I'm back from vacation. It's amazing what lying on a beach watching the waves can do for your mental health. Not to mention the restorative effects of good food and libations. I have colleagues who firmly believe that if you wish to be successful you cannot afford to take vacations. I counter with if you wish to stay sane and productive, how can you afford not to take vacations?
While enjoying the beach I managed to finish reading Gary Taubes' Bad Science: The Short Life and Weird Times of Cold Fusion which was published way back in 1993. Remember the whole cold fusion debacle? In 1989 Stan Pons and Martin Fleischmann of the University of Utah announced via a press conference that they had observed nuclear fusion at room temperature in what amounted to little more than a sophisticated test tube. Taubes, a science journalist who publishes in places like Science, wrote this book about the whole affair including the work of many groups who tried to replicate the cold fusion experiment. It's a fascinating read. I was absolutely astounded by the shear volume of bad science that resulted from the Pons and Fleischmann announcement. A surprisingly large number of scientists who should have known better claimed to have observed cold fusion in some form or another without having performed any controls. And furthermore, no one was able to reproduce the effect consistently. In many cases they couldn't reproduce their results at all... Cold fusion clearly was complete nonsense and perhaps even constituted fraud on the part of some of its proponents. I would recommend people read this book, especially science students. It is a wonderful description of how science should not be done.
At one point in his book Taubes ponders why scientists tend to react so violently to bad/fraudulent science. The answer is quite simple really. We all need to trust the results of other scientists. Science is built upon science. We have neither the time nor resources to replicate all the experiments that our own work is built upon. Sure, experiments that appear to point to amazing breakthroughs or are counter to current dogma will be replicated (or at least people will attempt to do so). But the vast majority of the data published by scientists is assumed to be good data. So we get really, really pissed off when it's not.
Perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, the cold fusion field is still alive...