TL,DR: cold fusion is real, apparently. Yes, really - cold fusion. I know. I wouldn't have thought so either.

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The point of this post is basically to promote to your attention the hypothesis that cold fusion is a real physical phenomenon. For those of you not in the know, this very much flies in the face of current scientific consensus (something I'm not usually in the habit of opposing). In this case though the evidence seems to be quite straightforwardly in favour of the cold fusion advocates.

[Note: most researchers working in this area don't like the term cold fusion; partially because of the negative scientific connotations it drudges up, and partially because fusion might not be an accurate description of what's going on physically. The two preferred terms seem to be low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR) and lattice-assisted nuclear reactions (LANR). I use cold fusion in this piece mainly for convenience and name-brand recognition]

Quick background - in 1989 Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, leading electrochemists of their day, announced a truly startling discovery: a tabletop apparatus of theirs had produced anomalous heat that was (according to them) orders of magnitude beyond what could be produced by chemical effects alone. The only process that can produce heat like that is a nuclear reaction, but such reactions were thought to be impossible at such low temperatures. Thinking they had discovered a new source of energy, Pons and Fleischmann were justifiably excited and hurried to publish their results. In the subsequent months a huge number of researchers tried to replicate their findings, with most being unable to do so. Of the few scientists who did get positive results, some later retracted their work, and others were criticized for sloppy experimental design. To make matters worse, errors and exaggerations were found in Pons and Fleischmann's original paper. Very quickly the scientific community as a whole had cold fusion pegged as "pathological science", and most researchers forgot about the whole affair and went back to their normal, non-energy-crisis-solving work. Pons and Fleischmann, disgraced, ended up quietly leaving the country to continue their work elsewhere, and that was the end of the cold fusion story, as far as most people were concerned. [1]

Here's where it gets interesting. Naturally, the prospect of solving the world's energy problems proved very alluring to people, so a small number of researchers continued their work with cold fusion. During the 90's some of this work was published in peer-reviewed journals, although this became less and less common as the decade wore on. As far as I know, no mainstream peer-reviewed scientific journal currently accepts cold fusion papers for consideration. Undeterred, cold fusion researchers continued their work; research was published at conferences devoted to cold fusion, self-organized by researchers in the field. This work was generally not peer-reviewed, and much of it (I think most cold fusion researchers would be willing to admit) was not of the highest quality, scientifically. Much - but not all, mind you. There were some researchers at respected universities (including MIT) that conducted very rigorous and high quality studies. Anyway, together this motley band of hobbyists, engineers and scientists, over the last twenty years or so, has found...well, something. Sometimes. If you squint right.

Basically there are a huge number of scattered reports of cold fusion occurring, but reproducibility is a big problem. Some people find low levels of excess heat. Some people find nothing. Some people, when conditions are "just right", report extremely high levels of excess heat. There are even a few cases where explosions occurred and labs have been "blown up" [2]. The sheer volume of claims might be enough to be suggestive that something was going on, all things being equal. But of course, all things aren't really equal in this case; given the initial inability of expert scientists to replicate the original findings in 1989, and the non-peer-reviewed nature of most cold fusion work nowadays, we have every reason to be extra skeptical of reports of cold fusion. Extraordinary claims and all that.

This is why I've taken what I consider to be the two strongest pieces of evidence for cold fusion and provided them below. As I mentioned before, there are some scientists doing rigorous, very well controlled experiments at research universities, and they consistently find that cold fusion is occurring. So, without further ado, here's my proof:

1. Mitchell Swartz's experiments

If you have the time, I would strongly suggest you watch this video: It's part of a lecture from a multi-week cold fusion course put on by Swartz and others at MIT in January. It's 40 minutes long (and only the first part of five videos actually) but well worth your time. In it Swartz basically makes his case for cold fusion.

I suppose I should stop here to briefly describe what a typical cold fusion experiment looks like. The standard design uses a simple piece of metal, usually Palladium or Nickel. Heavy water (Deuterium) is forced into the lattice of atoms that make up the metal by applying an electric field. Once a high enough loading of Deuterium is achieved in the metal lattice, what (purportedly) happens is that two Deuterons combine in a nuclear reaction to produce a single Helium(4) nucleus, plus heat. The idea is that the lattice of metal atoms is mediating the nuclear reaction in some way, making it occur at far lower temperatures than would normally be possible. Typically these experiments are done with the apparatus fully immersed in heavy water, and what you do is check for excess heat by setting up a calorimeter around the experiment. You can easily measure how much electrical energy you're putting into the system; if the calorimeter is reading higher energies than that coming out, you know cold fusion is taking place (well, that's not entirely accurate - you know some process is producing extra energy, but you don't know what it is. The reason we can confidently say it's nuclear in origin is because the energy densities involved are well beyond what could be produced by a simple chemical reaction).

Anyway, if you can't watch the video, here's what Swartz has found:

-Consistently measures output energy in the range of 200-400% of input energy (!)

