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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptical Inquirer > May June 2019 > LETTERS TO THE EDITOR


Cold Fusion Thirty Years Later

Reading the article “Cold Fusion: Thirty Years Later” (January/February 2019) reminded me of some interesting discussions that occurred at the time.

In 1989, when Pons and Fleischmann made their announcement concerning “cold fusion,” the internet was still fairly new, but it did exist, and there were some early versions of what would evolve into “social media,” in the form of online fora distributed by services such as “USENET news.” There were hundreds of groups with common interests of all sorts, but the important ones in this instance were “sci. chemistry” and “sci.physics.” Being a technical sort, I was subscribed to both.

In the chemistry forum, the participants were discussing possible chemical reactions and their proposed efficiency, which ones were most likely in the experimental environment described in the announcement, what the reaction products would be, how much temperature rise would be expected, and so forth.

Meanwhile, over in the physics forum, the common question was “Why aren’t they dead?”—from radiation poisoning, which there would have been a lot of had the experiment actually worked.

The E-Cat Hoax

In “Why E-Cat Is a Hoax” (Janu ary/February 2019), I was surprised to find that author Sadri Hassani lays blame for scientific illiteracy in general, and belief in cold fusion in particular, on John Wheeler. Since John is no longer around to defend himself against this nonsense, I’ll do my best—leaving the defense of Bohr, Heisenberg, Pauli, and Schrodinger, tarred with the same brush, to others.

Wheeler, by his own admission, was obsessed with the question “Why the quantum?” The Copenhagen Interpretation, which delivers all of quantum mechanics’ unchallenged powers of computation and prediction, still leaves us without understanding of its underlying mechanisms (if any). Wheeler took this most-successful theory and interpretation at face value and spent the latter part of his career trying to crack open what it meant. There may be some poetry in this, but it is not mysticism. Blaming him for Deepak Chopra is just silly.

It is certainly disappointing to find John Wheeler disparaged in SKEPTICAL INQUIRER. Because of his association with the stranger aspects of general relativity (e.g., black holes) and quantum mechanics (e.g., delayed choice), he attracted more than his share of crackpots, and his methods for dealing with them are legendary. He is also famous for his attempt to rid the AAAS of its affiliation with parapsychology. He should be a hero to your readers.

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