BALTIMORE—It was quite a show while it lasted, they all agreed, but toward the end the magic had started to wear thin. “Cold fusion,” at least to many of the 1,400 scientists who streamed out of the American Physical Society’s May 1 marathon debunking session, ended as it had begun—in a theatrical performance before a packed house. The difference was that this time, organizers claimed, the smoke and mirrors behind Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann’s unprecedented room-temperature fusion discovery lay exposed like a novelty parlor trick.

“The experiment is wrong,” proclaimed Caltech theorist Steven Koonin from the podium after delivering a blow-by-blow discrediting of the chemists’ experimental technique. “We are suffering from the incompetence and perhaps the delusions of professors Pons and Fleischmann.” And with a roar, the gathered physicists celebrated the death of cold fusion.

While Pons and Fleischmann continue to defended their results, it is clear the tide...

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