Doubting Tom

Hey, did you see that spiffy new cover of ours? It points out just some of the highlights to be found inside, beyond the cover story we are always touting.

In this world, it pays to have a little skepticism when you hear the words “new and improved” and to mix it with a dose of faith. But in our world, one of journalism, it pays to carry a load of skepticism into just about every situation and keep the faith in your back pocket. There are too many hucksters (politicians, business frauds, editors, etc.) out there trying to use the media to promote their schemes. Sometimes they even wear white coats.

There was a bombardment of stories in Utah in 1989 in which the ratio of skepticism to faith was about 1 to 4. That abundance of faith would prove to be embarrassing for the reporters who should have taken a coldhearted approach to examining the phenomenon of “cold fusion.”

The two frontmen, chemists Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann of the University of Utah, let leak that they had found a way to produce cheap, safe energy from nuclear fusion. The first clue that something was wrong: They simply used a pair of electrodes and a jar of water. The second clue: They were chemists working in the field of nuclear physics. It was also at a time when the university was trying to push its involvement in the free-enterprise world of biomed.

Local journalists trumpeted the sketchy results announced at a press conference. I mean, who wouldn’t believe scientists backed by a university? The state put up $5 million for further research. Pons and Fleischmann later left for the south of France.

The research that should have been done by reporters wasn’t. Cold fusion turned into confusion as stringent peer review later revealed big flaws, as in there was no convincing evidence of cold fusion. If skeptical reporters had sought out critics and skeptics within the nuclear community, a number of them would have stepped forward, they said.

So, step right up and check out that new cover design. And have a little faith that it will help show you the way.