“Some people are,” I said.
“Absolutely!” Polosa said, and then realized he was agreeing with me. “No, but that’s the point,” he said. “It’s different. At this point, you have to look at the quality of the people.” In the end, that’s what it all came down to for Ruocco and Polosa. If “stellar” physicists like Carlo Rubbia, a Nobel prize winner, godfather of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, and supporter of cold-fusion research in Italy, couldn’t prove cold fusion was real, what chance did “garage research men” have?
“So they’re all wasting their time?” I said.
“Yes,” Polosa said, “exactly.”
“They are not serious insofar as doing a sort of religion work rather than doing science,” Ruocco said at one point. “They believe in something and they want to demonstrate that.”
As I walked back to the train station, I recalled something Ugo Bardi had said, that cold fusion was a “clash of absolutes.” The description could easily apply to the attitudes of scientists on both sides of the divide. Each believes the other is wrong; each believes the empirical evidence is on his side. In this rigid context, Rossi’s erratic behavior had a shrewd logic to it. The only thing that kept him in the game was his canny ability to straddle the intersection of science and belief.
Two weeks after I met with Rossi, he e-mailed me a 15-page “technical report” documenting a test that was performed on the Hot Cat. The report contained photographs of the Hot Cat and calculations of its thermal energy output. The data was “very confidential,” Rossi wrote, but he gave me permission to “say that third-party validation test has been made with those results.”
Days later he dropped hints on his blog that parts of the report “eventually will be published in a scientific magazine.” E-Cat World, one of dozens of websites that post gossip from Rossi’s blog, insinuated that the magazine might be Popular Science. It seemed like a clumsy attempt to launder his test data in this magazine.
Instead, I removed all identifying information and sent the report to an expert at NASA experienced in conducting third-party validation tests. While the NASA expert didn’t entirely refute the report’s findings, the test protocols and conclusions didn’t meet the standards of a credible third-party evaluation. The outcome wasn’t surprising, but I was disappointed nonetheless. Some small part of me wanted Rossi to prove my suspicions wrong.
The director of the Hot Cat test, a retired colonel and friend of Rossi’s, leaked the test results on the Web a week after Rossi sent them to me. The enthusiastic colonel “could not help to talk about this event and the remarkable results,” Rossi said on his blog. Rossi used the occasion to make another big announcement: The University of Bologna would conduct a new independent test of the Hot Cat and publish the results in October. When I contacted Dario Braga, vice rector for research at the University of Bologna, he unequivocally denied any official relationship between the university and Rossi. “I’m not aware of any work being done by our scientists with Mr. Rossi in a formally correct way,” Braga said. “I don’t know how Mr. Rossi can say this.”
If history is any guide, no such report would be issued. Rossi will reset the goalposts—the only thing he does with any consistency—and forestall his day of reckoning for another few months, and then another few months after that, until finally he disappears from the stage in a puff of smoke, taking his black box with him.
On my last day in Italy, I went to see Francesco Celani, a stalwart LENR experimentalist who worked at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN). He picked me up at the train station, drove me to the INFN complex in Frascati, handed my passport to the armed guards, and headed to a white metal shed set on a windy hilltop next to a row of olive trees. Celani manufactured his own LENR cells, and the floor was littered with metal shavings. Dozens of glass cylinders of every size and shape cluttered the tabletops.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.