The End of the E-cat– and another blow to non-traditional Fusion Science

Popular Science has a reasonably good article on the sad history of the E-cat. Another discussion of its rise and fall is included here at Cassandra’s Legacy.

There is no real need to discuss the facts around the E-cat– Rossi was either deluding himself or being dishonest, and given his history, I will leave it to the reader to decide which.

But that was not the source of the real harm of this event, and we cannot blame Rossi for what followed.  The chorus of mocking skepticism once again rises, that any non-traditional approach to fusion is the work of fools and charlatans, and the groups who were only too ready to uncritically accept what in hindsight were completely specious “tests” bear the blame for that. Continue reading

Why we have enough money for Polywell and Other Fusion Attempts.

According to Vanity Faire, men and women spend over 17 billion a year on cosmetics. This was in 1986.  In 2008, the yearly cost was over 30 billion.

Note that I’m not picking on women here, this is just the first example that came to mind. You can put cigarettes (over 35 billion for the US alone), or fast food, or any one of a hundred luxuries.

the point is that the common claim as to why we cannot afford working on Polywell doesn’t hold water. We are not “too poor” to do so– the United States is wealthier than almost any other nation in history– compared to the disposable wealth we have, the greatest Roman emperor was a piker.

If you want to move to more government controlled sources of funding, consider that a single B2 costs over 2 billion– far more than would be needed to take the Polywell from test to prototype to production machine.  More importantly, the benefits of a functioning fusion system woudl far outweigh the benefits of a B2 (for one thing, it’d reduce our dependence on sources of energy that demand the use of said B2).

The problem is not money– it has never been money.  The problem is one of allocating money effectively and convincing the people that it is important to do so. In other words, the problem isn’t science– it’s politics and public opinion.

Why is there a sucker born every minute?

The E-cat fiasco isn’t that important from the view point of the pathological science it represents– that’s happened many times before and will likely happen many times later. But there is another question, one that is fairly important to the entire field of LENR.

But why are so many people jumping on the bandwagon?  I mean, a secret test, not letting scientists look at your magic box, a history of fraud and legal action…it’s right up there with offers to sell you a certain bridge or beach front property in the everglades.

Well part of the answer is that today, the number of people who are well educated, even to a layman’s standards in the hard sciences is not a very large number.  When trying to evaluate a scientific scam, after all, it’s wise to have at least some knowledge of science (though the opposite does apply– the layman should always be firmly aware that he is just that– and not an expert).

But most importantly, any layperson should remember, and remember firmly, that Great Claims Require Great Proof.  To say that you have invented a new process of fusion, one that produces no neutrons, or any other dangerous radiation, that produces megawatts of power, and does so with desktop equipment– that is a great claim indeed.

And the proof is not found in youtube displays, or magical clients that wish to keep their identity secret and seem to often vanish away, or forever be “just about” to show off their new power units.  It is found in the rigorous testing of these claims by people who are not the friends of the inventor, who infact have no interest in seeing him successful– or unsuccessful.  Who are simply interested in verifying “Was this event properly documented, and does it represent something new?”

Now, the true believers will immediately claim that the scientific conspiracy will work against them.  Beyond the question of whether such a conspiracy exists, that should spur advocates of new discoveries to more, not less, in the way of strict adherence to the measures predicted to convince even skeptics that something is occurring that cannot be explained by chemical or other known reactions.

Rossi’s “work” is in fact a text book example of how not to do it.  By this time, the lack of careful documentation and factual support of his claims points to pathological science at the best, fraud at the worst.   The mindless rush to excuse these failures, especially considering his history, does advocates of non-traditional fusion no favors, making it plain that once again, many have let their hopes run away with their skepticism.

The best way to deal with skepticism is not to excuse shoddy work– it is to be more critical and demand more proof.  Every advocate of alternative energy should be looking at claims and asking themselves : “What would a skeptic think?”  “If I was trying to disprove this, what would I seize as evidence that something wasn’t right?”

Excusing poor testing, or dicey claims, does the quest for alternative energies no good. It simply allows critics to point to those instances and argue that once again, we’re seeing a community that has allowed a laudable enthusiasm for a new source of energy run away with its ability to be skeptical and detached.

Don’t be that community.

Rossi and The E-cat: Haven’t we been down this path before?

The online world is alive with amazement over the “cold fusion” being currently trumpeted (with very little evidence) by Andrea Rossi.

