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208) An interview with Martin Fleischmann
Ludwik Kowalski (3/20/05)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043
Steve Krivit read my comment in the preface (about regretting the 1989 press conference) and sent me his own interpretation. He wrote:
1. From all my conversations with Martin, he seems to not want to publicly criticize the University of Utah. It appears to me that the University of Utah administrators twisted his and Stan's arms. In my conversation with him during this interview, the clear impression I was left with was that at the time, he and Stan had the opportunity to co-operate with the University's wishes or they could find employment elsewhere.
2. He would not say anything about Jones publicly. Privately, he will express great bitterness and rage towards Jones. He's British, remember.
3. You may post this excerpt from my book if you think it is helpful.
Reprinted from The Rebirth of Cold Fusion by Steven B. Krivit and Nadine Winocur, with permission
The Infamous Press Conference
Fleischmann and Pons had little choice in matters pertaining to the initial publicity and the infamous press conference. The University of Utah's patent- and grant-seeking interests took precedence over scientific protocol. Fleischmann and Pons told the university that they would need many more months to complete a formal paper on the subject before making any announcement to the scientific community, but administrators wanted to announce the discovery before any paper had been published.
Fleischmann reflected on this stressful period of his life in an April 2004 letter: "I was not at all in favour of the high publicity route adopted by the University of Utah and wanted to delay consideration of publication until September 1990." But the university made it clear to him that he "had to appear supportive of their position." Fleischmann ran up against a wall with the university administration and attempted to use his prestigious connections to halt the press conference:
I cast around for other means to put a spoke into the university's objectives. I tried to get hold of Lord Porter, the president of the Royal Society, to ask him to contact Mrs. Thatcher, to ask her to get hold of George Bush (senior) to block the proceedings. I failed in my manoeuverings!
Eventually, the two electrochemists agreed with the university administrators to submit an abbreviated paper called a "Preliminary Note."
The University of Utah administration received word that the Fleischmann and Pons paper, "Electrochemically Induced Nuclear Fusion of Deuterium," had been formally accepted for publication on March 22, 1989, in the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry. Arrangements for a press conference to announce this news to the world were made sometime between March 20 and March 22. The press conference, not surprisingly, was a hastily and poorly planned affair.
The rushed announcement has been attributed to several factors. First and foremost was the universitys objective to secure first place in the cold fusion race and to corner the market on the cold fusion intellectual property. A few miles away, at nearby Brigham Young University, physicist Steve Jones was working on another type of cold fusion experiment. It is now known that Jones'cold fusion was markedly different from Fleischmann and Pons': Jones' work showed no signs of being an energy-producing device. But this distinction was poorly understood by university administrators. On hearing rumors that Jones may be poised to announce "cold fusion," the University of Utah moved to secure its place at the patent office by publicly announcing its "prior claim."
The press conference was a disappointment to many scientists who were eager to learn the details of the experiment. The press release announcing the March 23 conference, edited by university administrators, carefully limited the scientific details. Furthermore, and unfortunately, as author Charles Beaudette wrote, there were other communication problems:
"The Preliminary Note that was accepted for publication the previous day was not made available for distribution [at the press conference]. The omission constituted a breach of protocol, as did their failure to brief their colleagues in the chemistry and physics departments beforehand."
It wasn't until 2? weeks later, on April 10, that the paper was published in the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry. Still, the preliminary note was devoid of many important details and highly inadequate as a guide for other scientists to replicate the experiment. It was clearly a hasty attempt on the university's part to establish a foothold for its patent objectives and, perhaps, its fame.
The university believed it had its hands on the most valuable patent in modern history, and for this reason it also prohibited Fleischmann and Pons from personally disclosing key details to their fellow scientists. Dr. Chase Peterson, the university president at the time, was forthright about the university's interest, as shown in written testimony to the U.S. Congress:
"Upon the advice of our patent counsel, it is not possible for the University of Utah to share research results with other laboratories, particularly national laboratories, until the information has been incorporated into a patent application and the application is on file in the patent office."
This secrecy generated ill will not only among skeptics from around the world but also among academic peers at the University of Utah. Distrust, anger, and even rage mounted almost immediately when other scientists attempted to learn the essential details of the experiment so that they could, in earnest, prove or disprove the experiment, a normal part of the scientific process. But this was nearly an impossible task, considering the legal restrictions.
"Fleischmann looks back with sadness on these times. 'I really didn't want to do it this way. I did not want to do this project this way,' he said in an interview in 2003."
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