Breaking Through Editorial: Ethics
in the Cold Fusion Controversy
(Originally Published January-February,
2001 In Infinite Energy Magazine Issue #35)
by Eugene Mallove
Long time Infinite Energy readers
are aware that we have repeatedly and vigorously discussed ethical
issues that attend the multifaceted cold fusion controversy, a battle
within the scientific community that has been roiling and boiling
since March 1989. Thus, we were happy to receive a copy of the academic
journal Accountability in Research (Vol. 8, Nos. 1-2, 2000),
in which eight essays assess, in the words of Editor-in-Chief Dr.
Adil E. Shamoo, "The Ethical Import of the Cold Fusion Controversy."
This material makes up 90% of this journal issue and is a worthwhile
162-page collection of comment and history. Unfortunately, the journal
is not widely available except in specialized libraries.1
Dr. Shamoo, of the Department of Biological Chemistry
at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, states in his
lead editorial that he had formerly assumed that cold fusion had
been debunked. That is, until plasma physicist Dr. Robert Terry
politely told him that "the jury was still out" on the subject.
Shamoo admits that in his teaching about research ethics he had
often used the cold fusion episode as an example of how the "self-correcting
nature of science" works. Now his view is entirely different, summarized
in this key passage from his editorial:
"I find it disconcerting that competent and accomplished
researchers are unable to have an open discourse about a scientific
controversy in a democratic and open society. These are serious
lapses from a profession (physics) that professes the highest standards
of accountability. The leadership of research enterprise was lacking
during the controversy. For these reasons, it is important that
eleven years after the first report on cold fusion results that
we discuss the process and how it impacted policy decisions. More
importantly, we have to learn from this experience how to deal with
these kinds of controversies in the future. Our national interest
requires that we do a better job."
Shamoo was led to cold fusion theorist Dr. Scott R.
Chubb, of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, who provided the necessary
perspective and helped organize this special issue of Accountability
in Research. Chubb introduces the series of papers by some of
those who have participated in or who have reviewed the cold fusion
controversy: Martin Fleischmann, "Reflections on the Sociology of
Science and Social Responsibility in Science, in Relationship to
Cold Fusion"; Steven E. Jones, "Chasing Anomalous Signals: The Cold
Fusion Question"; David Goodstein, "Whatever Happened to Cold Fusion?";
Francesco Scaramuzzi, "Ten Years of Cold Fusion: An Eyewitness Account";
John O'M. Bockris, "Accountability and Academic Freedom: The Battle
Concerning Research on Cold Fusion at Texas A&M University"; George
H. Miley, "Some Personal Reflections on Scientific Ethics and the
Cold Fusion 'Episode'"; David J. Nagel, "Fusion Physics and Philosophy."
Scott Chubb attributes the derailment of the proper
handling of cold fusion to an early "breakdown in communication,"
which he writes, ". . .occurred early in the associated controversy
as a result of an apparent consensus by mainstream scientists."
He concludes: "Subsequently, although research in this area has
continued, mainstream scientists are largely unaware of this fact.
As a consequence, a large number of experiments have been carried
out that are not widely known, in which positive Cold Fusion findings
have been reported. Not only have these results failed to alter
the predominant view that Cold Fusion is not possible, it appears
that the establishment of this view, as a result of the consensus
that was established early in the controversy, itself, has subverted
the communication process. Thus the breakdown in communication has
Chubb is certainly correct in his assessment. I would
fault him only for not identifying in more vigorous terms the driving
culprits of the misinformed consensus: 1) The biased Department
of Energy Cold Fusion Panel, whose unethical rush to judgement in
1989 colored all future discussion of the subject; 2) The American
Physical Society's tolerance of Dr. Robert Park as its mouthpiece-a
consummate dispenser of misinformation and bigotry about cold fusion;
3) The complete abrogation of minimal ethical standards within "peer
review," which permits such influential publications as Science
and Nature to effectively ban scientific papers about cold
fusion from their review process; and 4) The submissive sheep-like
behavior of over 99% of so-called "science journalists," who have
had every opportunity to investigate and expose the establishment
farce for what it is, but who have deferred to what that establishment
wants from them on cold fusion: silence.
Chubb outlines what might be called an idealized basis
for science: "1) scientists seek the truth; 2) because they recognize
that trial and error is part of the scientific process, when scientists
find flaws in what they have done, they freely admit their mistakes,
attempt to correct them, and try a new approach. Thus, in an idealized
situation, scientists are accountable only to themselves, and their
community. If they are truthful in these endeavors, their accountability,
as scientists, has been fulfilled." Clearly, this has not happened
in the cold fusion controversy, as some of the essays in this very
issue of Accountability attest.