-Excess heat is well above noise level for calorimeter

-Calorimeter is very well calibrated - when heat is fed into system via simple ohmic resistor, measured output heat exactly matches input energy

-Chemical control experiments fail (ie using non-cold-fusion-active metals and loading materials gives no excess heat)

-Two calorimeters (each of which have several redundant ways of measuring heat anyway) were built, just to be sure; same results

-Excess heat generation occurs for days or even weeks continuously

-He(4) production is observed, with amounts commensurate with heat production

Mind you, this is not just a one-off experiment - he's been getting results like this for ten years or more. If you watch the video, I think you'll agree that it's a very well-controlled and well-calibrated experiment. It certainly looks that way, anyway, to my semi-informed eyes as a physics grad student (although if there are any actual experimentalists reading this who are more informed than I, I would love to hear from you - please, attack it to bits). In my eyes the only two reasonable explanations for Swartz's results are (i) cold fusion being real, and (ii) active fraud. Fraud is of course possible, but I think unlikely given what other groups have found.

Oh, and if you can't watch the video, here's a 2009 paper you can read by Swartz: It's less focused on his own research and more of a survey of cold fusion research in general, but he does talk about his own results in Section 4. Certainly worth a look.

2. Yasuhiro Iwamura's transmutation work at Mitsubishi

In one of those strange quirks of fate, for some reason or another scientists in Japan ended up being particularly open to cold fusion claims [3]. There are currently several researchers in Japan, some at universities and some at different companies, who are looking in to cold fusion. I link you here to a particularly interesting paper by Iwamura, who works for a research division of Mitsubishi:

Iwamura uses a slightly different setup for Swartz, but the basic idea is the same: Deuterium is permeated through a Palladium lattice, magic happens, heat comes out, etc. The main difference in this experiment is that Iwamura is not actually looking for excess heat production. He's instead looking for transmutation of elements, which also has been reported to happen in certain cold fusion experiments. To do this a layer of some other material, in this case Cesium, is added on top of the Palladium, and - in a process that no one fully understands yet - that material is transmuted into an entirely different element. So just in case unlimited clean energy wasn't enough for you, we now also have just straight-up alchemy happening (I for one can't fathom why scientists are skeptical of cold fusion).

But, prior probabilities be damned, Iwamura has actually gone and done this! In his experiments he does time-resolved XPS spectroscopy, and observes Praseodymium being created in the apparatus while the total amount of Cesium goes down with time - elemental transmutation (!)

This work is particularly strong evidence for two reasons, I think:

One, because the claim involves detecting elements, it's inherently more plausible than any claims to do with excess heat. Calorimetry can be difficult, and it's easy for a skeptic to claim that the experimenter simply made a mistake in measuring the excess heat (mind you in the case above I think the calorimetry is well done and that there wasn't a mistake, but that isn't always the case). In contrast to calorimetry, detecting elements is very straightforward. There are many independent ways to do it, and it's all rather black and white; either you find an element, or you don't. If you do find a new element, then have something of a smoking gun - it's very difficult to explain how a new element could just appear in your experiment without invoking nuclear processes. The standard skeptic's reply to experiments like this is basically to say "contamination," and wave their hands. That is, they posit that the transmuted element in question was already present in the Palladium lattice at the start of the experiment (perhaps concentrate somewhere so it wasn't detected initially). I find this a less than compelling argument, to say the least - really, the experiment just happens to be contaminated with Praseodymium, of all things? And the contamination is such that the Praseodymium gradually appears to the detector over time, at the same rate that Cesium disappears? And when experiments without Cesium are run, the Praseodymium is mysteriously absent? What a strange coincidence.

Sarcasm aside, though, the experimenters are well aware of this argument, and have a very good explanation for why it couldn't be contamination - namely, isotope ratios. Essentially the distribution of isotope frequencies for the transmuted elements they find are different from the natural isotope frequencies for the same element. Hence, the experiment couldn't have simply been contaminated with the natural version of that element.

The second reason this research counts as strong evidence is that...well, it's actually been replicated. This was particularly bizarre for me to discover upon reading about cold fusion - I was under the impression that there were no clear-cut replications of any cold fusion experiments, anywhere. That's apparently not true though - researchers at Toyota have redone Iwamura's experiment and also find Praseodymium being created. Unfortunately it was presented at a conference, and there doesn't seem to be an associated paper. Here's a link to an article though that describes the replication, though, containing some slides with the Toyota researchers results: The article also mentions researchers at two universities (Osaka and Iwate) reporting similar findings.

So to sum up: simple elemental detection experiment. Transmuted elements found. Control experiments fail. Multiple confirmations. Combined with the high-quality excess heat measurements of Swartz above, I feel very confident in concluding that cold fusion is a real physical phenomenon. For an additional bit of low-weight evidence, though, I submit to you also the fact that NASA, of all organizations, has an active cold fusion program: see To be honest I think that article overhypes the current situation; yes, cold fusion appears to be real, but I find the assertion that multiple groups have already achieved kilowatt-level heat production to be very suspect, based on what I've read. Regardless, the fact that NASA is treating this seriously and actively doing cold fusion research might serve as further evidence for skeptical readers.

This concludes my case.

Now, despite the (I think) fairly convincing picture I've painted here, we are still left with the nagging question of why so many early cold fusion experiments failed, and why so many continue to fail today. It seems clear that, real effect or no, cold fusion experiments have unusually low reproducibility. Shouldn't this count against it somehow? In the words of one skeptic, nuclear physicist Richard Garwin,

"It's absurd to claim that experiments that seem to support cold fusion are valid, while those that don't are flawed."

I think Garwin misses the point here, though. What cold fusion advocates are looking for is an existence proof. They just have to show that there exists some set of experimental conditions for which cold fusion occurs. Or, to flip the quantifiers (as PhilGoetz might put it ;), they are trying to disprove the hypothesis that for all sets of experimental conditions, cold fusion never occurs. Looking at it that way, of course a few experiments would be sufficient to make the case - it's just standard Popperian falsification. When you're dealing with "for all" statements, its one strike and you're out.

