Cold Fusion in Academic Journals — An Editor's Perspective

I would like to thank ECW reader Kat Jones for entering into the discussion here and providing some perspective from the point of view of someone on the editorial board of two academic journals. I thought the following comment deserved its own post because we often discuss here the response of the academic community, and academic publishing world to cold fusion. The post below was in response to georgehants, who asked about whether Kat had published any articles on cold fusion, telepathy or the placebo effect — and what he/she thinks abut how science has handled cold fusion for the last 24 years.

“I have published zero papers on Cold Fusion, the Placebo Effect, and Telepathy. I am not an expert in these fields. I was responding to Sanjeev’s comment about journals publishing crap papers and the general meme on this site that journals conspire somehow to suppress papers on topics that have been deemed unacceptable by some murky clan of puppet masters that rule all of science.

“But since you asked, most journals have a clear mission statement that guides the editors and the reviewers as to what types of papers the journal wishes to publish. This is because they wish to become THE journal in a particular topic and hence have a good reputation and a long subscriber list. One of the journals I edit for now had previously rejected two of my submitted articles. Whoever the reviewers were at that time decided my submissions were not appropriate for that journal, and I think they were right. I ended up publishing them somewhere else eventually because it was not the quality of the papers that were objectionable, but the topic.

“So Georgehants, I urge you to start your own journal (you seem to have a lot of time on your hands). I think the “International Journal on Validations of Telepathy” would serve to fill a void that currently exists in academic journals. As chief editor, you will begin to receive far more paper submissions than you want to publish and will have to make some difficult choices to insure only the best work appears in your journal. You will also get articles submitted that are not on Telepathy, but instead reincarnation, quantum chemistry, mating habits of the shrew, and whether Bigfoot is racist. You will obviously reject these submissions because your journal is about Telepathy and not Bigfoot or quantum chemistry. At that point we can all accuse you of reckless and arrogant dismissal of topics you know nothing about.

“Back to seriousness. There are two main reasons why articles get rejected by journals: topic and quality. It is important to understand the difference.

“Another thing to remember is that science journals at their core are about explaining things, not about building things or preserving observations for posterity. If anybody ever writes a convincing article explaining why F & P’s original experiment had excess energy but is so enormously difficult to replicate, then it would surely be published in top journals. On the other hand, if I light up Times Square for a week using a secret black box that nobody can inspect, it isn’t going to get me published in the Journal of Computational Chemistry. I would have to settle for E-Cat World. But that is still something!”

I sincerely appreciate Kat sharing this perspective — it helps me understand better the way that academic journals approach the topic of publishing, and how they see their role. The last paragraph is particularly interesting, and I think hits a key point and raises an important question about science and scientific publishing. If a black box test clearly shows some extraordinary effect going on — should the scientific community pay attention?

I appreciate Kat posting here, even though it may run counter to the point of view of some readers here. Please be respectful in your comments.