Misconduct in Misconduct Investigation

Unlike the NIH, Purdue has been much less forthright in their recent investigation into allegations of scientific misconduct, and as a result, they have been taken to task by Science and many others in the scientific community:

“Purdue appointed a committee to review the matter, although just what allegations it investigated has never been made clear. In June, the university reported that it had completed an initial inquiry, and it launched a second one. Now, university officials say the inquiries have cleared Taleyarkhan of misconduct but that details of the findings, the charges, and even the makeup of the committees will be kept confidential, in keeping with the university’s policies. “We’re done with it,” says Purdue spokesperson Jeanne Norberg.”

From Robert F. Service. RESEARCH INTEGRITY: Bubble Fusion Researcher Cleared of Misconduct Charges, but Doubts Linger. Science 16 February 2007: Vol. 315. no. 5814, p. 921

Nature has been equally disappointed with the Purdue handling of this matter:

” ‘They apparently narrowly focused the charge and avoided the question of whether the research was doctored,’ says Ken Suslick, a chemist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who has been attempting to replicate Taleyarkhan’s claims. Suslick is one of several researchers worried that Taleyarkhan’s work may be fraudulent, and he wrote to Purdue about his concerns in June 2006.

The university never responded to Suslick’s concerns. Peter Dunn, Purdue’s associate vice-president for research, told Nature that he believes the university followed its procedures. He declined to comment on why he never replied to Suslick, or on whether evidence related to Suslick’s concerns was forwarded to either inquiry. Purdue hasn’t revealed the identities of the members of the second inquiry panel, but Dale Compton, a professor of industrial engineering at Purdue and a member of the first panel, says he has no recollection of being asked to consider the questions about Taleyarkhan’s data.

Lefteri Tsoukalas, who asked Purdue to investigate Taleyarkhan in February 2006, has called the announcement ‘an outrage’. Tsoukalas was head of Purdue’s nuclear-engineering school until he resigned in October 2006 in protest at the way the university was handling the concerns. He notes that the usual procedure for handling allegations of scientific misconduct is to hold a preliminary inquiry, then either proceed with an investigation or close the matter. That did not happen in this case; instead, the university ran a second preliminary inquiry. Apart from Tsoukalas, calls by Nature have failed to locate anyone who raised concerns about Taleyarkhan’s work who was interviewed during either inquiry. ‘Purdue’s finding is as mysterious as bubble fusion itself,’ says Tsoukalas.

Seth Putterman of the University of California, Los Angeles, who has also been trying to replicate bubble fusion, thinks that Taleyarkhan’s work is invalid. ‘Purdue’s defence of Taleyarkhan’s approach to scientific research taints their reputation,’ he says. ‘If Purdue were interested in maintaining their credibility they should have appointed external members to their panel.’ Mason, who is ultimately responsible for academic affairs at Purdue, did not respond to Nature’s requests for comment.”

From: Eugenie Samuel Reich. Disputed inquiry clears bubble-fusion engineer; Purdue’s investigation fails to satisfy critics. Nature Published online: 13 February 2007

One wonders about institutional conflicts of interest in these matters, particularly if there are significant extramural awards involved (such as what is no doubt a healthy DARPA grant to Purdue) and the potential for long-term income derived from patenting, licensing, and other tech-transfer activities. Pretty sad that the academic guardians of knowledge have become the guardians of their bottom line.

Update: Congress will take a look-see at this matter, and IPbiz is following the controversy closely as well.

1 Comment »

  1. […] way of reminder, in February 2007, Science and Nature raised concerns about the initial Purdue investigations of possible misconduct […]

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