Or, to put it in Bayesian terms: the probability of getting negative experimental results, conditional on cold fusion being true, is not that low. If cold fusion is true, then somewhere in the experimental parameter space there must be a region where it occurs. But that says nothing about the size of the region; it's fairly easy to imagine experimenters setting out to demonstrate cold fusion and missing some unknown key aspect of the design, giving a negative result. One doesn't even have to posit any experimental error - they're simply looking in the wrong place. On the other hand, the probability of getting positive results in a well-designed, well-controlled experiment, conditional on cold fusion being false, is extremely low. It's basically equal to the probability that the experimenter screwed up the measurement, which can be made vanishingly low with proper controls and replications.

With all that said, of course, it would still be nice to know where exactly previous cold fusion researchers were going wrong. Mitchell Swartz, incidentally, thinks he has this figured out. He's identified a number of necessary conditions for cold fusion that are frequently absent from failed experiments and present in successful ones. The two main culprits seem to insufficient loading of Deuterium in the metal lattice, and a non-optimal (too high or too low) level of electrical driving of the system. I have no idea if he's right about the particulars, of course. But it certainly doesn't seem implausible that this will all be sorted out in the near future, and what seemed like irreproducibility will simply turn out to be the result of an underlying, thus far opaque, pattern.

Huh, this turned out much longer than I expected. I guess I'll close by noting that this topic seems like an almost perfect candidate for confirmation bias; who wouldn't want to believe in a cheap, unlimited, carbon and radiation-free energy source? That's part of the reason I made this post; what I'd really like is for people to a) pick apart this post, looking for flaws in my logic/arguments, and b) look into this whole cold fusion thing independently, and see if they reach the same conclusions. I'm very interested in getting this right, for obvious reasons, and I think at the very least I've made a sufficiently interesting case that doing some research online would be worth it. I don't think I really need to mention the almost mind-boggling impact cold fusion would have, if it turned out to be real and exploitable.

I'm cautiously optimistic about the future right now, LW.


[1] This is standard history, see


Relevant quote: "The explosions are difficult to keep secret. Most people who have been around the field know of them: Fleischmann and Pons in Utah, unidentified researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a group at SRI International, Tadahiko Mizuno in Japan, Jean-Paul Biberian in France, and another situation in a Russian lab a few years ago.

The only lab that may have blown up was the one in Russia. In the other situations, the experiment, not the lab, blew up. SRI International researcher Andy Riley was killed, and Michael McKubre was wounded. Mizuno lost his hearing for a week and came very close to sustaining severe injuries."



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The prevalence of fraud, misreporting of experimental conditions as more solid than they were, publication biases, and other problems can produce bogus literatures that look more solid than this (aside from the prior), e.g. parapsychologists have many experiments that appear to replicate to a substantial degree in the parapsychology literature.

Given the initial flurry of attention to attract people to the the topic this field doesn't look particularly surprising to me on the assumption that it is studying a non-existent phenomenon. If that's explained, then I don't see reason to pay attention at all.

ETA: What probability did you assign to cold fusion of this sort existing when you first made this post, and what probability do you now assign in light of the evidence found by other commenters?

Before I read the article, I would have estimated that it was 100 times more likely to be some combination of scam and bad results; after reading the post but no comments (and crucially, not fact-checking the references provided, just observing that links were added that claimed to be references and could easily be checked), I adjusted toward the position that there was strong evidence that fusion was occurring at low temperature, but not in a way that is currently viable for energy production Call it 10-1 against any actual results, and still about 0 chance of anything commercially usable in the foreseeable future.. After reading all of the comments, I'm going to have to call it 10-1 against fusion, but only 5-1 against there being some type of actual anomalous behavior. The lack of reproducible results is hard to overcome, but I think that there is a high chance that there are some phenomena which will be hard to reproduce for some reason or other, and some the evidence here is very much what I would expect if something hard to reproduce was involved. Still no chance of usable technology within the timeframe I will make estimates for.
Well, my probability has gone down quite a bit, obviously. I didn't know about the failed replication that OrphanWilde linked; if I had, it might have been enough to stop me from writing the whole thing up. That being said, my probability is still high enough to be in the "this is interesting" range. I'll be keeping an eye out for cold fusion news. I certainly won't be making any investments based on the assumption that it's real.
The real reason to doubt cold fusion is real is because of lack of replication and communication between relevant experts to replicate the phenomena. Its been several decades and there isn't continuous refinement and improvement. Parapsychology has the same problem. But, publication bias is a problem throughout science, especially in medicine and psychology but mainstream science believes in and trusts the treatment prescribed by doctors and psychiatrists/psychologists. This baffles me: no one in the mainstream of scientific authority says mental disorders don't exist, but by the standards of bias and lack of replication, we would have to say so, wouldn't we? To be clear: there is no mainstream scientific theory that explains mental disorders. This is so obvious we forget it, right? Yet we don't say mental disorders do not exist. We use different criteria based upon social status, not the quality of evidence. Now, maybe you don't do this. I don't know you that well, but its clear and easy to see the standard of evidence isn't met in many other areas of science - like genetics and evolutionary development.

This baffles me: no one says mental disorders don't exist

Did not Szasz build a well-respected, successful, and famous career doing just that?

