DailyDirt: Scientific Measurements

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

Accurate scientific measurements are pretty important. It’s actually hard to overstate how critical it is to science that measurements can be repeated. (Hello, Cold Fusion…) But it’s not quite an easy task to get everyone to agree to the same metrics — especially when different approaches might have different results. Still, we make do with what we’ve got — and looking at the fine details of measuring stuff has lead to discoveries like buckyballs, the heliocentric model of our neck of the universe, and all sorts of cool stuff. So here are a few quick links on measuring things.

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Comments on “DailyDirt: Scientific Measurements”

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Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

I'm really not a fan of something with two protons being called "hydrogen", ...

I guess it?s on the basis of its chemical behaviour, which is controlled by the electron(s), not the protons. They found a way to show you a side of helium you didn?t know existed?they turned its Dr Jekyll into Mr Hydrogen.

Thank you, thank you, I?ll be here all week.

scarr (profile) says:

I'm really not a fan of something with two protons being called "hydrogen", ...

A different number of electrons makes it an ion, not a different element. (A different number of neutrons would make something it an isotope.) The atom’s elemental name is always determined by the atomic number.

This is neither a isotope, nor a normal ion. It’s something new, and should be given a new name accordingly. The fundamental Chemistry 101 rules of nomenclature shouldn’t be violated though.

KD says:

I'm really not a fan of something with two protons being called "hydrogen", ...

The attribute of an atom that determines its chemical properties is the number and condition of the electrons that are available for chemical reactions. The protons take only an indirect role in that they establish some of the conditions that govern the energies of the electrons. Since it is chemical properties under study, naming according to the element with the most similar chemical properties is not a surprising approach.

You are correct that this “super heavy hydrogen” is something new, and if this sort of substitution of electrons by muons ever becomes more than a lab curiosity, inventing a new name for it would be appropriate. However, as long as all the descriptions qualify the name with some suggestive adjectives and use scare quotes to further alert the reader that this isn’t your father’s hydrogen under discussion, I think there is very little danger of confusion, and even some benefit in that we won’t have to learn the correspondence between the current element names and the newly-invented names for their analogs.

KD says:

Cheap shot at cold fusion ...

I take exception to the cheap shot at cold fusion.

There is no doubt that Pons and Fleischmann screwed up by adopting their “publish via press release” approach, but people like, apparently, you, who tar anyone wanting to investigate that phenomenon with the same brush, possibly have held back progress in a potentially fruitful area.

P&F found something unusual. And, contrary to popular knowledge, other labs HAVE seen results similar to what P&F reported. Nobody understands what is going on in those experiments, which is probably the biggest reason why reliably reproducing the phenomenon is so hard. If you don’t know what the reaction is, you are likely not to know what conditions it requires, and so only stumble onto creating them haphazardly. Blocking most funding for research into understanding what P&F reported by pointing, laughing, and saying “cold fusion” is grossly irresponsible.

Fortunately, there are a few funding sources with a properly open scientific attitude who have been funding a low level of research into the phenomenon over the past 25 years, but progress has been far slower than it should have been.

If it turns out that the phenomenon is something that, when thoroughly understood, can be exploited to provide a clean, inexpensive source of power, those who have blocked the studies by their ridicule ought to be tracked down and punished. If the phenomenon turns out to be an interesting curiosity, but not commercially useful, then there still has been harm done to accumulation of scientific knowledge. It is just as important to understand ways that won’t work so they can be recognized easily and quickly when they crop up again.

KD says:

Cheap shot at cold fusion ...

I believe you are looking at this wrong, or maybe haven’t thought about it carefully enough. After all, it wasn’t the point of the original article you posted.

You, personally, probably have not blocked funding for good research into the phenomenon that P&F brought to our attention, but you seem to have accepted that it is okay to point and laugh rather than support diligent research to see what actually is happening with it. That is very closed-minded and not how science should be done.

Certainly P&F screwed up, both in their poor technique and in premature publication by press release. But screw-ups by poor researchers should not shut off legitimate research in an area. Citing the inability to get repeatable results as justification for not investigating further is really off-base. The fact that the experiments are not repeatable is a strong signal that we, as yet, do not appreciate all the factors that influence what is going on there, and so we should investigate until we do understand. Remember the quote from Asimov about the most exciting thing to hear in science is not “Eureka!”, but “That’s funny.”?

Maybe the uncontrolled factor(s) in the cold fusion experiments is something we know about and just are not realizing is relevant. Maybe the uncontrolled factor is something really new. Either case is a good reason for continuing research until we understand what is going on. In the end, it might turn out to be the case that when we finally do understand what is going on, it won’t be useful for power generation, but until we understand the phenomenon, dismissing it as pointless is very closed-minded. And even if it isn’t useful for power generation, it might turn out to be useful for something else.

Your profile says you are the head of research at Floor64. I don’t know what research Floor64 does, but at a lot of tech companies, what they call the research group actually does development, or, at best, applied research. That is not bad. In fact, it probably is just what those companies should be doing, but it is not basic research. If that is what you understand as research, I imagine that would color your view a bit, and your apparent attitude on the question of supporting research into cold fusion would be a bit easier to understand. However, that would be applying criteria appropriate for one type of effort to a rather different type of effort, and so still does not justify ridiculing and blocking attempts to understand whatever P&F brought to light.

KD says:

Cheap shot at cold fusion ...

Thanks for following up again.

You are right that a lot of people are taking advantage of the dearth of proper support for investigating the cold fusion (or whatever it is) phenomenon to push their odd physics theories, conspiracy theories, fake devices, etc. Looking back at what I posted, I see that I wasn’t clear that I was not defending them. Perhaps I don’t have to make the point, but the black balling of cold fusion in the official channels gives those people a lot more opportunities to get publicity and marginal credibility than they would otherwise. Unfortunately, the black balling of cold fusion has pushed some legitimate researchers in that direction.

I don’t have many URLs to hand at the moment, but I will try to remember to alert you as I come across reports of proper research in the field. You may remember that there was some work done by the Navy in the first few years following the P&F announcement. They were able to reproduce some of the effects. In 2002, they published a report which includes a couple of the papers they produced as well as a bibliography showing where more of their work appeared in journals and conference proceedings. That report is at:


I think it is fair to summarize the work as “something unusual is going on here, but we don’t know what it is and we ought to figure it out”.

You may have heard of the announcements and demonstration in the middle of January by some Italians who claim production of about 10 kilowatts of thermal power via a device they say fuses nickel and hydrogen. They haven’t published anything, claiming they want to secure patents first. That’s far more power production than I have seen reported by anyone else. Very interesting, if true.

KD says:

I agree that it is quite a red flag that those Italians who put on their demonstration a few weeks ago are publishing in a “journal” they control, and are not showing enough to tell how their device actually works. Quite likely it will turn out to be yet another scam, but maybe this time it will be different. Time will tell.

The way to separate the crackpots from the legitimate researchers is to end the ridicule and black balling of the legitimate researchers, but I’m afraid that will happen only slowly. Most scientists are as subject to social pressures as any people are and quite rightly fear losing professional respect, and even their jobs, if they try to do proper research in a field that has such prejudice against it. Once you let the crackpots take over by stupidly blocking legitimate research, as the science establishment quickly did back around 1990, it is very hard to undo the mistake.

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