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Not even wrong, Fusion Energy at Lawrenceville Plasma Physics

April 9, 2012

When I was a postgraduate student I published my first scientific paper. I was very worried that the paper would be inaccurate. I spent several months reviewing the content before I finally submitted the work for publication. My supervisor reassured me by saying that there are three types of scientific publications: The ones that are correct, those that are wrong and the remainder – not even wrong. He said as long as your paper belongs to the first two then you are contributing to science.

The recent controversy on the neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light shows why scientist need to be careful. The leader of the research team, Prof. Antonio Ereditato has quit his post this week after further experiments cast doubts on the original results.

Fusion Energy at Lawrenceville Plasma Physics.

I have seen a lot of attention given to the recent reports on the ground breaking experiments at Lawrenceville Plasma Physics. I felt I had to comment.  I read the most recent paper by Eric J. Lerner et al– “Theory and Experimental Program for p-B11 Fusion”. J Fusion Energ (2011) 30:367–376.  I was left sceptical as the paper was very much in the realm of “not even wrong”. My curiosity was raised and I looked at the references to earlier work by the main author.

“Force-Free Magnetic Filaments and the Cosmic Background Radiation” Eric J. Lerner, IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON PLASMA SCIENCE, VOL. 20, NO. 6, DECEMBER 1992.

It seemed quite a complex paper with a detailed theory and many complex equations. I assumed that it would take me many days, if not weeks to work my way through such a complex paper.  To my amazement within an hour, I realised the paper was incomprehensible. Many of the variables were not even defined, something I learned to do as an undergraduate. Some equations even broke simple dimension criteria. How did this get past a referee?  It seems to me that Mr lerner was more qualified as a science fiction writer than a scientist.

Bad Science

This brings me back to the faster than light experiments. The lead scientist felt he had to resign because he was wrong. But being wrong is not something that a scientist should have to resign about – unless they deliberately try to mislead.

Being “not even wrong” is worse than being wrong.  I am not expecting to see fusion energy from Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, New Jersey, dispite the fanfare.

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8 Comments
  1. We already make fusion energy happen here at Lawrenceville Plasma Physics in New Jersey , and you are invited to stop by and “see” it in our bubble detectors, silver activation counter, and other instruments. Making fusion reactions with a dense plasma focus is actually just about one of the easiest approaches. Getting more out than we put in, now that is challenging part! But the experiments we are conducting will determine whether our hypothesis is right or wrong–The theory guiding our work is testable, and therefore should not be classified as “not even wrong.” Still, we appreciate criticism and I can assure you Eric would be happy to discuss anything specific. If you can falsify our theory without our actually having to conduct further experiments, it would save us a lot of time! ;-D

  2. Thanks for the comment and indeed the invitation to visit. It is very kind of you. I will repeat my previous comment here for clarity. I think you are proposing a beam-like light-ion fusion. Of course this will be an efficient source of fusion and this type of system is used regularly to produce neutrons in the oil industry. However, it is well known that the key problem with accelerator-based fusion (and with cold targets in general) is that fusion cross sections are many orders of magnitude lower than Coulomb interaction cross sections. Therefore the vast majority of ions end up expending their energy on bremsstrahlung and ionization of atoms of the target. Despite periodic reports in the popular press by scientists claiming to have invented “table-top” fusion machines, neutron generators have been around for half a century. These devices do not produce a net power output. See wikipedia for further information.

    However, I am happy to look at how your approach intends to overcome the well known issues. If you can send me a paper or proposal I will review and comment.

  3. Calling a paper “not even wrong” without citing any justification is “not even” a poor scientific argument. It’s not a scientific argument at all. Not being able to personally understand a paper in a respected peer-reviewed journal is no excuse for calling it ”incomprehensible”.
    If readers of your blog are interested in judging for themselves the scientific results of our group and other groups working along the same line, they can look at these three papers:
    Physics of Plasmas Vol: 19 Number: 032704 http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.3694746
    Journal of Fusion Energy 2012, DOI: 10.1007/s10894-012-9547-z http://www.springerlink.com/content/g38250530wvg6218/?MUD=MP
    Journal of Fusion Energy Volume 30, Number 5 (2011), 367-376, DOI: 10.1007/s10894-011-9385-4

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/q14675418618w910/

    • Many thanks for the comment. Just to explain, I was not able to follow the older paper because all the terms were not explained. An equation is meaningless without an explaination of the terms.
      The equation Y = NQ^2 means nothing unless you explain what Y, N and Q stand for. I do not understand how this got past a scientific review.

      Thank you for the recommended reading, I can promise I will read these papers and adjust my views. I am keen to learn what it is that you have proposed that is novel and could allow fusion to be viable in such a small device. I have to rely on my experience and the claims in the media have been unjustified based on what I know. I am willing to learn and would have a positive view of the most risky experiment as long as it is clear what it is attempting to prove.

      • JDP permalink

        Did you get a chance to look at these other papers to see if you need to reevaluate your opinion?

      • Thanks for the interest. I have got a copy of the papers and I am working through the data. I have not changed my mind – yet. I will give it time and will try to respond in a more complete way in the next few days. I do not want to respond to speculation with further speculation. I enjoy the intellectual challange involved in really getting to the bottom of an issue. One of my heros Langmuir spent the end of his career uncovering bad science. Although the interesting fact was that the scientists were not frauds – they had just deluded themselves. He presented an excellent paper on delusional science which ever scientist should read.

  4. JDP permalink

    Hi Mike, just curious if this one is still on your radar

  5. seems it s not

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