Excess Heat: Why Cold Fusion Research Prevailed
by Charles G. Beaudette
ISBN 0-9678548-1-4, $26.95 Paperback, 365 pp.
Oak Grove Press, 2000
Review by Jed Rothwell
From Infinite Energy #32,
This book is a good introduction to some of the major issues
in mainstream, palladium-based cold fusion, especially calorimetry,
excess heat, and the early history of the field. Most of the book is about the
controversy, and philosophical issues such as the different ways the term
“replication” is used in biology, chemistry, and physics. Beaudette,
a graduate of MIT with a degree in electrical engineering, explores the roles
of experiment versus theory and explains why arguments which cannot be
falsified have no meaning. He compares cold fusion to other controversial
discoveries and discoveries which were difficult to replicate, such as the
Wasserman test for syphilis and the cloning of adult sheep. He discusses
discoveries which could not be explained for many years, such as
superconductivity and heat from radioactivity. Most of the technical
discussions in the book are about heat, with short sections covering other
evidence of nuclear reactions such as tritium, helium, and transmutations. Beaudette summarizes his main theme:
The scientific community failed to
treat the Fleischmann and Pons phenomenon as a scientific observation. Protocol
required evaluation of the observed outcome as a stand-alone claim. Instead,
the community demanded a theoretical underpinning, nuclear products, replication
on demand, and understanding. These demands constituted an egregious distortion
of historical procedure.
To discard a well-made observation is
to violate modern protocol. . . The most
interesting and perplexing observations, though accurately measured, would have
to be refused by the scientific community because their cause was obscure.
Does this mean that any claim of
observation must be accepted as worthy of scientific study? Certainly
not. It means something quite different. It means that the controversy
must center about the quality of the measurements and not about the source or
cause of the phenomenon. (p. 173)
The text is loaded with specifics and quotes. Thirty-three
graphs and figures illustrate excess heat, tritium levels, the statistical concept
of a critical threshold, and other topics.
Beaudette agrees with
Fleischmann’s dictum, that heat is the principal signature of the reaction.
When Eugene Mallove first saw the manuscript, he thought that Beaudette was downplaying the importance of tritium and
other nuclear evidence, or trying to compartmentalize the field, separating the
overwhelming and clear evidence of heat out from sporadic tritium, and the
still-fuzzy, mostly unconfirmed reports of transmutations. The skeptics
sometimes use this “divide and conquer” strategy, calling into question first
heat, then tritium, without admitting they are mutually supportive evidence of
a nuclear reaction. Beaudette's arguments are more
subtle. He does compartmentalize inasmuch as he insists heat alone proves the
reaction cannot be chemical, and when he insists that the skeptics should
evaluate calorimetry on its own merits, without tying
it to plasma fusion theories which predict neutrons. Heat plus tritium minus
neutrons adds up to a mystery, not a mistake. Beaudette wants to escape the sterile, circular reasoning in the closing sentences of Huizenga’s book:
If the reported intensity of nuclear
products is orders of magnitude less than the claimed excess heat, then the
excess heat is not due to a nuclear reaction process.
Furthermore, if the claimed excess heat
exceeds that possible by other conventional processes (chemical, mechanical,
etc.), one must conclude that an error has been made in measuring the excess
Huizenga’s logic makes one feel
like an ant desperately seeking the exit lane on a Mobius strip. Beaudette says the only way you can conclude
an error has been made is to find an
Excess Heat is not
for the casual reader. As Nagel says in the introduction, it reads like a legal
brief. It is an exhaustive analysis of some narrow aspects of cold fusion,
somewhat like EPRI's massive report, Development of Advanced Concepts for Nuclear
Processes in Deuterated Metals.2 Beaudette is an electrical engineer and he does what
engineers do best: he methodically hammers every point home and bulldozes away
objections. He presents concepts in meticulous, quantitative detail, with
definitions, examples, counterexamples, and historical and philosophical
perspective. He gives the skeptics plenty of rope with which to hang
themselves, quoting them extensively, presenting their arguments more
skillfully than they do themselves.
Several concepts are repeated in different parts of the
book, for different purposes: first in an historical then an analytical context,
then with reference to related ideas, and again in the closing arguments. Take
the concept of “pathological science,” a favorite theme of the skeptics. It is
methodically beaten to death. On page 60, we learn that the term originated in
a lecture by Irving Langmuir, in 1953. Langmuir listed six criteria and described N-Rays, an
overworked example of what he had in mind. Beaudette shows how some of the six criteria did apply to cold fusion at first, but none
of them do now. N-Rays do not resemble cold fusion.
Langmuir said that with
pathological ideas, the ratio of supporters to critics reaches 50% and then
falls to zero. Douglas Morrison interpreted that to mean the ratio of
successful to unsuccessful heat experiments falls to zero, and he has been
waiting for that to happen ever since. In fact, most experiments performed
today succeed. The absolute number of experiments has declined drastically,
because cold fusion is out of favor and many cold fusion scientists have
retired or died, but of the experiments still performed, most produce positive
On page 66, we learn that Robert Park invented a new
definition in his book Voodoo Science.
He said pathological science means anything which “cannot be explained by
On page 159 Langmuir is introduced
again, and his criteria again summarized, as Beaudette discusses a paper by skeptics Crease and Samios. They
agreed that cold fusion does not fit Langmuir’s original description, so they make up a new category which they call
“degenerate science.” They invented four characteristics:
1) Too many miracles were needed.
2) The “discoverers” were outsiders.
3) The “discoverers” have not tried to kill the discovery.
4) Inability to repeat the experiment was met by ad hoc excuses.
