"This thing has created an incredible amount of pontification, with very little evidence of ability in experimentation." A British scientist on Nature's recent attack on the University of Utah's cold fusion research.
Two University of Utah chemists, who six weeks ago reported creating solid-state fusion in a test tube, have lashed out at a leading scientific journal that this week attacked their research.The British journal Nature, which in its April 27 edition printed several articles on "cold fusion," focused its criticism on the research of B. Stanley Pons, a U. chemistry professor, and Martin Fleischmann, a noted English electrochemist and research professor at the U.
Nature speculated that the Utah experiment is fatally flawed and will never be verified by other scientists.
"The Utah phenomenon is literally unsupported by the evidence, could be an artifact and given its improbability, is most likely to be one," wrote John Maddox, editor of the 120-year-old magazine that, during its history, has been first to report the discovery of the neutron, structure of DNA, the first pulsar, and other scientific milestones.
The attack by Nature is the strongest yet to be hurled at Pons and Fleischmann since they reported producing solid-state fusion, a process that could provide a source of abundant, clean energy.
But the researchers insist that the magazine's reputation - not theirs - will be tarnished by the articles.
"This is sensationalism of the worst type. I have never in my life seen such a scandal by a scientific journal to discredit two people. They have a privileged position that they are using," Pons told the Deseret News Saturday. "While the articles and contributors to that journal are of the highest quality in the world, I think what you are seeing here is the development of a very nasty piece of sensationalism by the editors.
"I don't see how these people will ever, ever recover their prestige. I do not see how these editors will ever be able to recover from such an act," he said. "I can assure you that we are not going to stand for it."
Pons and Fleischmann have had Nature's attention since March 23 when their breakthrough was announced at a news conference at the U.
Nature has repeatedly accused them of disclosing to the press their intention to submit their scientific paper to the journal, Fleischmann said. He insists it's a false accusation.
"At the press conference we stated it was quite incorrect to disclose the the name of the journal we were submitting to because it would restrict the freedom of action of the editor," Fleischmann said. "We have never disclosed to anyone that we were submitting an article to Nature. It could have only come from other people submitting papers, or from reviewers or the staff of Nature itself.
"I think it's an impertinence that Nature feels itself entitled to repeat an allegation which is untrue."
The controversy doesn't stop there.
According to Pons and Fleischmann, on March 23 they did submit a "preliminary" paper to Nature. They said they met Nature's requirements for submission; the paper was not more than 1,000 words, with the specific number of diagrams designated.
After the researchers' more lengthy scientific paper had been published in Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry, Pons said, Nature requested substantially more information, and gave the researchers three days to revise and beef up the manuscript.
Pons said that because of heavy speaking and research obligations, "we had no time to write a brand new 3,000-word paper that was substantially different from the one printed in the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry, so we withdrew the paper.
"They forced us to withdraw it by deadlining us and breaking their own rules," Pons said.
Added Fleischmann, "In our view, Nature is not the place to publish full papers on electrochemistry and calorimetry. We simply wanted to inform those who might be interested in the character of the results we obtained and the type of methodology that we were using."
Although they withdrew their paper, Pons and Fleischmann said they replied in full to each reviewer of the manuscript. Receipt of the withdrawal statement and replies to the referees were acknowledged in an April 13 letter telefaxed to Pons by Nature.
However, the U. researchers said that when they contacted one of the referees Friday, they learned that their replies were never forwarded.
Yet, seven days after the manuscript was withdrawn, Nature printed that the authors had not considered it worthwhile to reply to the referees' comments.
"That is a libelous statement," Fleischmann said. "We did reply. It is they (the editors) who did not send the replies to the reviewers. It was the attitude of the editors, not that of the reviewers, that led to our decision to withdraw the paper."
Pons and Fleischmann are also disturbed that part of a confidential scientific review of their paper by one of the referees has also appeared in Nature without their permission.
But the crux of the controversy centers around Nature's April 27 edition, in which the magazine gave a vote of no confidence to the Utah fusion project.
A paper written by Brigham Young University physicist Steven Jones, who has also been doing work in cold nuclear fusion, appears in that same edition.
In that edition, writers, who compare the Pons/Fleischmann experiment to the fusion false alarm of the 1920s, indicate that the scientific community is rapidly losing confidence in the Utah results.
David Lindley, Nature's assistant physics editor, told the Deseret News Friday that there is a lot of frustration in the scientific world because the experiment hasn't been confirmed, and Pons and Fleischmann are inaccessible to researchers.
"I am perplexed," he said. "I can't understand why if they are so certain, they aren't helping out other people."
Pons called Lindsay's statements ludicrous.
"The editors of Nature have no idea who we have been talking to, who has seen the experiment, how many people have been given our data, how many scientists we are collaborating with," Pons said. "He (Lindley) is mumbling in the dark."
Pons said he and Fleischmann work 18 hours a day, seven days a week. "We see as many people as is humanly possible. We write, we continue our experiments."
The scientists said they have also shared their data at scientific seminars with thousands of scientists throughout the world.
This month while Fleischmann was speaking to members of CERN, an organization that does high-energy physics experiments, Pons was addressing more than 7,000 scientists at the American Chemical Society meeting in Dallas. Both explained their experiment to congressional leaders at a hearing of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee last Wednesday.
Plus, they said they've had a continual flow of "internationally reputable" commercial, governmental and independent scientists in their U. laboratory.
"They may or may not be having trouble duplicating it, but they do not argue with our data that shows tremendous excess heat output," Pons said. "Nature has done nothing to disprove the science."
A host of scientists throughout the world - from Texas A&M, Stanford and Case Western to Moscow University - have publicly confirmed the U. experiment. Pons believes as many as 60 more, including some government labs, have replicated the experiment but are keeping mum to protect possible patent applications.
"We presented this whole thing as an experimental observation with a minimal amount of interpretation," Fleischmann said. "We regard it still as an experimental observation which needs to be verified. But rather than people criticizing it, they should go and do some of the experiments themselves."
Pons and Fleischmann will only speculate why they have been the target of Nature's wrath.
"I think it's inevitable. Some people like nothing more than to join a movement of throwing mud. That is the easiest thing in the world to do," Fleischmann said.
Both scientists believe that they've undergone intense scrutiny and criticism because they are independent university researchers in a Utah laboratory.
"If solid state fusion had been discovered in an industrial laboratory, the first time you would have heard about it would have been when someone sold you a generator," Pons said. "We were certainly open about our results in the paper; it's a pity that the wide readership of Nature now only has access to information at second hand - that information coming from our critics."