Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cold Fusion, Hot Tempers

M'kay, only a couple of weeks out of the box and I’ve hit a nerve with someone. It’s peculiar; I was sure that the first “you’re an idiot, Lamb” post would be from a Christian. Instead I have someone on the scientific side. (See comments from my previous post.)

Mr Rothwell, I do not need to do the things you suggest in order to have an opinion. I have absolutely no qualifications in the field, and hence no way of comprehending the slightest part of the evidence you proffer. However, to draw an analogy, I do not need to hold a doctorate in geology to be satisfied that the world was not created 6000 years ago, I don't need to be formally qualified in biology to know that the Garden of Eve is a fairytale, I don't need to have studied physics to know that gravity does not repel, and I don't need to be an astronomer to know that astrology is pure bunkum.

I am open to the possibility that cold fusion is an area of science that is simply in its infancy, and that it has yet to gain acceptance by the mainstream. The signs are against it, however. As an observer, it is clear to me that cold fusion research is a hotly-disputed area, defended by a comparatively small number of supporters and researchers, and dismissed as faulty science (at best) by the majority.

The majority could well be wrong. It would hardly be the first time in the annals of science. This, after all, is what science is about: finding out what rules the universe uses that aren’t immediately comprehensible or intuitive to us. While I’d love to have an argument about the actual physics point by point, I have to accept my evidence from those who are qualified to interpret the science into English for me, and the consensus view of the scientific community at this time is that cold fusion hasn’t been realised.

A telling point against the reality of cold fusion is that there is so much controversy about it, yet the mainstream scientific community remains unconvinced. Good science isn’t a matter of opinion. That is the point of the exercise, after all. If a hypothesis is being held up that the majority of the scientific community finds deep problems with because of bad or faulty experimental data, as is the case here, then my money’s on them.

“A negative view does not get a free pass.” Firstly, see my earlier analogy regarding creationism and astrology. Secondly, on the contrary, if a new hypothesis is put forward, it needs to demonstrate its validity. It is not sufficient to postulate, hold up some experimental data that can’t be verified, and claim validity. The Pons and Fleischman experiments were quickly found to be undemonstrative of the hypothesis of cold fusion. Quite simply, they were bad science. Perhaps well-meant and just misguided, but bad science nonetheless.

I’m not sure why Mr Rothwell is wasting his time here: it’s not me he needs to convince, it’s the scientific community as a whole. When that’s been achieved and cold fusion-generated power is a vital part of our energy grid (and incidentally solved the global warming crisis), he and any of his colleagues are welcome to guffaw and chant "I told you so!" until they crap their pants from sheer hilarity. For now, I'd suggest they go do something constructive, rather than attack a bystander who is not even part of the debate, but who just happened to express a view contrary to their own.

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