LETTERS

COLD FUSION REDUX: 'PSEUDOSCIENCE,' SAYS NASA OFFICIAL

OLD FUSION REDUX: 'PSEUDOSCIENCE,' SAYS NASA OFFICIAL

Your article on cold fusion [WT May 5] unfortunately helps continue the drumbeat of public relations propaganda for this pseudoscience.

Reading either John R. Huizenga's book Cold Fusion: The Scientific Fiasco of the Century or Frank Close's book Too Hot to Handle, the Race for Cold Fusion leaves one with the sickening feeling that the public is being had by a handful of "scientists" who have become emotionally committed to an originally flawed experiment.

I have talked to people who have investigated the claims of the cold fusion advocates and to people who have worked in the field of electrochemistry. The unanimous consensus is that in working with electrochemical cells extraordinary care must be taken to avoid experimental errors and to avoid confusing power and energy. So far there is no evidence that the advocates have taken that extraordinary care.

One would think that if cold fusion is such a simple process then there would be no need for federal funding. For once, perhaps, we can break the "command economy" mentality of research in the U.S. and let the private sector fund the research. But the cold fusion advocates appear to be frantically driven to obtain political support and public funding. I suspect there are two reasons for this: one is financial and the other psychological.

If the cold fusion community can get government funds by political means, then they can continue to conduct more dubious experiments -- never quite proving anything but always just tantalizing us with some anomalous effect. The money will pour in and nothing will be produced except a generation of advocates (including politicians who appreciate the donations to their campaigns).

The psychological factor may be the most revealing. Studies of groups (such as religious cults) have shown that when the group is faced with incontrovertible evidence that their beliefs are wrong, they do not abandon their beliefs. Rather, they feverishly seek to convert more people to their beliefs. This phenomenon is a way to alleviate the stresses of "cognitive dissonance" (when you know your beliefs are wrong but you can't give them up). I recommend the book When Prophecy Fails to all who want to understand why people still believe in cold fusion.

In your article, the advocates try to give the impression that the momentum has somehow swung to the side of the cold fusion advocates and that cold fusion is now real and available to produce electricity. Citing Arthur C. Clarke as someone knowledgeable about cold fusion caused me to snort in disbelief. The last time I can recall Clarke getting involved with pseudoscience, he was defending the now-debunked Israeli spoonbender Uri Geller.

And citing a meeting of advocates, the Fourth International Conference on Cold Fusion, as evidence of support is disingenuous. As Professor Huizenga said after the Third Conference, "After 43 months of efforts there was still not a single report at that conference of a definitive, reproducible experiment producing commensurate amounts of excess heat and nuclear reaction products."

Fortunately, science is confirmed not by the votes of believers in a theory but by real experiments performed by skeptical scientists in ways that truly test the effect. Cold fusion, like N-rays, infinite dilution and polywater, is just one more example of pathological science (the science of things that aren't so).

Gary L. Bennett

Rockville, Md.

Editor's note: The author is manager of NASA's Advanced Space Propulsion Systems in the Office of Advanced Concepts Technology. He holds a master of nuclear science from the University of Idaho and a Ph.D. in physics from Washington State University. Previous to his position at NASA, Bennett worked as the chief of the Research Support Branch with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, among other positions.

DeCaro's Camera

The article "The Great Plane Robbery" [WT, May 5] does not make any case for the claims made by Mr. Chuck DeCaro. What I understand from reading the article is that he had an idea, perhaps created independently, and thinks he owns it.

His idea to monitor battlefields from TV cameras in airplanes is not new at all. It has been worked on by many firms for many years before 1990, when he conceived it, and been funded by several branches of the armed forces.

The original work may have been classified, but a lot of activity using airplanes, balloons and other flying objects, with or without pilots, has been published in open literature.

The first example that I know of occurred during the Civil War, where enemy activities were monitored from a balloon using a lens to focus the events onto a recording device. We call this thing a camera.

Whether it uses film or a CCD, the idea is the same and long predates Mr. DeCaro's. The speed of operation of the camera is also irrelevant. Whether it takes one picture an hour or 30 per second, the idea is the same. Whether from a balloon, airplane or satellite, the idea is still the same. DeCaro has done nothing new. The concept is obvious to anyone that has any experience with the problem. The engineering of a solution is routine. So it is clearly unpatentable.

He claims that a "proprietary design," which was not patented, was pirated. If he failed to get the signed non-disclosure agreements, then he cannot succeed with a claim of trade secret violation. Since the idea of using TV cameras from airplanes has been ubiquitous, he has zero claim to owning that idea, if indeed anyone can own an idea as opposed to specific implementations of an idea.

It is regrettable that our elected representatives like Leslie Byrne, D-Va., put so much effort into areas where they have no expertise such as alleged intellectual property violations. She was reported to say that "his case is well made," which the facts, as given in the WT story, just do not bear out. She should have simply referred the complaint to the Inspector General and let the facts speak for themselves.

If Mr. DeCaro has any valid grounds for his complaint, then your reporter was seriously remiss in his duty by not including a substantive reason for DeCaro's claims against the Navy.

William B. Adams

Principal Consultant

Symbiotic Systems

Springfield, Va.


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