Great, Not-So-Great, and Realistic
Expectations from the DOE Re-Review
Scott R. Chubb
The verdict is in, or is it? Has the process
ended? Was New York Times reporter Kenneth Chang accurate
when he stated, in a December 2 article, that "In a new review of
cold fusion. . .the Department of Energy released a report yesterday
that says the evidence remains inconclusive, echoing a similar report
15 years ago"? Does this mean that proposals for funding for cold
fusion will be rejected without serious consideration by the DOE,
in the future? Or, is this wrong: Will further changes take place
that will reverse current DOE scientific policy, well after the
A closer look at what was said in the report, how
it was phrased, and how scientific funding decisions are made in
the DOE and in other government agencies suggests that such a change
will occur in DOE policy, as a result of the re-review, and soon.
The associated subtleties, however, have not been obvious. And a
number of people involved with LENR research apparently view the
Complicating the fact that it is relatively easy to
gloss over important subtleties associated with funding in the recommendations
provided by the DOE Report, concerning the re-review, is the fact
that serious errors exist in some of the reviews that form the basis
of the report. In particular, DOE program managers responsible for
organizing the DOE re-review either were not aware of a number of
misconceptions about the LENR field, and associated biases, or ignored
them. In any case, this failure casts serious aspersions on the
associated reviews of some of the participants. In particular, individuals
knowledgeable about the LENR field certainly could question why
the opinions of a number of reviewers, whose background exclusively
in conventional nuclear physics (which is expected to create inherent
biases against the idea of nuclear reactions occurring without high
energy or momentum particles), should have been given equal credence
and weight in the review process with individuals who do not share
In addition, as Mitchell Swartz has pointed out, the
program managers responsible for the report failed, in their charge
to reviewers about assessing "Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions" (LENR),
to recognize subtleties associated with LENR. To suggest that these
reactions are initiated with eV energies is a failure to understand
the relevant dynamics and processes. In situations involving excess
heat, macroscopic amounts of power (involving ~1019 -1021
eV/s) are used to initiate the reactions. How this power is distributed
over the many particles that are involved and for how long is an
open question, and within this context it is realistic to assume
that (since particles do not fly away) the energy of individual
particles does not exceed several eV. But many particles are involved,
by necessity. A more appropriate charge would have been to ask:
Does the experimental information suggest that LENR's are occurring,
resulting in heat, through nuclear reactions, in a condensed matter
environment in which no high energy particles are released. By using
the alternative wording, in LENR initiated with eV energies (and
by inference with a small number of particles), the DOE program
managers responsible for the re-review have demonstrated a serious
misunderstanding of the existing and relevant science.
Compounding these difficulties was a further problem:
The use of inappropriate, and inaccurate, outdated information by
reviewers to discredit results that were presented. In particular,
a number of reviewers cited work by Douglas Morrison, and other
(even more obscure) figures that have been viewed frequently by
many mainstream scientists, who are ignorant of developments in
the LENR field, as having participated in meaningful ways in the
associated discourse. To set the record straight, beginning in 1991,
at ICCF2, and subsequently, Douglas Morrison's involvement with
the LENR field not only ceased to be scientific, his continued involvement
became detrimental in the process of disseminating meaningful information
about the field (as a consequence of his misrepresentation of the
relevant science, in open, internet reports that he distributed
to reputable people in the physics community). It is absolutely
ludicrous that at this late date, the opinions of Douglas Morrison
be cited as being relevant.
An important point is that further communication could
(and should) have been used to avoid such unfortunate and misguided
representations of the relevant science. This could have been avoided
if, as opposed to a shot-gun approach in which reviewers of the
presentations and information, which were provided by individuals
involved with the LENR field, were given free reign to speak their
opinions anonymously, alone, in the review process, an alternative
procedure had been used, involving a more balanced scientific discourse.
In particular, for example, presenters from the LENR field could
have been allowed to respond to the criticisms made by the reviewers.
Because this form of balance did not take place, serious misrepresentations
(including the use of inappropriate, inaccurate references to individuals
like Douglas Morrison) were allowed to take place.
For these reasons, from the outset the DOE program
managers, responsible for identifying appropriate reviewers and
using the information in their reviews to assess the field, were
forced to deal with contentious, controversial issues that have
marginal relevance. On the other hand, had an alternative debate
(or lack of debate), in which the reviewers comments were subjected
to criticism by the presenters, been allowed to take place, it may
have been impossible for the DOE managers to have found a sufficient
number of reviewers to participate in order to conduct the re-review.
This possibility of such a very real breakdown in
the review process reflects an important reality: In situations
involving people's jobs, money, careers, and expenditures of time,
in situations involving controversial issues, the most "realistic
expectation" is that any review (involving cold fusion, or otherwise)
will be imperfect. Thus, although initially individuals involved
with LENR research had "great expectations" for the DOE re-review
and its potential impact on research in LENR, very soon afterwards
the expectations of many about the process and its impact were "not-so-great."
In fact, both expectations were wrong. From the outset, the outcome
from the re-review probably should have been viewed with more "realistic
expectations," based on the all-too-human possibility of faults
in the review process.
A very good case can be made that had the individuals
responsible for the re-review done their homework, some of these
problems could have been avoided. However, as in every situation,
involving money, careers and contentious issues, an equally good
case can be made that realistically, the best of all possible situations
resulted from the DOE re-review: a tepid, but vague, seemingly non-committal,
endorsement that potentially will allow DOE program managers to
fund LENR work, without being subjected to the restrictions that
were responsible for the loss of funding, several years after the
initial review in 1989. Within this context, it is fair to say,
after the fact, that the most "realistic expectation" for the DOE
re-review was met: that it be only a preliminary step in a more
important process, in which bonafide funding and scientific scrutiny
begin to take place, on an even playing field, in which previous
biases, both for or against LENR results, are appropriately reviewed,
discussed, and tested through open scientific exchange.
