To the editor:
I was saddened to read in the Deseret News April 2 of charges by University of Utah chemist Cheves Walling that Steven Jones, BYU physicist, acted improperly with regard to his evaluation of a proposal submitted to the Department of Energy by Professor Stanley Pons.Dr. Pons is, of course, the University of Utah chemist who recently announced discovering significant amounts of energy apparently coming from cold fusion.
Especially dismaying is the accompanying quotation: "To review a paper when you haven't done as much work in the field (as the author) is presumptuous . . . (Jones) hadn't done much and wanted to get on the bandwagon."
Professor Walling is a distinguished and respected scientist. I do not believe that he would have made that statement if he had been in possession of all of the facts.
The general reader may be unaware that one of the obligations any scientist takes on when he or she receives a federal research grant, as had Dr. Jones, is that of reviewing other proposals for federal funding when asked to by the funding agency.
The agency simply mails the reviewer a copy of the proposal with a letter asking for the review, without any prior consultation. The agency will usually ask for reviews from a few of the applicant's peers who are best qualified to do the reviewing.
Many people have questioned the concept of peer review, fearing leakage of ideas from their originators to others. However, if one is funded in the peer review system, one is expected to participate in that system. In any case, any potential damage is done once the reviewer reads the proposal.
To understand the series of events, one must realize that the essential similarity between the two experiments is that both investigators were looking for fusion of deuterium in palladium. The coincidence that they were working independently with such similar approaches only 40 miles apart is startling.
On Sept. 20, 1988, Jones received for review Pons' proposal to the Department of Energy entitled, "The Behavior of Electrochemically Compressed Hydrogen and Deuterium." Nothing in the title suggested any serious conflict of interest, so Jones naturally read the proposal. Once he had read it, he evaluated it.
However, being an unusually conscientious person, he notified the Department of Energy that the Pons proposal involved work very similar to his own. Even though reviews are traditionally confidential, he said that Pons should be notified that Jones had been a reviewer.
(Since the department decided to fund the Pons proposal, we can assume that he gave it a favorable review.) As a result, Jones and Pons were put into contact with one another.
The fact that the proposal was sent to Jones is prima facie evidence that he is a leading researcher in the field. Furthermore, it is easily documented that Jones had done a great deal of work on cold fusion long before reviewing the Pons proposal.
The best evidence so far for fusion of deuterium in deuterated metals has, in fact, come from Jones' BYU group, largely because of their excellent neutron spectrometer. Jones and his colleagues have found fusion in titanium as well as in palladium.
The Pons experiment produces much more heat, but it has not thus far produced really compelling evidence of the fusion of deuterium. In fact, its lack of large numbers of neutrons and gamma rays proves that essentially all of the excess heat must come from some reaction other than the fusion of deuterium.
We do not yet know what that process is, though it could well turn out to be an important and useful nuclear process of some sort. The fact that it produces energy without much radiation of the sort associated with deuterium fusion may be its greatest virtue.
Professor Pons has come up with something which surely looks important, and he will doubtlessly receive great credit for doing so. However, there is no reason whatever for anyone to malign Professor Jones. Jones deserves our respect for his competence as a researcher, his scientific discoveries and for his dignified handling of this entire matter. We should emulate him rather than malign him.
Haven E. Bergeson
Professor of physics
University of Utah