Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Sarah Liggett


This dissertation examines the circumstances surrounding and the rhetoric involved in the cold fusion controversy begun on March 23, 1989, when two University of Utah electrochemists, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, announced by press conference the discovery of room-temperature nuclear fusion. The dissertation seeks to determine to what extent a rhetorical analysis of cold fusion discourse may increase understanding of the controversy; the success of Fleischmann and Pons as scientific rhetors; the ways in which scientists' attitudes, values, and assumptions manifest themselves in the discourse; and finally, what may be learned about scientific discourse in general by examining the cold fusion controversy in particular. The dissertation employs a method of analysis which combines Lawrence J. Prelli's special theory of scientific rhetoric that identifies relevant issues and lines of argument in scientific discourse, and S. Michael Halloran's method of close textual reading suggested in his study of DNA discourse. Examined were Fleischmann and Pons's initial publication announcing the cold fusion discovery in the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry; Steven E. Jones's initial publication of his cold fusion discovery and several representative discourse samples from the journal Nature; and Fleischmann and Pons's latest article in the Journal of Fusion Technology. Several issues and lines of argument were identified. For the most part, cold fusion discourse addressed evidential issues, questioning the existence of the cold fusion phenomenon. Several lines of argument were evoked to address this issue, including experimental competence, experimental replication, external consistency, communality, and disinterestedness. Also discovered is division between electrochemists and physicists over what constitutes valid evidence: electrochemists looked to excess heat production as proof of fusion; physicists looked to neutron production. The study concludes that Fleischmann and Pons followed an unsuccessful rhetorical strategy in their initial published paper, one that addresses of issue of existence, but their evidence was insufficient to convince as to the scientific reasonableness of the cold fusion claim. An alternative rhetorical strategy was available to Fleischmann and Pons, one in which they could have interpreted, rather than asserted, their evidence, thereby evoking a less confrontational response from the scientific community.