What am I doing? With several chapters of a new chemistry text to review (in return for ready money) and the rising of our Lord to celebrate, instead I find myself reading through back numbers of New Energy Times, learning more about the origins of D2Fusion. Respondents to my original posting pointed my way to vast repositories of CF information and literature, much of which, truth to tell, I was unaware of. There has thrived a small and dedicated CF subculture, which occasionally bubbles into prominence at scientific meetings and elsewhere. There is a belief that, behind all the frauds and the excess, there is a real process occurring. So having abandoned it once a long time ago, why now should I return? After all, it only really matters to those who have invested so much themselves; but yet, beyond the resolution of any scientific questions, there is a certain fascination at the human level. The story illustrates well what Marie Curie had written, that science is more than just a machine, but it is a human enterprise.
One of the central figures, perhaps the only central figure if one reads between the lines, in the D2Fusion scene is Russ George. Incidentally, a review of the website shows that it appears essential to sport a gray beard to be a member of the "scientific team" at this mysterious company. He has been described by others as a "man of vision" and very persuasive. His own bio on the website is a minor masterpiece of nuancing of the language. Undoubtedly, vision and persuasion are essential qualities for anyone engaged in the promotion of new technology. There is much more to the development of a successful product than the design of experiments, accumulation and interpretation of data. I have met many excellent scientists very skilled in those arts, but to them that often represents the limit of their ambition. I am reminded that John Dalton had an almost obsessive attachment to the measurement of rainfall in his Manchester home. What the motivation for this slavish devotion to data gathering was is unclear, for nothing came of it; but fortunately as far as his place in history he had a few moments of greater vision to craft an atomic theory which constituted a major mile post in the developing view of what matter was made from.
Several massive inconsistencies between the statements on the D2Fusion website and what may be regarded as reality have been catalogued by the writers of New Energy Times; and the foreboding disclaimer that "A number of statements in this press release may be considered to be forward-looking statements..." should be written in bold and 24 size font.
Vision and persuasion are required to sell the promise of a new technology, and it is very often the case that the money to be made in this game comes from the sale of the promise rather than the sale of actual goods and services. The same vision that can paint a glorious future can also become a dangerous deception if unchecked by any sense of realism. A common factor among super visionaries is an absolutely unfailing self-belief and a refusal to accept the possibility of being wrong.
I encountered it myself in my early days at Amoco. In those days, amorphous silicon was enjoying its moment in the sun. Amorphous materials had for many years been really rather dismissed as serious contenders in electronic applications, but in the early eighties there was interest in solar cells and transistors. My then supervisor was one of those visionaries and, for him, the amorphous silicon game was just too conventional. No, amorphous carbon was going to be the next photoreceptor. Imagine, xerox drums coated with diamond hard photoreceptors would never wear out. Nor would they be toxic. It mattered little that there was no history of photoconduction in carbon films; it mattered less that the "diamond" films were actually much closer to graphite and could not be regarded as carbon analogues of silicon. Nonetheless, the search for photoconductivity was on. We found it, but largely only by virtue of the enormous dark resistivity of the films, and by our own creativity in developing a method for measuring impossibly small currents. The claim of impending kilowatt output from D2Fusion, while the reality is output of milliwatts, is in the same ballpark of performance discrepancy as our amorphous "photoreceptors."
It remains an enduring source of regret that, while being a slave to the overbearing optimism and self-delusion of our visionary leader and the search for the amorphous carbon photoreceptor, we did not pursue the synthesis of real diamond films, which had been my initial suggestion, and could have been done with a slight modification to the apparatus. A good friend of mine in the group who escaped the insanity later enjoyed great success with that field some years later with De Beers. I cannot say that I am not a little envious.