I know, I edited my remark after thinking a bit more to read, "no one in the mainstream..." I am only trying to draw out the difference between claims of net power through some unknown physical process and the obvious flaws of cold fusion as a means of explaining the statistical phenomena. Non existence is obvious and trivial, but sometimes it merely points to our own ignorance. I am not a physicist so I use heuristics to decide who to believe, but they are mere heuristics and really shouldn't be taken very seriously.

Have you read much of Less Wrong? It is a common theme here that the replication rates of famous published findings in most fields is low, reflecting the aggregate weight of such biases. The work of Ioannidis and others like him comes up frequently in discussions of medicine, psychology, and foreign aid. Some random examples: 1, 2, 3, 4.

And in fact the scope of those problems is fairly mainstream: people like Ioannidis are huge draws at conferences, and almost no one disagrees with them that a large portion of findings are false due to various biases: the problems persist more because of the coordination and incentive problems in finding and switching to better systems.

The idea of parapsychology as a control group for science is that standards in science need to be improved to be more reliable, so that efforts like the Reproducibility Project find that most reported findings are solid rather than ephemeral.

But this whole idea of the rate of error in repeatability of a field ignores all the experiments that are never done again because the same phenomena is found over and over again. In general I agree. But I don't believe you should claim a phenomena does not exist because it doesn't fit with mainstream science. If you think science says what can or cannot exist, you would only be rationally correct (that is correct by whatever criteria you have specified), not actually correct because the best answer is unknowable, so far. Thus, I maintain my agnosticism about net power, but not cold fusion. Cold fusion isn't a real phenomena, but maybe some have obtained net power, or maybe not.
  1. Mitchell Swartz's experiments at MIT

Mitchell Swartz doesn't look to be actually employed by MIT. So far as Google was able to tell me, he runs his experiments independently and what he done at MIT was a guest demonstration of his results hosted by Peter Hagelstein (who does work at MIT). So I suspect talking about 'Mitchell Swartz's experiments at MIT' might be misleading. But I'm really not sure as it's hard to find anything on the guy, so it would be nice if you could clarify any of this.

I think this is Swartz's webpage. Try clicking on the first link, I dare you. And links to Peter Hagelsteins personal page at his MIT faculty page are dead. No information on the mini-course except the videos and crackpotty-looking cold fusion news sites. So I can't really tell to what extent it was 'a course at MIT' rather than 'that thing two dudes did, inside MIT's buildings.' Fishy.

You seem to be correct about Swartz, sorry. I was confusing him with Peter Hagelstein. I should probably just remove the MIT references - I think the video stands well on its own. Edit: also, yes, I admit the websites do not look great. Points against for sure. The data is pretty convincing though.
I took one look at that linked page and concluded that any data linked from it is more likely to be falsified than interesting. Your mileage may vary.
Oh dear lord that webpage.
Remind me never to take up your dares again.

There's a rather unprofessional PDF put together by a team at the Naval Research Center which disputes the significance of Iwamura's findings:

Short summary: They replicated the experiment but got no praseodymium. Undeterred, they received some samples from MHI, which also came up empty. Finally they went on site - and the only time they were able to observe praseodymium was when MHI researchers retrieved the samples and they were analyzed on-site. They also observed environmental praseodymium contamination.

We don't have anything for the Toyota replication of the experiment, unfortunately.

Interesting. See, this is the kind of thing I was looking for.

Yeah. I'm disappointed. I was excited by the possibility and went looking for replications; instead I found that.

Well, that may be a case of science acting quite seriously Bayesian. No theoretical backing for something at ordinary energies = very low prior. Making deuterium in-situ with electrolysis = obfuscation of the process, which is bad too. The stuff about extreme purity of palladium being necessary, that lowers prior probability even further because now not only you have cold fusion, but it is also sensitive to impurities in far away lattice points. Which is very weird for a non-semiconductor.

Then, on various interesting bits of evidence. Strong excess heat, that sounds good, but strong excess heat implies possibility of making a working product out of it, and no one did, so assuming a possibility of strong excess heat you get a lot of evidence now that it doesn't work.

Explosions, you can of course spin this as evidence and claim that energy stored was insufficient to cause the explosion, which sounds like evidence, but look, you're postulating that explosions which apriori (given theoretical ignorance) can range from microscopic to a megaton blast, fit in the window of a dynamite stick.

So you get a very low prior for it working, and then, in absence of a theoretical model, you have r... (read more)

Another fun exercise. How does the recent discovery of dark lightning, basically lightning that produces X/gamms-rays, affect the posteriors?
Not knowing any significant level of detail about it, I'd assume that there's a lot of energy in lightning. When things with megavolt+ potentials cause stuff to happen that normally requires megavolt+ potentials, I am... unsurprised. So, I don't see any particular update on cold fusion probabilities due to lightning research. Am I missing some connection that you're thinking of?
That's like saying "Tom (whose a millionaire) should be able to pay of the (multi-trillion dollar) national debt because both involve a lot of money". It's not just a matter of energy, it's a matter of putting enough of it into a sufficiently small space. Producing X-ray normally involves phenomena capable of splitting atoms, which lightning can't do (as far as we know).
Lightning produces potential differences of many million volts. When an electron or proton goes across the difference of potentials of 1 million volts, it acquires energy of 1 million electron volts, which is enough to produce some high energy x-rays, and even nuclear reactions. Air pressure has an effect though, as the electron won't gain much energy if it keeps colliding with air - unless the electric field strength (volts per meter - it is similar to slope) is pretty high. Lightnings propagate weird -with a streamer going ahead - near the streamer it is plausible that electric field is strong enough. It's not that different from early linear particle accelerators powered with a big Van-de-Graaf generator. A lot of energy ends up in single charged particle because that particle moved across big potential difference.
Producing x-rays normally does not require splitting or transforming nuclei. The traditional way to make x-rays, say, in a dentists office, is just colliding high-energy electrons with a metal plate. It's mildly interesting to do the same in free air, but it doesn't seem to require any sort of new physics. Atmospheric electromagnetic fields are, trivially, strong enough to ionize a lot of air, and that gets you some pretty fast-moving electrons.