It is in fact very likely bad science at best, or outright fraud, and the fact that the alternative energy community has leaped upon it with such uncritical (one might even say, fanatical) joy, says very poor things about the state of critical thinking among many alternative energy advocates.

The Energy Catalyzer supposedly fuses protons to copper atoms in a low temperature reaction, producing heat with no (or very little radiation).  Or at least that’s what it is supposed to do.  As yet, nobody has seen it actually work.  Oh there have been shows, but that’s all they were– shows.  No proof was shown.

And that’s the first strike against this rather strange story.  At no point have any outside scientists been allowed to examine the unit.  Much like the mythical 200 MPG carburetor, or any one of a dozen (or hundred) other advances to science that briefly entice the gullible, before vanishing, the secret is so important that nobody can be allowed to view it.

In fact, it would be wise to note some common unifying factors about the various scientific scams that have existed throughout history:

1.  The discovery is something that is beyond the current ken of mainstream science.

Also, it suddenly produces real and impressive results.  This is usually something you can contrast with the fact that most scientists tend to, if anything, underplay their results, preferring to avoid the risk of individuals getting the wrong idea.

Rossi here of course is claiming that he will be shipping out one megawatt units, “Very soon.”  (Very soon has changed, as we will see below).

2. There are demonstrations, but they are controlled demonstrations and not peer reviewed.

If you’re running a scientific scam, the last thing you want is real scientists free to examine your discovery.  They tend to ask inconvenient questions and are far more capable of poking holes in the demonstration than a reporter, even a science reporter is.  At no point has the E-cat had anything like a rigorous review by qualified scientists.

3.  But that’s okay, because the inventor needs to protect his invention!

The only patent issued for the E-cat is currently Italian– a European patent application was rejected due to the deficiencies in description, but much of the concern held is that if anyone looks inside the magic box they will suddenly steal the invention.

Well yes– one can look inside a car and steal that invention, because it is very difficult to patent a natural process, and in any case when the magic box goes on sale, all one will have to do is purchase it, open it up and get a look. Contrary to many pulp novels, there are very few reactions that are dependent on a truly “Secret” ingredient that cannot be detected and duplicated. Of course as you’ll see below we have an answer to that…

But… Once again it serves the scam artist well– because obviously it has to be real, otherwise, why would he be concerned about it?

4.  Anonymous  customers.

This is an old one.  You have someone who is just about ready to purchase, or who has signed a letter of intent, or is about to get in on the ground floor.  They’re always secret, and they somehow never materialize.  A very old scam is pointing to some group who won’t say anything or who you can say  “are involved.”  In Rossi’s case, we’ve heard that anonymous buyers have purchased, or are in the process of purchasing or are very, very serious about purchasing the 1 MW “e-cat” units.

Now, Let’s hold up here.  Everyone has seen shows on TV about how important the environment it, and how many companies are making attempts to reduce their carbon and environmental footprints.  A fusion generator, especially one that mysteriously produces neither gamma radiation nor neutrons, or for that matter any dangerous ionizing radiation isn’t just a holy grail for power, it’s a PR win of the first magnitude.

And yet all the purchasers are secret.  They want to ah, keep their energy lights hidden under a bushel.

Let’s also point out that at this point  Rossi is claiming that he will be selling units or has already sold units.  That means, that if this is real, the design is either finalized or very close to it.

And yet we have a few “Secret” clients.

Remember, a buyer means its real and a secret buyer means its even more real– best get in on the ground floor.

The other possibility, mind you one that only comes to nasty suspicious sorts, is that their are no buyers– what their are are people who are pretending to be buyers– if you’ve been involved in Ebay you’ve probably ran in to them, phantom bidders who turn out to be the very same people who put the item up for auction, trying to drive the price up.

5.  The qualifications of the scientist do not stand up to close examination.

There are many scammers out there with so many letters behind their names that you have to wonder how they found time to go to all those schools, often schools that are quite prestigious sounding– say the Oxford Institute for Genetic studies or some such. Sounds almost like Oxford, doesn’t it?  Well, it isn’t.  That’s something called a “Diploma Mill” or a school where you can get a degree without the hard work in actually going through the effort. Rossi has a degree in engineering from Kensington University.

Rossi is an engineer, right?

Well, no. While he has an earlier degree from The University of Milan, his work isn’t exactly what one expects, and in fact his earlier biography states that he appears to have been self taught.

But he got a later degree from the University of Kensington, in Engineering. Unfortunately, the University of Kensington is a diploma mill, or was, since it was shut down by both California and Hawaii.

