Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.
- Rosa Luxemburg, "Junius Pamphlet" 1916

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Again with the cold fusion! Or, how [a quack invention, coincidentally located in Italy] is about to save us all from doom

I make no claim to know anything detailed about this, but evidently two Italian "entrepreneurs" are making quite a fuss claiming to have achieved cheap, table-top, room-temperature nuclear fusion. You can read about it here.

The two enterprising "inventors" have been demonstrating a device which claims to achieve fusion of nickel and hydrogen in water, without the need for solar-interior levels of heat, and without releasing enough radiation to blast everyone in the room into drooling, semi-molten, cancer-infested blobs of protoplasm.

So far, the two Italian guys have not made details of their technology, or anything about the methodology and the alleged science behind it, available to scientists who, like, you know, would like to be able to replicate this potentially revolutionary phenomenon in their own labs. The Italian dudes won't allow such replication, but they are evidently negotiating with Italian universities for "contracts" allowing the "entrepreneurs" to research the physical phenomena allegedly underway.


I'm willing to bet $100 that this claim of cold fusion will turn out to be one hundred percent crap. By which I mean, the results will never (within the next, let's say, five years) be unambiguously replicated systematically by independent, professional, credible scientists and then published in a peer-reviewed journal and then go on to survive the intense scrutiny to follow such publication.

* * * * *

In 1989, two American guys in Utah made much the same claim about room-temperature nuclear fusion. It turned out to be total crap. Over the years, an underground community of rogue researchers has flourished, claiming all sorts of data about heat release without harmful radiation, which allegedly can be explained only by nuclear fusion or a fusion-like nanoscopic process. Twenty one years after the Utah cold fusion fiasco, the revolution in cheap, virtually limitless clean pseudo-semi-quasi-nuclear energy remains just around the corner.

Of course, "hot fusion" suffers from much the same difficulty. It is perpetually about 20-50 years away, as opposed to just around the corner. The difference is that hot fusion researchers actually adhere to scientific standards of transparency and publish in real scientific journals.

* * * * *

I have a rule of thumb regarding certain extraordinary claims. In particular, regarding claims that are so extraordinary as to be staggeringly, world-shakingly, nigh cosmic in their potential importance. My rule of thumb is that these claims are always wrong.

And, contrary to normal standards of open-mindedness and academic rigor, there is no need to investigate the claims. At all. They can be dismissed as lunacy, ignorance, or stupidity. There is no need to sift evidence, counter arguments, or exert any cognition whatsoever. Much less engage in face-to-face conversation. Ever.

The only exception would arise in the event that there is some viscerally staggering bit of evidence, itself stupendously out of the ordinary, to suggest that further investigation is warranted. In practice, such evidence is never presented in regard to these claims. Instead, you get the garden variety version of the claim, just as it's been presented on multiple prior occasions.

For example, someone claims room-temperature, table-top, radiation-free nuclear (or quasi nuclear, whatever) fusion. And the evidence for this is: take my word for it.

Or, as in the case of the Italian researchers, the evidence lies in "demonstrations" that produce heat in a tabletop device, without any access by independent observers to the device, the data or the methodology behind the heat production. Basically, the Italian guys are saying: take my word for it.

The believers in such claims always claim that they are, in fact, offering extraordinary evidence. But in practice, they never do. It always boils down to flimsy bullshit that really amounts to "take my word for it."

Conclusion: each new arising of the same tired claim of a world-shaking, revolutionary phenomenon can be dismissed, out of hand, as bullshit.

One is not supposed to put it in quite those stark terms. I do. Because I'm tired of wasting my fucking time arguing about such topics. They involve claims such as:

1) Cold fusion in a laboratory is occurring (no independent, subject-to-inspection evidence presented).

2) The U.S. government planned and executed the 9/11 attacks (no transcripts of conversations among the conspirators provided).

3) Extraterrestrial vehicles are routinely traveling through the Earth's atmosphere and abducting human beings to probe their bodily orifices (no submission of sample alien vehicle to peer reviewed journal provided).

4) Human beings can levitate solid objects with their minds (no live demonstrations of non-trivial, unambiguous results provided).

5) Sipping water can cure human ailments because the water "remembers" the ailment (no live demonstrations of non-trivial, unambiguous results provided).

6) Patterns of luminous stellar objects distributed in a certain pattern in the terrestrial sky determine human personality traits (ummm.... yeah).

7) Written records 30 or more years after the death of a supposedly real human being, who lived 2000 years ago, demonstrate that this human being rose from the dead and today disapproves, from a spectral afterworld, of how you have sex with other human beings (sigh).

8) Human personalities survive the disintegration of their neuro-chemical foundation after brain death, and proceed to hang around a house that was traumatic for them in real life. But never, say, a department store, or a bathroom.

9) Human bodies are permeated by an invisible energy field -- undetectable by conventional scientific methods -- that determines fundamental aspects of human health and can be radically altered by sticking needles through it, in a way that is distinguishable from the release of analgesic chemicals by needle penetration and other conventional biochemical processes.

Et cetera.

So. I bet $100 against the Italian cold fusion claim. Stay tuned.


  1. I'd bet the same way. I won't even look into this. It's bullshit, until these guys hook their gadget up to a generator and power a LiveAid concert with it. And it's super, mega, double bullshit the second they won't release designs or data. I would tell them, to their faces, "ah, another snake-oil selling charlatan. Fuck off, you cretin."

  2. Argh..... A very bad moment to be Italian. We are known for our prime minister who is a sex maniac; our minister of science who thinks that neutrinos go through 700 km non-existing tunnels and now this: a guy who put together an electric water boiler and claims it is a nuclear reactor....

  3. Hello Dr. Bardi,

    The actions of one's fellow citizens (or political leaders) are by no means a reflection on one's country per se, I would say! I shouldn't have put the word "Italy" in my headline, really. My own country could be said to have started the cold fusion craze with the 1989 episode, after all.

    And besides, with vapid U.S. pop culture and lunatic politicians constantly on global display, we Americans are hardly in a position to make fun of another country in any way...

  4. Yep; it would be in a way nice if Italy was the only bad apple of the lot. Unfortunately, it is not.

  5. Oh... I see that you changed the title of the post. Shoundn't have done that. I was not offended at all!