Waking the Dead

Bart Simon. Undead Science: Science Studies and the Afterlife of Cold Fusion. Rutgers University Press, 2002.

In March 1989, two University of Utah-based chemists, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, claimed to have discovered an extraordinary anomaly: an electrochemical process which produced more energy than was put into it. They argued that this was caused by cold (i.e. room temperature) nuclear fusion, which opened up vistas of cheap energy. However by the end of 1990 cold fusion was effectively dead and buried, attempts at replication having largely failed.

But as Simon shows, research continues into cold fusion in a kind of scientific half-life. Cold fusion is an undead science, a thing which won't lie down, and which continues to haunt the liminal fringes of academe. He argues that this cold fusion research cannot be thought of as really live science, for after all it was dead and buried back in 1990 and Simon is not disputing that fact at all. But nor is it really dead, people are still performing experiments.

While, if they are like me, Magonia readers are probably not likely to want to wade through pages of often excruciatingly technical detail in this book, the broad argument is one which should be of interest, and the analogies with psychical research should be apparent. Here too we have a topic officially pronounced dead by the scientific establishment, where people on the fringes continue to do research. Ufology on the other hand is perhaps more like an aborted foetus of a science but one still capable of doing some quite good haunting.

This of course leads to the question as to how such ghostly sciences fit into the general theory of ghosts and haunting which involves the fragmentation of the narrative of personal experience under the impact of unassimilable fragments of 'history', which can only be contained within the contours of a pastiche of folk drama which contains the resulting breach within a cell of metaphors. If this applies to cold fusion, then cold fusion and its research is a metaphor for something else which cannot be spoken of, a breach in the edifice of capitalist economics perhaps, or the dangerous notion of liberation from living by the sweat of the brow as symbolized by "free energy". -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 84, March 2004.

No comments: