I’m not sure if Congressional involvement in a scientific misconduct case is necessarily good news, but I’m glad to see the matter isn’t being swept under the rug. The NYT reports that “A Congressional committee has asked Purdue University for copies of its findings in an investigation of a Purdue scientist who claims to have generated nuclear fusion in a desktop experiment.” The rationale? “In view of the billions of dollars the government spends on scientific research, Mr. Miller [Representative Brad Miller, NC-D, chair] said, ‘we need to know we are getting valid sound research and not research that is being manipulated. We’ve got to count on the integrity of their reviews,’ he added.”
Stay tuned for any sunshine let in on these previously secretive proceedings.
Update: Dr. Lawrence Ebert (PhD, JD) has expanded this discussion on his own blog, IPBiz. You can also read about Eric Poehlman, who is doing jail time for his scientific misconduct, and the laxity that led to his hiring by the University of Montreal & funding by the Canadian government to the tune of $1.2M. Incredibly, U Montr was shocked – shocked – that Poehlman neglected to mention his ongoing fraud investigations when they recruited him. Fortunately, it seems his research was on the level due north.
More Update: Nature reports that the internal final reports resulting from the 2 investigations at Purdue will be received by the Subcommittee by March 30. the article notes that “Purdue has held two inquiries into Taleyarkhan’s research. The first, which followed a report on questions about Taleyarkhan’s work in Nature, was announced by the university’s provost Sally Mason in March 2006, and finished in June 2006. Its findings were kept confidential, but the subcommittee believes that it recommended a full-scale investigation into Taleyarkhan that never took place. A second inquiry cleared Taleyarkhan in February this year, but it is unclear why the two inquiries reached different conclusions.”
This article is accompanied by a letter from the Provost and Vice President for Research at Purdue. They note that Universities are required “to protect ‘the confidentiality of respondents, complainants, and research subjects’ when investigating allegations of misconduct.”
They further note that “The process works best when those alleging misconduct document their concerns thoroughly and cooperate fully with all aspects of the inquiry — including the requirement for confidentiality,” which suggests there may have been some problems with documentation of allegations made.
Finally, they remind readers of the Purdue policy stating that “no information about charges of a lack of integrity in research may be disclosed except to the appropriate university and federal authorities.”
Perhaps, to avoid potentially leaky Congressional oversight, the scientific community needs a national board of arbitration when any question remains regarding an institution’s handling of an allegation of scientific misconduct so that niggling doubts such as have occurred in this case can be resolved by an unbiased external panel without naming names or stating allegations or disclosing findings.