Cambridge University Professor Huw Price on the ‘Reputation Trap’ of Cold Fusion (Update: Response in Popular Mechanics)

Thanks to a number of readers for sharing this interesting article that they found as a top story on the Digg website. It’s written by Huw Price, Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy and a fellow of Trinity College at the University of Cambridge, and Academic Director of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk.

The article is titled “The cold fusion horizon: Is cold fusion truly impossible, or is it just that no respectable scientist can risk their reputation working on it?” and is published today on the website here:

It’s an interesting article which comes from the perspective of a philosopher of science who is looking at the subject not from a technical, but more from a psychological and sociological perspective. Looking at the evidence, Price sees plenty of reasons to take the subject of cold fusion seriously, even if he does not yet see proof. He mentions that Andrea Rossi is going from “strength to strength”, and now his claims are being made more credible with Brillouin energy emerging on the scene.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“Imagine that someone had a working hot-fusion reactor in Florida – assembled, as Rossi’s 1MW device is reported to be, in a couple of shipping containers, and producing several hundred kilowatts of excess power, month after month, in apparent safety. That would be huge news. As several people have noticed, a new clean source of energy would be really, really useful right about now.

But if the potential news is this big, why haven’t most of you heard about Rossi, or Godes, or any of the other people who have been working in the area (for many years, in some cases)? This is where, from a philosopher of science’s point of view, things get interesting.

As a question about sociology, the answer is obvious. Cold fusion is dismissed as pseudoscience, the kind of thing that respectable scientists and science journalists simply don’t talk about (unless to remind us of its disgrace)”

Price concludes that the whole field of cold fusion is stuck in a “reptutation trap”, that is very difficult to get out of since anyone touching it can quickly be tainted if they treat the field seriously. He says he has heard from acadamics in the sciences who are frustrated because academic departments are not treating LENR as an acceptable science field. Some more from Price:

If Rossi, Godes, Lundin, Lidgren and others do turn out to have something useful – something that can make some useful contribution to meeting our desperate need for clean, cheap energy – we will have wasted a generation of progress. What we should have done instead is to have engineered the exact opposite of a reputation trap – perhaps an X Prize-like reward for the first reliable replication of the Fleischmann and Pons results, above some commercial bar.

I commend Dr. Price for being willing to take the risk of being tainted himself by publishing this essay. It may be that steps like this from respected academics might have the effect of continuing the rehabilitation reputations of Drs. Pons and Fleischmann, and the whole field of cold fusion in the process.

A resume for Huw Price can be found here:

UPDATE: Thanks to Gerrit for posting this link to an article that has just been posted on the Popular Mechanics website in response to this article by Huw Price titled “Can Cold Fusion Come Back From the Dead?”: