Cold Fusion Research Wasn’t Bad Because It Was a Budget Buster – 2017

There’s a brief discussion at the end of Whitewater City Manager Clapper’s state of the city address from 9.17.15 that comes to mind this morning. (I’ll get to the substance of his specific remarks about a digester-energy project another time.)

For today, I’ve a different perspective to offer. Consider this question: was cold fusion a mistake because that kind of research was budgetarily expensive?

I don’t think so; expense wasn’t the key problem with thinking that one might be able to produce bountiful amounts of fusion-reaction energy at room temperatures. It’s a mistake to waste money, but there was a bigger problem than budget allocations – much bigger – with cold-fusion research.

The much bigger problem was that the supposed positive results were irreproducible – what Fleishmann and Pons did wasn’t sound science, as it could not be confirmed, and grand claims were the result of obvious errors and wishful thinking. (See, along these lines, The Cold Fusion Problem.)

That sort of error is far greater than wasting hundreds of thousands or even millions – it’s the error of inferior standards that cost more than any line-item allocation ever could. Continuing support for that research is support for magic, fairy tales, etc. There is an immediate budgetary waste, but there is a much bigger loss to rational policy and planning (and so, an expense that ripples beyond budgets to the whole society).

It’s also false – and oddly anachronistic – to contend that a community needs to ‘experiment’ with digester-energy projects, as though that has not been done for generations and found wanting. It’s not a new idea, just as leeches, tea leaves, bleeding patients, or cold fusion are not new ideas.

I’m sure we’ll hear again someday that cold fusion might solve all our energy needs, or leeches might be good for curing myriad maladies, but those are neither new ideas nor ideas whose principal deficiency is only one of dollars and cents.

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