6.  Somehow, units never get sold– the great day of unveiling is always just in the future.

Two companies have claimed to be just about to purchase the Ecat, yet both have backed out.  The first company was Defkalion, a Greek company which was supposed to start production in 2011.  Now, note this, it was supposed to start production. However, in August, this announcement was made:

EFA – Energia da Fonti Alternative S.r.l., the Italian company through which the rights for the production of Andrea Rossi’s E-CAT were granted to PRAXEN Defkalion Green Technologies LTD, publicly announces that the License and Technology Transfer Agreement between the two companies has been recently terminated. All business relationships with PRAXEN, the Cyprus based company that owns the Greek company DEFKALION Green Technologies S.A., have been cancelled and as of today neither PRAXEN nor DEFKALION, nor any other Greek company whatsoever holds any rights for the production of the E-CAT of for any other exploitation of Andrea Rossi’s technology.
Furthermore Andrea Rossi and EFA announce that no information, nor industrial secret nor any technology whatsoever has been neither transferred nor disclosed neither to PRAXEN nor to DEFKALION, nor to any other Greek Company whatsoever and currently Andrea Rossi and EFA are not planning to deal with any other project in Greece.

Now Defkalion claims to be creating their own ecat based devices…with a similar lack of proof, but regardless, lets look at this announcement. This company which was theoretically almost to the point of producing E-cats, had no information?  No technology? Starting production lines doesn’t work that way, but…it’s another excellent case where the E-cat– our magic box, is suddenly a no show at the party.

Another company, AmpEnergo supposedly obtained the rights to make use of the technology in May, but due to ” Contractual difficulties” the magic box wasn’t shipped to them. Now note, this is all happening before the demonstrations in October–in other words, the claim is that production level units actually exist– yet nobody has seen them.  Their website is also sparse, very sparse in fact.  They appear to have no factory, no large employee list– no nothing in fact.  An oddly small group for a company that was supposedly ramping up to produce these E-cats.   The claim from Rossi was:

“We had a preliminary agreement with a very important party in the U.S., but when we received the final draft, it included conditions that our lawyers said that we should not accept”, Rossi told Ny Teknik.

Shipment of the plant was then blocked; according to Rossi, however, the launch will still take place in October as earlier promised, though he could not yet disclose where this will take place.

Again, a very convenient controversy– one that effectively puts the “put up or shut up” point in the future.  The technology is working, but, horror of horrors, those kill joy lawyers aren’t letting things go through.

7.  A previous history of …unusual events.

Many scammers have a long history of great developments that somehow didn’t happen–and like cobra commander, they chose to never revisit their last “world changing invention” in favor of finding new world changing inventions.  In Rossi’s case it was thermoelectric generators. His company Leonardo Technologies, Inc., was contracted to produce these generators to convert heat to power for the Department of Defense in order to reduce the use of other fuels.  What happened?  The test unit produced vast amounts of power at a very high efficiency.  Rossi in fact claimed that full up units would produce 800-1000 watts.  The actual units, those that worked, produced 1 watt of power.

The entire story is here:

LTI was incorporated as a response to the thermoelectric power generation research
by Dr. Andre Rossi. Dr. Rossi indicated that his devices would produce 20
percent efficiencies, a vast increase from the current science of 4 percent conversion
of waste heat to electrical power. Dr. Rossi believed that he could increase
the physical size of the TE Devices and maintain superior power generation. In
furtherance of his research, in early 2000, LTI had tests conducted at the University
of New Hampshire (UNH), Durham, NH, using a small scale LTI TE Device.
Over a period of 7 days, the UNH power plant staff recorded voltage and
amperage readings every 1/2 hr. The TE Device produced approximately 100
volts and 1 ampere of current, providing 100 watts of power. After this initial
success, and a fire that destroyed his Manchester, NH location, Dr. Rossi returned
to Italy to continue the manufacture of the TE Devices. In Italy, Dr. Rossi
believed that LTI could manufacture more cost-effective TE generating devices
with lower labor and assembly costs. Accordingly, Dr. Rossi engaged a subcontractor
to fulfill the requirements of manufacturing and assembly.

Unfortunately, the Italian subcontractor was unable to provide secondgeneration
TE Devices with satisfactory power generation. Nineteen of 27 TE
Devices shipped to CTC, Johnstown, PA, were incapable of generating electricity
for a variety of reasons, from mechanical failure to poor workmanship. The remaining
eight produced less than 1 watt of power each, significantly less than
the expected 800–1000 watts each.

