reputation traps in science
Aeon Essays has a nice piece about “reputation traps” in science. According to Huw Price, sometimes scientific research problems acquire a bad reputation. Maybe because someone did some junk science one time, or scientists have misinterpreted what research in that area says. But the result is that the image of the research area is tarnished, which causes scientists to avoid the field. Heck, some fields have such bad reputations that journal editors won’t even review submission from legitimate scientists.
Price uses the example of cold fusion. What physical theory says is that cold fusion is really, really hard, not impossible. Experts say that there is no argument that logically precludes cold fusion. But after a fraudulent case of cold fusion research, the field is radioactive:
Ever since 1989, in fact, the whole subject has been largely off-limits in mainstream scientific circles. Authors who do put their head above the parapet are ignored or rebuked. Most recently, Lundin and Lidgren reported that they had submitted their paper to the journal Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion, but that the editors declined to have it reviewed; and that even the non-reviewed preprint archive, arxiv.org, refused to accept it.
So, as a matter of sociology, it is easy to see why Rossi gets little serious attention; why an interview with Darden associates him with scientific chicanery; and why, I hope, some of you are having doubts about me for writing on the subject in a way that indicates that I am prepared to consider it seriously. (If so, hold that attitude. I want to explain why I take it to reflect a pathology in our present version of the scientific method. My task will be easier if you are still suffering from the symptoms.)
This is tragic because some really talented people could be working on really important problem. No wonder that Andrew Wiles worked on secret for seven years before telling the world he could solve Fermat’s Last Theorem.