Perhaps the most egregious example is the essay by
Dr. David Goodstein of Caltech, a reprint of his 1994 essay in The
American Scholar, "Whatever Happened to Cold Fusion?" The essay
was wrong-minded in 1994; it is even more preposterous being reprinted
in 2000. (For the sake of Goodstein's reputation, its stale message
should not have been included, but we can still learn from it.)
Goodstein lamely admits in a five-sentence introduction: "In the
years since then  much has happened, but little has changed.
There have been reports of increasingly reliable production of excess
heat, and of the detection of 4He residue, and much more. Nevertheless,
the most remarkable fact remains that cold fusion has neither been
accepted by mainstream science, nor has it withered away. The general
situation that the  article describes still seems to be in
Of course nothing has changed, when a "scientist,"
such as Dr. Goodstein, is so disinterested, disbelieving, and uninvolved
that he learns or says nothing new and dredges up an old essay in
which "good cold fusion" (neutron measurements) is distinguished
from "bad cold fusion" (excess heat measurements). Goodstein did
not self-correct. Goodstein is not accountable-not even to himself,
in the terms outlined by Chubb. Goodstein terms cold fusion a "bizarre
and ugly episode in the history of science." He exults that at the
Baltimore American Physical Society (APS) meeting of May 1, 1989,
his Caltech colleagues Steven Koonin, Nathan Lewis, and Charles
Barnes "executed between them a perfect slam-dunk that cast Cold
Fusion right of the arena of mainstream science." Not mentioned
by Goodstein, of course-not even in a footnote-is the published
record showing that the Lewis assessment, in particular, was fatally
flawed and has been so characterized and challenged in peer-reviewed
Dr. Martin Fleischmann in his essay provides a comprehensive
historical review of the thinking which led him and Stanley Pons
to experiment with the deuterium-palladium system in the mid-1980s.
He touches on social and media questions, though not heavily. And,
he addresses the role that military security issues may have played
in the controversy. At one point he makes a very pertinent remark:
"One outcome of this research has been the demonstration that scientists
have developed a blindness for accepting unusual results. No doubt
this is due in part to an excessive faith in invalid paradigms."
Dr. Bockris makes an equally compelling comment: "A comfortable
illusion of the 20th Century-held not by scientists themselves,
but by the tax payers-is that scientists are, somehow, above the
fray and highly honest. What a lot of nonsense this is!"
Dr. Steven Jones in his skeletal three-page commentary
confirms that he still trusts his sparse cold fusion neutron measurements-fair
enough. But Jones, the egocentric denier of excess heat claims from
day one, apparently has learned nothing and still knows nothing
about the process of science. He is an example of the kind of scientist
identified in the Bockris quote above. Jones writes disingenuously,
"It is high time to strongly question claims of cold fusion based
on crude techniques and to demand tests at a rigorous scientific-proof
level. . .I have not seen any compelling evidence of any 'cold fusion'
effects to date."
The main virtue of this special issue of Accountability
is that discussion of cold fusion has been brought to a larger and
different academic audience. Like Editor-in-Chief Shamoo, that audience
may have believed the prevailing myth that cold fusion was honestly
debunked in 1989. Newcomers will be able to learn from the scientific
papers cited in many of the essays that this is not true. What effect
this enlightenment may have in wider academe is uncertain, but it
could not hurt the cause of truth.
This is not to say that this issue of Accountability
has no shortcomings. It does. These are mainly failures of omission
or insufficient emphasis:
This is not an exhaustive list, but these are some
of the issues that should fuel future discussions about ethics in
science in the matter of cold fusion. To be sure, these examinations
will have a much different and more compelling character when the
phenomena of cold fusion eventually gain the wide support they should
have had over the past almost one dozen years.
- The absence of discussion of the questionable,
i.e. fraudulent, "null" calorimetry experiment at the MIT Plasma
Fusion Center; also no discussion of unethical press manipulation
by MIT hot fusion personnel, timed for the historically critical
May 1, 1989 APS meeting.
- No mention of Nature and Science
magazines' particular roles as negativist actors in the cold fusion
drama; no discussion by any commentator of the well-known refusal
by Nature to publish scientific correspondence which questioned
the Caltech "null" calorimetry experiments.
- No discussion of the documented pre-existing biases
of those selected for the 1989 DOE Cold Fusion panel, nor any
discussion of the ethical failures of some of these individuals
to correct an all too evident past mistake.
- Virtually no discussion of the ethics and legality
of various government agencies that hid-and continue to hide-
positive excess heat results (e.g., MIT Lincoln Laboratory in
its secretly funded replication of the Randell Mills electrolysis
experiment); no discussion of laboratory directors, e.g. at Los
Alamos National Laboratory, ignoring internally peer-reviewed
positive results in cold fusion experiments.
1Accountability in Research can
be purchased from: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, 1-800-545-8398,
for $54. Ask for Vol. 8, Nos.1-2.