Part of the reason that the re-review inspired misgivings
within the LENR community reflects emotional biases that have occurred
as a result of past history. In particular, given the absurdly unscientific
way that cold fusion has been treated in the popular press, by the
American Physical Society, and by the DOE, it is easy to think at
a superficial level that the "process" of changing existing views
of cold fusion is over. Chang's use of statements like "the evidence
remains inconclusive" and "echoing a similar report 15 years ago"
might appear to mean that little will change or has changed, as
a result of the re-review. But it is important to remember that
although the initial, 15-year-old Energy Research Advisory Board
(ERAB) report (cited by Chang) has been frequently cited as being
a major reason for the lack of funding for cold fusion, in fact,
the ERAB report itself was not negative; it was merely inconclusive,
and the DOE did fund experimental work that was thought to be related
to cold fusion, based on the ERAB report recommendations.
Specifically, the ERAB panel wrote the following:
"there remain unresolved issues which may have interesting implications.
The Panel is, therefore, sympathetic toward modest support for carefully
focused and cooperative experiments within the present funding system."
A significant point is that, in spite of the very narrow guidelines
associated with this particular set of recommendations, the DOE
program managers, at least for a while, did follow them by funding
seemingly relevant work that appeared to be related to cold fusion.
An important problem is that no firm rules were established for
justifying continued support, as discretionary funding for new research
by the DOE began to dry up.
An additional important point is that, in 1989, considerable
confusion existed about cold fusion because most scientists believed
not only that the Pons and Fleischmann (PF) experiments and the
experiments by Steven Jones were related, but that both sets of
cold fusion experiments had to be related to a colder version of
conventional fusion. For this reason, when it became obvious that
the heat measurements in the PF experiments could not be explained
by the (high energy) fusion products that most physicists thought
should be required, after a short time, the work by PF became discredited.
But consistent with the recommendations of the ERAB panel, for several
years DOE program managers did provide limited funding for work
in areas related to carefully focused cooperative experiments (in
particular, to Steven Jones' group and to his collaborators).
managers at the DOE known then what is now known about the PF effect,
as reflected in the comments by virtually all the reviewers in the
re-review, funding of the kinds of excess heat experiments by PF
would also have continued. In particular, in the executive summary,
the authors of the DOE report, based on the re-review, cited "significant
progress [being] made in. . .calorimeters" and stated that "the
reviewers believed that this field would benefit from the peer-review
processes associated with proposal submission to agencies and paper
submission to archival journals."
superficially these recommendations seem to have only minor differences,
the recommendation in the more recent report, "that this field would
benefit from the peer-review processes. . .[of] proposal submission,"
from the earlier (ERAB) committee "sympathetic" endorsement of "modest
support for. . .focused. . .cooperative experiments with the present
funding system," should be viewed as being very different, in the
context of decisions made by the DOE program managers for justifying
future research. In particular, the explicit reference to "peer-review"
in the context of proposal submission is very different from the
vaguer phrasing "modest support. . .with the present funding system."
Here, the new report basically recommends
that any program manager (from the DOE, or elsewhere) should treat
cold fusion proposals on an equal, competitive footing, in relationship
to any other proposal, and that the process be based on peer-review.
The ERAB report states that only a limited amount of funding be
provided (implicitly, non-competitively, and without peer-review,)
and that the funding be provided, effectively, based on an amount
that can be justified (at a discretionary level) within the context
of existing funding levels.
Viewed in this way, the re-review is
recommending that in the future, DOE managers accept proposals and
allow them to be reviewed. Assuming that the associated review process
involve genuine "peer-review," which requires that the evaluation
be carried out by people who are familiar with the relevant field,
implicitly this recommendation will lead to funding. As a consequence,
although somewhat obscure and subtle, the associated recommendation
implicitly calls for potential funding, based on merit. Because
a bonafide LENR community does exist, the associated recommendation
should lead to funding.
So, is the verdict in? Has the process ended? Was
Kenneth Chang correct in implicitly equating the 2004 re-review
to the 1989 ERAB Review? In fact, the answer to the first question,
I would suggest, actually is that the verdict is in: future funding
for cold fusion will take place, and probably very shortly. Through
the process, eventually, scientific policy, at the DOE will be reversed.
But this will take time. So, the process certainly has not ended,
and it will continue. In the limited context associated with what
is known about the relevant science, Kenneth Chang is marginally
correct: many of the scientific mysteries that were present in 1989
linger. However, there are a number of important differences: 1)
We now know the heat is a real effect; 2) Although the reviews were
mixed about the fact that its origin is nuclear, the evidence is
compelling that it is; 3) Compelling evidence also exists that either
through alternative LENR or alternative forms of more conventional
fusion, neutrons and charged particles can be released in experiments
involving electrolysis of heavy water. Mainstream scientists debate
these results because they have not paid attention to the evidence.
One of my "realistic expectations," which is based on the wealth
of experimental information, is that with time, this will change.
Response to the DOE Review (Charles Beaudette)
10, 2004 - DOE
Cold Fusion Review Summary Posted Online
Read a summary of the DOE's December 2004
review of low-energy nuclear reactions
March 20, 2004 - U.S.
Department of Energy Will Review 15 Years of "Cold Fusion"
Excess Heat and Nuclear Evidence