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infinite energy

Press Responses to the Tenth Anniversary of Cold Fusion
(Originally Published May-June, 1999 In Infinite Energy Magazine Issue #25)
by Eugene Mallove

NPR Science Friday with Ira Flatow (April 9, 1999)
We can only say Bravo! for Ira Flatow's NPR program on cold fusion that aired on Talk of the Nation "Science Friday," April 9. In a fifteen-minute segment that followed another subject (internet security and censorship), Russ George of Saturna Technologies, Inc. was interviewed about his successful replication and augmentation of the Les Case experiment, catalytic fusion in heated heavy hydrogen gas. He described the work of detecting helium growth in a cell based on Case's process. He pointed out that no helium growth was present in the ordinary hydrogen control cell. Russ George is to be congratulated for describing a world-class cold fusion experiment clearly, and concisely for a national audience.

Michael Schaffer, an IE subscriber, appeared on the program to comment on the Russ George experiment. He is to be congratulated for his world-class open mindedness in considering Russ's data. It was clearly stated that he works at General Atomics on hot fusion. This made his presence on the program all the more significant.

We were pleased with Ira Flatow's statement that no critic was willing to come on the program to comment. Good! At long last a standard has been set whereby discussions of cold fusion do not require comment from people such as Douglas Morrison or John Huizenga, who have not given a minute's worth of consideration to the latest experiments in cold fusion.

"Power to the People: The Return of Cold Fusion"
by Hal Plotkin, Special to SF Gate
This was an absolutely marvelous internet website article by a print and broadcast journalist, whose acquaintance I had never met, San Francisco-based Hal Plotkin of "SF Gate." The piece was right on target. It told of the forthcoming presentation by Dr. Michael McKubre at the APS meeting in Atlanta on March 26.

At every turn, Plotkin got the story right on. Witness: "Nonetheless, then— as now— almost everyone working in fusion research gets paid to explore one part or another of the dominant theory about how fusion works; which is that nuclear fusion is possible only at very high temperatures. Funding work on this one theory, and this one theory alone, is a classic recipe for the creation of scientific group-think. When everyone 'knows' the world is flat, no one risks sailing toward the horizon."

Mr. Plotkin noted the viciousness of the anti-cold fusion assaults: "The attacks on Pons and Fleischmann were incredibly vicious, perhaps because they were seen as heretics operating outside their field of expertise. I remember, for example, covering one scientific gathering in Los Angeles as an editor for the public radio program, 'Marketplace.' It was shortly after Pons and Fleischmann had made their initial announcement...One prominent physicist at Caltech derided Pons and Fleischmann with invectives I had never before witnessed at a scientific gathering. I later likened it, in my nationally broadcast report, to the kind of trash talk one hears in the build up to a heavyweight title fight...One by one, influential scientists, most of them physicists on the federal dole, denounced cold fusion as being either scientific idiocy or outright fraud."

Plotkin reports how difficult it was for him to get air time on radio due to the growing bigotry against cold fusion: "Despite the onslaught of negative reports, I wanted to do more stories about cold fusion. It struck me even then that many of the researchers I had interviewed seemed quite credible. Within one year of the first announcement, there were already at least a dozen well-respected scientists at major academic institutions who said they too were observing what has since come to be called 'anomalous heat' in Pons-Fleischmann cells. These scientists wanted to know where that heat was coming from. So did I."

"Unfortunately, my colleagues on our public-radio program's editorial staff had other ideas. By then, a consensus had already emerged: cold fusion was junk science. I was too close to the story, I was told. Find something else to report on. Don't make a damn fool of yourself."

Thus did public radio stifle a reporter, Plotkin, who was in the right, while the ruling majority was dead wrong.

The experience went beyond Public Radio. It affected, for example, the extent of Jerry Bishop's reporting in the Wall Street Journal on cold fusion, severely curtailed, he told me, by higher-ups who were afraid the WSJ might look silly. (The Wall Street Journal produced no cold fusion story around March 23, 1999, even though I had provided copious reference material to two of their top staff writers— one of whom told me he agreed with the now retired Bishop!)

Writes Plotkin, "My experience wasn't unique. The big chill set in at most major media outlets, and stories about cold fusion were frozen out. Within a few short months, the very words 'cold fusion' would come to be synonymous with hoax. I kept my cold-fusion file tucked away all these years, but never reported on the subject again. As a result of the personal attacks on Pons, Fleischmann, Bockris, and others, the atmosphere of free and open inquiry that science requires was almost completely destroyed. Fearing similar assaults, many scientists were afraid to study the phenomena or discuss it publicly."

We look forward to more fine stories by Mr. Plotkin.

"A Tempest in a Test Tube, 10 Years Later," New York Times
by William J. Broad, "Science Times," March 23, 1999
Wonder of wonders! Bill Broad of the New York Times called me, I did not call him, about a week before March 23, 1999. Bill hadn't written anything on cold fusion since 1991, though his NYT colleague, Andrew Pollack, then based in Japan, had written a very good piece November 17, 1992, in which he compared the Japanese and U.S. attitudes about cold fusion.

