Thursday, July 16, 2009

Junk? Science?

I recently stumbled upon a "60 Minutes" (for those abroad "60 Minutes" is an hour long weekly news show) video segment from April 22, 2009 (my anniversary! Yay!) about Cold Fusion. "Isn't that just junk science?" you might ask. Well, check out the video and come on back for the rest of this post.

I remember the day 20 years ago sitting in my Bell Labs' office, pondering with my office mate whether or not the discovery would be confirmed. "I'd bet against it" he stated, matter of fact-ly. That way if it's fake at least I win the bet, and if I lose the bet at least we'll have cheap energy. I wasn't such a pragmatist. I really wanted it to work. My friend and I actually spec'd out palladium, so if the experiment were confirmed we could grab some before the price went through the roof and start experimenting with our own cells.

Alas, it was not to be. When the news came that results could not be duplicated, I was crushed. But some people didn't give up hope, and it seems for 20 years they've been trying to duplicate the experiments of Pons and Fleischman, with varying decrees of success. Now, according to 60 minutes, there are a number of experimenters who have results that are indisputable. Of course, most scientists still dispute it, and I would hardly consider 60 Minutes to be my weather vane for science. Still, I hope the effect turns out to be something real, although I'm not pricing palladium this time.

If there's any moral to this story it's this. We are taught in science class, and indeed even in history class that scientific discoveries are absolute and empirical, and that they are based purely on observation, hypothesis, prediction and test, using reason and logic only. The truth of science is it is filled with as much faith, doubt, and uncertainty as the religion some scientists spurn.

So, don't hold your breath, but you might want to look into deuterium futures. What do you think?


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