"Initially, in 1989, Pons provided a series of escalating claims, including showing what he claimed was a working cell 'giving off 15 to 20 times the amount of energy that is put into the cell.' It was claimed that it 'could provide boiling water for a cup of tea.' Now there are several people publishing magazines, spreading claims and trying to influence media people who sometimes present their hand-outs without checking. This technique keeps the flame alive. Also some editors publish cold fusion claims in sympathetic journals such as Fusion Technology. They claim that at the next American Nuclear Society meeting in Orlando, to be held June 1 to 5, there will be a cold fusion session featuring a panel discussion with Miley and Patterson.
"In another, nonscientific episode, Fleischmann, Pons and Italian researchers Tullio Bressani, Guiliano Preparata and Emilio Del Giudice sued the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, its editor and the science editor, Giovanni Maria Pace, who had written in 1991 that cold fusion was 'scientific fraud.' The decision of the three judges was that this was justified comment, and further they awarded costs to the newspaper. They also expressed the opinion that some of the plaintiffs had lost touch with reality.
"What is the future of cold fusion? True believers never give up, and the funding keeps coming in. At first, American and some Russian work was largely funded by the Electric Power Research Industry (EPRI), which spent many millions of dollars, but that support has essentially stopped. Japanese funding seems to be on the decline after ICCF-6. But private investors remain hopeful--they tend to reason that it is worth the odd-million investment if the return on investment is worth billions. They do not appreciate, however, that the likely return is about 10-40--which means that even investing one penny to earn possible billions would be a bad bet. The next cold fusion conference, ICCF-7, with private sponsors, will be held in Vancouver in April 1998. We all hope to be served a cup of cold fusion tea."
Robert F. Heeter of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is the author of the "Conventional Fusion FAQ" (internet newsgroup sci.physics.fusion) and webmaster of the Fusion Energy Educational Web Site. He responds:
"The 'cold fusion' phenomenon, in which the law of conservation of energy is apparently violated when electricity and heat are applied to special systems involving hydrogen isotopes (in water or gaseous form) and particular metals (notably palladium and nickel), defies conventional scientific explanation. All new theories explaining 'cold fusion' effects require large revisions in existing physical theories (one might call them 'miracles'). Scientific skepticism requires that unless the experimental evidence justifies belief in these miracles, we must conclude that experimental errors are being misinterpreted as positive results.
"One would normally expect that about half of all careful energy-balance measurements would indicate excess energy, and about half would show an energy deficit, because experimental error spreads the results around the expected outcome. A preponderance of results showing excess energy might indicate something new. But if one is deliberately searching for excess energy, then one may be able to 'optimize' a complicated system to yield large amounts of apparent excess energy by fooling the measurement apparatus somehow. Whether a given excess-heat result represents a physical 'miracle' or an experimental error is very difficult to determine if the amount of excess heat is small or if the fraction of excess power to total input power is low--as is the case in reports of cold fusion.
"If indeed miracles are occurring in 'cold fusion,' they are not fusion reactions involving hydrogen isotopes. The inevitable signatures of fusion reactions--in which atomic nuclei combine, thereby releasing a large amount of energy--are combinations of energetic particles (neutrons, positrons and ions) and gamma rays. The direct conversion of fusion energy into heat is not possible because of energy and momentum conservation and the laws of special relativity. Energetic particles and their secondary effects should be easily detectable if the claimed levels of excess power were the result of fusion reactions. But measurements of these fusion signatures have been either nonexistent, inaccurate or orders of magnitude too low. Attempts to explain 'cold fusion' as something other than nuclear fusion require similar miracles supported by similarly weak evidence.