Bill told me straight off that he was going to do a Tenth Anniversary piece, so I delivered massive information overload to the esteemed NYT headquarters— pronto. Bill must have called me back a dozen times through the week to check facts and nuances.

His piece made quite clear that cold fusion research continues worldwide, but that it is not accepted in mainstream circles. He wrote, "Surprisingly, despite a decade-long cold bath of criticism, cold fusion is alive today and is apparently doing well in the scientific underground." There could have been much more focus on how the science actually had progressed, but the article came out far better than one could have expected weeks before. There could have been no story— which was was the case with the Wall Street Journal this time.

Broad quoted the unrepentant John Huizenga, the DOE hatchet man of 1989, "It's as dead as ever. . . It's quite unbelievable that the thing has gone on for 10 years. But it's the same group of people and they don't want to take no for an answer." What a pompous fellow that Huizenga! He presumes that cold fusion scientists should "take no" from an "authority" such as himself.

Bill Broad was very kind in quoting this editor, and naming Infinite Energy in a section that ran five paragraphs long. We hope that he will call again as the science and technology develops.

Time Magazine's "Time-100" Special Issue of March 29th, "Cranks, Villains, and Unsung Heroes" (pg. 196)
On the other extreme, this article just about hit the bottom of the barrel in insulting, ignorant reporting on cold fusion. Its four authors received the following letter from this editor:

To: Frederic Golden, Leon Jaroff, Jeffrey Kluger, Michael D. Lemonick

March 31, 1999

Dear Sirs:

I do not know which of you were primarily responsible for the vile outrage of designating Drs. Fleischmann and Pons as "Cranks" in your March 29, 1999 "Time-100." To witness them portrayed in infamy on the same page (albeit in a different category) as the Nazi villain Josef Mengele, stretches my tolerance for your so-called science reporting to the limit.

Since all of you are signed as authors of this most reckless assertion about Fleischmann and Pons, I am sending to each of you a possible corrective for your intellectual confusion: Issue No. 24 of Infinite Energy, which celebrates the Tenth Anniversary of the cold fusion announcement. In particular, I draw your attention to our selection of the top thirty-four referenced technical papers in peer-reviewed and non-peer reviewed literature that show clear evidence for the cold fusion class of phenomena. You should also examine the historical facts presented in this issue, which are at variance with the cartoon history that intellectually challenged "science journalists" such as yourself routinely parrot.

I have scant hope that scientific papers and correct historical facts can influence people who were so thoughtless in this nearly libelous disparagement of these two discoverers. Still, I would welcome a sincere effort on your part to give Time readers the correct story. Had you placed Fleischmann and Pons in the category of "unsung heroes" on the next page— along with Alfred Wegener— you would have been correct. You chose instead to present a highly misleading cartoon of what really happened to these pioneers and what is going on in the cold fusion field today. This attack on two outstanding scientists and those many hundreds of scientists who continue their work constitutes journalistic sloppiness at its worst.

Dr. Eugene F. Mallove
Editor-in-Chief, Infinite Energy

Physics World, "Whatever Happened to Cold Fusion?"
by David Voss, March 1999 (pp.19-20)
Author David Voss received extensive material and briefing from this editor. Disappointed, but not surprised by his article, I wrote to him afterward: "Your article was not very flattering to cold fusion researchers, but we have learned to deal with 'less than optimal' publicity. Some news— even if unflattering— is better than no news, as far as we are concerned."

The title of the article was entirely appropriate. It was subtitled accurately: ". . .cold fusion has been largely dismissed by the scientific community. But, as David Voss discovers, some researchers remain adamant that this supposed new energy source is real, and are pressing ahead with their own experiments." Unfortunately, the article went largely downhill from there.

