The situation at the time of the announcement of cold fusion was confused because of errors in the nuclear measurements (neither Fleischmann nor his co-worker Stanley Pons had expertise in this area) and because of the difficulty researchers had with replication. Such problems are not unusual in materials science. Some were able, I contend, to get the experiment to work (for example, 55–56; 1994; and Fusion Technol. 17, 680; 1990) and, in my view, to confirm both excess heat and nuclear products.et al. J. Electroanal. Chem. 368,
Scepticism also arose because the amount of nuclear radiation observed was very low compared with that expected from the claimed levels of excess heat. But it could be argued that the experiments never excluded the possibility that the liberated energy might be taken up directly by the metal lattice within which the hydrogen molecules were absorbed.
In my opinion, none of this would have mattered had journal editors not responded to this scepticism, or to emotive condemnation of the experimenters, by setting an unusually high bar for publication of papers on cold fusion. This meant that most scientists were denied a view of the accumulating positive evidence.
The result? Fleischmann was effectively denied the credit due to him, and doomed to become the tragic figure in Ball's account.
© B D Josephson 2012