There is no information on the ultimate disposition of the prototype that did so well, but well, suffice to say the promises of incredibly efficient TE devices has remained unfilled.

8. Bizarre claims and excuses for not deploying the technology.

Evidently another problem with the E-cat is that as yet,  Rossi hasn’t figured out a way to put an effective self destruct device in it.

No. I’m not kidding.

Dear Mr Riccardo:
I think that the household targeted items will arrive later. We have to resolve the problem to make them self-destructive in case of opening the reactors. Otherwise, with few thousands of dollars anybody has access to the confidential aspects of the technology. In industrial plants this issue is more easy to afford and has been resolved.
Warm Regards,
A.R.

Now, there are two problems to this.  First of all, Marvel comics has already done this plot, and so you can’t sell it.  But more importantly, such devices are fantasies.  If you can open a device to maintain it, you can get it open to have a look inside it.  The Chinese, Russians, Americans, etc, will all have it open.

But there are some other problems with this, ones that make this even more insane.

First of all, nobody is going to buy a reactor that they can’t look into.  Beyond safety issues, only a madman would tie himself to a single supplier.  Secondly, a self destruct device would be illegal in just about any jurisdiction outside of oh, say, Somalia.

Thirdly, even if you could invent a fool proof self destruct device, no government would let you ship it without looking at it. And that means a serious look, especially if they believe the magic box involves any form of nuclear reaction.  OSHA, EPA, FCC (because they do check for things like EM interference), many agencies are going have it opened and look at  it.  That’s not negotiable, because they’re not going to trust your good word that your seeeecreeet machine isn’t going to explode, or start spraying ionizing radiation, or just suddenly decide to catch fire.   They sure as shooting aren’t going to accept your word that a self destruct device is perfectly safe and friendly.

But…and here we come to the brilliant part– maybe that’s the point.  After all, if that mean ‘ol government is keeping you from sharing your bounty with the world, save for wise investors who will pay you, it’s not your fault.  You can’t possibly be expected to do what every other corporation on the planet does, now can you?  And so, once again, outside factors intervene to prevent that simplest method of proving your system of all– putting up a unit, away from the lab, away from any ability to play with the readings, and running it, for days and weeks, well beyond the point that any chemical reaction could explain it.

How…convenient.

Finally, for those interested, Steven Krivits has an appendix with a time-line and link to the Rossi affair.

Why Free Speec is important

Because Some people don’t like Firefly

It started with this picture:

The evil, violence inciting poster.

Which was taken down because obviously, helpless college students would tremble, undestanding that their professor was informing that their complaint would likely result in a gunfight on the quad.

So it was taken down due to the claim by the campus rep:

Speech can be limited on a reasonable expectation that it will cause a material and/or substantial disruption of school activities and/or be constituted as a threat. We were notified of the existence of the posting, reviewed it and believe that the wording on the poster can be interpreted as a threat by others and/or could cause those that view it to believe that you are willing/able to carry out actions similar to what is listed. This posting can cause others to fear for their safety, thus it was removed.

So another poster went up, this one somewhat more political in nature:

This was taken down, due to it’s threatening nature. Given that it’s threatening to Fascism, and the actions of the University staff, one coudl argue that it’s defended by the fact that it is the simple truth.

But in the never ending debate over free speech, this is an important incident to discus– a single ignorant, foolish official, backed up by the power of the university, is threatening a professor, and is refusing ot admit that she was utterly wrong.

And that’s why free speech, strong free speech is important– because you will not, whether on the right or left, be likely to face fair minded individuals who only use this power with reluctance. No, far more often it will be ignorant, small minded officials, who majored in Covering their Asses, and Shutting Up Debate.  That’s how it’s always gone, and that’s how it will always go. 

So remember , the next time someone wants laws outlawing hate speech, or incitement, or making it harder to demonstrate, just how small minded the people are– and how powerful a tool you’ll be putting in their hands.

Anonymous and scoring an “own goal” in the fight over internet freedom.

Well, Anonymous has done it again:

Nestled within the data dump, posted as both a BitTorrent release and posted on sites accessible via the Tor anonymity network, are more than 300 different email accounts from 56 law enforcement websites. Details from the ransacked Missouri Sherriff’s Association website also appear in the release, including user names and passwords as well as users’ home addresses, phone numbers, and social security numbers – a move that’s sure to infuriate law enforcement officials even before they note the actual name of the hackers’ release, “Shooting Sheriffs Saturday.”

