Issue Date: April 21, 2008
First, Establish the Facts
Elizabeth Wilson's article on our paper on the confirmation of John Kanzius' extraordinary and amazingly serendipitous discovery reflects credit not only on her reporting, but on C&EN and its editor for publishing it (March 24, page 49). That comment should be absurd. Any journal-magazine devoted to news about chemistry and engineering would surely publish a story on water, especially if it was about burning it. Yet in the state of our culture, saturated as it is in hype over science, we seldom hear of its "dark side." As scientists, we should not be afraid to face this.
Here are some facts we need to deal with. The first fact is that in today's world of so-called science, facts and experiments have slowly become secondary. Theories, explanations, "understanding," come first! Certainly this is what most of the dozens of colleagues who called Kanzius and me, and hundreds who sent e-mails after learning via televison or the Internet that our group had indeed verified Kanzius' claim, asked for. Sooner or later they all asked: How can it possibly work? What is your theory? Not, does it work for sure?
My accurate response was: I haven't a clue yet. It is much too early. As a scientist, I was—as all should be—first and foremost concerned with establishing the facts. Penn State's Materials Research Lab's standard procedure, which has served us well for 50 years, is as follows: Repeat it 10 times if you have to. And no: We have never, never claimed or even considered the idea that one gets more energy than one puts in. And no: We will not publish our early numbers until the whole system is optimized and we have a reasonable energy plus environment budget worked out so as not to repeat the corn-ethanol fiasco.
Another surprise to our interlocutors: We are condensed material chemists; the energy issue, while most "salable," is not our interest as scientists. Some dozen potential major investors seem to agree.
University Park, Pa.
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