25505Re: Dr. Randell Mills and Blacklight Power
- Nov 20, 200216 March 2000
Nature 404, 218 (2000);
New form of hydrogen power provokes scepticism
A company claiming to have made a revolutionary breakthrough in
chemistry and energy production by creating a novel form of hydrogen
has threatened several prominent physicists with possible legal
action unless they stop disparaging the science behind the claim.
A law firm representing the energy company BlackLight Power, Inc. of
Cranbury, New Jersey, sent letters earlier this month to Nobel
laureate Philip Anderson of Princeton University, Michio Kaku of the
City University of New York, Paul Grant of the non-profit energy
agency EPRI and Robert Park of the American Physical Society,
requesting that they stop making defamatory comments in the press
about the company and its president, Randell Mills.
BlackLight has already attracted more than $20 million in private
investment to back its proprietary chemical process. According to
Mills, this process has generated energy far in excess of that put
into the system. Underlying the process is Mills's theory that
hydrogen atoms can be made to exist below their ground state in a
form he calls "hydrinos".
The four scientists cited by BlackLight have been quoted in the The
Village Voice, Dow Jones Newswire and other publications as
dismissing the claim because it violates established principles of
physics. Kaku, commenting on the company's investors, which include
several large utility companies, was quoted by the Dow Jones Newswire
as saying "There's a sucker born every minute".
The negative publicity comes at a bad time for BlackLight, as the
company is considering a public stock offering this year. Mills
accuses his critics of "trying to destroy our business", and bristles
at the charge that he has produced no data to back his claims. He
points to a conference presentation he gave last year at a regional
meeting of the American Chemical Society, and says he intends to
present at the society's national meeting this month.
He also says he is preparing papers for submission to major
scientific journals, and that others have replicated his results and
are also submitting to journals.
So far, though, Blacklight's results have been published only on the
company's website (http://www.blacklightpower.com) or in journals
that many mainstream scientists say lack rigor and are dominated by
other researchers investigating unconventional some say
impractical forms of energy.
Nor has the company's recent award of a US patent for "Lower-energy
hydrogen methods and structures" impressed the critics. Grant, an
expert in high-temperature superconductors, was quoted by Dow Jones
as saying, "A patent means nothing. It carries no weight as
scientific validation." The patent examiners based their decision on
presentations by BlackLight, according to Mills.
Park says, "the issue is not whether their stuff is out there for
review. The issue is whether anybody believes it, and whether people
who don't believe it have a right to say they don't believe it." He
continues to discount BlackLight's claims as "pure boloney", and will
say so in his book, Voodoo Science, due to be published by Oxford
University Press this spring. "There'll be no changes," he says.
Despite the implied threat in his letter, BlackLight's attorney
Michael O'Hayre says that "we're not interested in stifling any free
and open debate. Right now we're just investigating what to do."
Park says he has turned the letter over to the solicitor at the
American Physical Society, and is confident that, should BlackLight
decide to sue, the courts would side with the physicists. The
scientific community would also be likely to rally round the
defendants, he says, just as they did a decade ago when lawyers for
proponents of cold fusion sent out threatening letters.
Although legal threats in scientific disputes are surprisingly rare,
Park says scientists can be "pretty easy to intimidate". With legal
fees to defend against a libel charge sometimes running to tens of
thousands of dollars, he admits some scientists could decide that
it's not worth the risk speaking to the press about controversial
research. And that, he says, would "leave the public vulnerable".
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