Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Science advances one funeral at a time

Max PlanckWhat do the television camera, bioelectricity, meteorites and rocket-powered space ships all have in common? They are among the many scientific advances and discoveries that were originally ridiculed by the scientific establishment of their day.

Today's meteorite is cold fusion, potentially a clean, cheap, and virtually limitless source of energy. It was announced to the world--perhaps a tad prematurely--on March 23, 1989 by Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann. It was supposed to change the energy landscape of the world forever.

Alas, it did not.

Rather than see it for the potential it held, scientists preferred to take pot shots at it; claiming that Pons and Fleischmann were suffering from delusions, and were incompetent boobs.

Well in August 2004, the U.S. Department of Energy--who had initially denounced the 1989 discovery--quietly reopened the case by inviting a handful of cold fusion scientists before a panel to answer one question: Is the work surrounding cold fusion legitimate science? Their conclusion? The evidence is still inconclusive.

This blogger has a hard time believing that the United States of America--one of the world's leading consumers of non-renewable fossil fuel energy (oil)--would be so hard nosed about a potential Holy Grail to their impending energy crisis. Logic dictates that an energy source which is finite will eventually run out. So why wouldn't the U.S. be interested in investing a few dollars--literally, since cold fusion experiments can be conducted in a high-school chemistry lab--to investigate a potential miracle solution to the problem it's already beginning to face? Especially since hot fusion--the scientific establishment's own attempt at fusion energy--is getting billions of dollars of funding and hasn't much more to show for their efforts?

Either the DOE has been conducting secret experiments itself or the solution to the energy problems of the future has truly fallen victim to the most heinous tyrant of them all: the human ego. Scientists who denounced cold fusion in '89 are faced with evidence from numerous labs from around the world confirming the reproducibility of the cold fusion effect. But it seems they would rather save face than admit that they may have been wrong. After all, who wants to do the world a favour when their ego's on the line? In that case the only hope we have is in what Max Planck said: Science advances one funeral at a time.

Unfortunately the old guard may be dying off at the same rate as the cold fusionists. Young scientists steer clear of the field for fear of ruining their careers. The only ones daring enough to work in it have tenure, and they're the ones slowly dying off.

If only someone with guts would step up and foot some serious dough for researchers to prove once and for all if cold fusion belongs with the television camera and meteorites, or if it should forever be relegated to history's scientific trash bin.

Technorati tags: , , ,