First on this tape, Horizon and Too Close to the Sun, This is a follow-up programme to their programme in 1990 about the Cold Fusion controversy, and it’s a bit surprising that four years later it’s still raging. Martin Fleischman was still working on the process, steadfastly confident in his results. “We are so conventional it is painful.”
Fleischmann has that Germanic accent and way of speaking that subconsciously evokes Professor Heinz Woolf to me, so I find myself believing him for no reason. But he does also sound like every self-convinced expert, absolutely convinced that there’s no way he could have made a single mistake.
Nice to see Horizon still using flying ping pong balls to visualise the process of fusion.
Stanley Pons doesn’t appear much in this – Fleischmann was definitely the figurehead.
It’s nice to see scientists from the previous programme, a little bit older. David Williams is now credited as a professor.
A possible explanation for what might be happening comes from Dr Randell Mills, “who claims he has completely redrafted Quantum Mechanics all by himself.” He claimed to get 1000% excess heat from a simple cell of regular water, and nickel electrodes.
There’s a scary story about a lab at Stanford who were experimenting with bulk palladium samples, which can store a lot of hydrogen in the palladium lattice, which can explode if dropped. A research chemist at Stanford was killed by an explosion.
We meet Stanley Meyer, who claims to have built a water powered car.
It wasn’t running while Horizon visited.
And another returning face from the first programme, John Maddox, editor of Nature.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 21st March 1994 – 20:00
Next on this tape, The Exploratory – Strangers in a Strange Land. It’s a discussion which opens with a clip from Microbes and Men in which Ignaz Semmelweis discovers the unbelievable fact that doctors should wash their hands before doing internal examinations of pregnant women after having done autopsies.
This programme is a round table discussion, about controversial science, which naturally features Martin Fleischmann.
The show is very proud of its multimedia computer, with which the guests can call up various clips to illustrate their point.
The UI for the clip system is a great example of proto-multimedia. It even refers to ‘picons’ (or ‘picture icons’).
Also in the group, Sue Blackmore.
Another familiar face is Joan Shenton, whom I remember from ITV shows like Help! and who is now, sadly, an HIV denialist. It’s weird how many people I remember from that era who end up slightly on the crackpot side.
Another classic example of fringey science was Professor Eric Laithwaite, who became convinced that gyroscopes didn’t obey Newton’s laws of motion.
Also discussed is Jacques Benveniste, who claimed to have proof that homeopathy worked, through the idea that water has a ‘memory’ of massively diluted substances. The use of magician James Randi as part of the team Nature sent to investigate his claims was criticised by some on the panel.
Here’s the whole show.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 21st March 1994 – 23:15
The next episode here is Bride of Frankenstein, looking at the lack of women in science, and how science has frequently not had the best interests of women in mind.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 23rd March 1994 – 23:15
The final episode is The Tomorrow People, looking at how often science has got it wrong about the future. Germaine Greer talks about ‘one of the first applications of “Faradism”‘ (referring to Michael Faraday’s discoveries about electromagnetism) being ‘Electrogynaecology’ – passing electric currents through women’s nether regions in the spurious belief it would do them some good. Also “One of the first applications of radium was to shove it inside vaginas”.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 24th March 1994 – 23:15
After this, there’s a Clothes-Show inspired trailer for The Chancellor’s Summer collection, a look at the budget.
There’s also a trailer for From A to B – Tales of Modern Motoring.
Bill Giles gives a report on Skiing conditions across Europe. Is this still a thing? I’m not a skier.
Then there’s a trailer for Silas Marner.
Then, after a brief trail of some forthcoming Open University programmes, the tape ends during an OU programme on astronomy, Images of the Cosmos.