ON COLD FUSION
By Sir Arthur Clarke
". . . I would call perhaps one of the greatest scandals in the history of science, the cold fusion caper. Like almost everyone else, I was surprised when Pons and Fleischmann announced that they had achieved fusion in the laboratory; and surprised changed to disappointment when I learned that most of those who had rushed to confirm these results were unable to replicate them.
Wondering first how tow world-class scientists could have fooled themselves, I then forgot the whole matter for a year or so, until more and more reports surfaced, from many countries, of anomalous energy production in various devices (some of them apparently having nothing to do with fusion).
Agreeing with Carl Sagan's principle that 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs" (spoken in connection with UFO's and alien visitors). I remained interested, but skeptical."
"Now I have little doubt that anomalous energy is being produced by several devices, some of which are on the market with a money back guarantee, while others are covered by patents. The literature on the subject is now enormous, and my confidence that 'new energy' is real slowly climbed to the 90th percentile and has now reached the 99% level. A Fellow of the Royal Society, also originally a skeptic, writes: 'There is now strong evidence for nuclear reactions in condensed matter at low temperature.' The problem, he adds, is that 'there is no theoretical basis for these claims, or rather there are too many conflicting theories.'"
"Yet recall that the steam engine had been around for quite a while before Carnot explained exactly how it worked. The challenge now is to see which of the various competing devices is most reliable. My guess is that large-scale industrial application will begin around the turn of the century - at which point one can imagine the end of the fossil-fuel-nuclear age, making concerns about global warming irrelevant, as oil-and-coal-burning systems are phased out . . ."
Sir Arthur Clarke, a graduate of King's College, London, is the author of numerous works of science and science-fiction, including his well-known collaboration with Stanley Kubrick on the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. He is presently Chancellor of the International Space University and Chancellor of the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka, where he has lived for 30 years.
(Excerpted from the article "Presidents, Experts, and Asteroids", in "Science" Magazine, June 5, 1998 edition)
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