They just have to show that there exists some set of experimental conditions for which cold fusion occurs.

It's not that people are claiming it doesn't work because there are so many conditions that fail to cause cold fusion. It's that for each individual set of experimental conditions it has not been replicated. If there is a set of conditions under which cold fusion happens, either we have failed to find it yet, in which case we have no evidence for it, or we have found it, in which case all the replication attempts must have been somehow flawed.

hidden variable. you can't control for things you don't know about.

I'm sort of surprised that this article is only at zero. I would expect it to be lower because:

(1) it has nothing whatsoever to do with rationality (except, I guess the bit at the end), and (2) it is almost certainly wrong (for the reasons given by DanielLC and OrphanWilde.

The poster is a guy who "[doesn't] know what to think" about a dude whose entire history is scamming people with alternative energy sources. Doesn't make him a bad person -- it just makes him bad at evaluating evidence.

I love somewhat fringe articles on lesswrong. It helps raise the quality of discussion by offering contrasts to what is and is not acceptable and points out onerous details skeptics are wary to explain in detail, like the subtleties of believing a phenomena exists versus having a theory to explain it. (see my comments above).
In my defense, I mostly considered Rossi to be irrelevant to the question I was looking into (whether cold fusion exists or not). As such, I didn't investigate him very thoroughly, and so gave a non-committal response above. On the other hand, I had heard about his previous scams (only in passing, but still), and that probably should have been enough for me to discount him.
It wasn't shminux who said s/he didn't know what to think about Rossi.

I wrote this 10,000-word blog post arguing that cold fusion is not real after all, on the basis of the experimental evidence. (The rest of the blog, 30 posts or so, spells out the argument that cold fusion is not real, on the basis of our knowledge of theoretical physics.) Obviously the conclusion is no surprise to most people here ... but I still think the nitty-gritty details of these arguments are interesting and are somewhat hard to find elsewhere on the internet.

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Interesting but still highly doubtful. The Toyota reproduction of Iwamura is not clearly documented. And a team of researchers at University Missouri (SKINR - Kimmel Inst. "Nuclear Renaissance" - Robert Duncan) has not yet confirmed the appearance of energetic particles. This bunch is hosting a meeting called ICCF18, a crackpot-type conference of cold fusion enthusiasts found here:

What IS interesting is the recent patent issued to a research group inside the U.S. Navy's SPA-WAR division &quo... (read more)

My wake-up call regarding regarding cold fusion came from Ron Maimon's writings at Physics Stack Exchange, e.g. here and here. It was especially startling to learn that there were prior observations, going back decades, of anomalies associated with deuterated palladium.

As for the physics of it, the two main problems seem to be (1) where does the energy to overcome Coulomb repulsion come from (2) why aren't lots of neutrons being produced. In the first link above, Maimon speculates (1) that the energy comes from a chain reaction in which inner-orbital elec... (read more)

Huh. Those links are ... really damn persuasive. They're actually so right I'm worried he's just a master of the Dark Arts. Hmm.

So what assets should I be purchasing if this is all right?

