Recently, there has been several stories published on LENR in more mainstream outlets. The stories tend to broadly focus on Andrea Rossi’s E-cat, but also make mention of others working in the field. I plan to write a series of posts on these recent articles analyzing what stands out to me in the articles.
Popular Science writer Steve Featherstone discusses primarily Andrea Rossi and the E-cat. He refers to his first reaction to reading about Rossi in the following way:
When I first heard the story of Andrea Rossi, I found it baffling that anybody took him seriously. Everything about him—his patently phony website, his clumsy demonstrations, his history as a convicted scam artist—screamed fraud. I wanted to know: How could someone with no real credentials and a history of deceit fool a small army of researchers?
First of all, while Rossi was imprisoned, he was later acquitted. So referring to him as a “convicted scam artist,” is factually inaccurate. Whether he has “no real credentials” and a “history of deceit” is probably also something up for debate. He eventually goes on in the article to describe how he was able to get an in-person interview with Rossi, and encountered difficulty with this after Rossi found out about his plans to meet with a skeptics group on the same day. Mr. Rossi demonstrated one of his devices running in self-sustain mode for an hour with no appreciable change in temperature. The writer was also given free reign to walk around and take many photos of the 1 MW E-cat. He did go on to meet with the skeptics group and noted there did not seem to be a lot of objectivity there. So while his intro didn’t seem to be very even handed, he seemed to become more so as he continued. After meeting with the skeptics group, he notes:
“They are not serious insofar as doing a sort of religion work rather than doing science,” Ruocco said at one point. “They believe in something and they want to demonstrate that.”
As I walked back to the train station, I recalled something Ugo Bardi had said, that cold fusion was a “clash of absolutes.” The description could easily apply to the attitudes of scientists on both sides of the divide. Each believes the other is wrong; each believes the empirical evidence is on his side. In this rigid context, Rossi’s erratic behavior had a shrewd logic to it. The only thing that kept him in the game was his canny ability to straddle the intersection of science and belief.
I don’t blame the author for raising some caution about Rossi. I’ve had concerns myself, but don’t believe he is deliberately deceitful. I see him as a man with deep philosophical convictions and a complex personality, which draws a lot of attention (both positive and negative). Despite the authors attempts to get other LENR scientists to call Rossi a fraud at the LENR conference at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, VA, he notes:
To my astonishment, after three days of asking every cold-fusion researcher in the house, I couldn’t find a single person willing to call Rossi a con man. The consensus was that he had something, even if he didn’t understand why it worked or how to control it. The more I learned, the more confused I became. Could Rossi actually have something real? The only way to know for sure was to go to Italy.
Personally, I feel a certain amount of admiration for Rossi for the attention that he has brought to LENR, the dreams he expresses for the future, his faith in God, and his ability to generate buzz. He also forges ahead guided by his philosophies despite all the controversy and negative things that are said about him. That said, it’s difficult to follow his process and not come away without having some red cautionary flags come up. He often seems to say things that contradict what happens, but communicates in a way that is often vague, terse, and invites incorrect interpretations of the things he says. He has noted himself in the past that he has an internal conflict with his optimism and the need to make cautious statements. I find myself having roughly the same opinion of the scientific researchers in the field, which is to say: he has something, but can it be controlled and delivered to a commercial product in the way he says it will? I hope so!
Going back to the article, the writer finishes by discussing an interview he had with Francesco Celani. Celani noted that his research is very open and that he is not working in secret. He reported believing that his measurements are accurate, but noted that it is always possible that they are not. This is very characteristic of Celani’s empirical and scientific approach, and one mark of a good scientist. Mr. Featherstone seems to have missed something important at the end of his article where he writes:
When I spoke to Truchard in August, he said that he was impressed by the “absolutely precise and well-described” experiments conducted by Celani and others in the field. “I think we are just on the edge,” Truchard added, stopping short of an endorsement of LENR. “And this could happen tomorrow or 10 years from now, because I don’t know when the spark will come. But we are, I believe, close.”
I asked Celani why he thought NI had invited him to the conference. He stopped what he was doing and looked around the chaos of his lab, as if searching for the answer among all the defunct LENR cells he’d built to replicate various experiments dating back to the early days of cold fusion, experiments that helped push the field, watt by watt, closer to legitimacy. “I don’t know,” Celani said, and burst into laughter.
What is interesting to me, it that the writer doesn’t comment on the humility in Celani’s response and reaction to that question. In my experience, this is often the mark of someone of great capability but also the recognition of personal limitations. He shies away from personal attention-seeking and praise and will let others draw their conclusions about him and his work without spin.
At the very end of the article, Mr. Featherstone reviews, briefly, the state of the art with respect to theory (citing Hagelstein and Widom-Larsen). Notably missing is Robert Godes’ CECR hypothesis, which bears some resemblance to both. Over all, the writer does manage to maintain some objectivity despite missing aspects of interpersonal nuance of the people he is interacting with, and it is good to see coverage going out to a broader audience.
In characteristic Rossi style, which leaves people wondering about the deliberateness of his self-expression, a Freudian lapsus calami, or translation problems writes (emphasis mine):
Dear Robert Curto:
The article of Featherweight on Popular Science is honest and sincere.
He believed what he wrote, so I appreciate the journalist and the article. Of course the mass media like Popular Science need to see plants in operation to have a precise idea.
Of course he has since corrected the above to say Featherstone, but I suspect the real opinion was expressed best as originally written. This just emphasizes the intrigue of the man of Andrea Rossi, which inspires so much speculation.