“If there is something scientists fear, it is to become like pariahs”

According to Huw Price

Again, there’s a sociological explanation why few people are willing to look at the evidence. They put their reputations at risk by doing so. Cold fusion is tainted, and the taint is contagious – anyone seen to take it seriously risks contamination. So the subject is stuck in a place that is largely inaccessible to reason – a reputation trap, we might call it. People outside the trap won’t go near it, for fear of falling in. ‘If there is something scientists fear, it is to become like pariahs,’ as Lundin puts it. People inside the trap are already regarded as disreputable, an attitude that trumps any efforts that they might make to argue their way out, by reason and evidence.

Outsiders might be surprised to learn how well-populated the trap actually is, in the case of cold fusion and LENR. The field never entirely went away, nor vanished from the laboratories of respected institutions. (Rossi’s own background is not in these laboratories, but he acknowledges that his methods owe much to those who are, or were – especially to the late Sergio Focardi, one of the pioneers of the field.) To anyone willing to listen, the community will say that they have amassed a great deal of evidence of excess heat, not explicable in chemical terms, and of various markers of nuclear processes. Some, including a team at one of Italy’s leading research centres, say that they have many replications of the Fleischmann and Pons results.

Again, the explanation for ignoring these claims cannot be that other attempts failed 25 years ago. That makes no sense at all. Rather, it’s the reputation trap. The results are ignored because they concern cold fusion, which we ‘know’ to be pseudoscience – we know it because attempts to replicate these experiments failed 25 years ago! The reasoning is still entirely circular, but the reputation trap gives its conclusion a convincing mask of respectability. That’s how the trap works.

Fifty years ago, Thomas Kuhn taught us that this is the usual way for science to deal with paradigm-threatening anomalies. The borders of dominant paradigms are often protected by reputation traps, which deter all but the most reckless or brilliant critics.

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