  • Voss did not provide a single reference to any of the many peer reviewed technical papers that have appeared in the literature. Quite a feat! Is this a fair standard of reporting for a scientific journal that wishes to let its readers judge on the basis of peer-reviewed (or non-peer-reviewed) literature?
  • Voss wrote, "However, it is clear that world energy production has not been affected in any way by cold fusion." This is non-sequitur with a negative connotation. So what! The same can be said for thermonuclear fusion research too— a not so subtle put-down.
  • He wrote, "Most of the big funding sources, which threw money at quick experiments in the early days of cold fusion, have pulled out." Of course they have! That was their objective and transparently so. Do a quick experiment, "disprove" the effect, and get on with their traditional funded projects. If Voss was including NCFI and EPRI/SRI among the people who "pulled out"— it is unfair not to have reported through references to the technical literature that EPRI and NCFI both concluded affirmatively on the P&F effect. (Voss had a selection of at least what most of us deem to be among the best experiments.)
  • Fair enough to have quoted Douglas Morrison of CERN, but Voss should have known by what I sent him that Morrison has no basis for saying there is "less science and fewer scientists. . ."
  • When Voss referred to cold fusion researchers as a "circle of enthusiasts" and "believers," he demeaned many good scientists. This kind of language has become acceptable journalistic practice against cold fusion. The effect of this kind of language: it is to plant in the reader's mind a negative view of these scientists. Suppose we were to say a "circle of enthusiasts for the elusive top quark" and "believers in the top quark"— how would that go down?
  • Voss made an obvious technical error, when he wrote, "a couple of palladium electrodes." No! The P&F cell uses a Pt anode and a Pd cathode.
  • The University of Utah did not "fail to reproduce the earlier results." Fritz Will et al. of NCFI produced an excellent peer-reviewed paper on reproducible tritium production. There emerged several excellent papers— Physics Letters A and J. Elec. Anal. Chem.— from P&F themselves on the excess heat, the direct output of this NCFI work.
  • "As time went on, all but the diehards gave up, and the major reputable labs lost interest and dropped out of the experimental game." Wow! Voss has "diehards" now— just for literary variation from "enthusiasts" and "believers"? "The major reputable labs lost interest"— is SRI International not a reputable lab? Is Tom Claytor at Los Alamos not at a "reputable" lab? Is hot fusion scientist Arata in Japan not at a "reputable lab"? If Voss is talking about Caltech, MIT, and Harwell, I think he has to begin to ask himself just how "reputable" these labs were since there are papers out now calling into question all of their rush to judgement work.
  • I am at a total loss to understand Voss's line, "Yet the defenders of cold fusion have soldiered on, a number of them merging with a network of conspiracy theorists, psychic spoon benders, UFO enthusiasts, and believers in other exotic phenomena outside the ken of science."
On and on the flaws went. I'll truncate this list with that last comment. Check them for yourself. So much for a former physicist's attempt to write an even partially balanced piece on cold fusion.

10 years after announcement, cold fusion has adherents, but for most, it's . . . A Cold Fiction
by Lee Siegel, Salt Lake Tribune, Sunday, March 21, 1999, (pp. A1-A.7)

Whenever Lee Siegel calls me for one of his perennial sloppy pieces on cold fusion, I cooperate. He wants sound bites, so I give them, knowing full well that he is absolutely hopeless as a science reporter on the cold fusion issue. He writes the kind of thoughtless throw-away lines that the rest of the journalistic sheep bray. This from his most recent circle around the pen, "Many scientists could not reproduce those results and shot down the experiments as sloppy and/or delusional science."

Siegel will not spend more than thirty seconds— no exaggeration— listening to technical arguments or data from experiments, before he blusters again about his deadline and demands a pungent sound bite. It might be some sort of attention disorder. More likely, it's just conventional journalistic stupidity.

The front page article featured a large color photo of Hal Fox in his lab at Trenergy, Inc., but it made disparaging remarks about financial difficulties and Hal as one of the "last vestiges of cold fusion in Utah."

He did print some of my "sound bites": "There is absolutely no doubt cold fusion is a real energy source," Mallove said. "The crackpots are all in the mainstream science establishment who attacked cold fusion without examining the evidence. The scientific establishment was conned into thinking there was no evidence for cold fusion. This is one of the greatest frauds in the history of science." That was meant for the obtuse folks at the University of Utah Physics Department— especially for Michael Salamon, MIT's alter-ego there, if he is, still inhabits the place. Ditto for Steve Jones at BYU. Siegel refrained from printing my comment about the ethics of turncoat, failed scientist Jones. It might have been, "too hot to handle."

Siegel quoted physicist Craig Taylor, physics department chairman from 1989 to 1998: "It's still nonsense after ten years. . . The difficulty with cold fusion is the same as it was in the beginning. It just violates too many physical laws to be plausible." He doesn't know Science 101— department chairman or not.

Siegel quotes Taylor as thinking that the supportive evidence comes "from nuts to people whose scientific judgment maybe isn't as sound as it should be." The pot calls the kettle black.

Prof. Peter Stang, head of the University of Utah Chemistry Department since late 1989 (presently dean of the College of Science), was quoted by Siegel, "I do not dispute the fact that Pons and Fleischmann were and are reputable electrochemists." But Stang apparently can't believe that "any legitimate scientist" still "believes" in cold fusion. Siegel quotes him, "There may be some yet ill-understood [chemical] phenomenon going on here, but it probably has little if anything to do with nuclear phenomena." Stang knows from nothing. He should have known better than to shoot his mouth off about something he has apparently not been following. Stang's nonsense is "par for the course" behavior for what passes today as "science" in academe.

"Few Scientists Still Seeking Cold Fusion,"
by Alexandra Witze, The Dallas Morning News, March 23, 1999
This bland piece, which follows the standard science journalist "party line" emblazoned in its title, adds very little information about anything. It does have a less than charming ending line provided by John Huizenga: "In terms of scientific fiascos, I think this [cold fusion] is at the top of the list." That is Mr. Fiasco himself talking.

If we have the room and stomach for it, in Issue No. 26 we'll provide more of the journalistic pap that surrounded cold fusion's tenth anniversary. Remember, it's for history.

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