Anything to do with palladium production-- futures, mines, refining. Short praseodymium. (The first is probably more sensible advice than the second.)
Deuterium production, as well.
Stock in the producers of steam plants. The typical method of converting heat to electrical power is to boil water, run the steam through a turbine to get rotary mechanical energy, and use that to turn a generator shaft. Coal uses the same basic idea, but uses coal to make heat; diesel and natural gas generators burn the fuel to create rotational mechanical energy directly. Conversion of diesel and natural gas power generation to nuclear process of any kind is likely to result in a lot of steam plant construction. Alternately, you could buy training as a steamfitter, since a breakthrough that results in a large number of steam plants being built will spike demand for people who can do the work, and the training takes several years.
Not being very knowledgeable about the economy, this is one of the things I hoped to ask LessWrong. The best ROI would probably be "whatever startup first commercializes a cold fusion device." Lacking that specific knowledge, though, I don't know. Shorting oil companies?
How much heavy water does the device use? Does Swartz have patents?
Funny that you should ask that. In fact, the patent office rejects cold fusion patents. When Swartz tried to file some patents, he was rejected and sued; he ultimately lost (see Swartz, 232 F.3d 862, 56 USPQ2d 1703, (Fed. Cir. 2000)). The only surprise here is that the patent office managed to get this one right -- in my field (software), the patent office is totally fucked. If CF worked, it would be relatively easy to demonstrate: just generate a bunch of power with it on a small power input, in a way that others can replicate (even if you have to ship them your equipment).
Those are the ones with the economic and political clout to delay, patent, lie and buy their way into benefitting from this development, if it proves true. They don't actually care about oil as in carbohydrates, they care about "stuff we can use to make oodles of money".
People used to say the same thing about Hollywood. Now look at what Hollywood is doing. I don't see why big bulky bureaucratic oil companies would fare any better at adjusting to change and new technologies. Outside view says short them.
outside view? doesn't the even more outside view have a saying about markets and solvency and shorting?
Probably. I do not know of any such sayings, and do not know much about markets and solvency and shorting in general. Perhaps a better rephrasing would be that a naive first outside view should conclude that oil companies will be just as stuck-in-their-ways as other examples have been or still are. Kawoomba also makes a few other good points that are worth considering, tough I'm not sure they all add up to them doing all that much better than everyone else on the "update for new technologies" front.
"Markets can remain irrational a lot longer than you and I can remain solvent." is the saying.
Energy companies are in a reference class of their own, and their political influence, lobbying power and entrenchment comparable if at all to that of banks and financial institutions. They are transnational players that many see as transplanting state actors, even when some of them (e.g. Chinese energy companies, Russian energy companies) act as surrogates for their state. They are not like Hollywood. If there is a new way to produce nigh-unlimited energy, it won't be long until there's a law to regulate it, and that law will be heavily influenced by energy companies. Or will they be stopped by public pressure and idealistic politicians? More like the lone battle of Elizabeth Warren, failing to get the simplest kind of regulation passed in the banking sector. Let's not even get into the broken patent system which can be weaponized by the highest bidder.
I wouldn't short oil companies, since I doubt cold fusion would be useful for powering cars directly, since the methods produce warmer water, not directly usable electricity. Hot water isn't really practical for powering cars.
If only there was existing technology to harness warmer water to power cars.
Obviously we already have ways of creating electricity, the problem is storing it densely enough, which is why people still use gasoline cars. The limiting technology is batteries, not our ability to create electricity cheaply (already much cheaper than gasoline). Hence there is no reason to expect cold fusion to have a major impact on oil companies relative to other fossil fuel companies. Or were you suggesting we put steam-thermal power plants in cars? I'm afraid I don't have time to explain to you all the reasons that is a bad idea.
There would be less impact on oil companies than (say) coal companies. But given that electric cars are already viable for some purposes despite significantly less development a drastic drop in electricity cost will obviously increase the viability and change the margins. The only reason not to short oil companies based on that counterfactual information is because of the opportunity cost. There are other industries that would be effected even more so whatever investment resources you have should be focussed in one of those. For example, lithium battery technology.
You are wrong on multiple levels. 1. You are assuming that LENR energy would be drastically cheaper than present sources of electricity, which is almost certainly wrong. Since most of the retail price of electricity is not the fuel cost, but rather the capital costs of the thermal plant and power line maintenance, LENR thermal power plants would probably not drop the retail price of electricity by even half. It is entirely possible that the capital costs for LENR plants would be higher than coal. 2. Even if LENR electricity was free, it wouldn't do much to increase the viability of electric cars, which are held back by very practical concerns about the vastly higher initial cost, inferior range, and battery failure and capacity reduction with time. The limiting factor is not electricity prices, but battery capability. There is no reason to think LENR will have an impact on lithium battery technology, especially within the limited shelf life of a short sale. 3. There are about 30,000 electric cars on the street now in the United States, compared to ~250,000,000 passenger vehicles. It would take 7 doubling periods before electric vehicles were 1% of the U.S. passenger fleet. LENR just wouldn't have a significant impact on the oil companies.
Whoaaaaa there. Citation needed. You're telling me that in the US and other places, with all those coal and oil plants, the electric line maintenance costs more than mining, treating, transporting (including cost of oil used by trucks), and processing the materials burned by the plants to make that electricity? On top of all that personnel that has to be paid to go operate the plant, operate the trucks, do the actual repairs and maintenance on the lines, etc.? This tickles my priors too much and I am confused. How many doubling periods did the iPhone take to go from 0 consumers to pervasive-"what-the-hell-you-don't-have-an-iPhone?!" phenomenon? Doubling periods is an extremely poor metric for consumer object spread and popularity. The use of it here smells of dark arts or status signalling.
Yes, I am right. Note that I was specifically talking about thermal plants, not oil plants (which you mentioned, and I did not). Oil-fired plants are rare because it costs so much more than coal. A ton of coal currently currently costs much less than a single barrel of oil. Note that the solar and wind power also have no fuel costs. Are you equally incredulous that solar and wind power cost substantially more than coal-thermal per watt? Please note that your strength as a rationalist does not just include the ability to state your incredulity, but also to research things that are very easy to research (one minute of googling would have made these questions unnecessary). Cars are manufactured slower, redesigned more rarely (design generations last multiple years for each model), bought more rarely, and take much longer to pay off. The limiting factor (battery capability) has historically improved very slowly in spite of massive investment. When progress is this slow, and the install base is that large, talking about doubling periods absolutely makes sense. Annual new car sales are only about ~6% the total passenger car fleet, so even if all new cars were electric, it would take at least 15 years before they were ubiquitous. And for them to become 100% of new cars, every automaker would have to redesign all of their model lines at once (this will never happen).
Ten minute of googling did not give me coherent results or even the kind of data I was looking for. The only "maintenance" figures I could find were combinations of the original plant construction and project costs flattened over 30 years added to the "operation and maintenance" costs, in $/mWh (which I believe carries about the same information as the figures in your link). Unsurprisingly, these were higher than what the figure for "$ cost per short ton" of coal (of which at least 2 out of 4 figures I found clearly did not include the costs of transport) gives when converted to $/mWh using some reference assumptions about kWh/btu and btu/coal (these). From the link you give me, Fixed O&M seems to be the base maintenance and operating costs (I assume including personnel), while the variable O&M figures seem to be that + fuel. Line maintenance seems to be included in the first one, unless I've read this wrong (or perhaps isn't even anywhere in these figures), so the difference between the two numbers looks like what's interesting. And that difference is clearly higher than the fixed maintenance cost for new generation technologies. If these figures don't contain line maintenance, then I don't see at all what you're basing your argument on. Your initial wording in the grandparent seemed to imply that the cost of line maintenance per mWh was greater than the total cost of mining, processing and transporting the coal per mWh. This is the main point on which I was incredulous, because my priors tell me that operating a train that ferries hundreds of tons of coal regularly for thousands of miles will cost more than maintaining the distribution lines. However, I'll admit that my priors may not have been adjusted to take into account the costs of maintaining every single neighborhood, every single street transformer, every single endpoint to every single home, along with all the crap that happens there and all the disaster repairs necessary each year. If this was inclu
I was referring to all non-fuel related costs, not the line maintenance in particular. The fuel costs are just a small fraction of the total retail price of electricity from thermal plants. We really have no way of knowing the overall costs of commercial power from LENR, but I would guess it would be no more than fission at the highest and slightly lower than coal at the cheapest.
In those terms, I fully agree. Thanks for all the enlightening information in the previous responses, too!
"Overall costs" cannot easily be measured in dollars. If the CF process doesn't create any of the byproducts of coal or fission, it would be radically cheaper.

