(This blog post was originally posted on Animpossibleinvention.com)
The scientific newsroom of Sveriges Radio, the national Swedish Radio, has dedicated four months of research and a whole week of its air time to the story of Andrea Rossi, the E-Cat and cold fusion (part 1, 2, 3, 4), and I’m honored that it has made me one of its main targets.
The result, however, is not impressive.
Ulrika Björkstén, head of the scientific editorial staff, has chosen freelance journalist Marcus Hansson to do the investigation.
Hansson apparently likes easy solutions. Black or white. I won’t go into detail of his analysis of Rossi’s background since I have no reason to defend Rossi. I’m just noting that Hansson believes he can sort out the truth in the twinkling of an eye in Italy, which is known as one of the most corrupt countries in Europe where the mix of powerful interests, politics and the judiciary is not always easy to penetrate.
I’m also noting tendentious conclusions such as being sentenced to prison implies being an imposter, and non-proven claims such as storing toxic waste in leaking cisterns equals the Mafia’s way of dumping such waste in secret pits.
After his analysis of Rossi, Hansson adds a group of Swedish researchers and the Swedish power industry’s research entity Elforsk, depicting them all as a bunch of gullible fools being used by Rossi for his purposes, and pointing at me as the one who got them involved in the first place. I’m flattered.
Hanson considers all this obvious, basing large parts of his report on the testimonials and opinions of Italian-French writer Sylvie Coyaud, scientific blogger for the weekly Italian style magazine D-La Repubblica.
But all this is only half of the problem.
Hansson starts his reportage by stating that the famous claim by Fleischmann and Pons in 1989, of excess heat compatible with a nuclear reaction, was wrong and later explained by erroneous measurements.
I believe he’ll find that hard to prove, given that there in 2009 were 153 peer-reviewed papers describing excess heat in experimental set-ups such as the one used by Fleischmann and Pons. And that’s only one of many reasons.
I discuss this in the beginning of my book. Hansson says he read the book and found it to be a tribute to Rossi. Coyaud says it’s a story where Rossi is Messiah and I am the Prophet. That’s poetic, but it’s an opinion.
Among those hundreds who have read it, about fifty persons have written reviews, most of them giving it the highest vote. A series of highly competent people with insight in the story thought it was well balanced.
I do discuss Rossi’s problematic background in the book, and when that’s done I discuss his problematic personality.
But the main focus I have chosen is another, reflecting the title of the book, discussing what is considered to be impossible and asking why more resources aren’t dedicated to investigating this strange phenomenon that could possibly change the world, providing clean water and clean air, saving millions of lives and solve the climate crisis.
Not because I wish this to be true, but because there are abundant scientific results indicating that the phenomenon might be real.
It’s insane that curious researchers are hesitating to enter this field for fear of ruining their careers (yes Björkstén, this is why most of them are old), and it’s insane that poorly researched media reports like this help scientific critics to continue attacking those researchers.
Marcus Hansson says he has read my book, but maybe he hasn’t understood what he read. In fact I’m worried that neither he nor Coyaud have the competence to evaluate this complex story from a scientific perspective. I might be wrong, but from Hansson’s reportage I’m not convinced.
What I find more problematic though is the position of Ulrika Björkstén, head of the scientific editorial staff at Sveriges Radio, holding a Ph.D. in physical chemistry. I agree with most observers that it’s not proven whether Rossi’s E-Cat works or not, and Björkstén might of course be convinced that it’s not working.
But in a concluding comment Björkstén discards the whole area of cold fusion/LENR as pseudo-science, stating that it is based on belief and group thinking, and that university researchers should discern such research from real science and stay away from it.
I find this alarming both from a journalistic and a scientific point of view. Such opinions have often been expressed regarding disruptive discoveries, and if we took advice only from people like Björkstén we would probably not have any airplanes or semiconductors today.
I welcome serious critic of my reports and of my book, but this reportage does not qualify. I’m not impressed, and I hope that the next scientific news team that decides to evaluate this story and my book will set the bar higher.
You might agree with me or not. If you have an opinion, I would suggest that you write an email to Ulrika Björkstén who oversaw the production of this reportage. Marcus Hansson probably just did his best.
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N.B. This is my personal opinion and not a statement from Ny Teknik. UPDATE: Here’s an official op-ed by Ny Teknik’s chief-editor Susanna Baltscheffsky. And here’s a piece by the Swedish researchers who have been involved in tests.