the global economy in general. The US is the largest producer of oil related equipment, and provider of oil related expertise.
posted by RobertLoch at 10:21 AM on March 25, 2002


If it would be as bad as they say then just about everyone would have a problem with it. Still, I'd be more than happy to be able to ignore the mideast for the rest of my natural life.
posted by revbrian at 10:39 AM on March 25, 2002


Cold fusion would do the same thing to the energy industry that mp3s are doing to the music industry: it would change it. Granted, those who have invested their lives into oil would probably go belly up if they didn't change with it, but that's the true nature of the universe.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:41 AM on March 25, 2002


Bush's oil buddies would not be too keen on the idea.
For all the paranoid urban legends out there, big commercial interests don't stifle innovation. They exploit it. To believe that a stupendous breakthrough like cheap fusion would have "an overly proportionate negative effect on the global economy in general" is nuts. The economy would explode, and the oil industry would either re-shape itself to new environment or gradually disappear. Business moguls don't sit around boardrooms saying "Gentleman, this new invention will put us out of business. It must be destroyed!"
posted by Faze at 10:49 AM on March 25, 2002


Yes, I think in terms of global stability this would be nearly as crazy as discovering incontrovertable proof of alien life. Not that I would rather this sort of thing be hidden for the sake of stability. Just like I don't care how many tobacco farmers or record executives lose their jobs. If something like this popped up to replace oil, the oil industry would move to market it, but they wouldn't be happy about it because market domination would be much closer to "up for grabs" and all the market domination they had already established would no longer guarantee future success. They would have to work much harder.
posted by donkeymon at 10:52 AM on March 25, 2002


"There was certainly pressure from Oak Ridge to delay, if not to kill, the paper,"

This sort of pressure is called peer review, and it's not unheard of when someone asserts a wildly improbable claim. The article reads like there's some sort of government conspiracy, when there clearly isn't. Science is going to be pretty embarrassed about this, if these claims are proved false, and it seems a number of prominent researchers think it will be.
posted by swell at 10:52 AM on March 25, 2002


Business moguls once did say, these trains and trolleys are too efficient and they take away potential revenue in innefficient gas-burning buses, let's buy the trolleys and shut them down.
posted by panopticon at 10:53 AM on March 25, 2002


Faze, corporations like to exploit innovation that they can own. Unless or until innovators make a breakthrough, corporations have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. I have no doubt that there are many forces at work to discredit cold/tabletop fusion. It has nothing to do with whether cold fusion is possible or plausible. The mantra is to keep it down no matter what, but if it somehow makes it through, be the first to own it and exploit the hell out of it.

And you better believe there are scientists whose careers would be ruined if cold fusion were possible... so at the very least, discredit the research so that it gets no funding and your funding stays healthy.
posted by fleener at 11:02 AM on March 25, 2002


Yes, panopticon is right. "What's good for GM is good for the country," as they say.
posted by donkeymon at 11:06 AM on March 25, 2002


Yes, panopticon is right. "What's good for GM is good for the country," as they say.
posted by donkeymon at 11:08 AM on March 25, 2002


if there is even a faint hope of this being true .... it might call into questions bush and his alaskan cronies quest to open up anwr for oil that wont be available for years
posted by specialk420 at 11:09 AM on March 25, 2002


Business moguls once did say, these trains and trolleys are too efficient and they take away potential revenue in innefficient gas-burning buses, let's buy the trolleys and shut them down.
The above is actually one of those urban legends I was talking about. I myself believed that GM had done this in Los Angeles, and I incorporated the story into my personal rants for years (the myth was later immortalized in the movie "Roger Rabbitt"). In fact, it turns out to be a bit of spurious history that has been effectively debunked. Unfortunately, I don't have the applicable link or citation at hand, but when I get a minute, I will slap it onto this thread.
posted by Faze at 11:23 AM on March 25, 2002


Here we have it. The link about the bus companies and the trolly lines in LA. Beyond that, look at all the big businesses that are and have been threatened by personal computers and the internet. They either got with the program, or didn't. Nobody conspired to stifle the new technology, like some old DC comic villain.
posted by Faze at 11:33 AM on March 25, 2002


'For all the paranoid urban legends out there, big commercial interests don't stifle innovation. They exploit it. To believe that a stupendous breakthrough like cheap fusion would have "an overly proportionate negative effect on the global economy in general" is nuts. The economy would explode, and the oil industry would either re-shape itself to new environment or gradually disappear.'

You can't reshape something that size, and that unrelated. Do you have an idea of the number of sub industries that are dependent on oil remaining as the primary source of energy? By definition cold fusion would destroy many of them. Who needs drills, pumps, pipelines etc. if oil is no longer needed? Who needs oil tankers? The list goes on and on and on. OK, in practice oil would still be needed for bi products, certain tasks etc. however the demand would decrease dramatically. If a barrel of oil costs x dollars, and cold fusion can deliver the same energy solution for 100th of that price then naturally the industry will be screwed in many areas of delivery. That isn't an urban legend, that is reality.

