ITALY - COLD FUSION & JUDGE'S VERDICT
Courtesy of Jed Rothwell 26 March 1996
D. Morrison (CERN), "Court Judgement on Question of Cold Fusion Being 'Scientific Fraud'," from Internet Newsgroup sci/physics/fusion.
Martin Fleischmann, Stanley Pons, Tullio Bressani, Guiliano Preparata, and Emilio Del Giudice Versus Editoriale La Republicca s.p.a., Eugenio Scalfari and Giovanni Maria Pace.
In October 1991, the La Republicca published an article by their science editor, Giovanni Maria Pace, which reviewed the book False Prophets and essentially suggested that cold fusion was "scientific fraud" and the names of Fleischmann and Pons were mentioned. Letters from Bressani (Turin), Preparata (Milan), and Del Guidice (Milan) were written to the newspaper and published. The five then sued the newspaper, its editor and the journalist for 8 billion lire (about $5 million at that time).
The court appointed Prof. Giovanni Licheri of Cagliari to assess the 105 pieces of scientific evidence presented. The five plaintiffs asked Prof. Daniele Gozzi (Rome) to be their adviser. La Republicca asked Douglas Morrison, of CERN, Geneva, to be their scientific adviser. See Nature 363(1993)107. Both sides submitted further written evidence. This may be the first time, or one of the first times, that a law court has been asked to decide on a scientific issue.
DECISION - The decision of the court has just been received. It rejected the plaint of Fleischmann, Pons, Bressani, Preparata, and Del Guidice. It condemned the five to pay the legal expenses of 28 million lire (less than $20,000) of the defendants.
MOTIVATION - Firstly the court considered whether the manner in which Fleischmann and Pons presented their results was correct. They concluded that it was correct because on the 13th March 1989 they submitted their paper for publication, and it was accepted on the 22nd March before their press conference of the 23rd March.
However there were some negative aspects; 1. They failed to mention the work of Prof. Stephen Jones which began in 1986. Fleischmann and Pons had agreed with Jones to submit their papers for publication together on the 24th March. 2. When it was pointed out to Fleischmann and Pons that their gamma ray peak was at an impossible energy, they changed the scale. 3. They claimed to have observed and measured fusion for a long time but were not subject to gamma radiation - therefore it was not fusion. 4. In April 1989, the US government set up a committee of 22 scientists to check the results. Despite complicated work, the results were negative. This is described in the book by John Huizenga, the Co-Chairman, entitled Cold Fusion - The Scientific Fiasco of the Century. 5. On the 8th July 1989, in the Deseret News (daily newspaper published in Utah) appeared an article (with photograph) where Pons declared that he had made an apparatus of the size of a thermos which would satisfy the needs of a normal family and could make tea. Pons also said that the boiler was giving off 10 to 15 times the energy put in.
The court noted that little progress had been made since 1991, There was no good theory to explain the claims of cold fusion and there was a failure to observe the products of fusion as would be expected (tritons, neutrons, protons, 3He, 4He and gamma rays).
The court noted the comportment of Fleischmann and Pons who provided different and inconsistent data at different times, noted that they omitted to cite the work of Prof. Jones, noted the manner in which they dealt with the press, and noted how they considered future developments and concluded that they were separated from reality. The court noted that most scientists had now abandoned cold fusion. Thus, the court judged that Giovanni Maria Pace was justified in making his comments in the exercise of his profession, since there had been great discussion and contestation.
The above is a brief summary of the 14 page judgement. Since this was translated from Italian, it is possible that there are some small errors in translation (please inform me so I may correct them) but the sense of the judgement is clear.
Douglas R. O. Morrison Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alison Abbott (staff writer), "Scientists Lose Cold Fusion Libel Case," Nature, vol 380, 4 April 1996, p 369.
Nature reports that Pons and Fleischmann have lost the 8-billion lire (US$ 6.3 million) libel case against Italian newspaper La Repubblica and a journalist Giovanni Pace, who had written a review of a book about scientific fraud, False Prophets, in which he had used what Nature called "colorful wording" likening Pons and Fleischmann to "fornicating priests" as fraudulent scientists. Nature reports that the judge rules that Pace's words "represented an expression of the right to report and criticize on part of the journalist and as such are not derogatory." The scientists were ordered to pay court costs.
A point was made by the magazine that although scientific evidence from experts representing both sides was heard, the judge concluded that cold fusion remained an unproven hypothesis.
Here are some comments by Chris Tinsley about the Italian court judgment against Pons and Fleischmann. I agree with Chris 100%. From: Chris Tinsley
I've just heard the result of a court case in Italy, the one where Fleischmann and Pons and others sued the Republicca newspaper for referring to cold fusion as scientific fraud. They lost the case. This has been gleefully reported on sci.physics.fusion by the scientific advisor to the defence, one Dr. Douglas O. Morrison of CERN ...
So, why am I pleased? Because I hope this will finally knock some sense into the heads of CF people. I said in Boston that we haven't got time for science in CF. That was not because I'm against science - I'm all for it - but because (as I also said) scientists will believe anything which they are funded to believe. Also, contrariwise. But there's only one way they'll be funded.
If the CF wars are to be fought within science, then Planck's Other Constant will apply: "The time it takes for fresh minds to overcome the past" Planck set this value at 20 years. ... So, how do we reduce Planck's twenty years? By putting the machines into the hands of people with money, showing that they work, and bringing some materials scientists in on the act - in a big way. Not piecemeal, and most definitely not by doing "really good science" to find out exactly why they work...
Meanwhile, out there we have all these little groups... All of them seem to think that they have the one best system, and are terrified that if they tell anybody about it - then somebody will find an improvement or circumvent their patents [which they usually don't have].
Commercial secrecy is legitimate, but paranoia, greed and secretiveness are not...
And let us be clear about the present role of science in CF. Its role is primarily to help in the development of high-performance machines, and to ensure the safety of products.
Once there are commercial products - even poor-quality, low performance products - then there will be no shortage of scientists to work on improving them. There will also be plenty of funding to find out the basic phenomenon. In the face of such funding, there will be plenty of believing scientists.
To find the mechanism - or mechanisms - of CF is perhaps the most important aspect of the subject, but it is certainly the least urgent.
Maybe this court judgement will wonderfully concentrate a few minds. I doubt it, though. As Schiller puts it: "Mit der Dummheit kampfen Gotter selbst vergebens."
... And if "the gods themselves contend in vain against stupidity," I don't give much for the chances of an Italian judge.
Return to the INE Main Page