Forbes.com renews attention to widely disparaged "low-energy nuclear reactions"
Science and the Media:
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- Paper retractions begin reawakening press skepticism about science
- MIT announces vision for “affordable, robust, compact” fusion power plant
- Wall Street Journal front page mildly mocks physics scholarly practice
By Steven T. Corneliussen
'Forbes magazine,' declared New York Times media reporter David Carr in 2009, 'has long been a synonym for riches, success and a belief that business, left to its own devices, will create a better world.' Amid widespread disbelief, Forbes.com is expressing enthusiastic faith in the world-transforming potential of one such device: the 'energy catalyzer,' or E-Cat, purported to exploit 'low-energy nuclear reactions,' or LENRs, as a gigantic energy-production breakthrough.
In March, Forbes.com publicized two NASA scientists' LENR enthusiasm. Now it has published the article 'Finally! Independent testing of Rossi's E-Cat cold fusion device: Maybe the world will change after all.' (At least one LENR proponent actually asserts big differences between LENRs and cold fusion.)
A team of Italian and Swedish authors describes this testing in the arXiv paper 'Indication of anomalous heat energy production in a reactor device containing hydrogen loaded nickel powder.' They write, 'Andrea Rossi claims to have invented an apparatus that can produce much more energy per unit weight of fuel than can be obtained from known chemical processes.' They report that their 'independent test' took place in December and March experiments. They claim that 'energy was produced in decidedly higher quantities than what may be gained from any conventional source.'
With a few caveats, the Forbes.com piece extols their work: It's at long last 'a report by credible, independent third parties' that 'would appear to deliver'; while some of the authors have publicly supported Rossi and the E-Cat, 'they are all serious academics with reputations to lose'; the paper is 'detailed and thorough.'
The Forbes.com piece ends this way:
While a few commentators have raised criticisms concerning how the measurements were made and sources of error, others have argued that the energy produced is so significant even knocking off an order of magnitude on either axis still portrays a process with insanely valuable output.
This is not, of course, the last word or even one anywhere near the end of this story but unless this is one of the most elaborate hoaxes in scientific history, it looks like the world may well be about to change. How quick will depend solely on Rossi.
Though Forbes.com appears alone in its enthusiasm, on the Web it's not hard to find reports and discussion about the arXiv paper. But it's even easier to find skepticism and ardent disbelief.
MetroNews Canada consulted officials at General Fusion in British Columbia, a public–private venture in nuclear fusion, and found them 'unfazed.' An article at the Register , an online technology publication that claims to have more than 7 million unique users worldwide, presents frank skepticism, especially about trade secrets invoked in the paper. Charging that Forbes.com 'got all gushy,' this publication predicts that 'the test is probably going to be vulnerable to scientific tooth and claw from the start, since it amounts to researchers being asked to visit the premises of EFA–that is, the company that holds the production rights for the E-Cat–and test a black box whose operations are invisible.'
A news report at Popular Science notes that the arXiv paper hasn't been peer reviewed and observes that it 'leaves out crucial details, for example referring to 'unknown additives' instead of specifying what chemicals actually go into the reaction.' The article points out that Rossi 'has a history of blocking even simple tests' and that he 'has previously passed off spurious inventions, including a machine that was supposed to turn waste into oil.'
Steven Krivit, a longtime LENR observer and advocate, has also taken dead aim at the arXiv paper. At his New Energy Times website, his article 'Rossi manipulates academics to create illusion of independent test' charges that the authors 'did not perform an independent test,' but instead, 'were participants in another Rossi demonstration and performed measurements on one of Rossi's devices in his facility.' Krivit 'stopped counting the Rossi demonstrations after the 13th one.' He says that the authors 'lack full knowledge of the type and preparation of the materials used in the reactor and the modulation of input power, which, according to the paper, were industrial trade secrets' and that they 'didn't perform any calorimetry.'
As of early on 24 May, Google yields no links to major media joining Forbes.com in reporting, enthusiastically or not, on the arXiv paper.
Steven T. Corneliussen, a media analyst for the American Institute of Physics, monitors three national newspapers, the weeklies Nature and Science, and occasionally other publications. He has published op-eds in the Washington Post and other newspapers, has written for NASA's history program, and is a science writer at a particle-accelerator laboratory.