Henry Bauer published a new book, "Science Is Not What You Think." This
covers cold fusion and many other subjects. I read the Kindle edition:
You can read reviews and the opening pages at Amazon.
I was disappointed by this book. I think Bauer overstates his case in
several instances. I think he is muddled. I will describe only two
problems, to keep this message short.
Chapter 2 is titled Science Is Not Methodical. It begins:
"The scientific method is taught to school children and featured in social
science textbooks as the way science works: Set up an hypothesis; test it;
then accept or reject it, depending on whether the test supported it.
Hypotheses that have passed such a test become the basis for established
scientific theories. Several things are wrong with this. Conceiving and
testing hypotheses is not what most scientists do most of the time. More
likely they are doing what others have asked them to do: develop a better
food coloring, or a paint, or a drug, or a pesticide; or analyze a
competitor’s product . . . But even when research scientists are trying to
expand the scope of scientific understanding, they don’t do as the
scientific method would have it, they are more likely to follow a hunch:
'If I do this, something interesting will turn up' . . ."
I would describe the latter method, "if I do this . . ." as intuitive. Or
as art, rather than science. I think it is true that many experiments are a
combination of science and art, but I think Bauer overstates this. Even
when scientists are "doing what others have asked them to do," and even
when they themselves do not conceive of a hypothesis, they make use of
hypotheses conceived by other people. They make use of general theory.
Bauer says that the scientific method is not taught. That is true to some
extent, and it is shame. I think it should be taught. But most researchers
use it even when they are not taught it. Otherwise they would flounder
around trying one thing after another with no direction. Edison supposedly
did that in what is now called the Edisonian method. Reading Edison's
biography and his notebooks I get a sense that he knew more theory than he
let on. He was exaggerating his aw-shucks down-home ignorance. Although
Tesla and others said he wasted a great deal of time because he did not
understand theory well enough.
As an example of a muddled discussion, Bauer rejects Popper's rule that a
scientific theory must be falsifiable. Bauer says that Popper himself soon
rejected that idea. I do not think he did.
I will grant that a researcher might make progress in a theory or an
experimental method even when that researcher cannot think of a way to
falsify it. However, the researcher would be skating on thin ice. It may
not be essential that you can readily think of a way to falsify your claim,
but you probably do not understand the issues if you cannot. Bauer muddles
this discussion when he says that scientists sometimes believe claims that
have been falsified. I take it he thinks this to demonstrate that
falsification is not the be-all end-all test of validity. Then he says that
these scientists do not agree the claims have been falsified. Yes, and that
defeats his argument. If those hold-out scientists agreed the claims were
falsified, they would cease to believe them.
I also got a sense that he thinks falsifying means you actually show there
is something wrong, rather than showing you know what factor would
invalidate your claim even if it is extremely unlikely that factor will
arise. A famous example is what J.B.S. Haldane said would disprove
Darwinian evolution: "rabbits in the Precambrian." Haldane was not
suggesting that fossilized rabbits are likely to be found in Precambrian
layers; he meant that if they *were* found this would disprove the theory.
Along the same lines, because cold fusion is an experimental finding rather
than a theory, a person could disprove it by showing experimental errors in
all of the major studies, such as the ones conducted by McKubre, Miles,
Fleischman and Storms. Since these groups used different calorimeter types,
you would have to show a wide range of experimental errors. I do not think
anyone could do this, but if they could they would disprove cold fusion. I
cannot think of any other way to falsify cold fusion. The claims are
predicated on the Laws of Thermodynamics, and it is not likely these will