This is complete rubbish. I refer you to the RationalWiki article on the topic, which we worked quite hard on and would welcome critique of. (Mostly it needs expansion.)

There is a continuing failure to find any cold-fusion method that consistently reproduces the supposed effect. The great majority of written-up experiments fail even to obtain excess heat. The primary research effort should be on improving reproducibility; instead, the cold fusion people live in a fantasy where their field has imminent practical engineering applications despite not having even reproducible science.

Not my cuppa. First paragraph:

Cold fusion, also called Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) or Chemically-Assisted Nuclear Reactions (CANR) by its proponents, is the claim of nuclear reactions at relatively low temperatures, rather than at millions of degrees. It is now mainly used as a scam to dupe the unwitting out of their money.

I don't believe in LENR either, but if you're going to write a skeptical article on it, the factual refutation should come before the mockery. The right to mock has to be earned, not stolen.

This is not the level of info that anyone who's read the above main article should be interested in.

Rough inverted pyramid, based on the lead summary model: intro as tl;dr, then the little blue numbers in the body.

Arguably removing the "It is now mainly used" sentence would improve it. (So I just did.) Thanks!

The main tl;dr on the article should be something along the lines of: "Although many claims have been made and some claims continue to be made, none of the claims has ever been replicated reliably despite a very great deal of effort. There are also no good theoretical explanations for how cold fusion could be physically possible. Thus mainstream science does not currently think that cold fusion exists, and [assuming this part is true, is it and can you provide citations?] there have been several known scams aimed at extracting money from venture capitalists [or whatever alleged scam has been observed to occur]." The goal here is to quickly and accurately convey the current state of evidence, mainstream repute, and if there are scams in the wild, warn people against them in a credible fashion. Credible, in this case, means specific and documentable - calling something a scam isn't going to successfully warn off somebody who's paying money; being specific about a past scam and providing a footnote might.

Also note the ordering: First we mention the failure to reproduce experimental evidence, then the lack of theoretical backing, then that mainstream scientists don't be... (read more)

Thank you very much for giving it this much attention!

Thanks for eliminating the 'scam' line! That is what caused me to keep going.

The irony here is that rational wiki has an article on yudkowsky and it isn't very flattering. Perhaps you have read it David?
I have to admit I don't see the irony here. Am I missing some context? EDIT: Ah, right, they were talking about a RW article.
Thanks, Eliezer. You suggested "Although many claims have been made and some claims continue to be made, none of the claims has ever been replicated reliably despite a very great deal of effort." That is what the article claims. "The term was popularised with the work of Pons and Fleischmann, which gained tremendous publicity but was irreproducible.[1] The citation is to a study on that clearly demonstrates the opposite. The entire Rational Wiki article is trolling, designed to insult and irritate, which is typical of the RatWiki approach. I'm still an admin there, totally useless. Wikipedians came there to impose the Wikipedian view on the cold fusion article, there is a huge history (as the article points out, but doesn't point out details), but, bottom line, when I found that RatWiki was quite willing to tolerate me being told to "go fuck your kids," by a Wikipedian attack dog who had created the disruption on Wikipedia that led to the second cold fusion ArbCom case (where I was actually confirmed in my filing claim) I essentially gave up on the site. David Gerard was a big part of that. Technocrat, VIP Wikipedian, and quite willing to impose his opinions instead of actually learning what is in sources. Hence the article is full of "information" that is contrary to the sources cited. Try to explain that there? Tl:dr. Yet, at least, the article points to some sources of interest. Those have been excluded from Wikipedia. The article snark is visible on RatWiki, the Wikipedia article pretends to be neutral. Some of the same pseudoskeptical ideas prevail in both places. The claim that cold fusion researchers are motivated by a dream of limitless energy is a common claim. It was said about me. I have no idea that cold fusion is necessarily useful for energy production, just that it is not impossible. My interest on Wikipedia was encyclopedic," not POV-pushing. I was very careful about that, but I confronted abusive administration, twice, successful
And, in fact, it isn't even clear in which worlds it is more likely to occur. In some cases the existence of scams claiming to sell X is actually (terrible) evidence that X is possible rather than terrible evidence to the contrary.
That's not so much a matter of which worlds as what information you already posses.
It is that too but I was actually referring about the worlds, which do matter. The details of why and how X is possible influence make a difference to whether scams will be built around it, etc.
This is a common issue with how RationalWiki is written in general. In defense of their writing style, it is written in a way that will get more people to listen. If you are already talking to the highly rational, you'd be correct. But for a lot of people if they get something with zero humor up front they'll just click the little red x.

