MetaFilter: Mr. Fusion ate my baby!
May 3, 2004 10:35 PM   Subscribe

The War Against Cold Fusion. Are our scientists selling us short? Is there a conspiracy? Are we addicted to large, expensive and ungainly projects? Are our scientists blinded by the almighty dollar, the grandiose, the overtly kinetic?

If it seems too simple or too good to be true, are we even capable of accepting proof if it isn't? Is free - well, almost free - a dirty word? Are we getting screwed in the interest of profits yet again?

Via The Institute for New Energy.
posted by loquacious (13 comments total)
What I've heard from my physicist friends (who, as you say might be 'blinded by the dollar,' though on the measley $1000 a month they live on, I tend to doubt it) is that, yeah, we have 'cold fusion' or something like it, but that the amount of energy you have to put into creating the effect is generally quite a bit greater than the energy you get out of it. Though one of them did tell me of some mad genius finding a way to get a very tiny positive energy output from a fusion experiment, and using the method to create a very low-energy near-perpetual motion machine.

Granted, all of this is at least second and probably more like fourth-hand information, but it seems you would want to be able to get a positive energy output from your free energy devices...

Though I did hear that someone managed to create a fusion reaction utilizing the incredibly cool sonoluminescence effect a couple years back... I haven't heard anything since, though, so I tend to wonder if nothing came of it.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:49 PM on May 3, 2004

When Pons and Fleischmann first announced the results of their cold fusion experiments in 1989, they did so before any of the data had been published or reviewed. Since the result they were claiming had huge ramifications, it caused a huge stir, and a number of people set out to reproduce their findings to decidedly mixed results. Because of the way the announcement was handled, and because of the sense among most physicists that snake oil was being sold, things turned kind of ugly and research in the field is (as the article indicated) still pretty much taboo.

People have been working along P&S's lines for 15 years in the US and elsewhere, and there is still no published, reproducible experiment indicating that cold fusion of that variety can produce energy. Another clever scheme for cold fusion, using molecules with their electrons replaced with heavier versions of themselves (muons) so that the nuclei can come close enough to fuse, was demonstrated long ago. But JD Jackson, the guy who wrote the canonical book on electromagnetism, showed that this method could not be made self-sustaining due to the short lifetime of the muon.

Anyway, the point is that most scientists still think this is the realm of cranks, but just over a month ago the DoE decided to give it another look.

One lesson to take away from this is how difficult it is to get clear answers on research where massive profits are at stake.
posted by hal incandenza at 1:11 AM on May 4, 2004

Having a professional interest in renewable energy I had a look through the INE site. Whilst renewables are hardly mentioned, the site does discuss 'sacred geometry' , transmutation recipes for gold and oodles on free energy. If these people have something useful to offer and wish to be taken seriously they should perhaps be more careful of the company they keep.
posted by biffa at 1:43 AM on May 4, 2004

Indeed. I'm not sure where I stand on the issue, if I have any place to stand at all. IANAQP.

Is it the cynic in me that hopes that a cheap, clean and nearly free energy McUtopia is just around the corner but is being marginalized, or the optimist in me that hopes that it's simply true and will be here any day, real soon now?

Oh! Oh! But I can buy one right now!

Kaibutsu: It's not the take-home pay that I'm (usually) referring to, but the access to funds for pet projects. Living right up the street from JPL a few of my friends work there, and I've met a dozen or so more and idly spoken with them. There's certainly a culture of greed - of sorts - when it comes to government funded science. It's not as simple as personal profit, but more complex and leads to things like cost overruns, project inflation and function creep, and more.

Agreed, to blame the physicists or scientists themselves for this sort of thing isn't very realistic and probably unfair. It's usually a function of bureaucracy and unrealistic expectations of members of Congress or other authoritative or bureaucratic entities.
posted by loquacious at 2:15 AM on May 4, 2004

Biffa: Indeed. I didn't look that deeply into the parent site. The article itself I believe has little to do with the site outside of that it may have ripped it off wholesale.

If anyone can find the parent source for that article (I couldn't find it on SF Gate) I'm totally agreeable with either editing it to link to a new source or deleting this thread, 'cause that's just embarrassing.

Perhaps the owner(s) of the site will notice the links coming from here and perhaps they'll notice your comment and re-consider their position.
posted by loquacious at 2:19 AM on May 4, 2004

I think, Loquacious, that the rest of the site should give you an idea of where "cold fusion" stands on the crank-o-meter.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:12 AM on May 4, 2004

...that was a bad mixed metaphor, wasn't it? Sigh. Apologies to all.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:13 AM on May 4, 2004

The author's homepage has it.
posted by biffa at 8:22 AM on May 4, 2004

I really have a hard time buying the idea that some kind of communal blindspot in the science world is preventing us from getting to cold fusion.

I mean, I totally buy that many technocrats are addicted to big-budget projects and the ego/perks/rewards they entail, and sure, there's always a distressingly large contingent of scientific conservatives who pooh-pooh any new advance.

But there's also a huge portion of people who grew up on sci-fi, who are totally intrigued by new ideas, and who have the integrity to evaluate claims like these on their merits. The SF Gate article says that there was "just one journalist" at the demo it mentions, but it also says there were like a hundred scientists. If the experiment was so convincing, does that mean that every single one of them was a hide-bound traditionalist afraid to admit what they saw?

There's a long history of "off the beam" thinkers, like Richard Feynman and Kary Mullis who have defied scientific convention, but whose work was quickly accepted because they could back it up with rigor. I think folks like this are the best antidote to any worries that the entire scientific community would ignore a real advance out of self-interest.
posted by LairBob at 12:56 PM on May 4, 2004

I though that yami_mcmoots put it well in this thread; perhaps its not a prejudice but rather a pragmatism tempered with cost-benefit analysis.

I think that It's foolish to ask for a single magic bullet to solve the energy problem. I'll bet a beer on a future with geothermal power in Hawaii, solar power in Arizona, and wind-powered ethanol refineries in Iowa over a future with MASERS FROM SPACE!! or large-scale fusion plants.

posted by dmt at 3:47 PM on May 4, 2004

dmt: but that's only half of it. Just because Arizona has boucoup solar energy (and oh, man, you should see the testing facility in Tempe, very huge and sci-fi-ish), doesn't mean that fuel cells, natural gas, gasoline and diesel, even coal don't have a place.

Important note to everyone: right now the Middle East is in an *economic* frenzy, too, unrelated to the current violence. Check it out, especially in Qatar, Bahrain, and several of the UAEs. Emphasis is on tourism, travel hubs and education. $15 Billion here, $30 Billion there being invested in crash programs involving *anything* but oil.

It's almost like they expect the market for crude oil to suddenly crash overnight...ahem.

(Several "deadlines" I've noted so far range from 2006 to 2010.)
posted by kablam at 4:13 PM on May 4, 2004

Fish. Barrel. Kablam!

(I couldn't resist)
posted by troutfishing at 9:47 PM on May 4, 2004

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