Also found within the release are various police training files, a list of users who have submitted information to an online “anonymous” crime tip system, and various server-related information and login credentials.

“We have no sympathy for any of the officers or informants who may be endangered by the release of their personal information. For too long they have been using and abusing our personal information, spying on us, arresting us, beating us, and thinking that they can get away with oppressing us in secrecy,” reads the hackers’ Pastebin-posted manifesto. “Well it’s retribution time: we want them to experience just a taste of the kind of misery and suffering they inflict upon us on an everyday basis.”

Like a band of poo flinging monkeys, they once again cheer their ability to strike at that man.

Forgetting that the Man has guns.  Much like the Anarchist bombers of the 19th century managed to drastically harm the very goals they claimed to be fighting for, what Anonymous has done is nothing less than provide those pointing to the fact that the internet needs more, not less control with concrete examples as to why they’re right.  We’ve already seen, in Bahrain, and other nations that yes, it’s possible for a national government to make fairly big strides to restricting the internet.

The biggest barrier, in fact is not technological, but social and political– our own courts have routinely struck down laws seen as too restrictive and the population itself remains hostile to the idea, at least in general. But releasing the names and identities of police?  Potentially endangering tipsters?

That’s a great way to lose this war, especially if there’s no incriminating material as part of the dump– people were willing to accept that a “Technical” violation occured in the release of the Abu Ghraib photo’s because it was plain that the acts being photographed were illegal, violations of both civil law and the UCMJ which those witnessing were obligated to report.  But this, if it’s just the identifying information of police, absent any other information, or criminal files with identifying information of suspects or witnesses, this will have no such defense. What it will do is to back the hand of those arguing that the internet is now as vital as any public utility and that groups like Anonymous must now be treated like terrorists, bringing the full weight of governmental power to bear on them– and that as a part of that, the internet itself must be more strictly regulated.

Such would require great effort– which to date has been an advantage, but the more acts like this, the more the real powers– the corporations and govenrments that actually make the internet work, will start to decide that the extra cost is worth the security.  And worse, so will the people, who rather than hearing about genuine abuses of government authority brought down by hackers, will see cases of latter day infants throwing temper tantrums because some of their associates were put in prison. That does not produce a sense of injustice on the part of the bystanders, merely a hope that the government has enough cells for all.

Anonymous is not the friend of internet freedom– Anonymous is the enemy and its members are working very hard to strengthen the hand of those who wish to end internet freedom.

Why taking the 14th won’t help our debt crisis.

Well, today was the day, by some accounts that was the deadline for getting our debt crisis fixed. After all, it’s not enough to pass a bill, you have to do everything that is needed to bring it down to having a practical impact.

And that isn’t going to happen.

So now, presuming no moves of compromise, a new hope is that President Obama will “take the 14th” and unilaterally raise the ceiling.

The justification for this can be found here:

Some analysts say no — Obama can simply order the Treasury to pay its bills even if Congress refuses to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

“Preventing default is no less justified than using American military power to protect against an armed invasion without a congressional declaration of war,” Bruce Bartlett writes in Fiscal Times.

Like others, Bartlett cites a section of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that says, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law … shall not be questioned.”

“This could easily justify the sort of extraordinary presidential action to avoid default that I am suggesting,” Bartlett writes.

So, the president orders, and thus, everything works fine, right?

Wrong.  There are two problems with this.

1. There is no real certainty that the 14th amendment would be held to give the executive that sort of wide ranging authority.  This would be a major constitutional crisis, easily on a par with any that have come before, calling into question the separation of powers within the United States government. Some Republicans have already threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings should the president do so, and while we can’t be certain how it would turn out, we can be certain that the federal government would be paralyzed…and would you loan money to a group that might not be in power to repay you?

2.  Bond ratings aren’t simply about ability to pay, they’re about the stability of the government in question.  Third world nations aren’t simply bad risks because they don’t have any money– they’re bad risks because your money may become their money if there is a shift in power.  With a government in disarray with the executive being forced to use powers that have never been tested in the court system and congress quite possibly launching (however doomed to failure) impeachment proceedings, even a blind man would be able to see that our government is not stable, and more importantly, the question of who got paid and how might very well depend on who won the political battle.

In other words, welcome to the united states of Third Worldia.

There is no solution to this other than a debt ceiling deal, in congress.  Clever tricks won’t help, because they will, if anything, make the instability worse.  Fundamentally, the Washington political situation is at a stalemate not seen since the 1930’s, and until that is resolved, don’t be surprised if bond agencies rate us as a bad risk.