For years, skeptics have used cold fusion as the exemplar of the worst aspects of pseudoscience. "That's why we need to be skeptical," they tell us, "so the public won't be hoodwinked by scams like cold fusion." The very term cold fusion has become synonymous with harebrained schemes to delude the scientific community.
But wait ...
Now there's news that the U.S. Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center has achieved cold fusion.
Building on the techniques first reported by Fleischmann and Pons - two of the most reviled, ridiculed, and ostracized figures in the recent history of science, dismissed as frauds and quacks, vilified around the world, deprived of funding and made the butt of countless jokes - yes, building on the work of these two men, the Navy's researchers have apparently found a way to produce low energy nuclear reactions that can be "replicated and verified."
Hat tip: Boiled Frog (a worthwhile site to look at, btw).
Note that many of the commenters on the DailyTech story are suddenly adopting the line that yeah, sure, of course cold fusion is real, we knew it all along, but since it's not practical for generating electricity, it's no big deal. This tracks nicely with what Arthur C. Clarke (a longtime proponent of cold fusion) has called the three stages of acceptance of any new idea:
(1) "It's crazy - don't waste my time."
(2) "It's possible, but it's not worth doing."
(3) "I always said it was a good idea."
With cold fusion, we currently seem to be at stage 2.
Now, it's it's probably cruel to do this, but I thought it might be interesting to see what that noted defender of science, James Randi, has had to say about cold fusion over the years.
Here's his expert opinion:
The "cold fusion" farce should have been tossed into the trash heap long ago, but justifiable fear of legal actions by offended supporters has stifled opponents. . . cold fusion is a dead duck, the earth is not flat, and the fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.
In 1998, Randi gave a Pigasus Award (a plaque featuring a flying pig) to ABC News "for their unquestioning and enthusiastic endorsement of 'cold fusion,' ESP ... and all sorts of junk science." (Both quotes appear, with citations, here.)
In other words: It's crazy - don't waste my time. (Stage 1.)
And here's an essay (in PDF form) by skeptic Victor Stenger, arguing that cold fusion claims have many instructive parallels to ESP research. Of course, Stenger's point is that both cold fusion and ESP are bogus examples of pseudoscience at its worst.
If cold fusion is for real, does this mean that Stenger and Randi will now take another look at ESP?
Don't hold your breath.