James Randi is considered by many to be the Godfather-Icon of the modern-day Skeptical movement. A former magician, Randi has been exposing fraudsters for years and is famous for offering a million dollar prize to any person who can definitively “prove” psychic abilities. While he and his JREF organization have rightfully brought the hammer down on a plethora of scammers, there remains a convincing body of evidence that Randi and his acolytes dogmatically and/or stubbornly deny the legitimacy of; most notably in the fields of parapsychology and alternative medicine. And judging from this clip, it would appear that Randi also harbors a strong bias against LENR-Cold Fusion as well.
Admittedly, this video clip is over a year old. However, upon searching I discovered no recent comments and/or announcements from Randi concerning Cold Fusion. Therefore I feel safe to assume this is still his official position on the subject. With that disclaimer in place, let me begin to demonstrate why almost everything that Randi and his co-host seem to believe about LENR-LANR (aka Cold Fusion) is painfully antiquated and uninformed. As Wolfgang Pauli might say, they are so beyond wrong that they are “Not Even Wrong.”
LENR has been perpetually ignored and discounted since its announced discovery in 1989 by Dr. Pons and Fleischmann. As documented by Dr. Eugene Mallove (Former Head of Science Journalism at MIT) in his groundbreaking book Fire From Ice, most people within the scientific community and media hastily made up their minds about LENR in a thoughtless, reactionary manner. For example the Nuclear Fusion Department at MIT held a “Wake for Cold Fusion” only a few months after the initial discovery and even before their own experimental data on Cold Fusion had been elucidated. Shortly thereafter (as has been exposed by Mallove) MIT released incomplete and doctored experimental data that gave the appearance of a null result. Mallove resigned in disgust over this debacle.
Representative of the deep seeded establishment prejudice toward LENR was Professor William Happer (Member of the DOE Cold Fusion Advisory Board) who had watched the Pons and Fleischmann Conference and became convinced upon first sight that they were “Incompetent Boobs.” The head of that advisory panel was Nuclear Physicist John Huizenga who out of the gates considered LENR utter nonsense and had attempted to short circuit & abort the meeting(s) from even being convened in the first place. The initial report issued to the DOE by this group was so clearly biased & slanted that Nobel Laureate Norman Ramsey refused to sign it and threatened to resign if it was not changed and/or amended. The report was altered, the opinions were mixed, but the panel’s overall conclusion was lukewarm at best and dissuaded many researchers from pursuing the phenomenon further.
The mainstream media was asleep at the wheel (as usual) and often acted as a stenography platform for the negative opinions of “esteemed” scientific authorities like Sir John Maddox of Nature Magazine. Almost all positive results (Oriani at Minnesota; Storms at Los Alamos; Bockris at Texas A&M; McKubre at SRI) from this period were unceremoniously ignored or discounted with straw man arguments (lack of neutron emission, lack of gammas, possible experimental defects, faulty measurements, fraud, etc.).
The Pons-Fleischman conference in 89′ seemed hurried to those like Randi and Sagan because it was. So what? The duo hoped to avoid getting scooped by Professor Steven Jones who was close to unveiling low-emission neutron data from BYU. Therefore they came forward with their findings sooner than they had hoped based largely on the advice of University legal advisors. Despite this they were confident in their positive experimental results (attained over a span of five years leading up to the announcement) but unsure about the theoretical underpinnings (understandable for a new phenomenon). Science is often pitiless and cut throat when it comes to funding and priority on new discoveries (Nobel Prizes hinge on these kinds of issues), so this “Science by Press Conference” approach was certainly understandable given the context of the discovery. To conclude the duo was suspect or flagrantly breaching protocol is erroneous logic at best.
Maybe some people just know more than the rest of us and are permitted to play by different rules of scholarship. Perhaps “skeptical” high priests like James Randi and Carl Sagan are allowed to pay attention for fifteen minutes, exchange smug, knowing glances, and arrive at an authoritatively definitive conclusion about subjects like LENR. No further investigation or inquiry necessary. Scientism knows what is possible after all. Similar to early 20th century thinkers, most contemporary “experts” believe nothing fundamental in science is left to discover.
However many others did (and continue to) believe in LENR: Nobel Laureate Julian Schwinger for one. In fact he was so appalled by the American Physical Society’s response to LENR that he resigned in protest. Furthermore Schwinger went out of his way to develop one of the first theoretical frameworks for the LENR phenomenon before his passing in 93′. Also MIT Professor Peter Hagelstein was one of the first defenders of Cold Fusion. To this day he forges ahead with his theoretical work concerning LENR, and just recently headlined a Lecture Series at MIT this past January.
Over the past 20 + years, those interested enough to pay attention have witnessed astounding progress in the field of LENR. Just take the Defense Intelligence Agency Report on Cold Fusion from 2009 as a case in point in which they state:
“This body of research has produced evidence that nuclear reactions may be occurring under conditions not previously believed possible.”
The individual work of Ed Storms, now retired, stands out to me as well. He obtained robust, positive results for excess heat and tritium during his years in a government funded lab at Los Alamos, and continues to do so today in his own private facility in New Mexico. The efforts of Naval Researcher Melvin Miles, who was the first to show convincing experimental evidence for the correlation between Heat and Helium, are also notable. And contrary to what Randi and company may think about Andrea Rossi’s E-Cat, it has recently been independently verified by a quasi-third party as reported on by Forbes and many others. A Swedish Documentary released late last year provides an excellent overview of the Rossi story as well. The Defkalion Reactor, recently demonstrated for a public audience in Italy, also appears to be yet another promising LENR generator. Brillouin Energy, in collaboration with SRI, also appears close to bringing their reactor to the industrial marketplace.
Randi seems completely oblivious or at the very least willfully ignorant about the underpinnings of CF-LENR specifically (both theoretical and experimental) and of the sociology of science in general. He and those who agree with him should be embarrassed for dismissing CF-LENR in the face of all the hard evidence made public over the years. It is this kind of publically displayed hubris and smug self assurance that has earned Randi and JREF blowback over the years from the truly open minded: those of us who actually do our homework and are flexible in our belief systems.
Pons and Fleischman may have seemed evasive to Randi because as I’ve already explained they didn’t know exactly what they were dealing with, and in many ways we still don’t. They were experimental chemists not theoretical physicists and it was a completely new and novel phenomenon. They should not have been punished or judged for not fully understanding the breadth of their discovery. New physics demands both years of attention and adequate funding to progress; LENR has received little of both. The discovery and harnessing of electricity for example was not some overnight, easily repeatable phenomenon so why demand so much of LENR?
The history of Cold Fusion is as much a political story as it is a scientific one, and a telling commentary on cognitive dissonance in the Western World. Randi specifically, and the “Skeptical Community” generally, are just plain wrong on the subject of LENR. It is unfortunate that the term “Skeptic” has become coopted by an unethical magician and his groupies. Skepticism is good for society. Skepticism to me means suspending judgment until you are able to inquire honestly and in-depth for yourself. James Randi is not a true Skeptic. People who look up to James Randi and adhere to his methodology are not true Skeptics.
*Post Script: For deeper analysis/expose of James Randi and the “Skeptic Community” I encourage you to engage with the works of journalist Steve Volk, journalist Robert McLuhan, and radio host Alex Tsakaris. For the sake of balance read the most recent rebuttal/critique of the Rossi E-Cat Here.
*Added 7/31/13: NASA LENR Program.
*Added 8/2/13: Rebuttal of Skeptical Ericsson-Pomp Paper.
*Added 12/15/13: Rebuttal of Ericsson-Pomp by Professor Bo Hoistad