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Another Defeat for Science: “Metallic Hydrogen”

Alternative Energy
This blob is supposed to be “metallic hydrogen” according to the claim of a group of Harvard scientists. Maybe. For sure, it is another disaster for the reputation of science and of scientists.

Another day, another disaster for Science. A group of researchers from Harvard claimed of having obtained for the first time “metallic hydrogen” in their laboratory. That gave rise to a series of improbable claims about the cornucopia of abundance that humankind could obtain from the discovery. Especially lyrical was “The Independent”, in an article that was soon retracted and replaced with a more sober one their page, where they now say it was all a mistake. But the first article contained such gems as:

Now, in a stunning act of modern-day alchemy, scientists at Harvard University have finally succeeded in creating a tiny amount of what is the rarest, and possibly most valuable, material on the planet, 

metallic hydrogen could theoretically revolutionise technology, enabling the creation of super-fast computers, high-speed levitating trains and ultra-efficient vehicles and dramatically improving almost anything involving electricity. And it could also allow humanity to explore outer space as never before.

And more like this, and thank God they didn’t mention flying cars but they got close.

Now, let’s examine this story. First of all, “metallic hydrogen” is a legitimate target of investigation. It was theoretically predicted already about a century ago and believed to exist in the core of giant planets. From here onward, however, the whole story is just a mix of fantasy and bad science.

The claim comes from a test in which the researchers placed a sample of hydrogen inside a diamond anvil and compressed it at very high pressures. At some point, they saw something shiny appearing and they concluded that it was “metallic hydrogen.” Immediately afterward, they proceeded to publish their story with all the associated outlandish claims of spaceships, alchemy, ultra-efficient vehicles, etc.

Now, when you start a career as a scientist, you are told that

1) Your experiments should be repeatable.

2) There be should be always proof – say, a blank test – that what you claim is not an artifact of your experimental setup.

3) You should never claim anything for which you have no evidence.

Consider this as a checklist and you’ll see that the Harvard researchers should mark all three items as “failed.” (1) Unbelievable but true: they didn’t repeat their experiment, they didn’t make a blank experiment, and they engaged in wild fantasies on what their result could mean or, at least, they didn’t object on such fantasies being reported on the press. Note that there is strictly zero proof that metallic hydrogen could turn out to be stable at or near room temperature and hence useful for the listed purposes. To say nothing of the fact that a diamond anvil processes micrograms and it would be interesting to calculate how many of these anvils would be needed to produce the tons of fuel needed to power a spaceship (hint: trillions).

More evidence, if it was ever needed, of the general decline of science, underfunded, poorly organized, pushed and pulled in all directions at the same time by politicians, businesses, journalists, the public, and more – a disaster. And the results are what you would expect: the general defeat of science that we are witnessing nowadays.

The big problem, here, is that a lot of people are clearly starting to perceive that some scientists are trying to fool them. They don’t like that and they may well arrive at the conclusion that all scientists are trying to fool them. And that’s very bad because there are still plenty of good scientists who are producing good science and who are trying to alert humankind of the dangers ahead. But, in the general sinking of the scientific ship, bad and good science are lumped together and sent heading to the bottom.

Can this trend be reversed? Hard to say but, at least, we should do something to avoid that the overinflated ego of some scientists continues to lead science into this kind of disasters.

Cassandra’s legacy by Ugo Bardi

9 Comments on "Another Defeat for Science: “Metallic Hydrogen”"

  1. Davy on Sun, 29th Jan 2017 11:20 am 

    They may have produced enough to equal the crosection of a human hair and that is a breakthrough. That’s some mojo for the techno’ to chew on until this hype goes and the next hype comes along.

  2. penury on Sun, 29th Jan 2017 12:10 pm 

    Publish or perish. Money is always needed and grants are harder to come by. In twenty minutes all but a handful of people will have forgotten this anyway.

  3. Go Speed Racer on Sun, 29th Jan 2017 12:24 pm 

    It’s all Click Bait now.
    Scheme up a ridiculous headline.
    Fake News.
    More clicks is advertising revenue.

  4. onlooker on Sun, 29th Jan 2017 12:39 pm 

    Makes me think it always has been about click and bait. Corporations to make money any way they can and at any cost and politicians saying anything to be elected.

  5. Anonymous on Sun, 29th Jan 2017 2:40 pm 

    Impossible in any event. To create metallic h2, would require pressures equal to that found at the core of a gas giant, like you know, Jupiter or similar. In a lab somewhere?

    lol, no.

  6. Antius on Sun, 29th Jan 2017 9:14 pm 

    Even if true, metallic hydrogen could never be used for such things as superconducting cables. It would be a chemical explosive the likes of which man has never seen.

  7. Keith McClary on Mon, 30th Jan 2017 12:45 am 

    I would say it’s more about the decline of science journalism, except I don’t know if science journalism was any better in the past.

    Did Bardi read the actual paper or just the press release?

  8. Cloggie on Mon, 30th Jan 2017 1:17 am 

    The name of the fraudulent scientist is Isaac F. Silvera.

    A sort of Maddow of science. Anything for the grant, eh?

    No further questions, your honor.

    Harvard should concentrate on its core business, that is white genocide preparation.

  9. Tom on Tue, 31st Jan 2017 4:18 am 

    Fake news?

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