I believe I may be said to know something about humorous writing. It is not necessary to violate rules of rational discourse in order to have it.


People will also click the little red x if they suspect they're being mocked, which will happen in all the important cases: when the reader actually considers believing in cold fusion or what have you.

Is that obvious? The people who will consider themselves to be personally being mocked will be the people who are already strongly believe. But those people are the ones where articles like this are least likely to have any impact on anyways. If one is aiming at the potentially credulous rather than the believer, that shouldn't be an issue.
I think the main point of RationalWiki is to be entertaining, rather than to be informative.
There are two references to "the 2010 review paper" in the "Cold fusion as pseudoscience" section, but said paper is not introduced until the next section, perhaps as a result of edits changing the order of the sections. The wikipedia criticism section seems more helpful for actually understanding what's wrong with cold fusion.
I'm sorry - I suspect that article is accurate, because I'm fairly sure CF is bunk, but RW articles have their bottom line written in advance; they retain the conclusion while becoming less, well, rational when that bottom line is mistaken. As such, they form pretty poor evidence for any proposition, and indeed actively introduce biased evidence samples.

Personally, I was always fond of the totally impractical muon-assisted fusion concept. Way cooler than metal intercalation or cavitation.

Cold fusion exists, little doubt about that. Only that it is even much colder than people expect. I mean, it is a question of "when", not of "if", for two hydrogen atoms to fuse. That's elementary.

Perhaps a billion times colder fusion than the so called "cold fusion" is a fact of life.

I once had my friend calculate the probability of a single pair of hydrogen nuclei fusing in the reaction of 2H2 with O2 in a balloon (which produces a cool boom resulting in water vapor). Despite the enormous number of atoms, and the fact that at the high energy tail of the distribution some fraction of atoms should be going really fast, the probability that any were going fast enough to fuse was e^-somethinghuge.
Yeah, but you won't be getting much energy by sitting around and waiting for it to happen "naturally".
There's also spontaneous fission of helium-4. At what concentration of H-2 and He-4 are they in equilibrium?

No mention of Andrea Rossi?

I honestly don't know what to think of Rossi. He could be genuine, he could just be a scam artist. Certainly he's exhibited behaviour in the past that I would associate with scam artists - continually promising definitive proof is "just around the corner", and then not delivering. On the other hand, if cold fusion is really real, it obviously raises the probability that he's genuine.

His wikipedia page shows THREE successive fringe science companies promising miracle energy breakthroughs in completely separate areas of technology, contra accepted science: waste-to-oil, super-thermoelectricity, and now cold fusion. The previous companies failed to produce anything, and the first one brought criminal charges.

Why would you be agnostic about the guy?

scam artist for sure, that one is easy.

Wow, it's been more than two years since I commented on Less Wrong. Great article here, though, as usual with cold fusion, it still contains some misunderstandings. Let me dispose of some of them by fiat.

Anything to do with Rossi is not science. There have been demonstrations and tests, including one with a level of independence that remained inadequate. Rossi is commercial, his methods are secret, and so any reports from him cannot be reproduced. It's trivially easy to dismiss Rossi as a fraud, but on closer examination, the matter is complex. He might be... (read more)

I must admit, this sounds odd - I wouldn't have predicted this result - but not inexplicable - I would predict that someone with the right incentive could fake this. As such, I still believe cold fusion isn't real, but I have updated my confidence in the relevant model downwards.

However, I will say one thing - if this works, someone should be making money off it. I don't care if it wont replicate; if it works consistently for you then you can use it to build a profitable business, which seems like it should make skeptics think again as well as producing profit.

Just don't ask anyone to invest in Cold Fusion, for God's sake. Start small.

I do agree with this line of reasoning to a certain extent, but it isn't necessarily true. One could imagine a scenario where the experiment was reproducible enough to be convincing (say, it works 75% of the time), but wasn't reproducible enough to be commercially viable (which might require 99% reliability or something). Alternatively, someone could be getting consistent excess heat at a level too low to be of use to anyone.
See also knb's argument in this thread.

Regardless of whether cold fusion is possible (who knows), and regardless of whether I am qualified to think it is possible (moderately so), and regardless of whether I think it possible (I certainly don't think anyone has managed it), I would never be convinced by this post.

You seem to think your argument is pretty convincing. Suppose it is. Suppose 99% of laypeople who have no idea if cold fusion is real believe it. Or 100%, or whatever. That has no bearing on whether cold fusion is real or whether I should believe it to be real from your post.

I would be... (read more)


Great post!

I don't understand why this was downvoted.

Here's a good exercise then: Think of three possible reasons why it was downvoted.