In many respects the only way to make money out of it would be to sell it at well above cost. In the same respect as the value in software lies in the intellectual property, so would the the value in this. However, it is entirely conceivable that the break through may not be made by an oil company, or made by a US company. What if Russia, or China find the answer? What if a scientist finds the answer and makes it open source? Regardless, the effect on the energy supply side would be huge. I can't think of an single invention that could even come close to having the potential impact that cold fusion could on the world.
posted by RobertLoch at 11:50 AM on March 25, 2002


The "What's good for General Motors" line is itself an urban legend. The person that supposedly said it, Charles Wilson, was actually saying the exact opposite. The Democrats then spun it to make GM and Wilson look bad. (The quote was from testimony before the Senate.)
posted by aaron at 11:55 AM on March 25, 2002


Faze, here's an opposing opinion on GM and streetcars.
posted by mrbula at 12:11 PM on March 25, 2002


OK, the links on that page aren't working correctly. Try this link instead.
posted by mrbula at 12:13 PM on March 25, 2002


Mrbula: Hmm! I suppose I'll have to unsettle my settled opinion once again. Clearly the subject merits further investigation.
posted by Faze at 12:35 PM on March 25, 2002


So who's right? Faze's guy or this guy? Or these guys? I think I would tend to believe your guy, because at least your guy has references.
posted by donkeymon at 1:23 PM on March 25, 2002


It's off topic, but speaking of improbable physics, here's a piece from yesterday's LATimes about NASA's hopes to defy gravity
posted by homunculus at 1:25 PM on March 25, 2002


Microsoft is trying to destroy its competition Linux. Theres lots of case history of superiour technologies being bought up and never becoming the standard. However if Cold Fusion is real its a paradigm change and cant be bought or destroyed.
posted by stbalbach at 2:58 PM on March 25, 2002


The important thing to note here, is that sonoluminescence would not create cold fusion at all. The collapse of the bubbles generated by the ultrasonic pulse create heat ranging from 10,000F to 1 Million degrees Farenheit. Not very cold is it? This is solar-level heat, in fact, and could theoretically support Fusion in the same way a Tokamak reactor would.
posted by LuxFX at 3:06 PM on March 25, 2002


Big industries have historically been resistant to change, and I doubt the automobile or oil industry will do much to support new tech that isn't as profitable (heard a report on NPR last month about this, sorry can't find a link.)
Example: IBM was slaughtered by Apple because they refused to innovate (until they farmed out their system specs and got Microsoft to build a mouse-friendly OS for them.)
In post WW-II Japan, economist Arthur Deming introduced a total-quality control system that eventually enabled companies like Toyota and Sony to start beating out their big American competitors. Deming was from the U.S. and would have helped Detriot innovate too, but America shunned him. ...
The oil industry has all its eggs in one basket. There's other technologies on the horizon, such as cold? fusion and hydrogen power cells, but big companies have done little to promote these new power methods.
posted by Happydaz at 3:25 PM on March 25, 2002


Oil industry economics aside, the published data has no particluar bearing in the tabletop (cold) fusion arena at present.

The furore surrounding the publication in Science seems to have more to do with the politics of peer review and basic concepts of science (such as repetition of experiments with all the same parmeters - which has not occurred here).

(I am making the presumption here that the peer review, which they say lasted a year, involved simply ensuring that there were no mistakes in the reportage of results as opposed to challenging the results themselves)

Even if there is an underlying breakthrough by Taleyarkhan and friends (which will not become apparent for the next year at least, while the experimental data is more fully examined by the relevant members of the scientific community) it seems to me that there would be a long lag between establishing irrefutable experimental results and any realization of that potential for the consumer world (cold fusion batteries at the corner store and etc.)

And if that is the way it pans out then all the oil and associated industries will have a great deal of time to hop on board the new tech train, retool, diversify or leave the industry completely, hopefully dampening any huge swings in the economic indicators.
posted by peacay at 3:14 AM on March 26, 2002


LuxFX is of course right and the article is dead wrong about this being in any way similar to the discredited cold fusion idea.
swell: Science is going to be pretty embarrassed about this, if these claims are proved false...
"Science" has probably published tens of thousands of peer reviewed articles which have turned out to be false to no embarassment at all- isn't this how science progresses? Just because it might turn out to be false is certainly not grounds to kill the article, if that was the case very few scientific articles would ever be published at all.
posted by talos at 4:45 AM on March 26, 2002


BTW we have had a discussion about this here a short while ago...
posted by talos at 4:50 AM on March 26, 2002


Well, discussion of GM and the 1940s (or whatever asside) this artical is pretty poor. What these guys did has nothing to do with cold fusion, but rather, they found a way to produce the insane heat needed for regular hot fusion in a tabletop device.
posted by delmoi at 2:27 PM on March 26, 2002


like shrimp!

just saw this story on mememachinego, pretty cool :)
posted by kliuless at 2:44 PM on March 26, 2002


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