Lo and behold, they found cold fusion fit this new
definition. Except that Beaudette shows it does not
fit. No miracles are required after all. Pons and Fleischmann were insiders:
they are established experts in electrochemistry and calorimetry.
Crease and Samios are the outsiders: nuclear
physicists. Researchers did try to “kill” the effect in every sense: they
looked carefully for artifacts, performed blank experiments, and found reliable
ways to turn off the heat. Regarding point four, Beaudette writes, “science did not require repeatability, replication was sufficient.” He
explains this subtle distinction in Chapter 6. I would add that when
experiments failed, researchers often gave plausible reasons (not “excuses”)
which would be familiar to any electrochemist, such as surface contamination,
cracks which prevented loading, poisons known to inhibit other electrochemical
reactions, light water contaminating the heavy water, and so on. Researchers
have shown that when you correct these problems, the cold fusion reaction occurs,
and when you deliberately cause them, by adding light water to a cell for
example, the reaction goes away.
Robert Park pops up again with yet another definition. In a
lecture at the APS in 1995 he said beware of pathological science. “It is a
thin line between foolishness and fraud . . . most screwy sounding scientific
claims—are screwy.” The problem is, we still do not know what to watch out for. Any new ideas may “sound screwy,”
whatever that means, just because they are novel. Superconductivity and the
excess heat from radium must have looked screwy at the turn of the twentieth
century. Beaudette says, “In order to apply his list
[of pathology symptoms], one must first identify the science as either foolish,
or screwy, or charlatanic. If that can be done, however, the lessons themselves
are not needed.” Park’s advice boils down to: “Don't make a mistake,” which is
about as useful as the stock market tip: "Buy low, sell high."
On page 271 we learn how the editor of Scientific American, Jonathan Piel,
invented yet another new definition which would make Langmuir spin in his grave. He said pathological science means a phenomenon for which
“the precise physical mechanism is not fully understood at the moment.”
This meandering history proves that “pathological science”
means whatever a skeptic feels it should mean, or whatever definition pops into
his head. I am glad someone went to the trouble to document some of the strange
ways this concept has been defined and redefined. Historians will appreciate Beaudette’s careful investigation. But does it merit this
much attention? In Fire from Ice Mallove described “pathological science” in a few pages and concluded it is at
best an “interesting parlor game” but “definitely not science.” He dismisses it
and moves on.3
Most of the book is devoted to careful analysis of facts,
data, and to drawing careful conclusions from the data. Some is devoted to the
human story. An interview with Bockris is related.
Pons’ family background is described. The skeptic’s misbehavior is described
about it is
depressing, excruciating, and at times infuriating.
A heartbreaking chapter titled “Un Cri du Coeur” describes the experiences of Prof. David Goodstein from CalTech. He has observed cold fusion experiments and found
no mistakes in them, yet it seems he cannot bring himself to act on his own
beliefs, training, and observations.
Beaudette thinks the early history
of cold fusion soured the field and shaped events. He regrets that cold fusion
got off on the wrong foot with the
press conference. He thinks
the name “cold fusion” is a misnomer which has confused the issue. Storms and
others have coined new names like LENR partly to escape from the stigma of the
original one. A new name would be a euphemism. The stigma associated with the
original word will soon attach to the new one. The 1989 introduction could have
been done with more finesse, but I doubt it would have made much difference. Beaudette knows that some level of controversy was
unavoidable: “Revolutions . . . always hit hard and they hurt. The notion that
somehow—if only things were handled better—the deep divisions could have been
avoided is not a realistic sentiment.”
After dissecting skeptical arguments for several chapters, Beaudette concludes that the skeptics play no useful role
in this debate. “Commentary by the skeptics cannot be expected to contribute to
solving outstanding questions because the skeptics do not acknowledge these
The book may be a little difficult for a nontechnical reader in places, although Beaudette carefully
defines and illustrates concepts such as threshold value, recombination, and
calibration. The most involved technical discussion, regarding the
paper,4 is pushed into an Appendix. Here is the typical level of detail: “When
you are looking for experimental validation, it is essential that a common
fault not reappear in different laboratories. It is of special importance that Oriani used a Seebeck-effect
calorimeter. The Seebeck design surrounds the cell
with more than a thousand thermocouples (tiny metallic devices that respond to
temperature differences) connected electrically in series . . .” (p. 192) Beaudette likes to cram a lot of information into each
paragraph. The first two sentences might be easier to understand with a little
expansion: Instruments based on different physical principles cannot suffer
from the same systematic errors. You can be sure a temperature is correctly
measured when you use a thermocouple and a mercury thermometer and they give
the same answer. A person who has done experiments will know this, but others
may have to read these lines a few times to get the idea.
Although this book describes a depressing history, it is not
heavy handed or preachy. It is enlivened by Beaudette’s wit and serene common sense, and by his faith in the scientific method. Beaudette concludes that cold fusion “prevailed,” as he
says in the title. He sees slow but sure progress solving the technical
problems, and he thinks the system will ultimately work, and cold fusion will
be given a fair chance. I hope he is right.
1. Quoted by Beaudette, p. 262,
from: Huizenga, John R. 1993. Cold Fusion: Scientific Fiasco of the Century,
2. McKubre, M.C.H. et al. 1994. “Development
of Advanced Concepts for Nuclear Processes in Deuterated Metals,” TR-104195, Research Project 3170-01, Final Report, August.
3. Mallove, E. 1991. Fire
from Ice: Searching for the Truth Behind the Cold
Wiley & Sons, 280-282.
4. Wilson, R.H. et al. 1992. “Analysis of Experiments on the Calorimetry of LiOD-D2O Electrochemical Cells,” Journal
of Electroanalytical Chemistry, Vol. 332.