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As of this writing (May 2016), an Italian guy is making news for having allegedly figured out cold fusion. If so, it’s the most important invention since fire. But it may be a giant hoax. Or…something else. Unfortunately it’s not clear right now. The man himself has done some suspicious things, but his claims are pretty compelling, and there are many other independent organizations working on some form of this technology.

I’m betting on it being real, and that’s why Writling has been working for over a year with LENR-Cities SA, a Swiss organization that is trying to incubate start-ups and help develop this technology. The key here is that very few people actually know for sure that this effect is anything other than a hoax (and they aren’t talking publicly). And no one—even those who claim it’s real—can explain exactly why it happens.

But here’s the problem: say “cold fusion” to anyone over about 30, and they’ll think “hoax”. The term is as evocative as “perpetual motion machine”, and for the same reason. I don’t know enough to say for sure that it’s real, but as the overplayed, but true, Clarke law reminds us: advanced technology seems strange, and often unbelievable. Every important invention in history has seemed like a hoax initially – the airplane was derided as physically impossible well after the Wright brothers proved that it wasn’t. (This review gives a nice snapshot of contemporary reactions.)

It’s still very early in the development and commercialization of this technology, but there are already several names and acronyms in use: LENR (for either Low Energy Nuclear Reactions / Low Energy Nanoscale Reactions) and LANR (for Lattice-Assisted Nuclear Reactions). You can almost hear people getting concerned about the connotations of the word “nuclear”, and the negative sense of “low energy”. In fact they’re only low in comparison to what we usually think of as “nuclear” reactions – they still produce temperatures of hundreds or thousands of degrees, and release many times more energy than is put in.

Whether or not LENR technology is a true breakthrough, it highlights the importance of terminology and language. Call a phenomenon “cold fusion” and you’re dismissed out of hand as a lunatic. Call it Low Energy Nuclear Reaction and you might get an alarmed look. Call it Low Energy Nanoscale Reactions…and you’ve perhaps piqued your audience’s interest.